Image credits: © HPD.

2010 HPD ARX-01

Only one Japanese manufacturer has ever won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Many Japanese manufacturers have tried, including Nissan and Toyota. But, in 2006, the least experienced manufacturer in endurance racing announced it was trying its hand at designing and preparing a Le Mans prototype in quest of victory at the famed 24 hour enduro, and that manufacturer is Honda. The latest generation to have emerged has shown great promise and is a testament to Honda's skill in motor racing.

Honda did not start out exactly from a clean sheet. They acquired existing chassis from Lola and Courage, and from that basis, began to fashion its own LMP challenger. The first to be produced was the Acura badged ARX-01a. Developed by Wirth Research in England, the ARX-01a was based upon the Courage LC70 but the aero package had been highly revised.

Surrounded by uncertainty, the Acura chassis performed quite well in their debut at the 2006 Sebring 12 hours. During the 12 hour race, Andretti Green team, driving one of the Courage-based Acura ARX-01a was able to mount a serious challenge and finished 2nd overall and first in class.

In 2008, a revised chassis, called the ARX-01b, was produced. It proved to be a strong competitor as it ended up earning six victories out of eleven races in the American Le Mans Series. Then, in 2009, the ARX-01b returned and dominated. Although slightly altered, the -01b proved to be the class of the LMP2 category, albeit without the presence of the other dominant chassis Porsche.

The ARX's proven success over the years led to the acceptance of a new challenge. In 2010 it was announced Honda would enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The chassis used by the Fernandez Racing team to win the title in the LMP2 category in the ALMS in 2009 was sold to the British Strakka Racing team and renamed the Honda Performance development (HPD) ARX-01c after it was revised to fit the 2010 season's regulations. It was given the prefix 'HPD' due to the fact Acura does not exist in Europe. Some of the main changes made to what was called the ARX-01c had to do with removing some levels of downforce from the car. Most of the circuits competed on in the Le Mans Series in Europe take place on higher-speed courses, including the ultra-fast Circuit de la Sarthe.

The design of the HPD ARX-01c fit Strakka's needs perfectly. Similar to the Courage LMP chassis from which it was derived, the ARX-01c boasts of an incredible ability to be adapted to fit the circuit in which it is competing.

Overall, the ARX-01c bears quite a resemblance to Hugues de Chaunac's Oreca 01 chassis. This is not all that surprising since Oreca and Honda shared information and had a good working relationship. After revision using Computational Fluid Dynamics software and tested extensively in the Wirth Research simulator, the ARX-01c became able to compete under the 2010 regulations.

The Strakka HPD Le Mans Prototype sports a highly contoured front splitter. The middle portion of the splitter is raised in order to enable airflow under the car and to the very low-positioned sidepods.

The front wheel fairings are designed in such a way as to be pulled in from the sides. This enables large wing elements to be attached to aid in downforce and balance. In addition to the wing elements, a vertical plane is installed on the outside-edge of the wheel fairing. This helps bend the airflow around the wheels and blend more smoothly with airflow passing by the side of the car.

The top of the front wheel fairings can be changed out depending upon the circuit. For higher-downforce circuits, a cover with many louvers can be installed. The louvers, when combined with the air flowing over them, create a low pressure. This pulls air out from around the wheels and creates more downforce.

The nose, as with all of the ARX-01 chassis evolutions, is integrated into the front bodywork. The bodywork covers the double-wishbone suspension. Small vents, located to the inside of the wheels, are for the purpose of helping to cool the large Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes that run incredibly hot but provide incredible braking ability.

Underneath smooth bulges on the top of the nose bodywork are the springs and dampers for the front suspension. The cockpit is tight but comfortable. It features a rather large LCD display that provides the driver important information about the car's performance, even including tire pressures, speed and gearing. The steering wheel is arrayed with a number of buttons and switches that control everything from having a drink to controlling speed in the pit lane and talking on the radio. It also features dial switches that control fuel settings and the all-important traction control. The car uses a 6-speed HPD-Hewland sequential transmission operated by paddle shifters located on the backside of the steering wheel.

