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Muscle Milk and ESM Patrón qualify in the top ten for Sebring

Muscle Milk Pickett Racing was part of a close battle in Prototype class qualifying on Friday at Sebring International Raceway
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing was part of a close battle in Prototype class qualifying on Friday at Sebring International Raceway
Pickett Racing

On Friday, March 14, two of the favorites in the Prototype class battled the clock, and each other, for the pole position in the 62nd running of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida. Even though neither team will be the first to see the green flag on Saturday, both have high hopes to contend for a win in the series second endurance event of the year.

As the second race on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship schedule and second round of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC), the Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM) team seeks its first team win of the season and valuable points in both the series championship as well as the NAEC.

The Stuart, Fla.-based team maximized on-track time and continually made improvements to the Tequila Patrón-sponsored Honda Performance Development ARX-03b race cars. The daunting 3.74-mile, 17-turn Sebring venue is notoriously brutal on machinery, but ESM has the wherewithal to ensure the race cars withstand the 12-hour event.

Ryan Dalziel qualified the No. 1 Tequila Patrón HPD in the fourth position, with a best lap time of 1:52.662 (119.508 mph) less one second behind the pole-winning car. Dalziel, a two-time winner at Sebring, was pleased with the qualifying effort and confident the race car will improve throughout the race.

“We’re happy with qualifying. The car was definitely the best it has been this weekend," added Dalziel. "We stayed after the official test for a private test and we learned a lot more about the car. We came back this week and I think everybody has been struggling a little bit with the track. We’ve been keeping our heads down and not worrying too much about lap times and trying to make the car better, which we have done."

Co-driver Scott Sharp will pilot the No. 1 for the first stint on Saturday, followed by David Brabham and then Dalziel. As the race progresses, the team is prepared for the ever-changing conditions, especially since the race runs from the warm morning, hot afternoon and slowly fades into cooler evening temperatures.

After some productive practice sessions, Pickett Racing was confident heading into the second qualifying session of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season. Driver Klaus Graf improved his time with each lap and was sitting in ninth place when he started his seventh and final lap of the 15-minute session aboard the team's #6 Muscle Milk ORECA Nissan. Knowing that he had to push hard in order to move up the grid, the German picked up ninth tenths on his previous best lap to register a time of one minute 52.667 seconds, which was good enough to place him fifth.

"I think people need to go away from saying that one track suits more the DP cars and another the P2 car," Graf added. "The Series balanced the cars now and made it so that's not so much the case anymore. It's highly competitive, there are some good teams and very, very good drivers and we have to look at every racetrack for ourselves and get the maximum out of it."

With the top five cars within seven tenths of a second when the checkered flag fell, it promises to be an exciting battle on the bumpy Sebring track on Saturday. A battle that Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and its drivers Graf, Lucas Luhr and Jann Mardenborough are ready to face.

"I feel really prepared for the race. We've been focusing a lot on driver changes and that sort of procedure. I think we've got it nailed down and we're going into the race pretty well prepared," stated an anxious Mardenborough. "As long as we stay out of trouble and if the pit stops go well, I think we'll be in a good place after 12 hours."

Johannes van Overbeek qualified the ESM No. 2 Tequila Patrón HPD in the eighth position. During the 15-minute qualifying session, van Overbeek’s best lap time was 1:53.393 (118.737 mph), less than two seconds behind the pole-winning car. Satisfied with the starting position, van Overbeek and co-drivers Ed Brown and Simon Pagenaud are focusing on maintaining a lead spot in the class and running a clean racing all the way to the podium.

“This is going to be a challenging race with 64 cars, dirt everywhere and the variety of talent in the drivers," van Overbeek stated. "This race will be won by the most patient drivers that are smart and use good judgment throughout the course of the race. We’re hoping for a safe race and that the No. 2 car makes it to the end."

At the start of the race, van Overbeek will be behind the wheel. Brown is set to drive second, followed by Pagenaud. One year ago, Brown, van Overbeek and then co-driver Anthony Lazzaro finished fourth in this event. The benchmark has been set for this team and a podium finish is the target.

The action gets underway Saturday, March 15 with a warm up session at 8 a.m with the green flag for the 12 Hours of Sebring set for 10:15 a.m. ET. FOX Sports 1 live coverage runs from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. (ET), and the race will be streamed on from 1 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.

Stay tuned to this column for more updates leading up to the second endurance race on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship calendar, as well as post race reviews, interviews, and more!

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