100 DAY COUNTDOWN BEGINS AS PATRON HIGHCROFT RACING KICKS OFF CHAMPIONSHIP
Duncan Dayton Q&A
DANBURY, CT, Wednesday, December 2, 2009: American Le Mans Series 2009 LMP1 champions Patron Highcroft Racing are already gearing up for the challenge of repeating its title success in 2010 - the team has only 100 days before the trucks leave their Connecticut base headed for the opening race of the year - the Twelve Hours of Sebring
The exclusive factory-backed Honda Performance Development test team has already begun preparations on the ARX-01c chassis that will form the basis of its championship defense.
With details of the 2010 rules package expected to be announced in the near future, team owner Duncan Dayton is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to put the #1 Patron Highcroft entry into battle against a combined prototype class next season featuring both LMP1 and LMP2 cars.
Q: Back-to-back championships are tough to earn in professional sports. How big a challenge does Patron Highcroft Racing face in repeating its title win next year?
A: "The principals that put us in a position to win the championship last year will serve us well in 2010. I think the formula is in place and we just have to keep concentrating on our preparation and attention to detail.
"Those aspects are critically important. A lot will depend on the competition and how much progress they make in the off season. The performance balancing between the LMP1 and LMP2 classes will also be a huge factor.
"If the ALMS and IMSA get it right, things should be fine. If they get it slightly wrong and a particular team is at a disadvantage from the outset then taking the title will be a much bigger challenge."
Q: When will the Honda Performance Development factory-backed ARX-01c begin its testing program?
A: "We already have an extensive testing program locked in for January and February - culminating in the annual 'Wheels Down' test at Sebring.
"When we hit the track will depend a little on when the final 2010 rules are released because we are not sure what adjustments will need to be made to the car.
"We're getting very close to finalizing our driver pairing alongside David Brabham and hope to have some news on that soon. I have to say I have been really surprised by some of the calls I have received enquiring about a drive - some really top quality guys.
"We're also continuing to work very hard on expanding the program into a two car team. We've had some interesting discussions recently that could result in us expanding our operations. We don't want to run a second car like a rental car company - if we do it, it will be done at 100 percent and will have a positive impact on our program.
"In fact, we believe our eventual expansion will prove to be positive for the #1 Patron Highcroft entry with extra miles, extra data and extra information to use as a base towards finding more speed."
Q: How challenging will it be for the ALMS and IMSA to get the balance right between the prototype classes in 2010?
A: "It is a very difficult proposition and one that doesn't have a clear answer. One of the factors that needs to be considered in addition to average lap time is top speed.
"A car that can get around a circuit with great cornering ability can be at a huge disadvantage if there is a another car that will fly by on the straight and then hold the other car up through the corners.
"You may have a quicker elapsed lap time, but the car with straight line speed is going to have a big advantage.
"With all the different configurations of tracks and cars, it is a very challenging balancing act.
"Lap speed and top speed need to be considered. The Acura set the pole at Sebring last year but in the race the diesels would just blast past in a straight line.
"Between the last corner and the start finish line both Acura's were 7/10ths of a second slower."
Q: The ARX-01c will run in ACO Le Mans spec at Sebring and Petit Le Mans but revert to the new ALMS rules for the remaining races, how big an engineering challenge is that?
A: "There are so many things that we will probably have to change. Everything from weight, engine air restrictor, aerodynamics - all of it matters a great deal. It is not just a case of getting a bigger restrictor and instantly getting more horsepower.
"It is a lot of work for both the engine and the chassis guys. You need to look at tuning the engine for the larger restrictor and the effect on the fuel mileage, cooling, etc. - there are lots of different aspects to consider.
"From a cooling perspective you may also need to look at bodywork adjustments.
"Ensuring that reliability doesn't suffer is really the key aspect for us."
Q: Do you think the combining of the two prototype classes will be a positive move for the American Le Mans Series for next year?
A: "I think with the complete new rules and cars planned for 2011 from the ACO, it is a very sound idea to combine the current prototype entries into one class this year.
"I don't envy the guys who will have to figure out the balancing of all the cars and we'll be very interested to see if and when additional performance balancing will take place as the year progresses, if needed.
"It would seem logical to take a look after Long Beach and Laguna Seca and review where things are, but after we get into the middle part of the year, there will be little opportunity to make any major changes because the schedule is so tight with five races in eight weeks.
"If there are to be any updates after the first three races, there really aren't any major opportunities to implement them until Petit Le Mans when we will revert to full ACO LMP2 spec anyway."
Q: How fierce do you believe the competition will be with lots of prototypes all running together next year?
A: "Clearly reliability will again be the secret to success. If you have any small issues it will be a lot different from last season - any problem and you can end up with five or six cars pushing you down the order and down the points.
"When we started competing against Penske in '07 and '08 they were more reliable than we were and ultimately that is what cost us the championship in '08.
"Our concentration in 2009 was to focus very heavily on reliability and that ended up winning us the championship.
"Petit Le Mans will have even more significance this year because it is the last race, so making sure you get to the 70 percent mark is critical."