Saturday, December 3, 2011

Scott Tucker appears to have an optimistic looking season ahead

By Jesse Schwarck

There are many things different about this year's Mazda Laguna Seca race. For all drivers, the weather has been uncharacteristically chilly throughout the week's practice runs and system checks. For Scott Tucker and his Level 5 Motorsports, weather is hardly noticeable-at least not compared to the brand new metal vessel they've been wheeling around at triple-digit speeds. Scott Tucker and the team recently partnered with Wirth Research to debut an HPD ARX-01g chassis at the American Le Mans Series race tomorrow. Last week, drivers Christophe Bouchut, Joao Barbosa and Luis Diaz, as well as team manager David Stone, visited the Wirth Research team to meet their new team member. But of course, giving it the once-over means nothing once behind the wheel.

Initial practice runs this week were promising; the drivers emerged from their seats optimistic. Team owner Scott Tucker was a man of few words after his first practice run. "It's good," Scott Tucker said. "We're going through the normal systems checks. We're just going through the motions."

The motions should be enough for Scott Tucker and Level 5, if last year is any indication. Scott Tucker along with his team won the 2010 American Le Mans Series championship, and Tucker won both 2010 Rookie of the Year and Champion Driver. Still, with a brand new car, it will be important to find the team's sweet spot in order to make the podium once again.

"Right now, it's more about finding the balance," said Luis Diaz after his practice run earlier this week. "If you have a good balanced car, you'll have a good car in qualifying and race. We're focusing on having a decent car, good balance front to rear, and then we'll start to focus on having that ultimate lap."

Although the drivers are being diplomatic in their answers, team manager David Stone offers a bit of insight. "Everybody left last night feeling pretty optimistic about the car," he says. "The initial performance indicators were really good. This is really a test race for us getting ready for Petite le Monde."

The team has been using a simulator in London in order to prepare for the new car's debut. The car is so new that no spare parts have arrived yet, which makes this weekend's race a risky one for Level 5. "We don't have any spare parts, so we need to be really good with the car today," Stone said. The team rushed the new car to the raceway in order to be ready for Petite le Monde next weekend, so it's clear their eyes are to the horizon.

Changing cars is nothing new for the Level 5 team. Tucker, who began his career at age 44 in 2006, raced in two cars for his first season: the No. 55 Oreca FLM09 and the No. 95 Oreca FLM09. This year, the team entered the LMP2 class and changed cars again. Following a year of outstanding success, which included two podium finishes just four races into the season, the team made an announcement: it would finish the year with yet another car. They would pair their existing Honda motors with the Honda LMP2 chassis to finish out the race calendar.

True to his history, Tucker is prepared for and confident in the change. "We've seen gains with the engine all year and the good thing is that there's still room for development," he says. "The HPD engine and chassis combination has proven to be the best over the years. We feel very comfortable and confident in making this unprecedented and decisive move in the middle of the season."

As the race kicks off tomorrow, the new car will weather it's first true road test. The results of tomorrow's race will be a telling indicator of the weekend to come.

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