Muscle Milk keeps 2014 cards close to vest in final ALMS pre-race release

Muscle Milk Pickett Racing
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One of sports car racing’s most successful teams, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, has not yet chosen the direction it will go for 2014.

The team has captured the 2012 and 2013 American Le Mans Series P1 championships with drivers Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr, and has raced the Honda Performance Development P1 car in two different iterations: the HPD ARX-03a in 2012, and the modified HPD ARX-03c for 2013.

As the team prepares to take a final bow with ALMS next week at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, the team said only it “will be saying goodbye to both the series in which it has had a tremendous amount of success as well as its Honda Performance Development P1 car with which it has earned 18 podium finishes, including 14 wins, and 11 pole positions in 19 starts.”

Greg Pickett’s squad can win its ninth straight ALMS race to end 2013 if they win, which would also give Luhr 50 career series victories.

Luhr made his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in a second Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing entry at Sonoma in August, with additional support from RW Motorsports and from Pickett directly. It is careful to note that was only an exploratory effort by Pickett to test the IndyCar waters, and was not a Muscle Milk Pickett Racing entry. Luhr has said he’d be interested in a full-time IndyCar switch.

The team saying it will be saying goodbye to the HPD P1 car does not necessarily mean it is ending its relationship with Honda. Honda is known to have plans for a new P1 engine (per RACER‘s Marshall Pruett) that would race in the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship, as it is the only series P1 cars can race in, and with new P1 regulations forming up for 2014. P1s are not eligible in the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

Additionally, of course, Honda will shift to a twin-turbocharged package for its 2.2L V6 engine in IndyCar in 2014; the manufacturer would be keen to have a team of Pickett’s caliber joining up given the recent departure of Chip Ganassi Racing to Chevrolet.

Pickett has kept his cards close to his vest since the merger of ALMS and GRAND-AM was announced in September 2012; he told this writer in the immediate aftermath last year he “would not run a Daytona Prototype,” and that’s been all he’s really stuck to on record in the 13 months since.

Whichever series, or manufacturer, gains Pickett’s operation for 2014 will be a lucky one. It will be interesting to watch how this situation develops over the offseason.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III