David Brabham placed JRM Racing's brand new Honda Performance Development ARX-03a sixth on the grid for the 60th running of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, heralding a great start to the British team's FIA World Endurance Championship campaign.
The race is one of sportscar racing's biggest events and, as well as hosting the opening round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship, annually hosts the first round of the American Le Mans Series. The combination of the two championships has generated a field of 64 entries, split into six classes, with the JRM entry running in the LMP1 category.
As soon as the team arrived in Florida, its technicians set about preparing its new HPD in readiness for the pre-event test and practice sessions, the first of which was on Tuesday afternoon. With the one-hour test being the first time the car had ever run on a track, the team went through its installation programme, which comprised a number of laps at a negligible speed, followed by a series of checks.
Brabham was first out in the car and reported that it felt very good right from the start. Karun Chandhok then took a turn behind the wheel, the F1 driver's first ever experience of a sportscar, and also reported that it felt strong. With no problems whatsoever, other than setting up the suspension for the unique and bumpy Sebring circuit, the team were understandably delighted with the outcome of the car's first ever run.
After a day of scrutineering and a thorough check on Wednesday, official practice sessions started on Thursday. The first two took place in daylight and were both an hour long. Peter Dumbreck finally got a chance to drive in P1, with all three drivers doing stints during the day and during the longer one-hour 45-minute night time session.
Each time the car went out, improvements to its set up were made and consequently, the lap times came down. Such was the increase in performance that, at one point, the JRM HPD was the fourth-fastest WEC car on the track, only out-paced by the three works Audis.
"We have learnt a lot this week - about the new car, a track we've never been to before, the Michelin tyres and a new mix of drivers," team manager Nigel Stepney admitted, "Even so, I'm impressed with the way things have come together and the position we're in the day before the race. It's going to be tough, but we'll stick to our programme, I think we have every chance of a good result."
Well-placed for Friday afternoon's qualifying session, which was only 15-minutes long due to the number of cars taking part, the team picked Brabham to drive due to his experience of both the Sebring circuit - having competed at the track nine times before - and his knowledge of the HPD, in light of his involvement with the car's early stages of development. After putting in a series of impressive laps, the timesheets revealed that the JRM Racing HPD was to start sixth on the grid and fifth of the WEC runners.
"Straight away the car felt strong and just how I remember an HPD should feel," Brabham commented, "Once it was set up for the Sebring circuit we could start to fine-tune it and then the times improved dramatically. I was pleased with qualifying and with a cleaner lap we could have improved by at least one place. The car certainly has the pace, so we're in a good position for tomorrow."
The drivers and team were impressed with the performance of the brand new car and is competitiveness straight out of the box - a testimony to the team's efforts during the weeks leading up to the event. They now look forward to the race, which starts at 10.30am local time on Saturday.
James Rumsey (Team Principal)
"It's been a great achievement to get to where we are in advance of our first race with the new car," team principal James rumsey concluded, "Although this year is a new experience for us, I think that with the team and the three drivers we have, we will be able to maintain a consistently high pace in every stint, which should give us an advantage over some of the other teams. I'm therefore looking forward to seeing how the race plays out."