ALMS owner IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) announced which three American Le Mans Series teams will get automatic invitations to the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours race on Tuesday.
The recipients of the three At Large invitations for 2013 are two LMP2 teams, Level 5 Motorsports and Conquest Endurance, and one GTE team, Extreme Speed Motorsports.
Since the creation of the World Endurance championship, Le Mans invitations for ALMS teams have been curtailed. Class winners for the season and at Petit Le Mans used to get guaranteed invites, as well as the Michelin Green-X Challenge winners from each class.
Since all WEC teams get automatic Le Mans invites and grid size for the 24 is limited at 56 cars, IMSA now receives thee “At Large” invitations which it assigns to whichever teams it deems deserving.
Level 5 started as an LMPC team in 2010 and moved up to LMP2 in 2011. The well-financed and well-prepared two-car team won the ALMS P2 championship in its debut season and again in 2012.
In 2010 the team’s drivers, including owner Scott Tucker, competed in an outmoded Audi R10 at Le Mans, but didn’t finish. The team was back in 2011 with its P2 Lola-HPD, and finished third in class, tenth overall. 2012 with the HPD-ARX-03b brought another DNF.
Level 5 won its class in eight ALMS races in 2012: Tucker and Christophe Bouchut won Sebring Long Beach, Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio, Baltimore, VIR, and Petit in one car and Tucker with Luis Diaz won at Laguna Seca. By winning the class twice in two years, the team has certainly earned its Le Mans invitation.
Conquest Endurance, run by IndyCar team owner Eric Bachelart, was new to both the P2 class and sports car racing in general when the team made its ALMS debut in 2012. With one pro (Martin Plowman) and one amateur (David Heinemeier Hansson) driver and a new, untested Morgan chassis (the only one in North America,) the team didn’t create high expectations.
It turned out that Heinemeier Hansson was a naturally gifted racer, and the team made its Morgan work. Fifteen years of expertise gained racing IndyCars apparently paid off.
The team started the season with Judd Power, but switched to Nissan (the P2 engine of choice in Europe) for the second race. Conquest picked up two race wins, at Mosport and at Road America, and finished second in five other events.
Three wins for a new team with a new car with a new motor, against the vastly better-funded Level 5 squad, surely warrants a chance at Le Mans.
Extreme Speed Motorsports, in its third year in the series, seems finally to have found its form.
The team won its first two races (Mosport and Petit Le Mans, where it also won pole) and drivers Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek finished second in driver points. ESM finished third in the team contest, behind veteran powerhouses Corvette Racing and BMW team RLL.
Along with its first two wins the team captured three podiums.
ESM has never been to Le Mans as a team, but one of its drivers has. Johannes Overbeek has four 24s under his belt, his best finish being third in 2005. Scott Sharp has plenty of miles of experience in IndyCars, Le Mans prototypes, and sports cars; the French classic won’t be too much for him.
2011 Le Mans GTE class winner Corvette Racing, which also won the 2012 ALMS team and drivers’ championships, didn’t get an at large invite, likely because the teams is virtually guaranteed acceptance because of its 2011 win and because of its long history with the race.
Neither of the ALMS P1 teams received invitations either. Dyson Racing turned down its 2012 invitation, earned by winning the ALMS p1 class in 2011, because its cars were not competitive (and probably the budget wasn’t there,) so it is no surprise the team was passed over. Likely they would have had to decline again in any case.
2012 LMP1 champions Muscle Milk Pickett Racing had originally expressed interest in racing at Le Mans, but told IMSA that plans had changed.
“While we expressed interest about going to Le Mans in the future, we did inform IMSA that it was not in our plans for 2013,” the team told its fans via Twitter. “We’re focused on defending our P1 championship next year.”
The 2013 American Le Mans season kicks off with the 61st Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 16, 2013.
The race should be epic, as usual (quite the oxymoron, eh?) Audi expects to bring at least one of its R18s to the fray, and several other WEC and ELMS teams have expressed interest in competing against ALMS’ best.
Tickets for the four-day event are already on sale—check the Sebring International Raceway website.