Eriksen: Six new HPD ARX-04b coupes planned to race in 2015

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One of the items from last weekend’s Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course we weren’t able to hit during the weekend was Honda’s Steve Eriksen, VP and COO of Honda Performance Development, having a sit down with the media to discuss Honda’s current racing projects.

Eriksen expanded on the new HPD ARX-04b coupe, the new P2 car. Here’s a transcript of that section:

THE MODERATOR: Let’s move to sports cars for a moment. The new ARX-04b makes its debut in 2015. It’s a beautiful car. We know the Extreme Speed Motorsports team is going to run it in the TUDOR Championship. Give us an update on where that project stands, perhaps if we have the possibility of seeing other cars out there in addition to the Extreme Speed entries.

STEVE ERIKSEN: Our target was to have six cars planned for next season. I have every confidence that we’ll have all six out there.

The balance between World Endurance Championship or the TUDOR Championship kind of depends on the politics and balance of performance happens in the U.S. But I expect that all six of the cars we’ve targeted will go out to teams.

The progress on the car is going really well. We’re planning to put the first cars together in late October, then they’ll be on track in November. You can see them in person.

The car itself, it takes everything we learned from the last times that we had to do new cars. If you look back on the history, there was the ARX-01a, which debuted in 2007, then the 01b came out in 2008, which was a major update. The 01c was developed for Le Mans. That was a car that raced and set all kinds of records in 2010. We didn’t have opportunities to do updates to the car until we created this new car because of the ACO regulations.

What you’ll see is essentially the behind-the-scenes work that has been going on for years in our sports car program finally come to light. All the things that have been happening in the virtual world over the years is going to be coming together in this new car.

We made a special emphasis on the safety in this car. If you look at the regulations and you look at LMP1 versus LMP2, there are some differences in safety requirements between the two cars. Our P2 car is going to have all of the P1 safety requirements in addition to the P2 safety requirements. We’ve gone above and beyond. Although that adds expense to the car, it’s going to have every safety advancement we can put in the car.

This is not part of the regulation requirement, but we’re adding the fuel safety interlock system, which is the same system on every IndyCar here, which we developed. That same system of ours is going into the sports car as well. That’s another safety enhancement.

We’re also pushing the TUDOR Series to go back to ACO-style pit stops with the requirement that you can’t work on the car until fueling is done. We feel that’s an important safety benefit that should be put back into the series.

I think it will also save teams money because they’ll be able to double, triple, even quadruple stint their tires. I think it will help make the racing more interesting because you’ll have this back and forth between a DP car, which is really using the cars properly, then a P2 car for which the tires are not designed to operate with that type of car.

When the 04b comes out, I think you’ll see a lot of neat refinements on that car. It’s going to be a special car.

THE MODERATOR: You expect some mix of 04b cars, chassis, between the World Endurance Championship and the TUDOR Championship, correct?

STEVE ERIKSEN: That’s correct. If I was guessing today, and every day changes, but if I was guessing today, I’d say there will be four in the TUDOR Series and two in the WEC.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).