NEW ACURA ARX-02a PROTOTYPE SPORTS CARS ARE
LAUNCHED AT AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES WINTER TEST
De Ferran, Patrón Highcroft Unveil New Machines at Legendary Sebring Track
SEBRING, Fla. (Jan. 26, 2009) - The much-anticipated debut of the new Acura ARX-02a LMP1 prototype sports cars took place today at the famed Sebring International Raceway with the launch of Acura's latest American Le Mans Series vehicles from de Ferran Motorsports and Patrón Highcroft Racing.
Last August in Detroit, Acura Motorsports officials announced that the car manufacturer would enter two LMP1 class machines in the 2009 American Le Mans Series' most powerful and technically-advanced category.
During today's first day of the annual ALMS "Wheels Down" test, Acura's new entries, developed by Honda Performance Development (HPD) in California in association with Wirth Research in England, officially took to the racing surface for testing sessions on the legendary 3.7-mile, 17-turn Sebring road circuit.
The Acura ARX-02a sports cars will compete for the first time in the 57th annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday, March 21, the opening 2009 ALMS race.
The Acura ARX-02a has an open cockpit with a double wishbone suspension and features a normally-aspirated, fuel-injected 4.0-liter V-8 engine running unleaded E10 gasoline. Michelin 37-71/18 tires are utilized on the LMP1 Acura prototypes.
"We are very excited for the debut of the new Acura ARX-02a sports car," said John Mendel, American Honda Motor Company's executive vice president of auto operations. "Less than three years ago, we announced our intention to enter the American Le Mans Series under the Acura brand. We had always planned to compete in the ultimate sports-car category, LMP1. Now, it is a reality.
"We had six class wins and two overall victories last year in LMP2 competition. After those successful performances, we believe we can enjoy further success in the top American Le Mans Series division in the future. Our new entries are beautiful, and I am proud of the HPD and Wirth Research designers and engineers who are involved in this project. I want to thank them for their hard work. We look forward to seeing the de Ferran and Patrón Highcroft teams in action."
HPD president Erik Berkman says that the new Acura took two years of design before the initial product was produced in late 2008. "We were working on the Acura LMP1 car while we were racing in the LMP2 class," said Berkman. "We understand the requirements of moving to the LMP1 class. It has been very challenging. Working with an all-new chassis and engine can be a daunting task for any manufacturer and team. But HPD and Wirth Research stepped up to the challenge."
Team principal Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indy 500 champion, and his teammate, Simon Pagenaud, will pilot the No. 66 de Ferran XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-02a this year, while four-time 2008 LMP2 class winners David Brabham and Scott Sharp will drive owner Duncan Dayton's new No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-02a in 2009.
"The craftsmanship of this new Acura is outstanding," said de Ferran, the 2008 Mid-Ohio overall pole winner and a three-time podium finisher last year. "And the new, four-liter Acura engine and transmission are powerful and solid. We are in a big learning process with the Acura ARX-02a sports car. Now, we have to continue the development to be prepared for the 12 Hours of Sebring and beyond."
Brabham, who teamed with Sharp to take Acura's first overall ALMS win last July at Lime Rock Park in Conn., sees significant upside in Acura's latest racing endeavor.
"I see a lot of potential with the new Acura prototype," Brabham said. "We had a great race car last year in the LMP2 division, and I'm sure that the new car will follow on last year's successful product. The hard work put in by HPD and Wirth has really paid off with this new car. We're still at the very early stage of development. We want reliability right now, but there will be speed with this new Acura."
The Lowe's Fernandez Racing team, with regular drivers Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, will be Acura's lone 2009 LMP2 entry with the No. 15 Lowe's Acura ARX-01b.
Acura entered the American Le Mans Series in 2007 by fielding three Michelin-shod Acura ARX-01a LMP2 cars. In 23 starts, the Acura LMP2 cars recorded seven LMP2 class victories with two overall wins [Lime Rock and Detroit in 2008], to go with six overall pole positions.
HPD will continue concurrent both programs in ALMS and the IndyCar Series.