One of the final pieces of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Prototype puzzle has been solved by Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, who will field a Nissan-powered ORECA 03 P2 chassis next season.
The reigning, back-to-back ALMS P1 champions considered many options for 2014 after the P1 class was abolished by IMSA, the sanctioning body for the TUDOR Championship, seeking manufacturer tie-ins for a return to prototype racing and a possible GT program. An expansion in the IndyCar Series was also considered.
Team owner Greg Pickett settled on a privateer program that will use 2013’s dominant WEC P2 chassis and engine to carry drivers Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr.
“This is an exciting time for us at Muscle Milk Pickett Racing as we welcome ORECA as our new partner,” said Pickett. “After winning the last two P1 Championships in the American Le Mans Series, it was important for us to choose a partner for our new adventure into the TUDOR Championship, that can help us continue, and build on, the success we’ve known so far.
“Our success the last couple of years was only made possible by our commitment to work closely and collaboratively with our friends and partners at HPD, Wirth Engineering and Michelin. Although we will miss working with them, our commitment to ORECA will be exactly the same.”
Pickett’s drivers will debut the V8-powered ORECA-Nissan at the Roar Before the 24 test held at Daytona on Jan. 3-5, where Graf and Luhr will turn their first laps in the open-top car on the famed circuit.“I very much look forward to getting into the ORECA-Nissan prototype car,” said Graf, who combined to win 18 races and two P1 titles with Luhr. “This combination has been the dominant package. We looked very hard into what would be the best way to move forward for us and the ORECA 03 LM P2 with a Nissan engine was the one to have in the past and I’m pretty confident that it will be the same in the future. It has won many races and hopefully we can win many more.”
Pickett also expressed his enthusiasm for working with ORECA and its founder Hugues de Chaunac.
“Hugues (de Chaunac) shares the same passion for racing in America that I do and that’s something very important to us,” added Pickett, whose team will receive technical support from the French outfit. “When you have the same focus, commitment and passion, only good can come of it. With ORECA’s deep roots in motorsports, particularly sports car racing, and proven achievements, it made for an easy decision.
“It will be a fun and challenging season ahead and we’re committed to working closely with our partner ORECA to make it as successful as possible.”
The No. 6 Muscle Milk entry will serve as the only full-time ORECA P2 chassis competing in the TUDOR Championship, but de Chaunac hopes to use his collaboration with Pickett to increase those numbers.
“Our goal is clear: win the classics like Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans as a constructor,” he said. “We are working to have other ORECA 03 entries on track in North America, alongside the numerous ORECA-FLM09 cars already present in Prototype Challenge. I can’t wait to see our prototypes race at Daytona, 14 years after our overall victory with the Viper. It’s a new step in the Group’s development in the USA.”
With the addition of Pickett’s program, the P2 car count in the Prototype class has expanded far beyond initial predictions. Along with the current roster of DP entries, 13 full-time Prototypes are set to contest the inaugural TUDOR Championship six DPs, six P2s and the DeltaWing.
Many things have changed since the IMSA name ruled America’s sports car racing landscape, but one of the welcome similarities can be found with the GTP-like diversity among the Prototype cars and engines.
Three chassis manufacturers are represented in DP by Coyote, Dallara and Riley, and P2 has expanded to four with HPD, Morgan, the Lola-based Multimatic and ORECA.
The DP portion of the class will offer fans the chance to see a battle among American Iron as factory-backed efforts from Chevy and Ford account for five of the six cars (the sixth uses Dinan-prepared BMW power). And on the P2 side of the equation, fans have three Japanese manufacturers to root for with Honda, Mazda and Nissan accounting for all six prototypes.