For Honda Performance Development, this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona marks the start of a new era, as its HPD ARX-04b, an all-new prototype that’s essentially been four years in the making, takes part in its debut race.
But as with any new car, the often typical delays in production has resulted in a race against the clock for the California-based manufacturer, its chassis partner Wirth Research and Tequila Patron ESM, as all parties have burned the midnight oil to get both of the cost-capped LMP2 coupes ready for its maiden voyage.
And it’s just not any race, but a twice-around-the-clock enduro that’s often considered one of the toughest in the world.
“It’s a huge jump,” HPD Race Team Leader Allen Miller told Sportscar365. “At this point, we just completed the second chassis a week ago and shook it down at Sebring. It has very limited running.
“The drivers don’t have a lot of time with the car. The team doesn’t have a lot of time with the car. We’re developing. It’s going to be a long 24-hour test and we hope to come out of it in a good position.
“Our first goal is to get both cars to the end. The higher up the grid we can go, the better off we’ll feel about it.”
Despite the limited track time, the ARX-04b has shown encouraging early pace, both at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 and in the run-up to this weekend’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season-opener.
While a manufacturing defect in a bell housing component forced the No. 1 entry of Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson to miss qualifying, it rebounded to set the seventh quickest time in final practice, and within one second of the pacesetters.
“At the Roar we had some pretty good top speeds,” Miller said. “Coming back here, we’ve made some changes and are still trying to get ourselves back up to that.
“There are still some things we’re learning with the overall handling. But we’re very encouraged and I expect that we’ll have better performance as the next races come.”
With the car currently on a draft homologation from the FIA, Miller anticipates further reliability and performance updates to come before the Twelve Hours of Sebring in March, including a significant weight reduction.
The ARX-04b currently weighs in slightly over the 940 kg IMSA-imposed P2 minimum weight, which translates to well above the 900 kg minimum allowed in the FIA World Endurance Championship, where ESM will turn its attention to post-Sebring.
“Because of the late delivery and us trying to get this thing done, some things come out on the heavier side,” Miller said. “We’ve identified and targeted the changes.
“We’ve got a long laundry list of things we’re going to change by the time we get to Sebring. By the time it gets to Silverstone, it should be right on the WEC [minimum] weight.”
Miller said other updates, such as a medium-downforce aero kit, should arrive in a few weeks, with further testing on tap prior to Sebring, where even further strides are expected to be made with the car.
“We’ll continue testing at Sebring and head towards prepping for Silverstone,” he said. That’s the big goal, to get them ready for WEC.
“As ESM has committed just for the NAEC, we’re getting them through Sebring and then everything is geared towards the championship they want to run. That’s what we’re working to support.”
While ESM has so far been the only confirmed ARX-04b team, Miller said there continues to be interest from parties in both Europe and the U.S., although deals have yet to be finalized.
However, he said they currently have enough inventory for at least one car to be quickly assembled, with a 12-week lead time required for any additional orders.
HPD has committed to building up to six of the ARX-04bs in the car’s first year.