Race From The Start – Lucas Luhr

Strategy and engineering are essential to a successful motorsport program, but Lucas Luhr has never forgotten the simple fact that to win you must race from the green to checkered flag.

Mecca of Speed: The Muscle Milk Aston Martin turned only one lap during practice yesterday, was there an unforeseen issue with the car?

Lucas Luhr: Due to an engine change prior to this event, we only wanted to do a quick shakedown yesterday. We did have a little issue that prevented us from completing a lap, but we knew what was wrong, so we were not to worry about it.

To be honest, we did not plan on testing yesterday like the other teams, so it was an issue.

Mecca of Speed: This team switched to the E85 fuel blend at Mosport, correct.

Lucas Luhr: Yes, Mosport was the first race we ran the E85 fuel, allowing us to take advantage of the power-to-efficiency ratio the fuel offers. Over the last couple of races, it has been working well for us.

Mecca of Speed: By regulation you are allowed to run a larger fuel cell with the E85 blend.

Lucas Luhr: Yes, and the team is allowed to raise the fuel cell in the car so the re-fueling time is shorter.

Mecca of Speed: This year’s race at Road America has been extended from 2:45 to 4:00 hours, so you think the larger fuel cell will give you an advantage over the additional 1:45?

Lucas Luhr: Four hours is not the ideal distance for our race strategy. It’s four stops plus whatever is left depending on the overall pace of the race. I think we can count on some full course yellows as we have seen here in the past. Sometimes you can have a big lead and then the full course yellow happens and the field bunches back up.

We have some scenarios and a schedule, but in the end, if it comes out different from our strategy, we will adjust. If you can stay out of trouble, work through traffic, and go as quick as possible, the race may come to you.

I don’t think it’s worth starting with a conservative strategy of trying save fuel. If a yellow flag comes out, which is likely here, your strategy is done. From the start of the race we go as quick as possible and make adjustments depending on how race plays out.

Mecca of Speed: You have multiple years of experience racing the Porsche RS Spyder, first with Penske and later with Muscle Milk Team Cytosport. The car was competitive for several years, much longer then the average chassis. What do you feel are the strengths that made that chassis competitive?

Lucas Luhr: When you talk about building sports cars in a general sense, the Porsche RS Spyder, especially the updated chassis, was the first of the modern high-downforce sports cars. Later the high-downforce design migrated to the LMP1 class with the Audi R15, Peugeot 908, Acura, and so on.

At Porsche, we did extensive testing and development focusing on overall downforce. This developed a very good car that was constant under braking and through the complete corner.

The first year we raced the Spyder in 2006-2007, I think it was by far the best car out there. Then other manufactures began to study the Porsche, thinking how they could improve their car in various areas, which over time, allowed them to catch up to the Spyder.

In 2006-2007, I don’t believe there was a better sports car in the series then the RS Spyder. When you start with a chassis that well developed, for some time you are ahead of the other competitors, as they need time to develop their own chassis.

Mecca of Speed: Transitioning from the Porsche to the Aston Martin, do you have a preference between an open cockpit or a coupe?

Lucas Luhr: The coupes came in favor by the manufactures because of Le Mans due to their ability to generate less aero turbulence. However, as a driver you have challenges with things like the forward view. You can have some blind spots created from the A-pillar down to the wheel arch.

When it rains, you have to develop how to efficiently remove the rain off the windscreen in addition to preventing the windscreen from foging up from the inside.

The car looks tiny from the outside, but there is really plenty of space and it’s quite comfortable in the cockpit.

In an open cockpit car, your view forward is not an issue.

I don’t really have a preference. The Aston Martin is nice because as a coupe it has air conditioning. This makes for a nice driving environment. For me, it’s really about 50/50 with no clear preference for one over the other.

Mecca of Speed: With a sponsor like Muscle Milk, fitness is a key item for this team. What is your training program like building up for one of the longer 12 or 24-hour races?

Lucas Luhr: We are training all year. Personally, Sebring is always a hard for me. It’s the first race of the season and it’s the most challenging. The bumps and high G loads really make that track a challenge over 12 hours.

You can train 4-5 hours a day, but you still feel a strain in your neck after the first day at Sebring. The way that you sit in the car you can’t really simulate it with static training.

For cardio training, I do running, cycling and swimming. Having done triathlons in the past and I like the variations, so my regiment isn’t always the same.

I do some weight training to build up strength to deal with all the forces involved with racing.

Mecca of Speed: Like many American Le Mans, drivers you race in additional series including driving a Nissan GT-R in the FIA GT1 World Championship and a Porsche GT in select European long endurance races. How does your approach very between each series?

Lucas Luhr: Driving the Nissan in the FIA GT1 World Championship is a completely different type of racing. The races are one hour split between two drivers. You do a driver change in the pit stop window between 25-32 minuets. This stop includes a tire change but no fuel.

You drive at 150%, as it’s a sprint race. It’s pedal to the metal all day long. Here in the ALMS, it’s an endurance race. You push when needed, but don’t constantly push your car over the limit.

