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The Furthering Education of Lucas Luhr

This has been an interesting season in many ways, some exciting, some spectacularly stupid along with some breathtaking and memorable moments. The most noteworthy item that I witnessed hardly made news but the ripple effect has proven that it was no fluke. For many drivers there comes a time that defines their on track character in ways that have nothing to do with their PR, their contracts, or the team they are driving on behalf. Years ago, there was a number of on track altercations between Ricardo Zonta and Allan McNish. Both were factory drivers in the FIA GT series, Nishy in the Porsche GT1 and Zonta aboard the Mercedes CLK. It got to a point where McNish would no longer accept Zontaís apologies. There were not any issues between the two after that.

A number of people, both on and off the record have questioned the Penske operation this season in terms of the on track etiquette and the bias shown the yellow letter carriers with regards to the lack of driver penalties given out for what can only be described as the immaturity of former GT2 drivers that were by no means ready for prime time. Anyone who heard Timo Bernhardís outrageous after race statement at Lime Rock that David Brabham basically cut or chopped him can only come to one honest conclusion. Grow up.

No amount of being protected goods as a Penske driver could mask that Brabís simply was the more patient, smarter and all around tactician, bluntly he took Timo to school. A driver of Brabís caliber would have been gracious and taken the lesson instead of offering up excuses. All of the current Penske drivers are fast. They have proven themselves by coming up through the ranks. What none of them have mastered is the jump from production based GT racecars to LMP prototypes. Being fast is one thing, smart, polished while maintaining and being able to control aggression is quite another. A considerable amount of penalties have been given out to other competitors for the same on track situations that Penskeís young unís have gotten away with. Anyone who doubts this I suggest they have a conversation with some of the Dyson crew. Or Audi, or any number of GT2 teams that have fallen victim to their bad manners. Time will tell soon enough if the situation will improve, Patrick Long in particular has the skills and smarts but may have been rushed in to quickly. Porsche isnít alone in this, Mike Rockenfeller, while having a good season for Audi in the LMS, hasnít completely come to terms with the prototype class either.

The one graduate, the one who has not only made the transition, but is looking like he could join the ranks of the great ones is Lucas Luhr. It may have come down to a simple moment at Long Beach that has defined his season so far. The Audi R10 as it is well known, is not a car for a short course and the tight streets of Long Beach are among the worst. Luhr didnít have a good or bad qualifying session, the R10 was just anchored midfield and there wasnít much that could be done, it would come down to how the race played out. Luhr admitted just as much during a somewhat grumpy press conference. Race day proved to be another matter altogether as Luhr got the R10 together and made a bold charge without any unnecessary risks within reason to the front. Coming down Shoreline, he encountered a weaving Porsche RS Spyder driven by Timo Bernhard. Rules clearly state what is considered a defensive move and what constitutes blocking. Again, the obvious was overlooked when a penalty should have been given to the Penske Spyder. Luhr was able to eventually get around and along with Marco Werner, capture a brilliant and unexpected overall victory for the Audi squad. Interestingly, after the press conference he looked back at the blocking of his ex Porsche teammate and commented that had he not been in the R10, the outcome could have turned out quite different and both cars could have come back to pits on hooks.

Luhr has been able to channel his talents and grow in to a front line prototype driver. He doesnít have a problem learning from the more experienced Audi drivers as shown by the support given to the other winning trio at Le Mans this year. Luhr knows his time will come. There are times for learning and times for making a statement. The record setting lap that Luhr recently set at Road America shows the reason he graduated at the head of his class. And donít think this has not been noticed by his other Audi teammates, witness Dindoís response by his record lap for pole at Mosport. Nothing like having the spirit of competition so prevalent.

                                                                          Kerry Morse
                                                                          Laguna Seca
                                                                          August 2008

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Features and pieces by Kerry Morse