The new Honda Performance Development ARX-03 chassis exceeded all expectations Saturday at Sebring International Raceway, as the Florida-based Starworks team took the LMP2 version of the new car - the ARX-03b - to a thrilling class victory and third-place overall finish in the 60th anniversary 12 Hours of Sebring endurance racing classic.
In their first American Le Mans Series and World Endurance Championship event, Starworks and drivers Ryan Dalziel, Enrico Potolicchio and Stephane Sarrazin battled defending LMP2 champion Level 5 Motorsports and their drivers, Joao Barbosa, Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker - throughout the race. The two HPD teams frequently exchanged the class lead until the final 30 minutes of the contest, when former Peugeot works driver Sarrazin finally edged out a 32-second lead over Barbosa in Level 5's ARX-03b.
For Starworks, the win was especially satisfying as the team only finished building its new ARX-03b this week in the Sebring paddock, while fellow HPD team Level 5 saw its Sebring LMP2 victory streak stopped after two consecutive wins.
Sebring also marked the debut of the LMP1 version of the new HPD chassis, the V8-powered ARX-03a. Both the California-based Muscle Milk Racing organization and the British JRM team harried the pace-setting trio of works Audi R18 diesel-powered cars through the first nine hours.
JRM, making its endurance racing debut with HPD after winning the GT-1 World Championship in 2011, ran as high as third until being delayed by rear suspension problems just after the nine-hour mark. The team and drivers David Brabham, Karun Chandhok and Peter Dumbreck returned to the contest after making repairs to record a 17th-place overall finish.
After a battle with JRM, Muscle Milk Racing moved its own ARX-03a into third place overall and appeared headed for a near-certain podium finish with drivers Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Simon Pagenaud. But when Pagenaud pitted the car for what was expected to be his final stop prior to the finish, the team discovered the refueling "buckeye" valve had come detached from the chassis. Unable to successfully refuel the car, the Muscle Milk team finished an unrepresentative 28th overall, 8th in LMP1.
The Muscle Milk team did claim the Michelin Green X Challenge at Sebring, defeating last year's season champion Dyson Racing in the contest for the cleanest, most fuel-efficient run during the 12 Hours.
Returning HPD team, and 2010 class winners at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Stakka Racing made it's US racing debut at Sebring and completed a nearly trouble-free run 10th overall, and 5th in LMP2.
Level 5's second HPD entry, co-driven by Luis Diaz and Ryan Hunter-Reay, led the LMP2 class in the early laps and appeared to be a contender for the class win, but contact with a slower GTC category Porsche 911 resulted in damage to the right side suspension and bodywork, leading to the car's retirement just past the three-hour mark.