There is trouble for Honda in Sports Car Land. Racer.com is reporting that Honda Performance Development and Extreme Speed Motorsports will not enter the new ARX-04b LMP2 coupes in the World Endurance Championship and the LeMans 24 Hours this season as planned. All the information is here: HPD and ESM withdraw New LMP2 Coupe
Taken at face value, it seems that HPD is going to work with Wirth Engineering (the designer of the car) to get it up to speed while ESM races Ligier cars with Honda engines in the WEC and at LeMans. As the article stated, HPD would work with a partner team (likely either Andretti Autosport or Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, two of Honda’s Indycar teams) to test and race the car in the US for the rest of the season with the idea of reintroducing it to the WEC and LeMans for 2016.
I think it’s more likely that the ARX-04b’s never turns a wheel again. Here’s why:
HPD would have to pay whichever team they partnered with to run the cars. I know from experience that a one-car team running a full season in IMSA costs in the neighborhood of $3-$5 million. To develop the ARX-04b HPD would have to run both of them, with updates, in all the IMSA races of the second half of the season. Not to mention the gobs of testing that would need to be done.
On top of that, HPD is probably buying ESM’s Ligiers for them as a make-good on the “underperforming” ARX-04B’s. So we’re looking at maybe $6 million to fix these two cars. Cars that sell for $600,000 or so each. HPD would have to sell 10 more to even break even on the fix. But that’s unlikely to happen because of:
THE NEW 2017 ACO/ FIA LMP2 RULES
The ruling bodies of sports cars have proposed new rules for LMP2 in 2017. Read about it here: Bizarre sports car rules for 2017
First, there would only be four LMP2 chassis manufacturers. Engine manufacturers would be prohibited from selling chassis as well. Assuming that the existing cars would be grandfathered in for 2017, that means that the ARX-04b’s would be legislated out of existence for the WEC at the end of the 2017 season. At this point, these rules are merely “proposals”. But almost every observer that I have talked to believes they will be enacted pretty much as is at the end of March.
So where does that leave the ARX-04b? HPD could sink another $6 million into fixing them, and then presumably give them back to ESM . But would ESM even want to run them at that point? ESM would have a whole season of experience with the Ligier-Honda package. Including a boat-load of spare parts and tools. Knowing that they would need to get new cars in 2018, why would they change to the ARX-04b for just two seasons?
The ONLY reason that ESM would want the cars back is if the racing version of the new NSX V6 engine fits in the ARX-04b and not in the Ligier. Even then, it would have to be a huge performance improvement to consider that.
If HPD wants to run the new NSX V6 engine in LMP2, it would likely cost a lot less than $6 million to work with Ligier to make it fit in the unlikely event that there is a problem.
So, in the cold realities of dollars and cents and politics, this is what I think is going to happen.
- The ACO/ FIA will enact the new rules at the end of March.
- Honda and some other manufactures will make a lot of noise about how ridiculous the new rules are (which they are, but that’s another story).
- Honda will announce that in view of the new rules it will permanently park the ARX-04b’s and concentrate on supplying engines-only for IMSA from 2017 onwards.
WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT THE INDYCAR AEROKIT?
Wirth Engineering designed both the ARX-04b and the new Indycar Aerokit. Since the LMP2 car was a dog, should we be worried about the 2015 Indycar?
I am going to be optimistic here and say, “Probably not”. The reason is that the testing-development process was different.
As some of you know, Wirth is famous for doing most of its development on a computer using computational fluid dynamics ( CFD ) technology. And the ARX-04b was a classic example. The first car itself was not assembled until December, the second in January. That was the first time Wirth and HPD had the chance to confirm the performance of the car in the real world. Oops.
Where it differs from the Indycar project is that the LMP2 car was a totally new car. While it has been reported that the issues with the car are aerodynamic, they could also be chassis related because the chassis is all new. That’s why sorting this out is going to be complex.
For the Indycar project, only certain areas of the car could be dealt with. The chassis is the same as was first run in 2012, and has only had minor modifications since then. The existing DW12 car was a known commodity from a performance standpoint.
Wirth’s task was to improve it. And while the designs were first done in CFD , Honda has been testing the new parts on the track since October. And modifications have been made based on real track data that could be plowed back into the CFD designs. That only recently happened with the ARX-04b.
The 2015 Indycar Aerokit project is most similar to the original
project. In that case, Wirth took an existing Courage chassis and improved the aero. It was very successful for a very long time.
In fact, if you look at the Indycar, it looks nothing like the failed ARX-04b. It looks most like the successful open cockpit ARX predecessors.
We’ll begin to know next week at the Barber test. But I heard HPD’s T. E. McHale say he expects the new Honda Indycars to be up to 2 seconds a lap faster than the old cars. We’ll see soon enough.
If any of you see things differently, let me know. That’s what the comments section is for.