Power for the car comes from an HPD 90 degree 3.4-liter V8 that has its roots in IndyCar Racing. It is capable of producing 480 bhp. With a car weight of just over 1800 pounds, the engine has a weight to power ratio of only 3.7 pounds to 1 hp!

The high degree angle of the engine provides the car with an engine that has a low center of gravity. This feature allowed for a tighter rear bodywork to be designed in order to help with airflow to the rear of the car. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the low center of gravity helps with the balance of the -01c. This low center of gravity was taken advantage of when Wirth Research set out to design the car. This was especially taken advantage of with respect to the design from the cockpit to the rear.

Besides a panel fitted bridging the front wheel fairing to the tub of the chassis to help direct airflow up over the sidepod, there are a number of barge-board turning devices utilized on the Strakka Racing chassis. The low sidepod is pulled in at the waist, which aids airflow passing out around the sides of the car. It also helps to reduce instability as it helps to prevent air from becoming turbulent as it tries to either flow into the radiator inlet, or, pass around the side of the car. To help blend the airflow into the airflow passing by the side of the car, a vertical plane element is attached to the edge of the sidepod and the deck. This contoured vertical plane bends the air to help it flow seamlessly.

The design makes use of an open cockpit with a twin roll hoop design. The low-sitting engine enables the design of the engine cover to have clean lines that extend downward and backward, but remain tight. This helps to minimize disturbances to the airflow before it reaches the rear wing. This is also important for balance.

Featured on the front of the rear wheel fairing is a vent that goes to help cool the rear brakes. The rear wheel fairing is rounded and sweeps back from the wheel well. The Strakka Team was one of a number of teams beginning to use LED lighting for its brake lights. On the -01c the lights are arrayed around the top contour of the rear wheel fairing.

Acura was one of the first to develop the 'swan-neck' rear wing. The HPD ARX-01c utilizes the same swan-neck support system for the rear wing. This reduces air disruptions caused by the support pillars attached the rear wing from the underside.

When the Strakka Team took its newly revised car out for a test they were immediately impressed. Piers Phillips was quoted as saying, 'It's a well-sorted package, but one that still has enormous potential for further development.' Just what the chassis was capable of doing became immediately apparent during its first race. Upon its introduction into the European Le Mans Series, the Strakka HPD ARX-01c proved it was more than capable of handling the competition.

At its debut at Paul Ricard, the car dominated. Even though the team suffered an unscheduled stop that cost them over seven minutes in the pits, the car was still able to go on to earn the victory.

After the Strakka Team suffered a retirement in the 1000km of Spa, the team's next test was the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Two teams were present to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2010. Strakka entered a single car, as did the American Le Mans Series Highcroft Racing Team. The Highcroft entry was driven by 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans overall winner David Brabham, as well as Marino Franchitti and four-time Le Mans winner Marco Werner.

Unfortunately for Brabham and Werner, they were no to taste victory in 2010. Their Highcroft HPD ARX-01c dropped out of the race after completing 296 laps. The Strakka Racing Team had a totally different result, however. The troubles Peugeot had with their diesel-powered 908 played a part in Strakka Racing finishing the 24 hour enduro 5th overall and 1st in LMP2.

Out of six races contested during the season, Strakka Racing, and the HPD ARX-01c, would go on to win four of them. Highcroft Racing made it a clean sweep for the HPD chassis when it claimed the combined LMP category in the American Le Mans Series.

If Phillips was telling the truth, there is still more the HPD ARX-01c is capable of doing. Undoubtedly, the chassis will become the benchmark in the LMP2 category. It will be, from now, until it is supplanted, the car to beat.

'2010 HPD ARX-01c', ( Retrieved 25 January 2011.

'Wins in Europe and America for Wirth Research Designed HPD ARX-01c', ( PaddockTalk:F1, NASCAR, IndyCar, MotoGP, ALMS, and More!. Retrieved 25 January 2011.

'HPD ARX-01c', ( Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. Retrieved 25 January 2011.

Wikipedia contributors, 'Acura ARX-01', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 January 2011, 05:16 UTC, accessed 25 January 2011

By Jeremy McMullen

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