After a storied career in the prototype ranks, Lucas Luhr is returning to his roots for 2015, as the most successful driver in American Le Mans Series history joins BMW Team RLL for its championship attack in the GT Le Mans class.
While having been in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship for what turned into an abbreviated 2014 campaign with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, the 35-year-old German has landed a factory drive with BMW in the highly competitive production-based ranks.
With the demise of the LMP1 platform in North America, Luhr feels GTLM is the place to be and is excited to begin his new chapter with the Bavarian manufacturer.
“Over the last couple of years, in my time in America, I’ve always followed GTLM,” Luhr told Sportscar365. “I was doing most of my racing in the prototype category.
“But with the merger and things moving away from LMP1… I don’t want to hurt anybody here, but I don’t think they are real prototypes anymore.
“Obviously the GTLM class, from my point of view, gives the best racing, certainly in America, if not worldwide.”
Luhr, a former Audi and Porsche factory driver, has enjoyed the majority of his success in the prototype ranks, most recently with Muscle Milk, which pulled the plug on its TUDOR Championship P class program following last year’s Twelve Hours of Sebring.
After spending the last three seasons with the Greg Pickett-owned organization, Luhr was left without a full-time ride in the U.S. a void which he worked to fill throughout the second half of last year.
“I had great years and we won a lot of races with Muscle Milk,” he said. “As a driver, I still didn’t necessarily agree 100 percent with the decision [to stop]. But from the human side, I could understand it.
“Greg was in the middle of selling his company and he’s in his late 60s. So why should a guy at his level go motor racing instead of enjoying time with his grandkids and family?
“I consider Greg as a good personal friend, so it was not an issue for me. But from a driving point of view, for sure, it was frustrating.”
Luhr resorted to a rather quiet 2014 season, competing in the 24-hour races at Nürburgring and Spa for BMW, which ultimately led to his hiring for the manufacturer’s TUDOR Championship program this year.
This year marks a new beginning for the six-time ALMS champion, who returns to the GT ranks in the U.S. for the first time since 2004, although he admits it’s tough to compare the former GT2 era with the highly advanced GTE-spec machinery of today.
“It’s cool to go back to GT racing but the cars I drove in the beginning [were really different],” he said. “You can just tell by the lap times how they’ve developed over the last couple of years. The GT cars are very, very quick now versus 15 years ago.
“But I think you cannot really compare to the GT cars from 1999 or 2000 or whenever it was.”
With pre-season testing at Daytona complete, including a productive Roar Before the Rolex 24, Luhr is confident for a strong year ahead in his new surroundings with the Z4 GTE and season-long co-driver John Edwards.
“I’m really looking forward to the season,” he said. “I know the competition is very tough and very tight there. But it’s a good challenge and I enjoy the Z4 a lot. It’s a good group of guys at RLL and also from Munich.”
While limited in the number of technical updates allowed over the off-season, the Ohio-based RLL squad, along with BMW have made small gains with its GTE package, which enters its third and likely final season of competition.
Luhr admits the high-speed Daytona circuit may not be the best of tracks for the V8-powered car, although the team is coming off a runner-up finish in the race last year, which builds confidence into potentially making it one step further up the podium this time around.
“We saw last year that some race tracks didn’t really particularly suit the Z4 in terms of top speed,” Luhr said. “I think the biggest challenge will be Daytona but on the other hand they finished 2nd last year because they didn’t run into trouble, had good strategy and solid pace.
“I’m looking for a similar thing for Daytona and then the rest of the season, I don’t know yet. There’s big competition. It’s going to be extremely tight.
“I think whoever has the perfect race, on the track and in the pits, will be able to win at the end of the day. I doubt any of the manufacturers go out and do a six or eight race win streak.”