The latest chapter in Wirth Research's long-running and hugely successful technical affiliation with California-based Honda Performance Development (HPD) resulted in a winning start with multiple victories in last weekend's Mobil 1 Sebring 12 Hours - opening rounds of both the new FIA World Endurance Championship and the US-based American Le Mans Series.
The strength and efficiency of Wirth Research's advanced all-digital aerodynamic and chassis development process combined with HPD's world-class engines not only set the pace among the petrol-engined entries in the premier LMP1 class but also scored a stunning 1-2 result in the highly-competitive LMP2 category.
The pair of new ARX-03bs privately entered by Starworks and Level 5 Motorsports battled for LMP2 honours throughout the gruelling 12 hour Florida classic, frequently exchanging the class lead until the final 30 minutes of the contest, when the Starworks entry driven by Ryan Dalziel, Enrico Potolicchio and Stephane Sarrazin finally edged out a small lead over the Level 5 car shared by Joao Barbosa, Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker. Sarrazin flashed past the chequered flag with a 32 second advantage to claim not only a thrilling class victory but also third-place overall finish and the honour of being the top petrol-powered finishers behind the two diesel-engined Audi R18s.
For Starworks the win was especially satisfying as the team only finished building its new ARX-03b a few days before the race in the Sebring paddock and it was a great result for the American team on home soil. Though beaten to LMP2 victory by its fellow HPD outfit, Level 5's performance was equally meritorious. Its HPD finished fourth overall and took outright class honours among those registered for the ALMS championship. Level 5's second HPD entry, co-driven by Luis Diaz and Ryan Hunter-Reay, was also a contender for the class win and led the LMP2 field in the early laps before 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.
Sebring also marked the debut of the LMP1 version of the new Honda Performance Development chassis, the V8-powered ARX-03a. Both the US-based Muscle Milk Pickett Racing organisation and the British JRM team chased the pace-setting trio of works Audi R18 diesel-powered cars throughout 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 and seventh in LMP1.
After a battle with JRM, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing moved its own ARX-03a into third place overall and was on target for a 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 refuelling "buckeye" valve had come detached from the chassis. Unable to successfully refuel the car, the Muscle Milk team finished an unrepresentative 28th overall. The team, though, did claim the Michelin Green X Challenge for the cleanest, most fuel-efficient run during the 12 Hours and Pagenaud's best lap time of 1m 47.979s was less than half a second slower than the fastest lap set by the winning Audi, thus underlining the full potential of the latest HPD ARX-03a.
The third LMP1 chassis was that of Strakka Racing, class winners at the Le Mans 24 Hours with HPD in 2010. Making its Sebring debut, the Silverstone-based car shared by Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane enjoyed a nearly trouble-free run to claim tenth overall and second place points in the FIA Endurance Trophy for Private LMP1 Team.
"Our technical affiliation with HPD has already produced some remarkable results but those achieved this year at Sebring were right up there with the very best of them," said Nick Wirth, President of Wirth Research. "It was a momentous occasion just to see six of our cars on the grid but then to watch our entirely new HPD ARX-03a leading the petrol engined P1 pack and really taking the fight to Audi was highly impressive. The class winning performance by our P2 teams was every bit as laudable and further proof of this company's unrivalled expertise in - as well as the cost effective benefits of - our pioneering digital design processes."
Steve Eriksen, Vice President at Honda Performance Development, was equally pleased with results that exceeded his expectations. "This was a very successful debut for the ARX-03 chassis. Starworks' well-earned class victory and third-place overall finish was a real testament to the team's preparation and experience as it starts its first world-championship campaign. Level 5's efforts made it a very exciting contest for the final podium step and LMP2 honours, and still was the highest-placed ALMS finisher. In LMP1, the Muscle Milk team showed great speed taking the race to Audi for much of the 12 hours. Audi is the defending champion, but they definitely know we are competitive."