By Brent Arends
Level 5 Motorsports, one of the world’s most prolific racing organizations, is in the midst of rounding out the 2011 racing schedule, with just three short—but very important—races left to tackle. The SCCA Runoffs, the ALMS Petit Le Mans and the 6 Hours of Zhuhai in China are sure to be high-profile, intense competition races. But one thing they’re not: an entire day long.
The mother of all endurance races is the 24-hour enduro. With two on the 2011 books for Level 5 Motorsports, owned by Scott Tucker, the team had to be prepared for a grueling day—and night—of racing. The Intercontinental Le Mans Cup series offered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, in June, and the Grand-Am Rolex sets up the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, which was Level 5’s first race of the 2011 year, in January.
Having made podium at both super-endurance races, the Level 5 drivers (which also include Luis Diaz and Christophe Bouchut) have clearly mastered some of the unique challenges a day-long competition presents. One of the most obvious: driving in the dark. After focusing on a well-lit road all day, drivers are often challenged to keep a competitive pace when it gets dark, especially on tracks that aren’t well-lit. At the Daytona International Speedway, almost all of the track is lit by floodlights, so drivers adjust more easily. But in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the course occasionally goes through secluded highways in France.
“It takes a little while to get adjusted,” Tucker said. “But the track is still there; you just have to get used to it.” When making the transition from day to night, teams make sure to check that the headlights are working perfectly, and the rest is up to the driver. “You sort of become one with the road,” Tucker says. “It’s the same way a blind person’s other senses are heightened; your other senses eventually take over, and soon enough you’re matching the lap times from earlier in the day.”
Many of the newest Le Mans Prototype models regularly approach 200mph in race situations, which is amplified when driven at night. “There’s nothing like driving at night,” Tucker says.
Tucker and his Level 5 team secured an invitation to the 24 Hours of Le Mans when they won their LMP class in 2010 at the ALMS Petit Le Mans. Taking the wheels of LMP2 cars for the 2011 season, the team will again look for their invite to 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012—hopefully, with an LMP1 class designation. This weekend, the team competes in the SCCA Runoffs, but the race they’ve really been focused on all season has been Petit Le Mans. They recently added a new car to their Microsoft Office-sponsored entries, a cost-capped Honda chassis with modified fuel injector and other specifications that ultimately allow the car to run with more power at a lighter weight.
So far, the car has proven unbeatable; it’s debut at Monterey was flawless, and the weeks leading up to Petit Le Mans are just additional opportunities for the drivers to acquaint themselves with the new set of wheels. With an LMP2 win at the top of their to-do list, the next time Level 5 Motorsports makes the transition from night to day could be in an LMP1 class at the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Brent Arends has been keeping a close eye on Scott Tucker, owner and driver, of Level 5 Motorsports throughout the past year. To get more information about Tucker, check out http://www.planetlemans.com/?s=scott+tucker to the latest on sports car and GT racing.