Pickett: Fighting Adversity Fueled Muscle Milk P1 Title
BRASELTON, Ga. - After a couple of close calls, Pickett Racing claimed its first title in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón in 2012. It wasn’t an easy job despite six wins in 10 races for Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr in Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s first year with an HPD ARX-03a prototype. For Pickett, 2012 marked his first championship season since his Trans-Am days as both an owner and driver. Want to know where did this year stack up and what’s in store for the 2013 ALMS? You’re in luck…
ALMS: You’ve won your fair share of titles over the years. Where does this one rank?
Pickett: It meant A LOT. I won the 1978 Trans-Am championship with my own car and my own team. But certainly nothing I’ve ever done can compare with this. Winning championships is never easy to do, especially at this high level of the sport. There are so many things you have to get right. The ALMS championship is a highly technical challenge and it’s tough to get it right. This championship should have been a little easier for us, to be honest. We had very good pace, and Nick Wirth and the HPD guys gave us a great package. Still we had a few little things that slowed us down from time to time. Frankly there were several races where we asked the guys to come back from multiple laps down. Asking the drivers to go back out at 11/10ths and seeing the team respond to that – and deliver the performance they did – was outstanding.
It was an up-and-down season – five wins in a row at one point but some minor issues that cropped up which ultimately cost the team at Road America and Baltimore. What was the biggest thing to come out of those two events?
Baltimore was a very disheartening event. I was almost embarrassed by what happened to us there. We bolted on a new piece that hadn’t been on the car before but was developed to enhance the components to work on that circuit. It was built wrong. That was an absolute crusher. If we could have finished there out front, it would have put us almost on cruise for the rest of the championship.
I took some of the quality control experience from our food company and built in a people-proof system with multiple redundancies. We put in place with a triangulation group – ourselves, the people at Wirth and HPD – to create a program of sign-offs, approvals of drawing and specs… that’s really starting to pay big benefits. It’s gotten to that point here. The more technical a car is, the more emphasis it puts on your procedures and structure and quality control. To get that stuff right is when you start clicking off seconds.
Even after winning at VIR, there was still the matter of scoring points at Petit Le Mans…
We had to do 70 percent of the laps at Road Atlanta. That’s never an easy task on a track like that and in such a large event. So what were we doing on Tuesday and Wednesday? We blew a whistle in the pitlane and told our guys, “Change the front corner.” They didn’t know what we were going to tell them ahead of time. We had all of our spares laid out like we would during the race. We hit the stopwatch and then went to work. They did it as fast they could on the front suspension, rear suspension, shock absorbers, batteries… really Audi-type stuff and repairs. I’m telling you, it paid off big-time. You have to look at those things in developing your strategies. It’s gotten to that point. That’s how close things are in the ALMS.
We really hurt the car at Petit Le Mans (in a crash at the one-hour mark). We bent everything on the front and rear suspension. We were very lucky that we didn’t hurt the transaxle. To be able to get the car repaired and complete 70 percent was very gratifying to see.
Tell us about testing at Austin. Was this a track test or a car test?
It was the first time we’ve run since Petit Le Mans. We came here Monday with the 2012-spec car. Overnight we changed to the 2013-spec car – new front suspension, bigger wheels and tires, new front aero, steering box… a lot of stuff. Within three laps we were faster than we were all day yesterday. So we’re very, very pleased. That’s what the simulation showed us at Wirth Research. It showed that it would be a quicker car. That’s exactly what it is turning out to be.
You said at the 2011 banquet you were coming back in ’12 to win it. Rob Dyson borrowed a page out of your book and said the same thing this year. That plus Rebellion Racing being here full-time is going to make things interesting, to say the least…
Defending is going to be even tougher than winning the first one. But that’s our goal and telling anyone who will listen. We have a very busy winter planned – actually we’re in the middle of it now. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the Dyson guys. We know they are going to be faster and we know they have the resources to come back and be a championship team. That’s why we’ve taken this step forward. Rebellion showed they have really good pace and they were quicker than us in qualifying at Road Atlanta. Our championship wasn’t a fluke. We will be better, faster and more reliable. Our competition can look forward to that because that’s what we’re bringing back.