Muscle Milk Pickett Racing duo Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr came out on top in a race-long duel with Nick Heidfeld and Neel Jani's Rebellion Lola-Toyota to win the four-hour American Le Mans Series event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
With the victory, Luhr became the ALMS' all-time leader in wins with 43, and he and Graf are the first drivers to repeat at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca since 2007.
The two cars swapped the lead both on track and in the pitlane numerous times during the race, but the crucial moment came when they made contact in the final hour.
Luhr and Jani came together in traffic at Turn 3, giving the Rebellion Lola a left-front puncture. The race officials were satisfied that the incident did not merit a penalty, leaving Luhr free to bring the Pickett car home for a second straight victory.
“After contact, the car was trashed,” Luhr said. “Aerodynamically it was all messed up and mechanically I could feel the toe-link or something was broken. But I could fight it around. I knew the Rebellion car was much quicker on the straights, so I knew [ the Corkscrew] would be my only chance. The choice was good, but in the moment I thought maybe it wasn't such a good idea now that the rumble strips are throwing my car around.”
“This was sports car racing at its best,” enthused Graf. “My man Lucas drove a hell of a race. We are a really good sports car paring right now.
"At the end, it came down to the moves Lucas made in passing Neel. (Both teams) ran the same strategy, a good strategy, but today we have maybe a little better race craft and a little more luck today for the win.”
Jani and Heidfeld were still able to take second, too far down the traffic line to make a late bid at a restart with one lap to go after an electrical malfunction for the DeltaWing had prompted a final caution period.
The Dyson Lola-Mazda dropped out with fuel pressure problems.
Level 5 took a 1-2 in LMP2, Marino Franchitti's car leading home Ryan Briscoe's. Team boss Scott Tucker had stints in both.
“It was a perfect weekend and a great way for Level 5 to bounce back after Long Beach,” Franchitti said. “This is what we needed going into Le Mans. The teams worked really hard, day and night. I picked a lot of spots today, and I tried to keep myself in positions where I wouldn't be in danger. That was going to be the only way we could win this race.”
The GT fight was typically close, with eight cars still in lead contention at the halfway mark. Corvette duo Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia ultimately stamped their authority on the race in the final stint, defeating the Bryan Sellers/Wolf Henzler Falken Porsche and the Dirk Muller/John Edwards BMW.
“I thought today, with as perfect as we've been driving, if we don't get this win, I wouldn't know what else to do,” Garcia said. “Everything worked, right where it needed to be. I think last year we had something like five second-place finishes, so we really deserved a win or two.”
Sellers and Henzler were 0.754sec ahead of Dirk Müller and John Edwards in the third-place No. 56 BMW North America, LLC/Crowne Plaza BMW Z4 GTE. However, the No. 17 Porsche failed its stall test in post-race technical inspection, stripping the team and drivers of all points and prize money. The No. 17 does retain second in the final GT race standings.
Both one-make classes were decided in last-lap lead changes. LMPC leader Colin Braun slipped up at the final-lap restart, allowing Luis Diaz, who shared his PR1/Mathiasen car with Mike Guasch, to pounce and snatch the win from the CORE entry.
Andy Lally appeared to have Dempsey/Del Piero's first win wrapped up in GTC, only for Nick Tandy to overtake him at Turn 5 on the last lap, securing victory for the Tandy/Henrique Cisneros NGT Porsche.
Results - 150 laps:
Pos Cl Drivers Team/Car Time/Gap
1. P1 Graf/Luhr Pickett HPD 3h59m05.504s
2. P1 Heidfeld/Jani Rebellion Lola-Toyota + 6.352s
3. P2 Tucker/Franchitti Level 5 HPD + 4 laps
4. P2 Tucker/Briscoe Level 5 HPD + 4 laps
5. PC Guasch/Diaz PR1/Mathiasen FLM + 5 laps
6. PC Bennett/Braun CORE FLM + 5 laps
7. PC Nunez/Shears Performance Tech FLM + 6 laps
8. PC Marcelli/Cumming BAR1 FLM + 6 laps
9. GT Magnussen/Garcia Corvette + 8 laps
10. GT Henzler/Sellers Falken Porsche + 8 laps
11. GT Muller/Edwards RLL BMW + 8 laps
12. GT Sweedler/Bell West/AJR Ferrari + 8 laps
13. GT Farnbacher/Goossens SRT Viper + 8 laps
14. PC Schultis/van der Zande 8Star FLM + 8 laps
15. GT Miller/Holzer Miller Porsche + 8 laps
16. P2 Sharp/Cosmo Extreme Speed HPD + 8 laps
17. PC Drissi/Mitchell BAR1 FLM + 9 laps
18. GT Long/Kimber-Smith CORE Porsche + 10 laps
19. GT Beretta/Malucelli Risi Ferrari + 11 laps
20. GTC Cisneros/Tandy NGT Porsche + 13 laps
21. GTC Dempsey/Lally Dempsey/Del Piero Porsche + 13 laps
22. GTC MacNeil/Bleekemolen Alex Job Porsche + 13 laps
23. GTC Keating/Faulkner TRG Porsche + 13 laps
24. GTC Hedlund/Heylen JDX Porsche + 13 laps
25. GTC Avenatti/Davis Dempsey Del Piero Porsche + 13 laps
26. GT Gavin/Milner Corvette + 14 laps
27. GTC Stanton/Novich TRG Porsche + 15 laps
28. GTC Canache/Pumpelly/Neiman Flying Lizard Porsche + 16 laps*
29. PC Junqueira/Ende RSR FLM + 18 laps
30. GTC Ehret/von Moltke Flying Lizard Porsche + 21 laps
31. GTC Ballou/Wagner Competition Porsche + 28 laps
P1 Meyrick/Legge DeltaWing 104 laps
GT Auberlen/Martin RLL BMW 85 laps
P2 Brown/van Overbeek Extreme Speed HPD 64 laps
P1 Dyson/Smith Dyson Lola-Mazda 21 laps
GT Bomarito/Wittmer SRT Viper 12 laps