The market for brand-new P2 cars will be flooded in 2015 as Ligier, ORECA, Dome and a few other manufacturers bring their designs into the marketplace, and they’ll have stiff competition from Honda Performance Development as the constructor looks to reassert itself with the HPD ARX-04b.
Penned by England’s Wirth Research and California’s HPD, the marque’s first coupe design bears little resemblance to its ARX predecessors or, for that matter, any of the other P2 cars it will compete against.
According to Wirth, the ARX-04b features considerable amounts of technology found within his recent (albeit stillborn) P1 coupe project, and with the lineage of the current ARX-03b P2 car dating back to the Acura ALMS effort, the new P2 coupe is meant to put the past to rest and start a new chapter with a clean-sheet prototype design.
“The bottom line is, you probably know more than most people how long they’ve been working on our P1 car, and actually, from HPD and Wirth Research’s point of view, the last time we had a car on the track which represented the limit of our group’s knowledge was in 2010 with the ARX-03c,” Wirth told RACER. “It was the car run by Strakka in the WEC in 2010 (BELOW) when they blew everyone’s doors off in Le Mans.
“So we had not started developing coupes at that point, and yes, it wasn’t a P1 car, but that [ARX-03c], with all the technologies from the  P1 program put back into the P2 car, to that set of rules, was the best car that we could build as a group. And at that moment we got stopped doing any more development. The car, our P2 car that races this year, is essentially that car from 2010. The ACO didn’t allow any development to it apart from cutting holes in the wheel arches, so it was time to concentrate our efforts on starting over with a coupe, which we’re quite proud of.”
The last clean-sheet design from Wirth and HPD came in 2009 in what proved to be Acura’s swansong as a major entrant in the ALMS. The ARX-02a P1 car (ABOVE), fielded by Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports, broke new ground by using wide front tires and a centrally-mounted rear wing attachments atop the main element— items now commonplace in P1— and allowed both camps to push the boundaries of their knowledge and engineering capabilities.
Despite the cost-capped nature of the modern P2 class, Wirth says the ARX-04b is far from a “budget” prototype, containing the best both firms have to offer in terms of aerodynamics and mechanical componentry.
“What’s so interesting about this is this 2015 car that we’re doing is the first time that you’ll see our group, Honda program, put the fastest, best car on the track, and it’s five years on from when last were able to do so,” he explained. “And I will say no more than that. It’s going to be interesting. And I’m very, very happy for ORECAs and Ligiers and for anyone who wants to come and race. Bring it on.
“And the people who know us and know HPD, know the effort they’re making on all fronts and the fact that is going to be a Honda, a fully integrated solution. Because it’s a Honda car, we work very well with the engine group, all the electronics; it is a one-stop option and we’re super excited about it. Would I love to be doing the P1 car? Of course, I would. And the origins of this car is the P1 project. Politically, we couldn’t get that to go, but what we have with the P2 car is the closest we can come to that, and we’re really excited to show what this car can do.”
Honda’s proven 2.8-liter twin-turbo V6 will power the ARX-04b, and Wirth expects the entire package to have a long and competitive lifespan.
“Because of the way the FIA and ACO regs are written, it’s got such a long lifetime, it’s very, very important for people making that huge decision to buy a P2 car to get it right,” he added. “Because they put their money down, although it’s not an expensive car, they’re not going to want to change it. So we’re hoping that they will look at the history, look at the quality of the program, look at what we’re don’t doing and realize that it’s the first time we’re allowed to do something properly in many years. And it’s very different to other cars out there in ways that we understand.”
Visually, the ARX-04b features a few of Wirth’s signature P2 (ABOVE) items, including the tall, swept front fenders, but the tub itself, from the angled nose that matches the sloped windshield to the raked cabin profile, distinguishes the coupe from its competitors. Add in the unique brake ducting across the front beam section, and Wirth has a car that looks like part Red Bull X-1 and part…well, it looks like nothing else we’ve seen so far.
Response to the project, according to Wirth, has exceeded their initial production plans.
“We’re already going ahead in building four cars, and we’ve got a limit of six,” he said. “The problem is we’ve got expressions of interest for currently seven, which is more than we can build. So it’s going to be first-come, first-served.”
With Ligier’s first JS P2 chassis having already tested last month, the Onroak-built prototype will have considerable mileage under its belt after undertaking the upcoming WEC season. Strakka’s new Dome S103 is also being prepared for testing this week ahead of a WEC campaign, leaving the HPD ARX-04b at least six months behind the opposition. ORECA’s P2 car isn’t expected to turn a wheel until after next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, but Wirth is confident their coupe will be ready for 2015.
“We certainly have plans to get the first car on track comfortably before the end of this year,” he confirmed. “It will undergo rigorous testing beforehand in simulation and on the racetrack. We expect the car to be quite formidable.”