Any way you look at it, the 2010 HPD LMP2 sports-car program is off to a fantastic start, opening the season with two class victories in the first three races. In both the North American-based American Le Mans Series and the Le Mans Series in Europe, HPD-powered teams are racking up victories and leading their respective championships.
In the ALMS, Patrón Highcroft Racing posted a thrilling overall victory at the recent Grand Prix of Long Beach, with Simon Pagenaud’s incredible last-lap pass for the win in his HPD-powered ARX-01c over the Lola-Aston Martin of Adrian Fernandez.
And “across the pond”, it was the HPD-powered Strakka Racing ARX taking the LMP2 class win in equally dramatic fashion with drivers Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis in the season-opening 8 Hours of Le Castellet, at Circuit Paul Ricard in southern France.
The ALMS season got underway last month at the historic 12 Hours of Sebring in central Florida, There, Marino Franchitti put the Patrón Highcroft ARX-01c on the class pole and, along with co-drivers Pagenaud and David Brabham, dominated the first nine hours of the event, building up a four-lap lead in the process.
But a short circuit in the electrical system sent the Patrón Highcroft car behind the pit wall for nearly 30 minutes while the fault was traced and repaired, leading to a disappointing second-place finish behind the Porsche Spyder of CytoSport Racing.
On April 11, the European Le Mans Series also started 2010 with an endurance contest featuring two HPD-powered entries: Strakka and the HPD-Lola coupe of RML Motorsports.
After starting from the LMP2 class pole, Strakka battled the Team Ginetta Zytek in the opening hours, until damaged rear bodywork sent the ARX to the pits for five laps in the third hour. Once back underway, the Strakka car was the quickest LMP2 car on the track, making up ground on the field when the leading Ginetta ran into its own problems in the form of a broken steering rack.
Once in front, Watts, Kane and Leventis saved fuel over the final hour to bring the ARX home for HPD’s first class win in the Le Mans Series. The RML HPD-Lola of Tommy Erdos, Mike Newton and Andy Wallace finished third to give HPD a pair of podium finishes in its European racing debut.
“The car was THAT good. It made my job a lot easier, really,” Watts said after taking the class victory. “I could just pound out the laps with ease. It was fantastic in every department: high-speed … low-speed … you name it. All credit to HPD, Wirth Research and Strakka. It’s been a great weekend for us.”
Just one week later, it was time for Round 2 of the ALMS and from the wide-open runways of Sebring, the challenge now shifted to the tight Long Beach street circuit. Patrón Highcroft Racing won the LMP2 class here in 2008, but this year would be battling larger-engined machines in a combined LMP category that will be a feature of all ALMS “sprint” races this season.
Normally an LMP1 machine, the works-supported Lola Aston Martin piloted by Fernandez and co-driver Harold Primat features a V-12 powerplant, and plenty of power for the long, Shoreline Drive front straight at Long Beach. Against it, the Highcroft machine is lighter and more maneuverable with its HPD V-8 engine, quicker through the tight and twisting portions of the Long Beach street circuit.
At the end of nearly two hours of racing, the back-and-forth contest came down to a duel between Fernandez in the Aston and Pagenaud in the ARX. The winning pass came in Turn 4 on the final lap.
“That pass was quite hairy. I could see Adrian was having some issues,” Pagenaud recounted. “I’m a racer and thought if I pushed him, maybe I could get him to make a mistake.”
That’s exactly what happened. Pagenaud feinted left, watched as Fernandez moved off-line to block, then quickly darted to the right and into the lead as the Aston Martin spun its rear tires in the “marbles” that gather just outside the normal racing line. The thrilling finish had the large Long Beach crowd on its feet as HPD celebrated a “home town” victory.
So, who needs an Aston Martin – when you can drive one of our cars?