Like anyone driving a new car, Jenson Button was handed an instruction manual for the Acura ARX-06 before he began prepping for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut with Wayne Taylor Racing Andretti.
The 2009 Formula One champion quickly learned there was a lot to absorb – and that the uptake would go well beyond simply reading about how to handle the No. 40 hybrid prototype.
“Driving, I just need to keep driving,” Button said with a laugh during December testing at Daytona International Speedway. “It’s understanding everything with 38 pages of what the steering wheel does and the buttons and what have you.”
Of the eight drivers on WTRAndretti’s two entries, Button, 2022 Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and Jordan Taylor will be racing Acuras for the first time in the Grand Touring Prototype category.
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Ericsson and Taylor have some experience with the top division of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, having raced at Daytona in the DPi class.
But the prototype predecessor to GTP was a much different car. The most obvious difference is the hybrid powerplant that was introduced last year with the new LMDh prototype of the GTP category.
The cockpit also is a very sophisticated and entirely new world of nearly 20 switches and buttons on the Cosworth-designed steering wheel that operates the ARX-06.
Taylor was a part of three Rolex 24 winners at WTR while driving in DPi from 2017-19. But after a four-year break while driving for Corvette Racing in GT, the transition back to the premier prototype division was a little more complicated than expected.
“It’s way different,” Taylor said. “The DPi now feels like driving an historic (vehicle) compared to the GTP car just with the level of technology and systems inside of it. It’s something I didn’t understand watching these cars on track. Coming on inside, learning the driver manual, all the different systems, the way they work from a driver and technical perspective.
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“It’s a lot to take in, and you’re only going to really learn it once you get laps under your belt and make changes in the car to get a better understanding of how they feel. It’s been a fun process learning it from studying the paperwork, but (driving) the car will be better perspective of what those changes actually are doing.”
There’s at least the benefit of an 18-month baseline. Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley have been testing the ARX-06 since the fall of 2022, discovering the many nuances of the hybrid’s myriad wire systems that allow remote cockpit adjustments through computer software and electronic technology. The car’s brake bias system is advanced and more accessible than in the DPi era.
As a Formula E veteran familiar with alternate propulsion, Hartley brought his expertise for fine-tuning the hybrid for optimum corner speed. The new engine leverages energy storage and deployment to deliver power, and teams generally run the car only on electric power in the pit lane.
The steering wheel has been refined in a more ergonomic manner to help maximize tactile comfort and efficiency with its tools. That will make slicing through Daytona traffic at 3 a.m. seem a more intuitive process of relying on muscle memory.
“You don’t know all of it when you jump in the car, so it's still running through the system,” Button said. “Trying different things, working out what they do. Because you have things that help you at the entrance of the corner, the turn-in, the apex, the exit. There are three different types of exit with the traction control. It's just bonkers how much work there is that goes into it.
“I’ve got the guys that have driven it for a year now, so they have done the basework, which is great. So it's just the fine-tuning and listening to these guys. They've got so much experience in that. It’s also great working with other drivers.”
With its many systems, Button said the LMDh car of GTP is much more complex than the current Formula One model.
“You don't have traction control to start with (in F1), and you’re very limited in what you can do,” Button said. “Twenty years ago we had traction control in Formula One. We had automatic shifting, but they took all that away, so this is a lot more complicated, and it's also learning the system the whole time as you're driving.
“So it messes with your brain a little bit. Every time we sit down and look at all the data and look at what happened and what we want to happen, it takes time.”