New HPD Entries Shine at Sebring
Honda Performance Development teams starred in the 59th annual running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, with the brand new Highcroft Racing HPD ARX-01e challenging for the overall victory, and Level 5 Racing surmounting early-race adversity to claim the LMP2 class honors in its HPD Lola.
After taking delivery of their LMP1 chassis just seven days ago, the Highcroft team and drivers David Brabham, Marino Franchitti and Simon Pagenaud produced a stunning performance, frequently trading the lead with a pair of proven Peugeot turbo-diesels throughout the race. The new HPD-powered ARX-01e proved to be nearly a match for the pace of the turbocharged diesel competition, and regularly ran longer stints between fuel stops.
New to both the LMP2 class and HPD in 2011, Level 5 Motorsports entered a pair of HPD Lolas at Sebring, the start of an ambitious program that will see the Wisconsin team compete in both the American Le Mans Series and Intercontinental Le Mans Cup this year.
After qualifying second in class, the new HPD Lola of Luis Diaz, Ryan Hunter-Reay and team principal Scott Tucker took the LMP2 lead for the first time in the fourth hour. But mechanical issues sent the new Spyder behind the wall for repairs, turning the lead over to its team car, an HPD Lola Coupe driven by Tucker, Joao Barbosa and Christophe Bouchut.
In the seventh hour, rear suspension problems sent the Level 5 coupe to the pits for repairs, and the LMP2 lead reverted to the class pole-qualifying Signatech Nissan team. But once back on track the Level 5 Spyder steadily caught the Nissan, taking the lead for good in the 10th hour and pulling away to an eventual 10-lap margin of victory.
The final hours developed into a thrilling contest among the works Peugeot 908, the Highcroft HPD machine, and the year-old Peugeot of Team ORECA. All three cars remained on the same lap throughout the final three hours and traded off the lead between pit stops.
With 90 minutes remaining, the lead trio ran nose-to-tail around the 3.7-mile Florida circuit. Pagenaud made the final stop for HPD with 50 minutes remaining, with both Peugeots making their last stops 10 minutes later. Following these final stops, Loic Duval in the ORECA Peugeot emerged with a 40-second lead over Pagenaud, who in turn was 30 seconds ahead of Peugeot Sport’s Frank Montagny.
In the final 20 minutes, Montagny closed to within seven seconds of a fuel-saving Pagenaud, but the Highcroft driver turned some of the fastest laps of the nightime hours in the final five minutes to clinch second by a 13-second margin over Montagny.
Sebring marks the start of both the 2011 American Le Mans Series and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup seasons. Televised highlights of today’s race will be shown Sunday on ABC at 12:30 p.m. EDT.
Steve Eriksen (Vice President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s Twelve Hours of Sebring: ‘’What an incredible result! It was five years ago when we brought our first LMP2 sports car engine and chassis to this very race, and came away with a class win in our first attempt. Today, our newest LMP2 engine, developed jointly by HPD with our fellow associates at Honda R&D in Ohio, repeated that result in its first outing. We very nearly achieved the same result with our new LMP1 ARX-01e chassis, thanks to the excellent efforts of our partners at Wirth Research. A big ‘thank you’ to Highcroft Racing and Level 5 Motorsports for their perseverance and great effort in the face of some very worthy competition. We want to dedicate this success to our fellow associates at Honda in Japan. Our thoughts are with them at this challenging time.’’