Earlier this year, the Scott Tucker-owned racing team Level 5 Motorsports prepared for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, an historic endurance race in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup series. Like any team, Level 5 aimed to win. But curiously, the team opted out of the option to qualify for a starting position in the race, instead accepting the dead last position for its two Microsoft Office-sponsored LMP2 cars, Nos. 55 and 95.
“Qualifying for a 24-hour race is meaningless,” said a Level 5 mechanic at the time. “Anything that’s not directly related to winning, we’re going to opt out of.”
It’s true; in a day-long event, starting position isn’t the most crucial element. But declining to qualify is not to say that the practice involved in driving laps prior to a race isn’t essential to success in professional motorsports. Specifically, it’s the kind of laps you drive.
The practice sessions open to teams in the days leading up to races are a critical time to get to know an unfamiliar track and maximize the efficiency of driver changes and pit stops. And, for Tucker and Level 5, practice is an opportunity to get a feel for a new car, a factor the team has faced numerous times in its existence.
Most recently, the team unveiled its new LMP2 cost-capped Honda chassis at the American Le Mans Series Monterey at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway on Sept. 17. The mere hours of road time the car experienced before the race were valuable indicators of how the car would perform in the race, another benefit of practice time.
But generally, the Level 5 team stays true to its mechanic’s word: Practice is nothing if it doesn’t make perfect. That’s one of the reasons the team runs two Le Mans Prototype entries in every race-when Tucker started Level 5 Motorsports in 2008, he was only two years into his professional racing career, and he needed practice. But he also wasn’t willing to waste time completing meaningless laps around a track against no competitors.
“From the time and energy I spend practicing, it just makes more sense to enter two cars in the races,” Tucker said. “Not only that, but it’s actually beneficial to run two cars. When you’re out there practicing, you’re not racing against anybody. When you look at it logically, it’s much smarter from a time perspective and infrastructure perspective, not to mention that you get extra racing seat time.”
To Tucker, the most valuable practice experiences have been those in actual race situations. Although practice sessions have proven useful to the Level 5 team when it wants to survey a new car’s capabilities, the team typically treats each and every mile on the track as an opportunity for a world-class win. That strategy has worked for the team, who now enters the pinnacle of the 2011 season-with the SCCA Runoffs, Petit Le Mans and the 6 Hours of Zhuhai in China left to go-after two years of continuously increasing success.
Although Tucker was 44 when he took the wheel for his first professional race in 2006, his race-only mindset strategy has quickly made up the time he never had to build his career. His success has skyrocketed in just the past 5 years. The results can’t be ignored: He’s a three-time national champion; 2010 ALMS rookie of the year; two-time T1 division national champion, going for a third this weekend; three-time Ferrari Challenge Series champion; and holder of a record 10 wins in the FC series.
Entering his career, Tucker clearly had his accelerator to the floor. He quickly joined endurance veteran Christophe Bouchut, who acted as his mentor in addition to his driving partner. Tucker has always driven with the cream of the elite motorsports crop, a strategy that has allowed him some room to develop as a driver while still being making plenty of podium appearances. The winning mindset he has maintained since day one has helped him become an elite driver in only a handful of years. As Tucker’s team makes its LMP2 debut in the American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans next weekend, it will compete against some of the fastest, most experienced drivers in the industry. For Level 5 Motorsports, it should be a good practice
Scott Tucker, the entrepreneur, investor, and racing champion has been featured by almost every major media outlet. Racing’s One-in-a-Million Story at the Wall Street Journal