MADISON, Wis. — While the American Le Mans Series presented Tequila Patrón offers up two of the toughest endurance races in the world, the 12 Hours of Sebring and 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans combined doesn’t even equal the distance covered in 24-hour marathon that can only be Le Mans.
For Level 5 Motorsports, which will be competing on the French hallowed grounds for the third consecutive year, the level of preparation, specifically for its Honda Performance Development ARX-03b race car, which Scott Tucker, Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe will be aiming to take to victory, is at an all-time high, with attention being given to every single detail.
But as the old adage goes, “In order to finish first, you must first finish” and that’s certainly the case at Le Mans. The No. 33 HPD will have to log nearly 5,000 miles between testing, practice/qualifying and the race itself, more than an entire season of racing in Formula 1, just to be in with a shot of a podium finish.
In order to have that faultless run, it all begins back at the team’s shop in Madison, Wis., before the cars and equipment are shipped overseas for the month-long event.
Modifications are made to the HPD’s bodywork, in order to run a permitted low-downforce aero package designed specifically for the 8.469-mile Circuit de la Sarthe, while race-specific components are manufactured and tested to withstand the high loads of a 24-hour race on one of the fastest tracks in the world.
"What becomes important is how you're going to plan your race week and what parts you're going to run,” explains chief strategist and longtime race engineer Jeff Braun. “You obviously don't want to run the same uprights, wishbones, gearbox and other parts all through the test day through the race.
“We will build the race components and run it at one stage during the weekend just to make sure it's working. It may be as few as 10 laps at the test day or in practice. We'll then unbolt all of that, set it in a corner and then go run our practice components on the car and qualify with it, then put the race stuff back on the car for the race.”
There's a new challenge for this year's event, as all LMP2 entries must run with their race engine beginning with the start of practice on June 19. There was previously no restriction, which allowed teams to have a specific practice or qualifying motor and switch to its race engine prior to warmup on the morning of the race.
With a hefty 5-minute stop-and-hold penalty to be served in the first half of the race for any entry having to swap engines, Braun expects the team to play a conservative approach on the second and final day of qualifying. Another focal point is with HPD’s 2.8-liter twin-turbo V6 power plant itself, which has seen improvements for 2013, including the addition of direct injection, which is aimed to improve fuel economy.
"Last year, the competition was able to go an extra lap over what we could do,” Braun says. “That's big there, so hopefully we can get the fuel economy we need. HPD is still working hard on the traction control and the drivability end of the DI engine and have made improvements in this area as well. We all understand that it's a case of taking two steps back in order to take five steps forward. Once they get it, the whole package should be better.”
Level 5 heads to Le Mans more prepared than ever to take on whatever challenge there may be. It includes sending a second HPD ARX-03b, which will be run during the test day on June 9 and then serve as a spare car for any unforeseen circumstance. The No. 44 “test” car will be prepared to the same level as its sister race entry in order for Tucker, Franchitti and Briscoe to be in the best possible position for victory in the world's greatest endurance race.
Level 5 Motorsports