Pagenaud, Gonzalez Rejoin Level 5 for Road America
On the heels of a championship lead-extending fourth American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron victory of the season Level 5 Motorsports and Scott Tucker head to historic Road America, regarded as one of the most anticipated races on the calendar. This time, there will be an added level of excitement, as the team welcomes back Simon Pagenaud and Ricardo Gonzalez to the driving strength for Sunday’s Orion Energy Systems 245.
With Ryan Briscoe still on the mend from last month’s Honda Indy Toronto, where he sustained a fractured wrist, fellow IZOD IndyCar Series star Pagenaud has been drafted in to team with nine-time national driving champion Tucker in Level 5’s No. 551 Siemens/Alpina Watches/Ohiya Casino Resort-sponsored Honda Performance Development ARX-03b race car.
Pagenaud is no stranger to success, particularly in Honda-powered cars. The former ALMS Prototype champion claimed IndyCar Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2012 and backed it up with his first career victory in Detroit in June. Considered to be one of the most versatile drivers in the business, the 29-year-old Frenchman recently took part in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb at the wheel of a Honda Odyssey minivan. He will be making his second start of the season with Level 5, after a runner-up finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March and is fresh off a second place finish in last weekend's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
Joining P2 championship leader Marino Franchitti in the No. 552 HPD this weekend will be Gonzalez, who recently notched the P2 class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 34-year-old Mexican driver made three starts with Level 5 in 2012, which included being part of the team’s historic 1-2 overall finish at Baltimore. Gonzalez, the 2011 ALMS Prototype Challenge champion, currently leads the FIA World Endurance Championship in the P2 class.
“We feel it’s best to give Ryan a few more weeks to heal up and we therefore made the decision to have Simon drive for us this weekend,” said team principal Tucker. “Simon’s done a great job for us in the past and is one of the most experienced and successful drivers in HPD prototypes, so it was a logical choice for us. It’s also great to welcome Ricardo back to Level 5. We enjoyed having him with the team last year; he was an important part of our championship season. I think we’re in good shape for Road America.”
The 14-turn, 4-mile Wisconsin road course is not only considered Level 5’s home track, with the David Stone-led organization based 100 miles away in Madison, Wis., but it’s also been one of Tucker’s most successful circuits. Tucker has earned five SCCA National Championships at Road America since 2009, including becoming the first driver to break the longstanding 2-minute lap barrier in SCCA competition in 2012 at the wheel of a specially developed West ST01a prototype.
In addition to his driving duties in the No. 551 HPD, Tucker will also take part in the pair of Cooper Tires Prototype Lites powered by Mazda races this weekend, as the accomplished sports car driver nears a milestone 100th career victory. With Road America having produced some of the closest finishes in ALMS history, in races that sometimes come down to fuel mileage, maximizing strategy can be one of the keys to success on race day.
“Every race, you have to consider fuel as part of your strategy,” Level 5 team manager David Stone explained. “But it’s reasonable to think, since our competition is running identical cars to ours, any fuel mileage benefit is going to come from our drivers ability to save fuel when they can. We have really good drivers that know how to do that and we’re confident for the race. It’s good to have both Simon and Ricardo with us this weekend and we’re anticipating having Ryan back for the next race at Baltimore.”
The Orion Energy Systems 245, from Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 11 with live coverage on ABC and ESPN3. ESPN3 will also show live qualifying at 10:45 a.m. ET on Saturday, August 10. Live timing and scoring will be available at http://www.alms.com.
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