Lucas Luhr (left) and Klaus celebrate a hard-fought win.
What a race we had at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca! It was a very rewarding win for the entire Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team, and what a difference compared to the race we had last year at Monterey, where we won by three laps over a P2 car. Believe me, I'd rather win a hard-fought battle like we had with Rebellion than with a three-lap lead. It's nice to dominate a race like we've done in the past but facing tough competition makes the win mean so much more to everyone.
The competition we've had with Rebellion this year has been great. They're a fantastic addition to the series. That said, it would also be great if Dyson Racing were fighting with us as well. We know they have the speed, as they've proved in qualifying, what's been happening to them in the races is very unfortunate and I feel bad for them. We'd love for them to be have been a part of this exciting racing for the fans.
The Laguna race is always an important one for us as it's the home race for our sponsor Muscle Milk. The headquarters is located not too far north and we always have a lot of family and friends come watch the race.
With the HQ not too far away it also means a trip to Benicia for some business meetings for me! However, once I'm at the racetrack, I'm all about the racing, even if I sometimes have to get on a conference call between practice sessions. The life of a racecar driver isn't all glamorous as some may think!
At Laguna, it was my turn to qualify. We had some good practice sessions and we steadily improved the car with each session. I would have liked to be closer in qualifying but I was slowed a couple of times on track, once by a P2 car that had spun and was parked in the Corkscrew and again by a slower P2 car on my final lap.
Despite not putting in the lap time we would have liked, I was quite happy with our performance in qualifying, as the car was fast. I think we certainly could have been second on the grid had we not been slowed but that's all part of the game! That said, I don't know that we had anything for pole. Neel Jani put in a heck of a lap in the Rebellion Lola.
Heading into the race, I was confident that Lucas and myself would do well as we both know how to drive that track in traffic and manage everything. At the start of the race, though – and even throughout – the Rebellion was a little bit quicker in outright speed. I was able to stay close to Nick Heidfeld but it wasn't an easy stint. Once we adjusted the tire pressure a little bit on the first stop it was much easier to stay even closer with him and I was able to push him a little harder.
I must say that we had some really close moves! Heidfeld was taking a lot of chances and running very hard, as was I – we kept it very close all race long.
Lucas took over after my second stint, about one hour and 30 minutes into the race. It was his turn to drive most of the race after his short stint at Long Beach!
The outcome of the race all came down to the moves that Lucas made to pass Jani. That, and also a good strategy by the team. The fans don't get to hear the conversations happening in the pit box during the race about changing tires or not, pitting under a yellow, etc. One wrong call can change the outcome of the race, just like it can make you win it. And sometimes it's a split-second decision because the pits just opened and you need to decide if your car is coming in or not.
For example, Lucas wanted to change tires on his last pit stop, but we knew that if we were going to change tires, it would give Rebellion a time advantage if they only did fuel, as we suspected they would. Sometimes when you're in the car driving, you're focused on that one thing. You don't always have the big picture in mind, that's when a driver needs to trust his engineer and the call that he makes.
So, on top of the good strategy, Lucas made some awesome moves to take the lead – not once, but twice in the Corkscrew. On the first move, he was able to get out of the way as Jani had overshot his braking and went off course. Lucas' second move was a little more daring and really fun to watch!
We had a couple of races last year where I was driving and Lucas was watching and after the race he'd tell me, "I can't take this anymore," so I guess it was payback. Honestly, sometimes it's harder to be watching than to be in the thick of the battle. But I have a lot of faith and trust in Lucas' driving abilities and his race craft is really good. You don't become the driver with the most wins in the ALMS without good race craft!
The end of the race definitely got a little more exciting with the contact between Lucas and Jani. To be honest, I'm surprised there was no penalty following that contact, especially after the penalties we received at Sebring. All we want as a racing driver or a team for that matter, is consistency...
However, while our car was damaged, we did manage to regain the lead when the Rebellion car had to go to pit lane with a punctured tire. Fortunately for us, Lucas was able to continue despite the damage, which, we realized after the race, was pretty severe.
It was a very hard hit. I don't think Jani would have made that corner had our car not helped stop him!
At the end of the race, it was a fantastic day. I think it was sports car racing at its best and I'm so very proud of the team, from the pit stops to the strategy, everything worked out. And Lucas drove a heck of a race.
The Rebellion car was quick but so were we, we both had the same (good) strategy and I think we just had a little bit better race craft and maybe a little bit better luck and sometimes that's what you need!
While it was a very exciting race for the fans as well as both teams involved, I do hope we can have it a little easier next time!
Thanks for reading.