In the FIA GT1 World Championship, there are no slower classes unlike the multiclass format here in the ALMS. Anytime you are closing on a car, you know it’s for position. It’s two very different types of racing.

In the Nissan GT-R, you sit on the right hand side and shift with your left hand, which I had never done until I raced that car. The car has a lot of power, carbon fiber brakes, and no ABS or traction control, so you fight a lot with the car.

At the Nurburgring, it’s another completely different type of racing. A Porsche is a Porsche and there is nothing else like it. It’s a very special car to drive all on it’s own. It’s a rear engine car, so it’s a different weight distribution from the Nissan or the Aston Martin. You cannot compare a Porsche to any other racecar in the world. In the simplest terms, a Porsche drives like a Porsche.

By comparison, an LMP1 car has quite a lot of down force, but not as much mechanical grip.

The Aston Martin, Nissan and Porsche are three completely different types of cars with different driving experiences.

I’ve had a long brake from the FIA GT1 World Championship. I have to miss the Baltimore ALMS race because we are leading in the FIA GT1 World Championship and we are heading to China for two races.

Mecca of Speed: Last year the Dryson Lola with a Judd V-10 won this race, which has similar qualities to this Aston Martin V-12.

Lucas Luhr: Dryson won last year because when Klaus Graf was leading the race, he got caught up in traffic going into the Kink. Johnny Cocker got a clear run and blew by him. That is part of this type of racing with four different classes.

There are slower cars, and there are SLOWER cars. You never have a problem with the pros in the BMWs, Corvettes, or Flying Lizard Porsches. Other guys are so busy just trying to drive their car, they have no time to look around and be aware of who is coming up on them.

Mecca of Speed: With your busy schedule, how often do you get out on your motorcycle?

Lucas Luhr: This year I did some day rides with a bunch of guys, but it’s not easy. When I do have a chance to get home, I like to spend time with my wife and kids. On the other hand, I also have some hobbies I like to peruse. Whenever I have time and it fits into our schedule, I go for a ride.

Mecca of Speed: What is your current motorcycle?

Lucas Luhr: I have a Harley Davidson V-Rod and have spent about 11⁄2 years customizing it myself. I ordered some parts and tuned it myself. I’m a bit of a technical freak, I like that side of things.

Mecca of Speed: Being interested in the technical and mechanical side of things, how do you feel that benefits you as a driver?

Lucas Luhr: I think it comes down to a technical understanding of the car. If I work with the engineers and they tell me they want to go softer or stiffer with the roll bar, I need to know what the roll bar does to the car so I can adjust my driving.

You learn that in karts, how changes affect the kart, and you carry that experience forward into the various formulas of cars.

A lot of it comes down to experience setting up a car, especially high-downforce prototypes. You can take one of the best GT drivers and put them in a high-downforce prototype and if they have no experience, they are not going to go anywhere. They may not understand that when they have understeer, they need to go quicker so the aero works better by generating more downforce. In a GT car, if you understeer, you have to go slower.

It also depends a lot on the engineers. Our engineers are really good guys. They don’t just look at the data and base their changes off of it; they know what is going on with the car. They have all driven karts or various race cars for several years and understand not only the theoretical side but also the practical side of driving as well.

Everyone knows how understeer and oversteer feels. The team takes the feedback from the drivers, personal experience, in addition to the data, and work together to ideally have the fastest car.

Mecca of Speed: The goal for any teams is to win a championship. Your team is currently in second, not far behind the Dyson team. Do you see winning the championship a viable goal for 2011?

Lucas Luhr: My roll here is pretty simple; I’m here to help Klaus (Graf) win the championship, which I can’t do because I have to miss a race. I think we have a very good chance of fighting for the championship if it goes down to the last race.

Personally, I come to this team and do the best job I can every race. If Klaus is the champion at the end of the year, then we have achieved our goal. We were unlucky at Sebring, which hurt. It’s a long race and worth more points, so we have been running behind in points all year.

It’s tough with only a few LMP1 cars. For example, if Dyson doesn’t break they will always finish 1-4 and score good points.

We are currently 23 points behind, so winning the championship is not an easy task. All we can do is focus on winning every race and at the end, see where we finish in the championship.

Mecca of Speed: How would you describe the experience of racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans?

Lucas Luhr: Le Mans is a special place because of the history, but to drive it is not that big of a deal. The only really challenging corners are the Porsche Curves. The rest of the course is fairly straight with late braking for the corners or chicanes.

From a driver’s point of view, the 24 Hours of Nurburgring is far more challenging. You have the most difficult racetrack in the world and over 200 cars on the track. It’s completely nuts.

At Le Mans, you do have higher speeds, but everyone can go 230 mph down the straightaway, you don’t need a lot of skill for that.

Mecca of Speed: Thank you for your time.

Lucas Luhr: Your welcome.


Content credit Lucas Luhr and John Vatne. Photo credit Scott Rohloff, Randy Erdman and John Vatne.