New Acura ARX-02a debuts at 12 Hours of Sebring
Now in the racing fraternity, Acura Motorsports is also advancing….to the LMP1 class in the American Le Mans Series
At the 2006 New York Auto Show, Acura made its claim to enter the ALMS tour and eventually compete for the overall prize in the most powerful, technically-advanced category in all of sports car competition. In 2007, Acura began its trek into ALMS competition with three LMP2 cars in action.
“Since launching the Acura American Le Mans Series program in 2007, our goal has always been to compete at the highest level of sports-car racing,” said John Mendel, Executive Vice President, Auto Operations, American Honda Motor Company. “The LMP1 class represents the pinnacle of sports-car racing in this country and worldwide, from both a competitive and technological standpoint. As we prepare to elevate Acura to Tier One status among luxury road cars, we feel it only appropriate to make this move to the uppermost racing level.”
Acura’s entry into LMP1 division features two very unique Acura ARX-02a prototype sports cars developed by Honda Performance Development (HPD) in California and Wirth Research in England. An all-new 4-liter, normally-aspirated V-8 engine powers the new Acura cars.
Patr¢n Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports debut the new Acura LMP1 cars, which were designed in concert with HPD and Wirth Research, in next weekend’s 57th annual 12 Hours of Sebring.
The new Acura ARX-02a cars are two of the most sophisticated racing machines in the world with the rare use of equal-sized Michelin tires on the front and the rear of the rear-engine design. Wirth Research and HPD attempted to get the maximum downforce on the front of the new car. In fact, the Acura ARX-02a may record the fastest cornering speeds in the 57-year history of Sebring’s race.
“The goal of this new program was to try and create the fastest and most agile P1 car that’s been built,” said chief designer Nick Wirth, “and also try and find a fundamental advantage that would offset the diesel’s raw power. This car has the same technology on it, apart from carbon suspension, as a Formula One car.”
In addition to the two LMP1 ARX-02a cars in 2009, Acura will continue in the LMP2 category with the Lowe’s Fernandez team.
In 23 ALMS starts, the Acura machines, with 3.4-liter, V-8 power plants, scored seven LMP2 class victories, including overall wins by Patr¢n Highcroft Racing at Lime Rock Park last July and Andretti Green Racing at Detroit in August. Acura cars also recorded six overall pole positions.
The Acura Motorsports program featured the first racing engine and chassis primarily designed and developed by HPD, Honda’s wholly-owned racing subsidiary.
It also marked the first time HPD had taken on concurrent motorsports programs in both the American Le Mans Series and the IndyCar Series.
“We were pleased with the evolution of our Acura LMP2 cars,” said Erik Berkman, president, HPD. “The LMP1 move is the logical next step in our business plan. The Acura sports-car program has energized HPD’s associates and met numerous objectives during its first two seasons of American Le Mans Series competition. We feel we are fully prepared to take on this new challenge.”
Gil de Ferran returned to active competition in 2008 year by forming de Ferran Motorsports, with the former Indy 500 winner and multiple-time open-wheel series champion serving as both driver and team owner. The legendary Brazilian racer most recently served as Sporting Director for the Honda Formula One racing team before establishing his new ALMS team. De Ferran and young star Simon Pagenaud drove the No. 66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b in eight 2009 races.
“I am delighted with our team’s relationship with Acura and my longstanding involvement with Honda,” said de Ferran, who’ll team with Pagenaud and Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon at Sebring. “We have taken another important step with the LMP1 move. We are a young team, but de Ferran Motorsports has a great depth of experience and talent within its ranks. We are driven to produce a contending Acura Motorsports sports-car program. We look forward to the challenge competing in the LMP1 class and putting Acura at the forefront of American Le Mans Series racing.”
The Patr¢n Highcroft Racing team, owned by team principal Duncan Dayton, has been the most successful of the Acura entries in 2008, taking the overall and LMP2 win at Lime Rock in July and LMP2 class victories at Long Beach, Road America and Mosport, Ontario, Canada. Brabham and Sharp drove the No. 9 Patr¢n Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b to four victories and three overall poles.
“Our relationship with Acura and HPD has been extremely beneficial to Patr¢n Highcroft Racing and we are proud to have been chosen as a part of Acura’s new LMP1 program in 2009,” said Dayton. We have had a very collaborative effort with Acura, HPD and Wirth Research over the past two seasons. We started with a good business plan and have been competitive throughout our ALMS program. We strengthened our Acura program with the addition of Patr¢n. Now, moving to the LMP1 class, we expect to continue the progress that we began two years ago. The 2009 season will be exciting.”
“The Acura ARX-02a is getting more and more reliable,” said Brabham, the only ALMS driver to win races and poles in all four categories. “We have jumped into a new car is very different in concept and we are at the very beginning of the learning process. This new Acura has plenty of potential and we are only at the tip of it now.”
This weekend, Brabham and Sharp will have 2007 Indy 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti teaming with them in the No. 9 Patr¢n Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a at Sebring. In Franchitti’s last Sebring appearance, he captured the P2 class with Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta in 2007. It was Acura’s debut in the ALMS.
Lowe’s Fernandez Racing campaigns the No. 15 Lowe’s Acura ARX-01b prototype with drivers Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz of Mexico. Lowe’s Fernandez Racing, formed in the fall of 2000 by Fernandez and motorsports veteran Tom Anderson, is in its ninth year of competition, and the team has claimed victories in the Champ Car (CART), IndyCar (IRL) and Grand-Am Series. Michael Jourdain Jr. joins the team at Sebring.
“We have had an outstanding sports-car program with Acura the last two years,” said Fernandez. “We feel pretty positive about our season and the performance of the Lowe’s Acura car. It’s a car that has been well-developed. The LMP2 rules have changed and the car is heavier this year. We’ll see how the Sebring race goes this year. We have been very competitive the past two years at Sebring and I believe we can be right in the hunt in this year’s race. We have a strong car, engine and driver lineup.”
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