Both David Brabham and Marino Franchitti are confirmed as rejoining Highcroft Racing to spearhead the team's line-up for the 12 Hours of Sebring. They will be joined by a third driver, expected to be named on Friday.
The race will see the debut of the new HPD ARX-01e, a highly developed version of the LMP2 car the team used in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) last year, brought up to LMP1 specification for this season.
Brabham, part of Duncan Dayton's Connecticut based team since 2007, has played a key role in developing the new car, having tested a virtual version of the machine on Wirth Research's simulator. Wirth were also responsible for the bespoke ARX-02 LMP1 car that raced in 2009, as well as Virgin Racing's F1 designs.
“It will be great to get out there and start running and from what I have seen so far, the HPD ARX-01e has enormous potential,” Brabham diagnoses. “I have driven the car on the simulator and been very impressed, but until we get it out there on the track we really won't know for sure.”
In Brabham's years with the team he has been part of the driving crew in all of Highcroft's 11 race wins, and took back-to-back titles with the team in 2009 and 2010. Franchitti, while less a fixture at the team took pole position in the LMP2 class for the team last year as well as racing in the rounds at Laguna Seca and Petit Le Mans.
“His performances were outstanding and he was remarkably quick every time he got in the car,” Dayton says of the Scot. “He attended every race with us even when he wasn't in the car and took part in all the debriefings with our engineers, David and Simon [Pagenaud, Brabham's regular 2010 co-driver].”
Sebring will, however, be his first race in an LMP1 car. “I can't wait to get out there,” says Franchitti, “[and] see how the extra power and bigger Michelin tires feel and I'm sure HPD with Wirth Research have done the same amazing job they always do.”
“We're hoping the new HPD car is able to be up battling amongst the factory Audis and Peugeots from the word go. Our program has come together a little late and we're going to be very light on miles. Reliability will be our main goal.”
The new car is yet to run, scheduled to take to the track for the first time at Sebring on March 14, just a few days before the 12 Hours. However, the team seem unconcerned by the short timespan to break the car in before one of the hardest races of the year.
“Obviously we would have preferred to have had more testing miles under our belt prior to the Sebring race,” Brabham says, “but if there is one thing I know about the guys at Highcroft Racing is that they respond to pressure in the best possible way and do an outstanding job.”
“Audi and Peugeot have had their cars out there earlier than anybody so they will be better prepared than anyone.”
“Our goal is to fast track the development of the 01e and Sebring is the perfect environment for that. Sebring is a great place to test a car in what really is a violent environment – it is certainly the toughest race in the world on equipment.”
More than 50 cars are entered for the 12 Hours of Sebring, which starts both the ALMS and Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC ) seasons this year. Highcroft will run in the company of a pair of diesel fuelled Audis and three Peugeots.
“I always think the more cars the better,” Franchitti says. Everyone was worried at Petit Le Mans last year, but we actually found that working through the traffic gave us an advantage and we're hopeful that will continue at Sebring.”