- Oak Racing also in top ten in Rolex 24 at Daytona
- Merged US sports car series compete together for the first time
- Solid debut for TUDOR United SportsCar Championship title assault
DAYTONA, FL, USA, (Sunday, January 26, 2014) - Nissan returned to the high banks of Daytona International Speedway with a fifth-place finish for official partner team Muscle Milk Pickett Racing in the opening round of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship today - the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The trio of Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Alex Brundle were the first Le Mans-style prototype to cross the line as the new championship kicked off with the P2-style cars from the former American Le Mans Series competing against the Daytona Prototypes from the former GRAND-AM championship.
Both Nissan-powered entries finished inside the top 10 with the Oak Racing entry of Olivier Pla, Roman Rusinov, Gustavo Yacaman and Oliver Webb grabbing 8th place at the finish of the 24-hour enduro.
The two Nissan entries could have finished even higher had bad luck not struck throughout the Florida endurance-racing classic. Klaus Graf suffered a flat tire just after the team's opening pit stop and had to return for an additional stop. The incident pushed the #6 Nissan-powered ORECA chassis two laps off the race lead.
A penalty for a pit lane speeding infringement later in the race also cost the team after they had clawed their way back onto the lead lap. The Oak Racing entry ran as high as third place before suffering an alternator issue.
Both teams battled a straight-line speed disadvantage compared to the Daytona Prototype entries that were generally a second a lap faster thanks to the full-throttle high-banked sections of the circuit.
Today's race was won by the Action Express Racing Daytona Prototype entry of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais.
The next step for the Muscle Milk squad will be the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 12-15. The team will also take part in the annual Sebring winter test on February 20-21.
As part of the Nismo Global Driver Exchange, a racer from Nissan's squad of international drivers will also compete for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing at both the Sebring and Road Atlanta endurance races.
DARREN COX, NISSAN GLOBAL MOTORSPORTS DIRECTOR
“Our congratulations go to our partner team Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and also the guys at Oak Racing on a great result at Daytona today.
“We knew coming into this weekend that fighting for the overall victory was going to be a huge challenge but to come away with a top-five finish and have both Nissan-powered cars in the top ten is a great result.
“Doing battle against the Daytona Prototypes was going to be big fight here in Daytona as they have such a big straight-line speed advantage and so much of this track is at full throttle.
“In race conditions we were really around a second off the pace but the straight-line speed situation was what made things an even bigger challenge because the Daytona Prototypes could get through traffic far more easily than any of the Le Mans-style P2 cars.
“Everyone in a P2 car had to be very brave under braking in going through traffic.
“I'm expecting the situation to be far more even when we are at Sebring and by the time we get to Long Beach - then the P2-style cars should be locking down the front of the grid and be charging away for the win in the race.
“There are going to be tracks where Daytona Prototypes will be dominant and others where the P2 cars will be dominant and really that is the way it should be as we bring both championships together.
“I think the debut of the championship has been great and I am very impressed and thankful to all the guys at Muscle Milk Pickett Racing on a job very well done.“
KLAUS GRAF, DRIVER - MUSCLE MILK PICKETT RACING
“I'm really happy with the result. I've said since the beginning, if we can get a top-five it would be a very good day. The way the TUDOR Championship is you won't be able to win all the races; it's not going to happen. So Lucas and I spoke about it and how we need to get the results and just collect points. In a 24-hour race, the way the points structure is, you get the same points for every race and this is a big deal and we go away from here with good points.
“I'm very happy with the partnership with ORECA and Nissan. In a very short period of time, we built a reliable car and the Muscle Milk boys prepared the car very well. There was a lot going on this weekend and you can't have everything 100% right with such a short preparation time but Daryl (Fox) our crew chief told us that he and the guys always prepare the car 100% and that's what they did.
“For me, I'm happy, we pushed like hell, like always, maybe we pushed a little too hard but it doesn't matter, we got a good result.“
LUCAS LUHR, DRIVER - MUSCLE MILK PICKETT RACING
“I have to say that I'm very proud of our guys. It's a brand new package, brand new car, it was the first 24-hour race for this team and to finish was a good thing.
“On the other hand, I think we still have a lot of work to do and also the sanctioning body needs to work on the balance of performance. I hope they are going to change that. You can't fight when you are 12-miles-per-hour slower than the other guys.
“However, you can't just see it negatively, you have to also see the bright side. The car ran mostly trouble-free and we finished only three laps down on the leaders after 24 hours. That's impressive.
“Thanks to the boys for the preparation of the car and let's keep pushing!“
ALEX BRUNDLE, DRIVER - MUSCLE MILK PICKETT RACING
“Coming in fifth in the Rolex 24 at Daytona is pretty good. We finished first of the P2 cars which, to be honest, was a realistic aim coming into the weekend.
“It's been a real pleasure working with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. I've learned from the professionalism on this team. They have some great guys and I've taken a lot from the experience, so thanks to them and specifically to Greg and Penny Pickett and Nissan for giving me the opportunity to come and race here.
“It's been great and to get to the end of the race with no major glitches and to take fifth place was not too bad at all.
“It terms of balance of performance we were knocked back heavily but the ORECA chassis was fantastic through the infield. We got a little bit back that way but it certainly made it hard work.
“All night we had to hustle through the traffic whereas the Daytona Prototypes could just cruise around the outside of the banking and take cars that way.
“It wasn't the easiest 24 hours I've ever done, but we had good performance from the car and the Nissan engine ran with perfect reliability so that is all we can ask really.“