The new Acura American Le Mans Series teams have a tough task in front of them.
Entering the highly-competitive world of endurance sports car racing, the new factory-backed efforts make their debut in one of the most grueling contests in all of motorsports, the 12 Hours of Sebring, on March 17.
Andretti Green Racing, Lowe's Fernandez Racing and Highcroft Racing Ltd., carry Acura's entries in one of the world's most prestigious events as they pit their LMP2 prototypes against full factory-supported efforts from Audi, Porsche and Mazda, and a variety of independent teams.
Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD), Honda's wholly-owned racing subsidiary, has been working full throttle at its headquarters in Santa Clarita, Calif., to prepare the Acura 3.4-liter, V-8 normallyaspirated engine for the ultimate 12-hour challenge on the rough airport runway surface at Sebring International Raceway.
A recent test run at Sebring showed the Acura squads are ready for the extreme challenge that comes with the 12-hour endurance test, the longest-running sports car event in the U.S., dating to 1952.
The Sebring, Fla., classic is the season opener of the 12-race American Le Mans Series that includes races on famed road courses like Mid-Ohio, Road America and Laguna Seca, and through the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., Long Beach, Calif., and Detroit, Mich.
Andretti Green Racing and Highcroft Racing each field the new Acura ARX-01a machines, while Fernandez Racing enters an Acura-powered Lola B05/40. All three organizations, which are mounted on Michelin tires, bring star-studded driver lineups for the 2007 campaign.
Veteran open-wheel stars Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti, joined by sports-car talent Marino Franchitti, are at the controls of the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a for Andretti Green Racing, a twotime championship- winning IndyCar Series squad making its sports car debut. Mexican stars Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz handle the reins of the fast No. 15 Lowe's Acura Lola B05/40. Former sports car champions David Brabham and Stefan Johansson pilot the Highcroft Acura ARX-01a entry, along with team owner Duncan Dayton.
"Having teams the caliber of Highcroft, Fernandez and Andretti Green is important for Acura and HPD in our entry into American Le Mans Series competition," said Robert Clarke, president of HPD. "Both the Andretti Green and Fernandez teams have been integral parts of our openwheel racing effort, so it is entirely appropriate that we expand our relationships with them in our newest racing program. Duncan Dayton's Highcroft organization is impressive and perfectly fits the needs of our new chassis development program."
Clarke knows Acura takes on some of the world's best sports car teams in its initial foray into the American Le Mans Series.
"Acura faces a huge challenge with its entry into American Le Mans racing and we do not underestimate that challenge."
The new Acura teams have been working non-stop to prepare for the inaugural battle on the American Le Mans Series tour.
Acura sports car testing began in August in the middle of the Arizona desert with the Fernandez team fighting 100- plus degree temperatures and blowing wind, and continued to near-freezing temperatures on the classic four-mile circuit at Road America in Wisconsin in the late fall. The next tests were on the tough surface at Sebring, with long hours of constant running for the new engines and cars. Against this background, the three teams developed their programs for the 2007 season.
The final testing stage before the season opener was a 12-hour exercise at Sebring that proved to be very useful for all three Acura teams, as each effort worked on various portions of its racing program, including on-track performance, pit-stop reliability, fuel calculation and race strategy.
With the preparations complete, the debut of the Acura sports car program is set for March 17.