The Wirth Research designed Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-01c made an impressive Le Mans debut during two days of qualifying for this weekend's running of the famous 24 Hours endurance classic (12-13 June).
Despite having no previous experience at the legendary French circuit, the two Wirth Research produced HPD ARX-01c prototypes totally dominated the competitive LMP2 category and will line up for Saturday's start in first and second positions within their class.
Taking full advantage of the low downforce configuration specifically designed and developed by Wirth Research using advanced Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for high-speed circuits like Le Mans, the Strakka Racing entry of Nick Leventis, Jonny Kane and Danny Watts took class honours with a lap time of 3m 33.079s - the LMP2 pole position time set by Watts as darkness fell on Thursday evening.
"The whole package is so good," enthused a delighted Watts. "The chassis is beautifully balanced and easy to drive right on the limit. Great equipment like this always makes life so much easier for a driver."
"The car is fast and consistent," confirmed team owner and driver Leventis. "We achieved a good set up early on, worked successfully through all our set up work and then let Danny ‘go for it'. His lap was outstanding."
The sister car entered by Highcroft Racing for David Brabham, Marino Franchitti and Marco Werner was second fastest in category with a lap time of 3m 34.537s set by Brabham also on Thursday evening. Underlining the total dominance displayed by the two HPD ARX-01c entries, both Honda Performance Development cars were more than five seconds faster than the third placed Lola HPD Coupe - a result that gives the trio of HPD-engined cars a one-two-three clean-sweep in LMP2 qualifying.
The Silverstone-based Strakka Racing has experience of this low downforce set-up having used it to win the opening round of the 2010 Le Mans Series held at Paul Ricard in France. The configuration, though, is new for the US-based Highcroft outfit which has won the two most recent rounds of the American Le Mans Series using higher downforce aerodynamics better suited to the slower nature of the Stateside tracks.
"For Highcroft this weekend is a new experience because this is the first time we have run the ARX-01c in this configuration," Brabham said. "We have concentrated very heavily on the race set-up. I had one go on new tyres but got caught in traffic and on my second attempt I outbraked myself. The team got on the radio and asked whether I wanted another set of tyres but I thought it was far more important for us to concentrate on the race set-up and give the other guys some miles. Congratulations to Danny and the Strakka boys, they really did a great job."
While the HPD ARX-01c is new to Le Mans, both teams - and all six drivers - arrived in France well prepared for the challenges ahead having spent considerable time in the state-of-the-art Wirth Simulator in the UK. The Wirth Simulator is the next step in race vehicle development, allowing a complete mathematical representation of all elements of a racing car - aerodynamics, chassis, engine, drive train and tyres - to be assembled together and controlled by a driver. Using the latest technology, the driver's experience of controlling this simulation is very similar to that of driving the actual race car. This technology allows Wirth Research to test and optimise different car configurations without the expense, restrictions and difficulties of track testing. The lap times set by the drivers on the simulator were remarkably similar to those actually set during qualifying.
"The correlation between the lap times set on the simulator and on the track once again highlights the significant benefits offered by this advanced technology," said Nick Wirth, Technical Director, Wirth Research. "It has allowed the HPD ARX-01c to arrive at Le Mans with no previous circuit experience and set lap times considerably faster than the opposition. I'm incredibly proud of the speed displayed both teams in qualifying - now we will need to show the stamina that's required to complete what's going to be a gruelling 24 hours."