for your iPhone
for your iPad
Tudor USCC

Classes

Prototype (P)

Prototype Challenge(PC)

GT Le Mans (GTLM

GT Daytona (GTD)

USCC Point Standings
2014 After Road Atlanta
Prototype Drivers
Pos Drivers Total
Prototype Drivers
1 Joao Barbosa 349
1 Christian Fittipaldi 349
2 Jordan Taylor 330
2 Ricky Taylor 330
3 Michael Valiante 318
3 Richard Westbrook 318
4 Scott Pruett 317
5 Gustavo Yacaman 287
6 Memo Rojas 285
7 Oswaldo Negri Jr. 281
7 John Pew 281
8 Ed Brown 262
8 Johannes van Overbeek 262
9 Ryan Dalziel 228
9 Scott Sharp 228
10 Joel Miller 222
11 Tristan Nunez 208
12 Sylvain Tremblay 179
13 Eric Curran 175
14 Olivier Pla 172
15 Alex Brundle 169
16 Boris Said 168
17 Burt Frisselle 154
18 Tom Long 137
19 Katherine Legge 131
20 Max Angelelli 121
21 Andy Meyrick 111
22 Brian Frisselle 106
23 Sage Karam 104
24 Sebastien Bourdais 100
25 Gabby Chaves 82
26 Scott Dixon 81
27 HoPin Tung 80
28 Mike Rockenfeller 76
29 Marino Franchitti 24 8 36 1 60
30 Tristan Vautier 59
31 Jon Fogarty 55
32 Simon Pagenaud 52
33 David Brabham 50
34 Tony Kanaan 50
35 Max Papis 49
36 Klaus Graf 46
36 Lucas Luhr 46
37 Guy Cosmo 46
38 Anthony Lazzaro 46
39 Ben Devlin 46
40 Justin Wilson 43
41 Byron DeFoor 41
41 David Hinton 41
41 Jim Pace 41
42 Wayne Taylor 33
43 Fabien Giroix 31
43 John Martin 31
44 Alex Popow 30
45 Roman Rusinov 26
45 Oliver Webb 26
46 Kyle Larson 24
47 Frank Beck 23
48 Bradley Smith 22
49 Jamie McMurray 21
50 AJ Allmendinger 20
51 Jann Mardenborough 19
52 James Hinchcliffe 19
53 Alexander Rossi 16
54 Sebastian Saavedra 16
55 Brendon Hartley 15
55 E.J. Viso 15
56 Memo Gidley 14
56 Alex Gurney 14
57 Scott Mayer 3
58 Pierre Kaffer 1
59 Darren Law 1
Acura: To LMP1 or not to LMP1

David Phillips
Thursday, August 28, 2008

Advertisement

The Patron and XM Radio Acuras
One of the big questions of this year’s American Le Mans Series figures to be resolved at this weekend’s Detroit Sports Car Challenge Presented by Bosch, namely, Acura’s plans for the 2009 season, in particular whether Acura will join the LMP1 fray. And if so, with which team or teams and how many cars?

Ever since announcing its plans to go sports car racing in the 2007 Series with a trio of LMP2 Acuras, Honda has maintained its eventual goal is to compete in LMP1 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Indeed, then-president of Honda Performance Development Robert Clarke attended the 2007 24 Hours of Le Mans and returned convinced Acura should only compete in the event in the LMP1 category.

“I was pushing the company to go to Le Mans as soon as possible,” he said. “But I’d never been to the event until that year. But after being there and seeing it, I’ve done a quick 180.

Incoming HPD boss Eric Berkman (L) and outgoing boss Robert Clarke (R)
“LMP1 is for manufacturers; LMP2 is for privateers,” Clarke added. “For Acura to compete in LMP2 would be all wrong for that brand. One, if you win you should have won because you just beat-up on a bunch of privateers. And if you lose you look like complete idiots because you got beat by a bunch of privateers. And losing is something that is very possible just because of the nature of the event.

“So we shouldn’t go there until we’re in P1 and we shouldn’t go there until we are completely confident that we can win.”

Fast forward to 2008. When Clarke and his successor Erik Berkman introduced Gil de Ferran and his new Acura LMP2 team at the preseason test at Sebring, they made it crystal clear they would not field questions about a move to LMP1. Perhaps that was because speculation was already rampant that de Ferran Motorsports was a stalking horse for Acura’s LMP1 program; or maybe they had not yet made a final decision about LMP1 and didn’t want to muddy the waters surrounding de Ferran’s entry into the American Le Mans Series.

