The Honda-powered Extreme Speed Motorsports trio of David Brabham, Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp challenged for victory throughout the second half of Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. But a late-race caution in the final hour gave a vital track position advantage to the rival Chip Ganassi Racing Team, which held on for the victory, just over four seconds ahead of #1 HPD ARX-03b Honda.
The second round in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, a new sports-car racing series resulting from the merger of the American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM, featured a near-capacity field of 63 cars, including 17 prototypes. The race also was notable for the large number of cautions, 12, almost all of which took place during the first half of the race, and a record 10 different race leaders.
As evening approached, however, the race became a much cleaner contest, and Brabham moved into the lead shortly after the nine-hour mark, first passing the #5 Action Express Corvette of Joao Barbosa and then prevailing in an intense battle with Memo Rojas in the #01 Ganassi Riley Ford, the eventual race winners.
At the 11-hour mark, Dalziel had a 7.5-second lead over Bourdais, now in the #5 Action Express machine, with both needing just one more pit stop before the finish, while Marino Franchitti had taken over the #01 Ganassi car in its final stop.
A caution flag for a stalled car in the final hour was the break the Ganassi team needed, giving Franchitti the lead when Dalziel and Bourdais made their final pit stops under caution. When the green flag waved with just 20 minutes remaining in the race, Franchitti had the advantage of several lapped cars between himself and his pursuers, and he drove a mistake-free final six laps to claim the victory.
Extreme Speed’s second LMP2-style prototype, the #2 HPD ARX-03b Honda co-driven by Ed Brown, Simon Pagenaud and Johannes van Overbeek, also led today’s contest and was a potential race winner, taking command of the field for the first time at the seven-hour mark. But after leading for more than an hour, contact with a lapped GT car resulted in damage to the left side of the HPD, and an unscheduled pit stop to effect repairs.
Returning to the track after losing a lap to the leaders, van Overbeek and Pagenaud combined to put on a strong charge in the final hours, regaining the lead lap and eventually finishing fifth, just 17 seconds behind the victors.
HPD, the two-time defending LMP2 manufacturer and engine champion in the former American Le Mans Series, introduced Honda’s first Daytona Prototype at Sebring, and development of the new chassis/engine package continued throughout the race weekend. Pierre Kaffer qualified the Starworks Motorsport Riley Honda entry 13th, with fellow racing veteran Scott Mayer taking the wheel at the start of the 12-hour contest. The Honda-powered Daytona Prototype was taken back to the garage area after 90 minutes of racing and retired with cooling issues. Additional development for the Daytona Prototype package is planned for the next round, at Long Beach.
Both HPD-developed Honda engines used in the TUDOR championship are derived from the same Honda “J35” series of production V6 engines and include relevant twin-turbocharger technology, along with the efficiency provided by direct fuel injection. Key production-based components that are utilized include block and heads, crankshaft, direct injection fuel system, valve train components, drive-by-wire throttle, alternator, sensors, fasteners, etc. The engine even utilizes a stock Honda oil filter.
Video News Releases from this weekend’s action at Sebring International Raceway, featuring both the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and supporting 2.5-hour Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race, are being posted on a new, specially created “Honda Racing/HPD Trackside” YouTube channel produced by the Carolina Productions Group.
Headed by longtime motorsports broadcaster Rick Benjamin, CPG will be providing video highlights packages following Honda Racing/HPD events during 2014. The video packages can be found at: youtube.com/hondaracingtrackside.
The inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship resumes next month with the first temporary street circuit event of the 2014 season, the Grand Prix of Long Beach on Saturday, April 12.
Allen Miller (Project Leader, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: “Extreme Speed did an outstanding job today with both entries, and it is quite disappointing that contact from a much slower car damaged the #2 car, and the late-race caution prevented Honda from scoring our first overall win at Sebring with the #1 HPD. Despite the late start with our Daytona Prototype program, we made significant gains this weekend and learned a lot, which will be applied to the future development of the car.”
Scott Sharp (#1 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-02b Honda) finished 2nd in Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring: “It was a great day for the Patron ESM Team. To come out of Sebring with two top five finishes and both of the cars in one piece is phenomenal. Ryan [Dalziel] and David [Brabham, codrivers] did such great jobs, and we came so close. I thought with 45 minutes left the race was ours, and then came that unfortunate yellow. The Ganassi cars pitted fortuitously, and we both came out behind them, and that was the race.”