The final official preseason test for the American Le Mans Series in advance of next month's 60th anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring took place Thursday. HPD's new P1 prototype enjoyed a successful first day on track, while Porsche's 911 is also a new beast this time around.
SELLERS ON NEW PORSCHE – Once a 911, always a 911 may be true for Porsche's marketing exercises, but though the nomenclature of its latest GT contender is the same, it's a completely different animal behind the wheel. Falken Porsche's Bryan Sellers (far right, LEFT) elaborated on the changes of the new 911 GT3 RSR, delivered in plain white from the Weissach factory to its new teams at Falken, Flying Lizard Motorsports and Paul Miller Racing.
“It's night and day,” he said. “You know it's still a Porsche when driving it, but it's a completely different piece of machinery. The front aero seems better. With the width it rides the bumps better, that the 911 used to struggle with in the past. The difficulty now is that it does not use the same setup as anything we've ever run at Sebring in the past. We've had to implement different changes to see what works. It shows a ton of potential to be fantastic, but will take time to run through it.
“The first and most obvious change is the width of it, it's a much wider track. The wheelbase isn't much different. At first look, it's very easy to see. The second are the aero changes. That stems from the front splitter to the air intakes. The rear bumper, behind the rear tire, is completely redesigned. Louvers on the front and the width on the front is all changed. The air intakes on the side are different as well. The goal was to increase downforce and decrease drag, and they believe they've been able to do that. The width increases drag, but there are ways to decrease it in spite of that. We still hit the same top speed with this as the old car.”
FAST TIMES, DAY TWO – Muscle Milk's new HPD ARX-03a was literally quick out of the box as it registered the day's, and week's, fastest time of 1:48.192. The three P2 cars also all improved on their Wednesday times, with the two Level 5 HPDs (P2-spec ARX-03bs) in at 1:51.522 and 1:51.714, respectively. Pecom's ORECA 03 Nissan got down to a 1:52.134. All three were ahead of last year's P2 class pole of 1:53.815.
Similarly in GT, six cars broke into the 2:00 range with two more also ahead of the pole time set last year (2:01.561). Three Ferrari F458s, the two factory Corvettes and the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche 911 also went below the 2:01 mark.
DOUBLE THE MUSCLE – Muscle Milk Pickett Racing was able to debut its new HPD ARX-03a Thursday, the first time Honda Performance Development's new P1 contender had made a lap anywhere in the world. HPD has a six-team, seven-car lineup split between the P1 and P2 classes in both the ALMS and FIA World Endurance Championship.
Simon Pagenaud, the longtime Honda pilot, joined Muscle Milk regulars Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr. All three seemed very complimentary of the car, and it certainly showed its pace as it ripped off some fliers only a day after being assembled! The car arrived in Sebring in various boxes and was put together all day Wednesday.
“It's such a big evolution from last year's car,” said Pagenaud, who was one of three drivers to have a chance in the one-off HPD ARX-01e run to second at last year's race. “The engine gives us good power, the front splitter gives the car additional downforce and the new tub gives us better efficiency as well. It's generally the same aero package as the car we ran last year.”
Team principal Greg Pickett took the ceremonial first laps and unsurprisingly didn't want to get out of the cockpit when his stint was over. The team's LMPC car (LEFT) continued to rack up the laps as well, marking the first day there were two Muscle Milk prototypes on track.
WALTRIP'S SEBRING DEBUT – A tweet Michael Waltrip posted after his first laps at Sebring read simply, “Man there's a lot of turns out there.” Learning the track instead of pace proved Waltrip's main goal in his first test at the 3.7-mile facility for TRG. His start at the 12 Hours of Sebring next month, in a Ferrari 458, will complete his trio of major endurance race debuts, having also driven in the 24-hour races at Le Mans last June and Daytona last month.
DUNLOP FOR LEVEL 5 – As much as learning yet another new car, Level 5 has used this test to adapt to Dunlop tires. The team ran on Michelins in its first two years in ALMS, one year in the single-supplier LMPC class and also in its step up to P2 last year. Michelin is expected to draw down its support of P2 class entries on a global basis this year, and focus elsewhere among the sports car classes from 2013.