HPD Scores LMP2 Victory at Le Mans

In its first attempt at one of the toughest challenges in motorsports, Honda Performance Development (HPD), the racing arm of American Honda Motor Company, Inc., powered the first- and third-place finishers in the LMP2 category Sunday at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

After starting from the LMP2 pole, British-based Strakka Racing’s HPD ARX-01c held off a strong challenge from fellow HPD entrant Highcroft Racing through the first 18 hours, then pulled away to a commanding class victory, finishing fifth overall and six laps ahead of its nearest challenger as the two HPD teams led the LMP2 category from start to finish.

Strakka drivers Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis and their Honda Performance Development ARX-01c completed 367 laps of the eight-mile Circuit de la Sarthe, establishing a new record for laps completed by an LMP2 competitor at Le Mans.  The fifth-place overall finish also established a new LMP2 record, besting the previous mark set in 2006.

Meanwhile, the HPD-powered RML Lola B08/80 HPD of Thomas Erdos, Mike Newton and Andy Wallace came home third, nine laps behind the winning Strakka machine and three laps behind the second-place OAK Racing Pescarolo in a nearly equally trouble-free run. In all, 10 of the 12 LMP2 entries were running at the finish of today’s race, run in clear weather throughout.

American Le Mans Series regulars Highcroft started off strong, running solidly in second through the night, despite three debris-inflicted tire punctures. Marco Werner took the Malaria No More-backed HPD ARX-01c into the lead at the six-hour mark.

Late in the race, water pressure problems delayed Werner and co-drivers David Brabham and Marino Franchitti, eventually sending them to the pits for much of the final five hours. The car did, however, venture back out to take the checkered flag and was classified 9th in LMP2 at the finish of Highcroft’s debut appearance at Le Mans.

“This is an incredible result in our first attempt at this classic event,” said Erik Berkman, HPD president. “We saw an absolutely flawless performance from the Strakka team from the start of practice through to the checkered flags.  I also was highly impressed with the determination and strong run from Duncan Dayton and his Highcroft Racing team.  To lead this event and challenge for the class victory in their first attempt at Le Mans is an effort that should give them enormous pride.  The RML team also put in a great effort and was rewarded with an excellent podium finish.”

“This is my seventh Le Mans, and by far my best,” said Strakka driver Kane.  “Strakka and HPD have put together an amazing effort, and a perfect engine/chassis package.  We had not one single problem all race long.”

The three HPD entries also dominated qualifying, with Strakka’s Watts claiming the LMP2 pole in the same ARX-01c chassis that won the 2009 American Le Mans Series LMP2 title for HPD and Fernandez Racing.  The similar Highcroft ARX-01c, driven by 2009 overall Le Mans winner Brabham, qualified second in class, as both HPD machines posted times more than three seconds quicker than the 2009 LMP2 pole.  Brazilian Erdos rounded out the top three LMP2 qualifiers in his HPD-engined RML Lola. 

Last week, HPD announced it will offer a new LMP2 engine to customers participating in the 2011 American Le Mans Series, European Le Mans Series, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Intercontinental Cup competitions.  Based on Honda’s global V6 engine, the new engine is a 2.8-liter, twin-turbo variant utilizing HPD’s exclusive engine-control system, and is the product of a joint effort between HPD and Honda R&D Americas, Inc. (HRA).

Since 2007, HPD has provided engines to prototype-class teams in the American Le Mans Series, and these engines have scored numerous victories, beginning with an LMP2 class win in HPD’s inaugural ALMS race at Sebring in 2007. HPD was the first manufacturer to score ALMS class wins in both LMP1 and LMP2 on the same weekend with its wins at St. Petersburg in 2009.

HPD went on to win LMP1 and LMP2 Manufacturers’ Championships for Acura in 2009 – becoming the first ALMS manufacturer to do so – and this year began providing engines and support for sports-car competition in both America and Europe.

Located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for American Honda high-performance racing cars and engines. In an open-wheel racing history that dates to 1994, Honda has recorded 166 race victories, 12 drivers’ championships, 10 Manufacturers’ Championships and seven Indianapolis 500 victories.  In addition to its sports-car efforts and its role as single engine supplier to the IZOD IndyCar Series, HPD is active in a growing number of grassroots motorsports activities.