That may be about to change as Acura has requested time for a press announcement be set aside during the Detroit race weekend.  Still, it’s not quite a forgone conclusion that Acura is taking the LMP1 plunge. 

“There’s a lot of factors that enter into the decision,” Berkman told me at Road America. “What will the competition do? Who will lay their cards out first? We’re talking with our competitors, the teams, ALMS and the tire manufacturers trying to get a sense of how many cars will be competing in what class next year. We’re doing it in a respectful way, so as not to ambush one another.

“Right now there’s great competition in LMP2 but, as a manufacturer, it’s clear the ACO and the American Le Mans Series see LMP1 as our proper domain,” he added. “Robert (Clarke) made it clear LMP2 is, ultimately, a stepping stone to LMP1 with Le Mans as the ultimate aspiration. So we started on that path but, as with any path, you reach forks. There are questions of cost, time and the rules makers are trying to balance stability with close competition - which are sometimes at odds. Given today’s business climate, now is not the time in racing for uncertainty.”

While Berkman’s response may be clear as mud, it could not be more evident that Acura’s current teams - Andretti Green Racing, Lowe’s Fernandez Racing, Patr¢n Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports - are jockeying for position in the event Acura does, in fact, go LMP1 in ‘09. 

De Ferran himself, of course, won a pair of CART titles for Honda before serving as sporting director for the Honda F1 team from 2005-2007. The team hit the ground running at Miller Motorsports Park and has been at, or near, the head of the Acura LMP2 queue ever since. And while nobody would suggest merit was not the primary consideration in de Ferran’s choice of Simon Pagenaud as co-driver, the fact that Pagenaud hails from Montmorillon, France was not lost on one competitor who said, “Simon Pagenaud? That’ll go over well with the ACO,” when informed of the decision. 

So too, would another Frenchman named Franck Montagny who joined AGR after a mid-season purge put Herta and Christian Fittipaldi on the street and produced an uptick in the XM Satellite Acura’s performance.

Speaking of performance, it’s hard to argue with Patr¢n Highcroft’s record, one that saw the team finish atop the Acura heap in the 2007 points race and claim four wins so far in ’08, including Acura’s first overall victory at Lime Rock.

“When we formed this team we mapped out a business plan with distinct milestones,” says team owner Duncan Dayton. “First was getting the funding to race professionally in 2005.  We wanted to race with a proven chassis the next year, so we acquired Lolas from Dyson Racing. In ’07 we wanted the backing of a manufacturer, which we did in Acura and this year we wanted to secure a title sponsor and win a minimum of two races. 

“Our milestone for ’09 is to move into P1. Now that’s Patr¢n Highcroft’s milestone. How it matches with Acura’s plans is another thing. This is racing and we all know money and politics come into play, but we think we’ve deserve a crack at P1.”

“That competition (among teams) is certainly going on,” adds Tom Anderson, who together with Adrian Fernandez is co-owner of Lowe’s Fernandez Racing. “You certainly want to hold up your end of the bargain Acura expects. But the situation is interesting and I think you’re seeing it on all the cars except the Audis, which are obviously being bankrolled by Audi. Even the Penske Porsches have DHL sponsorship. 

“So I think the sponsorship package is going to be very important going forward with Acura into P1. For the car and the parts side of your budget you could be looking at a 60 to 80 percent increase. I haven’t been told what kind of engine they’ll be running, but usually a bigger car with more bells and whistles and more horsepower translates to more money…”

That’s in sync with Berkman’s observation that, “Penske and Champion/Audi are clearly works teams. Acura does not have works teams. Our teams have to bring the right financial package as well as talent. So it’s a different equation than what you see with some other manufacturers.”

Whether that equation adds up to an LMP1 program for Acura in ’09 remains to be seen, not to mention what that would mean for their LMP2 program and teams. We should get some of the answers on Belle Isle this weekend.

David Phillips is one of North America’s most respected and renowned motorsports journalist. His ‘Another Turn’ features will appear periodically on americanlemans.com throughout the season. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Le Mans Series.

Feedback can be sent to feedback@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article