It was a day of firsts for Honda Performance Development (HPD) Friday at Thunderhill Raceway as driver Peter Cunningham piloted a hybrid Honda CR-Z to the E3 class pole in preparation for this weekend's 25 Hours of Thunderhill endurance race.
The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) event is the competition debut for the two CR-Zs being fielded by HPD, the first time the racing arm of American Honda has fielded its own race team. The Honda CR-Zs are the first racing cars to be completely developed and adapted for racing in-house at HPD, and are the first North American racing cars developed from an existing production model gas-electric hybrid.
Light showers began to fall at the Northern California circuit just as the field took the green flag for the single, 30-minute nighttime qualifying session that set the starting field. Cunningham quickly posted a 2:06.052 lap in his #19 Honda CR-Z, slightly slower than his practice time on a dry track, but more than enough to claim the class pole.
Qualifying the #93 Honda CR-Z, American Le Mans Series champion Simon Pagenaud was less fortunate. The showers increased in intensity as he took to the track, and a multi-car crash in Turn 5 left him unable to post a representative time. Pagenaud will start 14th in E3.
Making up more than a third of the 60-car Thunderhill field, the E3 class includes Mazda Miatas, Nissan Sentras and BMW 325s. Also in the E3 field are a trio of new "B-Spec" entries, designed to be a new low-cost category, including a Honda Fit prepared and entered by Team Honda Research-West, and a pair of Mazda2s. Veteran NASA racer Jeremy Croiset qualified the Fit for THR-W, a team made up of Honda R&D engineers and associates.
Highlights from the 2010 25 Hours of Thunderhill will be televised as a one-hour Versus Network special, airing at 6 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, March 23.
Peter Cunningham (#19 Honda Performance Development Honda CR-Z) E3 class pole qualifier: "The rain started just as we took the green flag, and the track was slick in a few places, but traffic was the biggest issue in the early laps, as you'd suspect with a 60-car field. But the CR-Z felt great, the balance was excellent and the headlights were aimed well. It wasn’t a great qualifying time, but it was good enough."
Michael Kinstle (HPD CR-Z Race Team Large Project Leader): "We got lucky with the weather and the #19 car, but Simon [Pagenaud] got caught out by the rain in the #93 and was unable to get in anything more than an 'out' lap before conditions deteriorated. But we got the class pole and that was one of our two goals for the weekend. Jeremy [Croiset] and Team Honda Research also did a great job with the B-Spec Fit to qualify fifth in the class. All three cars returned safe and sound, so we’re ready for the 25-Hour tomorrow."[Source: Honda]