On the heels of a historic 1-2 finish in the 12 Hours of Sebring, Level 5 Motorsports heads to Southern California this weekend for the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach, with the three-time series champions confirming its full-season participation and a star-studded driver lineup for the 2013 ALMS season.
With the future of the LMP2 class now secured, Level 5 will field both of its Siemens/Alpina Watches/Ohiya Casino Resort-sponsored Honda Performance Development ARX-03b prototypes in the entire 10-round championship. Team principal Scott Tucker, a nine-time national driving champion, will be joined by open-wheel standout Ryan Briscoe and sportscar racing star Marino Franchitti as full-season drivers.
Tucker, Briscoe and Franchitti teamed in Level 5’s No. 551 HPD for victory in last month’s opening round, re-writing the history books along the way, in becoming one of only two teams to achieve four consecutive class victories in America’s oldest endurance race. Now, the three drivers will be setting their sights on the P2 title.
“When we saw there would be competition in P2 this year after all, we decided to commit for a full season,” said Tucker, who is closing in on his 100th career victory. “We were very pleased with the performance of both Ryan and Marino at Sebring, so it seemed logical to keep them on board for the year. It’s going to be a tough fight for the championship, but I feel that we have everything in place to keep Level 5 on top.”
Both drivers bring a wealth of experience to Level 5. Prototype and GT veteran Franchitti has six ALMS victories and more than 20 podium finishes to his credit, including recent class honors at Sebring and a second-place finish in last year’s Petit Le Mans with Level 5. Briscoe, meanwhile, is fresh off a successful five-year stint in the IZOD IndyCar Series with Penske Racing, whom he also drove for in the ALMS as part of its factory Porsche RS Spyder program in 2007 and 2008.
“We were certainly looking at Marino already because we had some experience with him in the past and he did a good job,” team manager David Stone said. “For Ryan, we thought and hoped for good results with him and at Sebring, he displayed that he had what it takes. So we were able to close a deal with him and are happy to have him on board. We feel that both drivers bring a lot to the team.”
The first task for Level 5’s new full-season lineup will be tackling the downtown streets of Long Beach in Saturday’s two-hour race, the shortest of the season. Considered to be one of the most prestigious events in North American motorsports, the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course is also known to be extremely tough on both man and machine, leaving little room for error. Teams also have to contend with limited track time over the course of the weekend.
Level 5 has two Long Beach victories to its credit (2011, 2012), both coming in the P2 class.
“Getting everything perfect with your pit stops and driver changes is crucial,” said Stone. “Obviously like any other race, but more so at a street race, staying out of trouble will be important. But by the same token, because it is a short race, you’re not able to pace yourself. You've got to be quick and at the same time careful, which is difficult to do sometimes, but is often required to win at a place like Long Beach.”
The Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach is the second round of the 10-race ALMS championship. ABC’s coverage begins at 1 p.m. on Sunday.