Acura To Debut American Le Mans Series Sports Car Racing Program In 2007

Acura found several enticements about the American Le Mans Series, but one major attraction drew them into the sports car series for 2007.

"We love competition," said Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development.

In particular, HPD loves competing against the big dogs, and the Acura will be going head-to-head with Porsche in the LMP2 class.

"We were already looking at ALMS and obviously Porsche added to the attraction," said Clarke. "But, to be honest, right now we're in a series that doesn't enable us to take advantage of all our expertise as a company.

"We've always had a singular purpose, first in CART and now in the IRL, and that can be a bit dangerous, as we learned from our experience in CART. We thought for a while we might have to shut down HPD after leaving CART.

"So, it makes sense to protect ourselves by participating in another series and it also gives us some equity. Just supporting a spec engine program isn't enough."

Acura will be joining a very prestigious group of automakers already competing in the American Le Mans Series, including Audi, BMW, Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Lexus.

Besides the top-flight competition, the other thing ALMS offers HPD is a chance to be creative -- in many ways.

"More and more series are becoming restricted -- even Formula One -- and the ALMS is one of the few that allows open engine development," continued Clarke. "They allow alternative fuels; Audi won at Sebring this year on diesel fuel, and their attitude is that you build it and we'll find a place for it."

"There's not a lot of contemporary technology in racing today, just a lot of old technology. But not with the ALMS. They encourage creativity."

And that includes cars, as well as engines. "We have interest in developing the car, and in this program
we're going to get very aggressive with chassis development," said Clarke. "We're going to have a Lola and a Courage and we're using two chassis to accelerate our learning.

"We'll be more focused on engine development with the Lola, so we can quickly understand if we're competitive or not. Our focus with the Courage will be chassis stuff and we'll take some risks. That car may not look like a Courage when we get done."

It will also be Acura/Honda's first venture into this particular discipline.

"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 Senior Vice President of Auto Operations John Mendel. "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 in which to compete against other manufacturers in endurance sports car racing."

"This will be a new kind of racing for [the company]." Clarke noted. "We've never really been involved with sports cars or endurance racing."

But, come next March, the Acura will be unveiled at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

"Our teams have been selected and we're working with them on the timing of those announcements," said Clarke.