Fulfilling plans set two years ago when it entered the American Le Mans Series, Acura Motorsports announced that will move to LMP1 in the 2009 American Le Mans Series. De Ferran Motorsports and Patrón Highcroft Racing each will field prototypes in the Series’ highest classification starting with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.
The two teams will field two Acura ARX-02a prototype sports cars, developed by Honda Performance Development (HPD), in the most advanced and technically challenging class of the American Le Mans Series.
In addition, Lowe’s Fernandez Racing will continue to campaign an Acura in LMP2 for 2009.
“When Acura announced in 2006 its intentions to join the American Le Mans Series, advancement to LMP1 was one of the first questions many asked,” said Scott Atherton, President and CEO of the American Le Mans Series. “We are delighted to see that Acura and Honda Performance Development have answered that question…especially because they have done it in such a powerful and positive way. In two short seasons, Acura has gone from adjusting to the unique challenges of American Le Mans Series prototype racing to winning with regularity and contending for driver, team and manufacturer championships.
“Now comes the next logical step with its move to LMP1,” he added. “Competing head-to-head on a direct level with such prototype powers like Audi is a formidable task, but this year has shown that Acura and its teams are more than up to the challenge. We have seen fantastic competition this year in LMP2, and I think our fans would agree that it has been one of the highlights of the season.
“Just as noteworthy is the signal that Acura’s LMP1 project does not mean the end of its LMP2 program,” he concluded. “I know HPD and Acura have unfinished business in the class and are keen to finish the job both this season and next. Their decision to compete in both classes is the perfect definition of a win-win situation for the American Le Mans Series and our fans. They can expect to see a continuation of the epic competition that has become a hallmark of the LMP2 class – while at the same time anticipate a significant increase in the competition and content in LMP1.”
Acura entered sports-car racing in 2007 by fielding Acura-powered LMP2 prototype cars on Michelin tires for Andretti Green Racing, Highcroft Racing and Lowe’s Fernandez Racing in the 12-race Series. The three-car contingent marked the first factory motorsports program in Acura’s 20-year history. De Ferran Motorsports was added to the Acura lineup in 2008.
In the past year and a half, the Acura machines, with 3.4-liter, V-8 powerplants, have scored five LMP2 class victories, as well as an overall win by Patrón Highcroft Racing and drivers David Brabham and Scott Sharp earlier this year at Lime Rock Park. Acura cars also have recorded four overall pole positions.
“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 of Auto Operations for American Honda Motor Company, Inc. “The LMP1 class of the American Le Mans Series represents the pinnacle of sports-car racing in this country, 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 level of American Le Mans Series competition, as well.”
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.
“This is the logical next step in our business plan,” said Erik Berkman, HPD president.” 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.”
De Ferran returned to active competition this year by forming de Ferran Motorsports, with the former Indy 500 winner and multiple series champion serving as both driver and team owner. The legendary Brazilian racing figure recently served as Sporting Director for the Honda Formula One racing team before establishing his new American Le Mans Series team. De Ferran and young star Simon Pagenaud have driven the No. 66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b in five races this season.
“I am delighted with our team’s relationship with Acura and my longstanding involvement with Honda,” said de Ferran, “and we have taken another important step with this new announcement. 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 Patrón 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 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b to all four victories. Brabham, the only Series driver ever to win in four classes and take pole positions in each class, has won overall poles at Houston last year and Lime Rock this season for the team.
“Our relationship with Acura and HPD has been extremely beneficial to 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 American Le Mans Series program. Adding Patrón as our major sponsor strengthened our Acura program, and we have had a very successful 2008 campaign. Now, moving to the LMP1 class, we expect to continue the progress that we began two years ago. The 2009 season will be exciting for Acura and the Patrón Highcroft Racing team.”
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 seventh year of competition, and the team has claimed victories in the Champ Car (CART) and IndyCar (IRL), among other series.
“We have had an outstanding sports-car program with Acura the last two years,” said Fernandez. “We started with the Lola chassis and the move to the Acura car was a great improvement for our Lowe’s Fernandez team. Now, we will concentrate on racing for the LMP2 point championship, as well as winning many races. Our luck hasn’t been with us as much as we would like, but our association with Acura has been outstanding and we are pleased to be continuing our relationship. We want to be right in the thick of the LMP2 title chase in 2009.”