New Honda Prototype makes its debut on Friday.
For most of us, Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway starts Friday with the Roar Before the Rolex 24, the first, and last, official test before the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona takes the green flag on January 24.
For the kickoff event for the sophomore season for the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, the Rolex 24 will, as last year, feature four classes: Prototypes, Prototype Challenge, GT-Le Mans and GT-Daytona.
While there are new teams in all four classes, the newest – and consequently, most anticipated – machinery is arguably the new P2 Prototype cars from the Tequila Patron team, Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian, and Krohn Racing.
Shank is moving from Daytona Prototype to P2, utilizing the Ligier JS P2, while Extreme Speed is staying with P2, but moving to a new enclosed HPD-ARX 04b. Krohn Racing, which has been running a Ferrari GT car, is moving back to the Prototype class, but instead of the familiar green DP car Krohn used to race, it will be a Judd-powered Ligier.
The biggest single change? That would be the Extreme Speed Tequila Patron-backed cars, which will debut their new enclosed car at the Roar, with team co-owner Scott Sharp in the number 1 car, and co-owner Ed Brown in the number 2. Sharp’s teammates for the Roar test are Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson, and Brown will partner with Johannes van Overbeek and Jon Fogarty.
Motorsport.com spoke to Dalziel about the change from the old ARX-03b open car to the new enclosed one, and he said essentially, there is a tradeoff: In the open car, “visibility is amazing,” which in itself, is a safety advantage. But as we’ve seen in multiple crashes in multiple series these past few years, having a roof is regarded as a good thing, and Dalziel is more than willing to give up some visibility for the added safety.
That, plus the fact that this is, after all, a new car, and it’s far more sophisticated than the one it is replacing, he says. Will it be faster? He doesn’t know yet – most of the testing has been limited to a run at Sebring International Raceway “at about 80 percent, as we just wanted to get the car shaken down.” But there’s some evidence that the car may actually be a bit slower at absolute top speed, but handling should be improved.
“And there were no other cars at the Sebring test to run with,” Dalziel says, “so we’re very interested to see what it will be like in traffic.”
Same engine, new transmission
At first glance, Extreme Speed’s new Hondas may look quite a bit like a Daytona Prototype, but in driving dynamics, Dalziel said the new car is actually more different in feel from a DP than the old open-cockpit car. While the new car’s cockpit is very narrow, it’s also very comfortable – “like lying in bed,” Dalziel said.
The Honda engine is the same as before, but the HPD-ARX 04b has a new, improved transmission.
So what should we expect this year regarding the difficult task facing sanctioning body IMSA – coming up with a “Balance of Performance” formula that allows the tubeframed DP cars to compete against the tubbed P2 cars? Dalziel doesn’t know, but expects the difficulties from 2014 to remain: The DP and P2 cars can be adjusted by IMSA weight, power and aerodynamic rulings to turn basically the same lap time on a given track, “but the two cars make power so differently, and handle in the turns so differently, that there just isn’t any way to make two different cars the same.”
Plus, he says, Daytona is probably the most difficult track on the circuit for IMSA to try and equalize the two Protoype cars.
Dalziel has won in Daytona Prototypes and P2 cars (the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, no less), so if any driver knows the strengths and weaknesses of each type of car, it’s Ryan Dalziel. He’s sat on the pole for the Rolex 24, and won in 2010 – if he can add another overall win at Daytona it will cement the opinion that many sports car insiders already have – that he may well be the most underrated sports car driver in the business.
As for the Roar: “Can’t wait,” Dalziel says.