Acura to Enter LMP2 in 2007
The rumours started last year when Honda Performance Development's boss Robert Clarke was seen milling around in the American Le Mans Series paddock at many venues last year that Honda would indeed toss in their hat to take on the LMP2 challenge in the future.
Even though the rumours were placed on the back burner when Honda became the sole supplier through 2009 for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series, they gathered steam over the past few weeks when it was noted that the interest shown last year by both Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti was still very strong.
With the interest shown by top open-wheel team owners who are focused on the cutting-edge of technology, which is indeed an element of prototype Le Mans-style racing, it was not a surprise when Rahal or Andretti indicated their desire to be involved in sportscar racing, that lead many to realize that Honda would not be a one-team show if they did indeed build a prototype engine.
"It seems like every team we've ever had a relationship with has contacted us," said Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development.
The future is now on the horizon when today in New York City, the official announcement was made at the NYC Auto Show. And the marque will be Acura, the top line of Honda-owned products.
"We're looking forward with great anticipation to entering the American Le Mans Series," said Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development. "In addition to returning Acura to the international racing stage against other innovative automotive manufacturers, it allows us to continue to grow HPD into a world-class performance company."
American Honda Motor Company's Acura division will take on their first factory motorsports prototype challenge as the marque. History will be made at the 2007 American Le Mans Series season opener in Sebring, Florida when the first Acura prototype turns wheels in competition at the historic circuit.
"The American Le Mans Series has always featured factory involvement from the most prestigious collection of auto manufacturers in the world. Today, it is with great pride that we welcome Acura," said Scott Atherton, President and CEO of the American Le Mans Series. "Our platform features world-class manufacturers showcasing their products in one of the most extreme, but relevant forms of motorsports - endurance sports car racing."
The Acura 3.4-liter, aluminum alloy V8 powerplant will be developed by Honda Performance Development. The idea behind HPD is to match the powerplant with chassis from two top manufacturers: Courage and Lola.
Testing for the newest prototype to compete in the American Le Mans Series will start this summer and HPD expects to see at least two, if not more Acura's on the Twelve Hours of Sebring gird next year.
Taking on the Penske Motorsports Porsche-powered RS Spyder P2s next season will be an undertaking, add to that a mix of privateer teams that have notched wins, including the Intersport Racing champion team, the P2 class will be one to keep an eye on.
"Acura's entry into the American Le Mans Series will have nothing but positive repercussions in the seasons to come," commented Atherton. "Acura has made a commitment to us, and we are committed to seeing that Acura receives the same return on its investment as our other teams and manufacturers. This is the start of a wonderful relationship that is only going to grow stronger."
For many who follow motorsports, the name Acura conjures up memories for many sportscar enthusiast, including in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) -- the sanctioning body of ALMS -- when Acura teams notched the Camel GTP Lights championship in 1991, '92 and '93 with Parker Johnstone who at that time was driver with the most wins in IMSA history.
Prior to that accomplishment, Acura took the 1987 IMSA International Sedan manufacturer title. And in 1989 and 1990, they were the winning car in the IMSA Sedan Driver's Championship.
The Acura TSX is one of the top teams in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) SPEED World Challenge Touring Car competition, taking the championship with Peter Cunningham and RealTime Racing last year.
"As Acura marks its 20-year anniversary, I can't think of a better racing series to showcase our technology and performance than the American Le Mans Series," said John Mendel, senior vice president of Honda Automobile Operations. "Our entry as a full factory team in the American Le Mans Series will accurately reflect Acura's position as a leader in automotive performance and technology, and provide us with an arena to compete against other manufacturers in endurance sports car racing."
For the AlMS, this is indeed a coup, having an based in America powerplant in the prototype category is indeed a plus in the series whose new logo is "World Class". With Porsche and Audi powerplants from Germany and the British-based AER engines, HPD's V8 built in the USA added to the world class statement.
"This is a landmark project in numerous ways," Atherton said. "One of the most significant effects of Acura's new racing program is the reintroduction of an American-made engine back into our prototype categories. When Dr. Don Panoz founded the American Le Mans Series, he wanted to bring the spirit and cache of Le Mans to North America but also feature American-made content. Thanks to Acura and Honda Performance Development, another portion of his vision has been realized."
The only remaining ingredient to wrap-up the entrance of Acura will be the names of the teams that will compete with the new prototype.