Greg Pickett, with Klaus Graf (LAT photo)
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing owner Greg Pickett is about a month away from deciding which direction he’ll take the American Le Mans Series P1 team, and could be prepared to take a break from sports car racing.
Last weekend’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IndyCar Series race featured Muscle Milk driver Lucas Luhr in a second Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing entry with Pickett Racing team manager Brandon Fry engineering the car and Pickett on the timing stand overseeing the effort, and according to the veteran driver-turned-owner, the experience has him seriously considering a full-fledged open-wheel effort in 2014.
“I think we took away a: Hmmvery interesting’ from Sonoma,” Pickett told RACER at Baltimore. “Listen, we knew that it could be pretty effective from a branding standpoint, there was no question in our minds about that. We felt that our team is built with some people that are used to the type of technology that makes a difference there. And that’s all we saw there. It’s about getting all the small things right.
“We tried to find out: Could Lucas do this? I think, arguably, Lucas could do this and he likes it. I’ll say that. We think we know the kind of things you have to pay attention to and that you have to invest in to make a difference. I think we saw some of that. Now, we knew what we didn’t have and what we don’t have yet and things that we needed to work on. The 7-post rigs and all of that.”
With the team’s HPD ARX-03c P1 car set to be phased out from the United SportsCar Racing’s class roster next season, the next step for Pickett and his Muscle Milk company is to choose where to compete. Pickett said talks with HPD and Wirth Research about campaigning the marque’s new closed-top P1 car were tabled for 2014, leaving a shift to a new class in the USCR or a switch to IndyCar as their most likely move.
Picket has expressed his disinterest in P2 or Daytona Prototype machinery on multiple occasions. The Indiana-based Muscle Milk team, which features 25 employees and a half-dozen engineers, is filled with ex-Indy car personnel and would make changing series relatively easy.
“So, by and large, we went away pretty positive about our IndyCar experience,” added Pickett. “Lucas liked it. Lucas can do it. We can do it relatively well. It would take us time. We know that. We’d have to invest a couple of years. We’re very realistic about that. We sure were interested in seeing how Lucas adapted and I’m glad I did it.
“We’ve given ourselves about an Oct. 1. Before this [ALMS season] is over, before we go to Petit [Le Mans], I want to have some kind of direction. I need it; I need it for my brand and my company. We’re well into the annual operating plan now for next year. And budget tightening down and all that. And I need some answers for that.”
From a budget standpoint, Pickett reckons a move from running an ALMS P1 car to an IndyCar would be in the same ballpark, although the ways the money is spent would be different.
“I don’t think, there’s no more money per se to do an adequate job; you spend a lot in P1 on developments, on development parts, but it’s different in IndyCar because you’re only allowed to do so much to the cars, so you spend that money on those little areas alone,” Pickett explained. “I think it would be an R&D wash. So the big teams now are on very expensive shock dynos and spend a lot of time on that side of the game. They bring their springs and shocks ready to go; they know exactly what they are. And when they want this much of a difference here’s what they bolt on.
“We were still taking them apart and putting different springs on them… That difference alone, that difference alone separates, I think, the guys in the top-12 from the rest. So you’ve got to work on that. And you got to buy a $150,000 [damper] dyno. You’ve got to do that. If you’re not going to do that, then go do something else because you’re not going to make consistently enough difference. It’s all fine-tuning little improvements. That’s what the big teams can squeeze out of endless time on shaker rigs and we understand all of that.”
Asked if he’d consider partnering with an existing IndyCar team, Pickett struggled to think of a program that would have the availability or quality he’s looking for.
“If you’re going to partner with somebody, you’ve got to be the third car with one of the boys. You want to try to do that. And the boys, well, Chip [Ganassi] has already done that, Roger [Penske] doesn’t need to do it, so that’s why he’s not doing it. Andretti probably over-does that, in my opinion. Then you ask yourself: ‘Who would be the next that would add anything to our trailer and our guys? With the proper budget?’ And then you go: ‘I’m not sure.’
“So partnering up with somebody is a good idea but it has to be one of the right teams it just won’t do you any good if it’s not like that. So the likelihood of that is relatively rare. And so that kind of answers the question. We’re looking at keeping our nose clean, keep everything together, work really hard on the stuff that we think could make a difference and see where we land.”