Emotion-filled day for Muscle Milk team

The Muscle Milk team had plenty of reasons to be smiling when they left Sebring International Raceway on Thursday night.

The first being the remarkable fourth place debut of Mark Bullitt in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge and the other the heroic feat accomplished by the Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing crew to get back on track following a morning fire on their LMP1 car.

Bullitt impresses on debut
Mark Bullitt made an impressive first appearance with Muscle Milk Team CytoSport in Thursday's IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge race at Sebring International Raceway by placing fourth in the Platinum class of the series.

The German started off his day by qualifying third and clinching himself a second row start in the 39-car field. A few hours later, at the start of the 45-minute race, Bullitt held his own and maintained his third position by immediately building a lead of nearly a second in the openings laps.

Racing at Sebring - GT3However, by lap three, the fourth and fifth place cars were chasing him down. While Bullitt was initially able to defend his position, he saw the #92 of Tim McKenzie get by him one lap later.

With a little less than 40 minutes to go, the driver of the Muscle Milk Porsche 911 GT3 cup car never gave up, keeping focused and out of trouble while continuing to build a lead on the car behind him.

He went on to take the checkered in fourth place to a round of applause from team owner Greg Pickett and Klaus Graf.

The IMSA GT3 Challenge cars will be back on track Friday at 4:20 p.m. for Race #2 in which Bullitt will be starting fourth (starting positions are determined by the fastest laps registered in Race 1).

The GT3 Cup Challenge action from Sebring International Raceway can be followed on live timing at www.imsachallenge.com.

Fiery times for Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing
Aston on track at SebringEverything had been going well for the Muscle Milk team in the first official American Le Mans Series practice of the season at Sebring International Raceway.

Lucas Luhr had set a fast lap of 1:50.647 good enough to place the team fourth overall and the car was running great when team owner and co-driver Greg Pickett hopped aboard for the final minutes of the session.

But then, right after the checkered flag fell on the one-hour practice, what had started out as a great day turned into a near nightmare when Pickett started smelling smoke in the cockpit of his Aston Martin.

A check valve – an always reliable, never problematic inexpensive part – in the fuel injection system had stayed stuck open and caused the high-pressure system to overflow, consequently causing gas to leak, which started the fire.

Fortunately, Pickett was quick to react and pull the car off track to a location with corner workers. He also immediately activated the in-car fire extinguisher, which quickly put out the flames and saved the Aston Martin from suffering further damage.

While the damage could had been much worse had it not been for Pickett's quick thinking, the assessment of it didn't give the team a very positive outlook for the remainder of the day, which consisted of a second practice in the afternoon and a night practice from 7:50 p.m. to 9:35 p.m. ET. Initial reports suggested the team wouldn't be returning to the track that day.

However, the challenge to get back on track and have all three drivers complete the mandatory three laps of the night practice was enough to motivate the Muscle Milk team who proved they were up for the insurmountable challenge.

With everyone pitching in, the crew did a phenomenal job to get the Aston Martin back together and ready to run. It was with about 50 minutes left in the session that Klaus Graf entered pit lane aboard the LMP1 car.

Although the team was mainly aiming at getting all three drivers their minimum night practice requirements done, it took advantage of the remaining track time to register what was, especially under the circumstances, an impressive lap of 1:51.135 that placed them sixth overall right behind the Peugeot and Audi contingent, giving them an extra something to smile about.

The 12 Hours of Sebring will be broadcast live in the US, in its entirety on ESPN3.com Saturday, March 19 starting at 10:15 a.m. ET. Television coverage will be presented on ABC from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 20.



Mark Bullitt HeadshotMark Bullitt, driver #6 Muscle Milk Porsche 911 GT3 Challenge Cup car

"First of all I was very happy with our qualifying result earlier in the day. As for the race, it was really good. I was amazed by the speed we could go with the Muscle Milk Porsche GT3 Cup car. For the first time, being my first race at this level of racing in this series, I couldn't be more satisfied with the result.

"Right away we were with the top four guys, the times were all good and I didn't make any big mistakes so I'm really pleased with this first race. It was a good learning experience that will serve well for our second race of the week. We'll tweak the car a little bit for that race and I just can't wait to get back out there."


Greg Headshot 2011Greg Pickett, driver and owner Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing

(On his team making it out for night practice)
"This today, what our crew did, getting us back out tonight is nothing short of heroic."

(On what was the cause of the fire)
"Even though it gave the boys quite a busy day, the damage to the car was not as bad as it first appeared, it was mostly burnt electrical wires. The source of the fire was a check valve, just one of those pieces that never ever fails, in the fuel injection system that stuck open and resulted in the high-pressure system overflowing, which caused the gas to leak and catch fire.
"I want to give my compliments to Aston Martin's fire extinguisher system which stopped the flames as soon as I activated it, it definitely saved us from extensive damage. I also want to thank the corner workers and safety team, they were quick to assist me and made sure the flames were out on our car.

(On Mark Bullitt's debut with the team)

"Mark, Klaus and I went into this 40-car race by telling ourselves that if Mark was fortunate enough to qualify in the top 10 and finish in the top five we would consider this race to be an absolute success. And it was a home run. Mark exceeded our expectations. We are so very pleased to have this young and talented new driver on our team."

Klaus Headshot 2011Klaus Graf, driver Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing

"This is hard to describe in words. We looked at the car after this morning's practice, even just a few hours ago and now, it's unbelievable. We never thought we'd be back out today. This shows what this group of people is made of and how the spirit is on the team. It's how you go about when you have something like that happen. It's a very special day for the team. This is racing, it's so emotional, there are ups and downs and the hero and zero are so close together, I don't think there's any other sport where it's like that.

"This was a big day and it finished on a high. Lucas did a great job at the end. We just put the car back together and put it on the track so to come out and set a competitive time like that is great. It also shows what Lucas is about too. It's obviously a great ending to the day.

(About Mark Bullitt's race – who Klaus coaches)

"We already had a highlight earlier in the day with Mark in the IMSA Challenge race. He started third and finished fourth in his first ever 'modern" race here in America and I think that was very impressive for him. His group of people, Kyle and his crew, who run the car did a fantastic job.

"It makes me very proud because I've known Mark a long time, coaching him and he's very, very talented. I think we will have a good season with him. So congrats to him for today's race."

Lucas Headshot 2011Lucas Luhr, driver Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing

"This morning when we went out I was totally surprised how good our Muscle Milk Aston Martin was. I was really excited and looking forward to the second practice and then unfortunately we had the fire which ruined everything at that moment. Luckily, Greg did a fantastic job stopping immediately because otherwise we would have no car right now.

"And then the crew, I have to say hats off to them. They did an amazing job. I've never seen anything like that. Seeing the guys in the car, under the car working on it, putting it back together and then a couple of hours later we are here with a great car that we didn't really set-up. It just shows how good a group of guys we have and it's amazing.

"I have to say a hundred million times thank you to them and hopefully we can give something back to them during the weekend."

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