It's been a little over a week since we clinched the American Le Mans Series P1 Championship at Road Atlanta's Petit Le Mans, and it's finally starting to sink in.
It's a great feeling, and an unbelievable reward for all the hard work that was put in by everyone at Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. I'm happy for myself and my teammate Lucas Luhr, but I'm mostly happy for Greg, Penny and the entire Pickett family, who have put so much into this racing program.
Greg had never been so vocal about going for the championship as he was this season. It all started after our DNF at Road Atlanta in 2011, he made it clear from then on that our ultimate goal this season was to win the title. Was there a moment of doubt in my mind that we would fail to do so? Let's just say we made it very exciting on race day, but I've always had complete confidence in my team.
We certainly didn't make it easy on ourselves – not just at the last race but also throughout the year. Had it not been for a few issues here and there we could have clinched earlier in the season, but that was not the case, which meant that we had to complete 70% of the race distance at Petit Le Mans, 700 miles or, if you prefer, 276 laps.
All week everything had gone smoothly, too smoothly you might think. We had good test and practice sessions and Romain Dumas, our third driver for this event, as expected, got up to speed quickly in our Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03a.
While our main focus at Petit Le Mans was the championship, we welcomed the added competition provided by the presence of Rebellion Racing. We would've loved to beat them out for pole position but we came up just a bit short.
Lucas put in a great performance in qualifying with a perfect, fantastic lap, but I think he was a bit unlucky with traffic and could have been much closer to the Rebellion car. However, we were not too worried about starting second with it being such a long race.
Lucas did a great job at the start of the race and he kept up with the Rebellion car as planned, up until we stopped for fuel. Our guys did a great job with our fuel stop and got Lucas out ahead by something like five seconds.
Once Lucas was out in front he was building a nice lead but then a little over one hour into the race, he got hit when going by a GTC car, which sent him off course and into the wall.
At that point, I wasn't certain what to think, until we knew the extent of the damage it was hard to know if we would be able to not only fix it, but make the repairs in time. It seemed to take forever before the flatbed truck made it to the scene to load up the car. Lucas did a great job of telling Brandon Fry, our engineer, on the radio what was broken on the car. It allowed the crew to get parts ready.
Fortunately, as part of our regular preparation we already had corners built up and ready to go on the car. We were ready for pretty much any circumstance. You can never be too prepared! Had we not been prepared, I'd rather not think of the consequences.
Once the car finally returned under our tent, it was amazing to see the crew repair the car. They remained calmed and focused and at that moment, more than any other throughout the season, they proved to be a championship-winning team.
In about 45 minutes, the car was leaving the tent and heading back onto the track. Someone said that it took 65 minutes from the time of the incident to the time the car returned to pit lane. It was amazing work by the guys.
Once the HPD ARX-03a returned to pit lane, this is when I took over driving duties for the first time that day. At this point we knew that we wouldn't be fighting for the win, but as we had just experienced, making it to lap 276 wasn't guaranteed as anything can happen.
We made a couple more adjustments to the car throughout the race but other than that the car felt great. We proceeded to a couple more driver rotations and I finally got back in again to take the car to the finish.
I was also aboard the car when we reached our magic number – lap 276. Brandon told me on the radio that we had done it, that we clinched the Team and Driver Championships. It was a great feeling of relief after the roller coaster of a day we had but while everyone was celebrating in pit lane there was still some racing to do as we were fighting for a place on the podium.
While I would have liked to celebrate right then and there, I couldn't. The conditions on the track were getting tricky mostly because the temperatures had dropped dramatically so I really had to focus on the job at hand and stay fully concentrated. I tried not to think about it until the race was over.
Even then, after taking the checkered flag, it was a mix of emotions that took over me. Part of me was happy that we had won the team and driver titles but I was also disappointed because it would have been great to get the win as well.
Had it not been for the early race incident, we could have fought for the win with Rebellion. However, sometimes you can't have it all. We only got one at Road Atlanta and of course it was the good one!
This is my first ALMS championship – I've finished second the last two years – so it is very rewarding for me. I can't thank Greg and Penny Pickett enough for allowing me to do this and for giving me a great teammate in Lucas, a fabulous team led by Brandon Fry and the opportunity to drive such a great racecar that is the HPD ARX-03a.
None of this would have been possible without the support of some amazing partners. Thank you to HPD and Wirth Research for providing us with a championship-winning car. And of course, a huge thank you goes to Michelin, who has been with us from the start. They are more than just a tire supplier, they are a very important partner in our success.
Thank you to everyone on the team, the Pickett family, and everyone that is part of the Muscle Milk, CytoSport family, we couldn't have done it without their support.
Finally, thank you to our fans. Yes, we race because we love to race but if it weren't for the fans we wouldn't be doing this. Thank you for all your encouragement throughout the year.
Thanks for reading and for a great season. Hope you had as much fun reading this blog as I did writing it.
Until next time!
Follow Klaus on Twitter at @klaus_graf, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing at @MuscleMilkRace and Honda Performance Development at @HondaRacing_HPD.