Thanks to HPD , TOV Motorsports got a chance to discuss a few Honda racing issues with Steve Eriksen, Exec VP of Operations for Honda Performance Development, the racing subsidiary of American Honda. We met with him before the Indycar race at Milwaukee.
We’ve divided this report into two parts: The Indycar program and sports car racing.
In this entry we discuss sports car racing
The future of HPD in Prototype Racing
The big news is that despite all the trials and tribulations for HPD on the LMP2 Chassis front over the last year or so, Eriksen was upbeat and enthusiastic about HPD’s participation in the Prototype class of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship for the 2017 season and beyond. In 2017, a new spec car is supposed to replace the Daytona Prototypes and LMP2 cars presently running in the IMSA Prototype class. And I thought that since HPD had been dropped as a prototype manufacturer, they might pull out of the class. I was wrong.
“We like the direction IMSA is going for 2017,” said Eriksen. That direction is to allow multiple manufacturers to produce engines for the LMP2 cars from the four manufacturers recently selected by IMSA and the ACO . Those chassis suppliers are Ligier, Dallara, Multimatic-Riley and Oreca. HPD wanted to be one of those four, but Eriksen seems to have gotten over that and is embracing the future.
IMSA’s plan is to allow the engine manufacturers to run identifiable brand-specific body work. This bodywork would be performance balanced, so no bodywork would have a competitive advantage.
“We like the identifiable bodywork. That works for us.” According to Eriksen, IMSA is still considering what specification of engines to allow. “We’ve proposed that the engines be production based,” he said. The main reasoning is cost to the teams. “Our LMP2 engine costs 1/5th as much as a racing engine”, such as the Honda Indycar engine. And the performance characteristics IMSA is looking for can easily be met by a production engine.
“We also like that IMSA will allows us to use our own ECU (engine control unit). The people who want to use Spec ECUs think they save money, but they don’t,” Eriksen said. “It’s penny wise and pound foolish.”
When Honda uses its own ECU , Eriksen said, it is completely free to develop its own engine management strategy. Among other things, that leads to more reliable operation. When HPD is forced to use someone else’s spec ECU (such as in Indycar), there are limitations on the engine management strategies that can be used. And reliability can be compromised.
Snark alert: Perhaps it was just coincidence that Eriksen made a point of this in Milwaukee. HPD lost five engines over the course of the two days. Two in the race and three before. Or maybe it was at the top of his mind?
If IMSA follows HPD’s advice and continues its production-based formula, HPD’s entry is not going to be based on the NSX V6. An NSX-variant would be more expensive than the twin-turbo J-series engine currently used. There wouldn’t be any benefit to the teams, since IMSA will performance-balance the engines.
So unless the development of the IMSA Prototype Specification for 2017 goes off the rails somewhere, expect HPD to be in the TUSC series, along with Chevy and possibly Mazda or Ford.
This would represent a happy ending of sorts to a bizarre tale. Last fall, HPD and Wirth Engineering came out with a new LMP2 coupe. Those cars, purchased by Extreme Speed Motorsports, turned out to be heavy and slow. After HPD could not fix the performance issues quickly, ESM switched to Honda-powered Ligiers instead for the WEC and LeMans. The two HPD coupes were mothballed, with plans to fix them in preparation for HPD’s development of a 2017 coupe.
That was until the ACO , the governing body of international sports car racing, decided it did not want any company with ties to a major auto manufacturer to be an LMP2 Chassis manufacturer.
“We had been led to believe that they wanted us to be one of the four manufacturers,” said Eriksen. “Then I read the packet: ‘Please affirm that you are not connected to a major auto manufacturer’ ….” No warning. after months of meetings. So since HPD is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Honda, it was excluded from the LMP2 sweepstakes.
“We talked to IMSA (the US sports car sanctioning body), and they tried to work out a compromise, but we could not accept what they came up with.”
So it looks like the HPD Coupes are staying in storage for the foreseeable future. But HPD seems upbeat about the future in IMSA for 2017.
The racing future of the NSX
Then there’s the matter of racing the NSX . HPD has said the NSX will race. But when will it race and in what series? HPD has been busy looking for a series where a hybrid supercar can compete. That could be the World Endurance Championship (including LeMans), IMSA or possibly the Pirelli World Challenge. Hybrids were banned in the current IMSA/ ACO GTE class ( GTLM for IMSA ), but the revised regulations for 2016 may have opened the door a bit.
“We’re studying regulations,” said Eriksen. The intent is to race it as a production-based GT car, hybrid powertrain and all. This is different from the SuperGT NSX , which looks like an NSX , but uses a different power train and chassis.
Racing a hybrid all-wheel-drive supercar may require waivers from the normal rules, but that’s nothing new for HPD . The Acura TLX GT cars that RealTime Racing runs in World Challenge are like no other TLX , and like no other car in the series. While all the other cars in the series are FIA GT3 cars, World Challenge created a spec just for the TLX . So it runs with a Frankenstein-like configuration: a version of the HPD LMP2 twin-turbo V6 engine, with a special racing all-wheel drive system.
Similarly, the NSX , with its twin-turbo V6 and hybrid all wheel drive system, may require some rules to be bent (waivers) for it to be run someplace like IMSA , WEC or WC. “We’ve said we are going to race it. The question is where and when,” said Eriksen. “Since the car will be made in the United States, and was largely developed here, we want to race it here.”