Highcroft Racing has unveiled its new Honda Performance Development ARX-01e LMP1 machine which the back-to-back American Le Mans Series champions will take into battle at next week's Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

HPD's latest entry into the overall LMP1 class is powered by a development of the 3.4-litre V8 engine which has been the mainstay of its sportscar activities since the debut of the Acura programme in 2007.

And, although the identity of the third driver to join David Brabham and 2010 co-driver Marino Franchitti for the Florida race has yet to be confirmed, Highcroft has revealed the that the vastly experienced 'Michelin Man' will be riding along with them this season.

Known internationally as Bibendum, the iconic Michelin mascot - and branding for the company's new Pilot Super Sport tyre - will appear prominently on the side of the #01 machine at Sebring.

While the tub and engine of the ARX-01e may have come from last year's championship-winning LMP2 ARX-01c machine, that is where the similarities end.

The new car features a heavily revised aerodynamic and suspension package design and built by HPD's partner, Wirth Research.

In LMP1 spec, the engine is fed by a larger air restrictor to combat the additional 50kg required for the 900kg LMP1 class and, while the HPD engineers toiled away on the durability testing of the engine at the higher power specification, Wirth Research worked hard to develop the new aero package, which has been designed with an eye to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Compared to the LMP2 car, the ARX-01e also features wider Michelin tyres on both the front - where they are wider by 1.18 inches - and rear, which are wider by 2.36 inches.

"The way the rules have gone this year, it seemed like a natural fit to take the engine that has been so successful in the LMP2 class and use the basis of that for the LMP1 class," said HPD vice-president Steve Eriksen, "With the change in restrictor size and wheel/tyre package available, we believed we could have a pretty competitive package, especially considering the ACO's desire to better balance the performance of the diesel- and petrol-powered cars. This package represents a good, solid base to compete in LMP1."

Since the commencement of the partnership between Honda Performance Development and Highcroft Racing in 2007, the Danbury-based squad has recorded a major series of milestones for HPD - first overall ALMS win, first ALMS LMP1 victory, first LMP1 championship, first team to record back-to-back titles and the highest ALMS point-scoring team in every season of the initial Acura programme.

"We are returning to the LMP1 class with an evolution of our original LMP2 car, and doing so with the team that started with us on chassis development in the beginning," Eriksen continued, "From the very beginning, Highcroft has worked hand-in-hand with our HPD engineers and our partners at Wirth Research to develop the ARX chassis, and has obviously been very successful.

"There has been a lot work put in by the folks at Wirth Research on this chassis conversion. It is not just a case of bolting on LMP1-sized wheels and installing a bigger restrictor. The work completed by both Wirth and Highcroft in a short space of time has to be applauded, and I believe we should have a package which should be very aerodynamically efficient and should achieve very strong results."

Highcroft Racing and HPD have been strong partners with Michelin since the commencement of the Acura programme in 2007, and the forthcoming opening round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup at Sebring presented an ideal opportunity to showcase the soon-to-be-released Michelin tyre.

Over the past four years, Highcroft Racing has clinched eleven ALMS wins, nine poles, 27 podiums and two championships on the French rubber.

"Highcroft has been a tremendously successful partner with Michelin over the past four years and the forthcoming Sebring race presented an ideal opportunity to explain how the Pilot Super Sport tyre was born from endurance racing," said Silvia Mammone, Michelin & BFGoodrich motorsports manager.

"Two of the three most innovative technologies featured in the Super Sport tyres are derived directly from endurance racing. Both the Twaron [pronounced twore-on] belt and the Bi-compound tread were actually developed in competition at Sebring and Le Mans.

"The impending launch of the Pilot Super Sport tyre and the timing of the 12 Hours of Sebring enabled us to take advantage of this opportunity to showcase the product though the American Le Mans Series' new US television package.

"We're delighted the Highcroft team will have the Michelin Man along for the ride for the 12 Hours - further lessons learned from this Sebring race will make it into the road tyres of the future."

The Highcroft team is now en route to Sebring ready to shake down the machine at the historic airfield circuit. The team's drivers have already completed several days of virtual laps on the Wirth Research simulator in preparation for the race.

"We are extremely proud of what we have achieved with our partners at HPD and Michelin over the past four years," Highcroft team owner Duncan Dayton said, "With these kinds of partnerships, HPD and Michelin don't just provide us with a car and tyres to go out and race. They have dedicated engineers who are part of the team on race weekends - these guys have really become part of the family.

"Together, we have been intricately involved in developing the race car to improve performance and reliability. These lessons learned go into the cars and tyres of tomorrow.

"I'm tremendously proud of what our team has achieved with HPD, Wirth Research and Michelin with the creation of this car and can't wait to see how it will perform."

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