New Honda engine might dominate ALMS series again

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:10 PM ET

TORONTO - The opening round of the 2011 American Le Mans Series goes this week at Sebring International Raceway and the high-powered sports cars are already in Florida preparing for the 12-hour endurance spectacle.

Two of the ALMS stars — Marino Franchitti and David Brabham — have been on the track to test Hycroft Racing’s spanking new HPD (Honda Performance Development) ARX-01e that will take on the heavyweights in the LMP1 class this season.

The ARX-01e is an upgrade from last season’s LMP2 Hycroft entry that walked away with the championship.

Franchitti — the younger brother of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti — and former Formula One driver Brabham put the new Hycroft car through its paces during a 33-lap test at Sebring this past weekend.

“We just did our normal systems checks and we were delighted with the way everything went,” Franchitti said.

“We not only have a bigger engine air restrictor for the LMP1 class, we’re also running basically Le Mans downforce.

“The car is very slippery and we have a lot more power, so we have a much better straight-line speed performance than what we were used to.

“Last year, you would accelerate along the straight and hit a virtual wall, but this year the car seems to be accelerating all the way to the end.”

Franchitti and Brabham will be able to better judge the performance of the ARX-01e on Monday when the other big dogs of ALMS — the European factory Audi and Pugeot teams — also take to the track for practice.

“It will be very interesting to see how we stack up against the diesels,” Franchitti said.

Testing will go on for much of the rest of the week, leading up to Saturday’s start of the 59th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

MIRROR, MIRROR

I suppose that if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, NASCAR bosses should thank IZOD IndyCar series CEO Randy Bernard.

For the second consecutive week, IndyCar has sent out a release announcing a new racing rule that mirrors what NASCAR is doing.

Last week, it was limiting the number of cars on the grid and, this week, it’s that all restarts will be double-file this season, just like NASCAR.

“After seeking input following our initial restart announcement, we felt it was best to be consistent with the rule and use it at every track,” IndyCar racing guru Brain Barnhart said. “Whether on short ovals, superspeedways, temporary circuits or road courses, side-by-side restarts will certainly be entertaining and further intensify our on-track action.

“We are still contemplating adding a ‘free pass’ element, often referred to as ‘Lucky Dog’ by (NASCAR) TV commentators, to the restart procedure but we want to hear from the fans.”

FINISH LINES

Injured Formula One driver Robert Kubica was operated on for a fourth time on Sunday — this time to aid getting back mobility to his elbow — following a horrific crash during an off-season rally race in Italy. Ricardo Ceccarelli, team doctor for Renault, told autosport.com that the Polish driver would continue his rehabilitation this week and that the general outlook on his complete recovery was positive. “Robert is getting better every day,” he said. “I see that he is recovering, psychologically and physically, very quickly. This is not a surprise for us because we know Robert very well. But it is a big surprise for the doctors of the Pietra Ligure Hospital, so this is good news because they are satisfied how he is reacting to the surgery and all the injuries he had. We are quite happy for this strong reaction. This is the first positive thing in a traumatic situation.” ... According to a report on SPEED.com, IndyCar veteran Tony Kanaan is close to signing with KV Racing for the upcoming season. Kanaan was fired from Andretti Autosport at the end of last season. KV Racing, owned by Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser, is trying to add him to its program, which already includes Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso ... AMA Supercross star James Stewart says he is interested in taking up IndyCar’s challenge of a $5-million bonus for any outsider who can win the IZOD IndyCar Series finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October.


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