TUDOR: Extreme Speed to run new HPD coupe next season

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This year, Extreme Speed Motorsports headed for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Next year, they may be heading for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

2015 is shaping up to be a big year for the “Patron posse,” as Honda Performance Development has announced the sale of two of its new V-6 powered, ARX-04b coupes to ESM.

Whether or not ESM will make the trip to France next year remains to be determined, but the new HPD coupes are fully compliant with the current LMP2 regulations laid out by the Automobile Club l’Ouest and exceed safety standards of the new enclosed-cockpit configuration.

They’re also eligible for competition in the TUDOR Series, as well as the World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series, and Asian Le Mans Series.

“It is hard to believe that the current HPD base race car is now seven years old and still running strong; that is a testament to its excellent design,” ESM co-owner Scott Sharp said in a statement. “The next generation of the ARX chassis has been well thought out with a huge emphasis on performance, safety and aerodynamics.

“We firmly believe this new racing machine will provide ESM with a strong platform to be a leader in sports car racing for many seasons!  We’re looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the ARX-04b and experiencing the latest version of the Honda power and performance.”

Among the attributes of the ARX-04b are “energy-efficient technology” that combines low drag with high fuel efficiency, “quick change” front and rear bodywork, a total fuel capacity of 75 liters, and Honda’s safety interlock refueling system, which is designed to reduce pit road fires triggered by cars leaving their stalls with the fuel hose attached.

“Our association with Scott, [co-owner] Ed [Brown] and Tequila Patrón goes back to 2008 with our ARX-01 chassis,” said HPD vice president and COO Steve Eriksen in his own statement. “We’re looking forward to continuing our successful partnership and assisting ESM when it makes its first run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where HPD has twice scored LMP2 class wins in the last four years.”

ESM currently utilizes the open-top HPD ARX-03b in the TUDOR Series.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds