Following several months of detailed rumors, Team Penske’s entrance into Prototype competition in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next year with a pair of Acura-powered Daytona Prototype international (DPi) machines has been announced.
Acura will add its own bodywork styling cues and a production-based Acura AR35TT twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine to the ORECA 07 — the most successful of the four new-for-2017 LMP2 cars thus far — to form its new Acura ARX-05 car, which will make its competition debut at January’s season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Testing for the Acura DPi is slated to begin soon after the machine’s formal unveiling at Monterey Car Week in August.
This all-new link between Roger Penske’s racing empire and Honda Performance Development is a multi-year deal, which contrasts the single year of factory backing Michael Shank Racing is carrying out with a pair of Acura NSX GT3 cars in GT Daytona.
Ironically, the NSX GT3 collected its first ever race win at the recent 100-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic on Detroit’s Belle Isle — an event put on by Penske himself.
“Roger Penske is already an important part of the Acura family as one of our great Acura dealers, and now it is a thrill to have him as part of the Acura Motorsports family as well,” said Jon Ikeda, Acura senior vice president and general manager.
“We look forward to building on the success of the race-winning NSX GT3 program, and couldn’t be more thrilled to return to the prototype category of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a partner like Team Penske.”
Race-Ready Hardware Meets Race-Winning Team
The new Acura DPi program, administered by HPD on behalf of Acura Motorsports and Honda Racing, does not stand as Acura’s first foray into prototype sports car racing.
The Acura ARX-05 (Acura Racing eXperimental, generation 5) will be the newest endurance prototype contender from the brand, which built its first such car in 1991, just five years following the manufacturer’s launch in 1986.
With the aid of Team Penske, Acura intends to build upon its existing sports car racing legacy with the ARX-05.
Acura claimed the IMSA Camel Lights manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships during each season from 1991 to 1993 as well as the 2009 manufacturers’, drivers’ and teams’ titles in both LMP1 and LMP2 in the American Le Mans Series, both on the strength of its 50 total IMSA and ALMS class and overall race victories.
Modern Acura Enters Modern Category
By pairing one of the four all-new LMP2 cars with manufacturer-specific aerodynamic styling and an engine from that same manufacturer, the new Acura DPi will satisfy IMSA’s DPi regulations, which launched with the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season.
Each of the new LMP2 cars besides the ORECA 07 entered 2017 paired with a manufacturer for a DPi program. The undefeated Cadillac DPi-V.R is based on the Dallara P217 while Nissan chose the Ligier JS P217 for its Nissan Onroak DPi and the Mazda RT24-P builds upon the Riley Mk. 30. Thanks to Acura’s participation with a car based on the ORECA 07, all four LMP2 cars will race in DPi form under IMSA sanction during their second year of eligibility around the world in 2018.
Beyond its aero package which will make it look like an Acura production car, the ARX-05’s engine will also serve as a tie to Acura’s road-going products. The AR35TT is based on the “J35” family of engines found in the Acura RDX, MDX, RLX and TLX production vehicles.
This engine is no stranger to prototype competition, having powered class winners at the 12 Hours of Sebring from 2011 to 2013, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 title in 2012, won ALMS LMP2 titles in 2012 and 2013 and won overall at the Rolex 24, 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans just last year.
Successful Penske Returning to Sports Car Racing
More than 30 years after first finding success at the highest level of sports car racing, Team Penske returned to the fold from 2005 to 2008 with a successful LMP2 program in the ALMS, winning the class championship in three of those four years.
Ten years later, Roger Penske is set for a return to competition in the premier class of sports car racing in North America with a comprehensively modern program.
“We are excited to join forces with the Honda Performance Development family and represent the Acura brand with two prototypes starting in 2018,” Penske said.
“Sports car racing has been an integral part of Team Penske’s heritage, from our first race at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1966 to running the American Le Mans Series in the late 2000s. Reviving a Team Penske sports car program has always been a goal for us, but to do so required strong and successful partners like Honda and Acura. It’s great to extend our relationship from the dealership to the racetrack and we are excited to come back to IMSA and the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.”
As arguably the most successful name in motorsports, Team Penske has earned victories in nearly every race series its entered. The team has claimed a total of 29 national championships — including 14 in INDYCAR and 10 in sports car competition — on the strength of 460 major race wins.
“We had a very spirited competition with Team Penske during our previous ALMS Acura prototype programs, and we are looking forward to working with, instead of against, Team Penske as the ideal partner for our return to the prototype ranks,” said Art St. Cyr, HPD president.
HPD was partnered with Team Penske in Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) competition in 2000 and 2001. The result was two drivers’ titles for Gil de Ferran and the 2001 CART Manufacturers’ Championship, all on the strength of 10 total race wins.
More recently, Penske fielded Honda-powered Indy cars when the Japanese manufacturer was the only engine supplier in the IndyCar Series, winning two Indianapolis 500s with Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 and Helio Castroneves in 2009. Hornish also went on to win the drivers’ title in 2006.
“We also had a great deal of success together in CART and IndyCar competition, and Team Penske’s overall record in all forms of racing is unrivaled in our sport,” St. Cyr added.
Acura, Penske Add to Stout Variety in Prototype Class
With aged Daytona Prototype machinery — namely the Corvette DP — phased out of the WeatherTech Championship’s Prototype class for 2017, the launch of the DPi/LMP2 platform has resulted in a remarkably modern and mixed field of cars in the premier class.
PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, JDC-Miller Motorsports and Visit Florida Racing combine to represent each new-for-2017 LMP2 car with the exception of Dallara’s, while Tequila Patron ESM, Action Express Racing, Wayne Taylor Racing and Mazda Motorsports routinely bring more variety and color to the grid with their respective DPi programs.
Though Cadillac’s DPi challenger is yet to be overcome following seven races across North America, the Prototype division is quite healthy — and only growing.
“This is a monumental day in the brief history of the Daytona Prototype international race car and the much longer history of IMSA,” said IMSA President Scott Atherton.
“We are honored that Acura has expanded its commitment to the WeatherTech Championship through the new Acura ARX-05 DPi race car, and pleased to welcome Team Penske back to sports car competition. This announcement bolsters an already strong and growing Prototype class and only adds to the intrigue and anticipation for next season as we complete an outstanding 2017 WeatherTech Championship.
“The expansion of Acura’s involvement with a DPi entry in conjunction with Team Penske is one of the most significant developments we’ve had. Announcements like this are the ultimate validation of the DPi concept and accelerates the momentum that’s already been established.
“We join race fans and many others within the industry in eager anticipation for the unveiling of the Acura ARX-05 DPi later this summer and the announcement of drivers and other team personnel.”
The four drivers that will be assigned to the dual Acura DPi effort for full-time competition, as well as extra pilots for the longer endurance rounds, will be announced at a later date. Figures that have driven or currently drive for Team Penske’s storied Verizon IndyCar Series team are the most rumored candidates.