Honda Performance Development and Penske Racing made public Tuesday what had been the worst kept secret in North American motorsports this year: Penske will be running two Factory Acura DPi cars in the IMSA series starting in 2018.
While everyone knew that Penske and HPD would be teaming up, and most people assumed they would be basing the car on an Oreca 07 LMP2 Chassis, there were a few other things that were cleared up in the announcement and the press conference that followed.
In this post Mr. Know-it-All will answer some of the most common questions that have been floating around the net about this project.
My guess is
thinks that sports car racing is more of an Acura crowd than a Honda one. And if they follow through on some of the product plans we’ve seen speculation about, they may be right. It also could be that Penske felt more comfortable in Acura shirts than Honda shirts. After all, not only does Penske run Chevy engines against Honda in Indycar, a Penske subsidiary (Ilmor) makes those Chevy engines.
What engine are the cars using? Remember the 3.5-liter twin-turbo J-Series derivative that Honda used in the Ligier-Hondas fielded by Michael Shank and Extreme Speed Motorsports in IMSA competition last season? The engine in the ARX-05 will be strikingly similar. There will be some modifications, notably a new crankshaft and a new fuel system (it was already direct-injected last season). But it will use the same 60-degree V-angle and the same SOHC 4-valves per cylinder valve train.
Why not use the NSX Engine? That would certainly have been more in keeping with what IMSA would have wanted. The idea behind the DPi class was originally that manufacturers like Honda/Acura would take one of the four LMP2 Chassis (in this case Oreca), and drop in a GT3 homologated engine. But so far, only Nissan/ ESM has done that. Neither the Cadillac (modified Corvette DP engine) nor the Mazda (modified Indy Lights engine) did that. And now neither did Honda/Acura. There are likely three reasons for the J-series choice:
- Performance characteristics. We will talk about this in a follow-up blog (Can Acura hang with Cadillac?) , but the strength of the J-series racing motor matches up well with the strength of the Cadillac V8 in one key way: Low end torque. DPi engines are limited to around 600 HP (to match the LMP2 Gibson V8). Because the J-series has a low rev-limit, it needs to generate gobs of torque to get there (HP=Torque x RPM ). Because the NSX engine revs higher, it would have less torque.
- Cost. A racing program based on the J-series would less than half what an NSX engine program would cost.
- Reliability. Neither the Oreca nor the Ligier were designed to dissipate heat from turbocharged engines. HPD knows what they had to do to make the J-series work with the Ligier and those same concepts can likely be applied to the Oreca. This should be enough to guarantee reliability. Using the NSX engine would be an unneeded unknown.
In our next post, we’ll go over the pros and cons of the other engine options.
Why Partner with Penske? Why not Partner with Michael Shank? All the cars in the class are performance-balanced to one another. Including engines, aero, etc. The one thing that is not is the Driver. Partnering with Penske gives Acura access to Juan Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. Arguably five of the top seven or eight drivers competing in North American open wheel racing right now. Other than Oz Negri, who does Michael Shank bring to the table? If HPD wants to win, this choice is a no-brainer.
What will the cars look like? Another tidbit revealed in the press conference was that the IMSA-required manufacturer body work was designed internally by HPD aerodynamicists. This is the same group of people that “fixed” the ill-fated ARX-04b. So I am predicting that the new car will use a lot of the same principals as the revised version of the old car. We’ll find out at Monterey Car Week.
Who are the Drivers going to be? If you believe the chat in the Indycar paddock, the two main drivers will be Montoya and Castroneves. The rest of the drivers will be picked by HPD and Penske. For the endurance races, add Simon Pagenaud to that list.
There is one group that would likely be excluded: 2018 full-time Honda Indycar Drivers.
The requirements are going to be fairly simple: The drivers have to be absolute killers and they have to be able to fit into the Penske environment. At least as closely as Montoya does(and he really doesn’t).
What do I mean by the “Penske environment”? Go to an Indycar race and find the tire transporter in the Penske tent. This vehicle will be cleaner and better detailed than any car you own. And count the number of people cleaning windows and polishing the side of the transporters. Especially first thing in the morning. Looks matter. Preparation matters. If you are not willing to put up with that, they won’t want you.
So who are the other drivers likely to be? I would expect Andy Lally and Jeff Segal to be considered. Maybe Ryan Eversley. But I also expect HPD to make a run at Olivier Pla, Laurens Vanthoor and Pipo Derani. For Derani, HPD might package the IMSA deal with three or four races with a Honda Indycar team.
But I also have two dark horse, out-of-the-box candidates for your consideration: Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato. Both are over 40. Both are Honda favorites. And both are in danger of losing their full-time Indycar rides. Kanaan’s NTT Data sponsorship might go to Scott Dixon for 2018. And Michael Andretti has been rumored to be shifting to Chevy (which would be the end for Sato at Andretti).
Either Kanaan or Sato would likely welcome a two-year deal as a Factory Honda driver with an Indy 500 drive thrown in.
So, what does that come down to? This is what I expect at this point:
Car 1 (86?):
Endurance: Simon Pagenaud
Car 2 (93?):
Endurance: Ryan Eversley
I mostly put Kanaan in the mix instead of Sato because I have a hard time believing that Andretti will ditch Honda. And the announcement was made on 7/11, which jives with Kanaan’s former sponsor. How can you bet against that?
Can Acura beat Cadillac?
That’s the next blog post.