For the second time in three attempts, Honda Performance Development has won the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the American-based Starworks Racing claiming the category victory in its first Le Mans start.
Starworks, which earlier this year won LMP2 at the 12 Hours of Sebring, made it’s 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the most impressive way possible, with drivers Ryan Dalziel, Tom Kimber-Smith and Enzo Potolicchio piloting their HPD ARX-03b to a seventh overall finish, one lap ahead of the next LMP2 entry.
In 2010, HPD’s first attempt at Le Mans, it was British-based Strakka Racing winning LMP2 in its HPD ARX-01c with a commanding margin of seven laps and LMP2 record fifth overall finish. This year’s race was far more dramatic, but just as rewarding for HPD.
Starting ninth in LMP2 and 22nd overall after electing to focus on race preparation rather than making an outright qualifying run, the Starworks trio also made a conservative start to the 24-hour endurance racing classic. But by the six-hour mark, the team had moved into the top-10 overall and third in LMP2. As night settled over the Circuit de la Sarthe, LMP2 settled into a multi-car battle between the HPD and several Nissan-powered teams
But three hours later, at midnight, the Starworks HPD ARX-03b chassis and HPD HR28TT twin-turbo V6 engine combination was in the LMP2 lead and – although challenged for the remaining 12 hours by several Nissan-powered teams – Starworks was more than capable of defending it’s hard-won advantage, and maintained a steady, if narrow lead for the remaining 12 hours to take the LMP2 victory over TDS Racing.
For the first time, HPD also fielded a pair of entries in the headline LMP1 class, utilizing the new ARX-03a chassis and normally aspirated HR-LM V8 engine. Strakka Racing moved up from LMP2 for 2012 and driver Danny Watts qualified the new combination seventh overall on Thursday, fastest of the “privateer” teams doing battle with the full manufacturer-supported teams from Audi and Toyota. Another British team, JRM Motorsports, started 11th in their ARX-03a.
JRM had a steady run in their first Le Mans attempt, after winning the FIA GT1 World Championship in 2011. The driving trio of David Brabham, Karun Chandhok and Peter Dumbreck moved into the top-10 in the opening hours, and seventh overall at the 16-hour mark. Other than a few minor delays, JRM pressed on for an excellent sixth-place finish, behind only the four “works” entries from the winning Audi effort and the first of two Rebellion entries.
Meanwhile, for Strakka, it was a drama-filled 24 hours. A transmission oil leak discovered shortly before the race start left drivers Jonny Kane, Nick Leventis and Watts still in their garage area as the green flag waved, with Kane finally starting 22 minutes later, six laps down on the leaders. The team rapidly went to work making up that deficit, climbing through the GT field, making up 35 positions in the first six hours.
At the 18-hour mark, Strakka was up to 10th overall, behind JRM and the Lolas of Rebellion Racing in the battle for independent team honors. But overheating issues slowed Strakka’s pace in the final hours, and the team settled for an eighth-place finish in LMP1.
HPD’s second LMP2 entry, the Level 5 Motorsports HPD effort of Christophe Bouchut, Luis Diaz and Scott Tucker, suffered early disappointment in its effort to build on a third-place class finish in 2011. Communication problems during the night led to the car missing its scheduled pit stop, and running out of fuel midway around the eight-mile circuit. Unable to make it back to pit lane, the ARX-03b was retired.
Steve Eriksen (Vice President, Honda Performance Development) on this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans: “What an incredible day. I believe Starworks has confirmed their status as a world-class racing team, their effort both here at Le Mans and earlier this year at Sebring is a real testament to [team owner] Peter Baron’s dedication and ability; as well as the skill and hard work from everyone in Starworks organization. We are proud to have them as a partner. All four of our teams put in an outstanding effort this year, with Strakka’s exciting early-race charge and the consistent race-long performance from JRM Racing just two of the highlights. Level 5 also again produced a very competitive effort prior to their unfortunate problem. Congratulations to all of our teams for their efforts, and to everyone at HPD and our technical partner Wirth Research on our second LMP2 victory in just three starts. We’re already looking forward to defending our win here next year!”