For the 2nd year in a row, the American Le Mans Series Monterey at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway on the Monterey Peninsula was a six-hour enduro race that directed individuals round the circuit into the post-sundown darkness.

Previously, the race has been 4 hours, with the addition of a couple of more hrs in 2010. For Scott Tucker along with his Level 5 Motorsports racing team, the 2 added hrs provide for some space. “We always try to run a clean race, but little mistakes can add up,” Tucker claimed last year. “Two extra hours can be a huge advantage even for experienced teams because of those unexpected things you tend to run into with endurance races.”

Knowing Tucker and teammates Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz needed a 120-minute time allowance to overcome setbacks could have been less difficult in 2010, as it was Level 5 Motorsports’ debut year in the Le Mans series. Still, the David Stone-managed, Microsoft Office-sponsored team took the LMP class championship, and Tucker was rookie of the year.

In the 2011 season, driver setbacks have already been few in number for the Wisconsin-based team. Exploding in to the season with numerous podium finishes, the Level 5 drivers seemingly faced only circumstantial drawbacks. After making podium at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Long Beach circuit and Imola in Italy, and having top LMP2 points and a fourth-place finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the group had a record of vast majority clean races, with nary a damage or a ding on their Nos. 55 and 95 entries.

However, the team has faced those little mistakes that are apt to mount up. At the 1st appearance of the season, at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the team-on track for the podium for the better part of the race-finished 8th after Tucker’s No. 95 got caught in a stack-up in the notoriously narrow track. Even with smooth subsequent actions by Bouchut and Diaz, who had just joined the team at the start of the season, Level 5 couldn’t make up for the error. In the 24-hour race, more time isn’t a choice, but the outcome of the Rolex 24 had been unique had each driver just had a little extra seat time.

“One of the benefits of a six-hour endurance race is the extra seat time in a racing environment,” Tucker talked about at the Monterey. “It maximizes the efficiency of the track time allowed for a driver.”

The team couldn’t fix the slip-ups with time in making podium at Daytona, however made quick work of perfecting their form and began their successful streak just after the frustration at Daytona.

But in the Spa-Francorchamps race, a suspension failure sent Bouchut into the sideboards, and the team’s hopes of continuing its incredible streak with another ILMC top finish were dashed.

“It’s one of those things in racing,” Tucker thought. “It’s pretty unfortunate-it’s a pretty rough spot on the track for that failure to happen.” The statement is similar to what Tucker had said the year before about little unexpected things that pop up in endurance races. A further unpredicted development came in the summer for the Level 5 team, when a Honda Performance Development/Wirth Research partnership was producing a cost-capped LMP2 prototype. Tucker reserved the first two out of production, and the Level 5 team commenced waiting for the cars to be ready, ultimately removing of Lime Rock and Silverstone, partially because they didn’t face much competition and partially because they were preparing the latest car for its ALMS debut.

As an aside, the new car’s earliest ride was at the second six-hour Monterey at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. The team pulled off a sensational first performance in the HPD ARX-01g. Each one of the drivers has undoubtedly improved since the 1st six-hour format in 2010, and certainly the newer, faster car was also a significant factor in the podium finish, but one has to wonder how it would have fared in a four-hour enduro. World-class motorsports competition is a field of strategy, with car, driver order and track time important factors to consider.

Scott Tucker, a five-time national driving champion Scott Tucker

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