Photo: IndyCar

Long Beach a showcase for HPD’s motorsports programs

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The weekend of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach represents something of a showcase for Honda Performance Development. Unsurprisingly, its Verizon IndyCar Series program received top billing, capped with a win from James Hinchcliffe in his Honda-powered entry from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

But, not to be forgotten were HPD’s NSX GT3 programs, run under Michael Shank Racing (IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship) and RealTime Racing (Pirelli World Challenge).

This marks the only time all year all three of these programs are in one race location at the same time.

The MSR Acura NSX GT3… Photo courtesy of IMSA

HPD President Art. St. Cyr was keen to emphasize the company’s GT3 programs to make sure they weren’t lost in the shuffle. He even went so far as to highlight the morale boost the program is having on the company.

“We have two GT3 programs running here. With Mike Shank running in IMSA and RealTime Racing running in the Pirelli World Challenge, it’s really exciting. It’s really energized our group not only here (in Torrance California), but our people in Ohio,” he explained during a media Q&A at Long Beach.

He added that the NSX programs have done a lot to showcase the brands of America Honda Motor Co. and Acura, even if they’re still in their early days.

… and the RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3. Photo: Honda

“It’s truly a North American effort working on those cars. Like I said, it’s really energized us, especially at corporate, because we’ve been working for quite a while now with (the head of Acura in Torrance) to really make the GT3 program the proof point of the performance side of Acura Precision Crafted Performance. So it’s really something that speaks to what the brand is supposed to be, something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

Of course, he did spend some time discussing the IndyCar program, which has seen a massive uptick to start the 2017 season, with Honda entries winning each of the first two races. As St. Cyr detailed, the recent success is a result of both engine and aero development, and he made a point of describing how continuity with the aero kit has helped.

“We worked on the engine. We worked on understanding our aero kit a little better. Just have everyone remember that with (Rule 9.3), we resigned our aero kit last year before St. Pete, so it was brand‑new for all of our teams since last year. Now that our teams have had a year to understand what that aero kit is, things are really coming into place.”

The influence of the Indianapolis 500 cannot be ignored either, and St. Cyr affirmed that HPD is thirsty for more success as the “500.”

“Having an opportunity to run the Indy 500 is really one of the reasons why HPD even came into existence, is the chance to run that race. Obviously last year the Honda cars were very strong. We haven’t stopped focusing on that. We’re not resting on our laurels.”

Honda has 17 confirmed cars for this year’s Indianapolis 500, with the high potential of an 18th to be announced later. There will be the 13 full-season entries plus extra announced entries for Oriol Servia (RLL), Pippa Mann (Coyne), Jack Harvey (Andretti) and Jay Howard (SPM).

While the IndyCar and GT3 programs tend to get the most publicity, there is a lot more to HPD’s racing resume. Honda has maintained a heavy influence in grassroots racing for years, touching multiple types of disciplines and machines, which have brought a lot of positive results Honda’s way.

“I’m not sure if people understand just the breadth of grassroots racing that we’re involved in,” St. Cyr’s of HPD’s grassroots initiatives. “Anything from quarter midgets to tin tops to SECA activities. Our grassroots racers won over 125 races last year, over 325 podiums. It was a good year for our grassroots racers as well.”

Further, the grassroots programs allow them to showcase their road-going technology, even so far as showing that it can hit the race track without much, if any, changes. “Every one of those motors for those programs is based off of a mass production engine,” St. Cyr explained. “So whether it’s the four‑cylinder engine from the FIT, the six cylinder engine that’s in the Odyssey, the GX engines in our power equipment, that’s where we work alongside R&D to make sure what we build we can race.”

And Honda’s motorsports programs are further reaching still. Like a handful of other auto makers, Honda has embraced motorsports as way to bring its brand to the masses. To that end, as St. Cyr indicated, American Honda reserves the right throw projects HPD’s way. “We’re a subsidiary of American Honda. There’s sometimes that American Honda asks us to do things to help support what they’re trying to do,” he said of their working relationship.

Mitchell DeJong. Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool

Case and point to that relationship is a Global Rallycross program, which competes under the Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE banner with drivers Oliver Eriksson, Mitchell DeJong and Sebastian Eriksson and utilizes the newly launched Civic SI. St. Cyr especially noted the GRC demographic is a match to the one they’re shooting for with the Civic. “We’ll use the Global Rallycross to really talk about Civic. It goes after that young male demographic that is so important for us to sell the Civic to.”

In being the president of HPD, St. Cyr is a man with plenty of things on his plate. And while it seems overwhelming, the job is not without its perks, as it detailed while discussing the Baja Ridgeline, yet another project the company is working on.

“One of the requirements is I get to drive this car,” he quipped about the project. “I actually had a chance to drive it a couple weeks ago, and I’m still smiling about it because it’s just ridiculous driving that thing. You go over these whoops that are three feet high. The co‑driver with me was one of our drivers, kept telling me to go faster and faster where the urge is to slow down.”

St. Cyr later added that the motorsports programs, while also building brand identification, further highlight Honda’s overall desire to make driving fun. “We want driving to be fun. Clean, safe fun is our mantra in Honda. Precision crafted performance, with a capital P, it’s important for us to have that in every aspect of what we do for Acura and Honda.”

Currently, Honda sits atop the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, while Oswaldo Negri and Jeff Segal sit sixth in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GTD class standings (Katherine Legge and Andy Lally sit 13th). Ryan Eversley and Peter Kox, drivers with the RealTime effort in Pirelli World Challenge, rank 13th and 15th currently, while Red Bull Global Rallycross’ season is slated to begin on April 30 in Memphis, TN, on NBC.

The Monday after the weekend also brought drivers from all three series that raced at Long Beach together at HPD for a day with the staff there. A number of drivers posted throughout the day on social media.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.