As had been rumored since the middle of last season, Acura Motorsports and Team Penske announced this week that their partnership will end at the end of the 2020 season. The program had some success (
driver, team and manufacturer championships in 2019 for the number 6 car driven by Dane Cameron and Juan Montoya), but the team has yet to win one of the big ones: Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen or Petite Le Mans.
Tuesday, in an article in Racer Magazine ( https://racer.com/2020/07/22/hpd-outlines-next-step-for-acura-dpi-program/ ) Ted Klaus, President of Honda Performance Development (which runs the North American auto racing for Honda), put some more meat on the bone as to why Penske and Acura split and what comes next.
Let’s read between the lines and answer a few questions that might be on your mind:
Why did Acura and Penske split?
The succinct public answer to that came from Team Penske President Tim Cindric, who gave a starched shirt answer: “We simply couldn’t align on how we should go racing in the future.”
Klaus gave a longer answer: “This idea that you can just keep doing the same thing, when the rest of the world around you changes, is unfortunately not a reality today.”
My plain English reading of that is:
- Team Penske wants to do the 24 hours of Le Mans and either Acura doesn’t want to or doesn’t have the budget to pay Team Penske to do it.
- I have heard complaints that as time went on, Acura was not happy paying what Penske was charging. Marshall Pruett talks about this in the Week in Sports Cars podcast this week.
- Acura does not want to do business going forward the way the present Penske-Acura situation is structured. That is where Acura pays 100% of the bills. I could be wrong, but believe they would want their new partner or partners to be responsible for developing some of the budget themselves, through sponsorship.
What other reasons could there be for the split?
I am sure there are several, but given the long term relationship between Penske and HPD , I doubt you will hear much publicly. Understanding that HPD was paying Penske a premium price for the program, let’s look back at what HPD expected Team Penske to provide:
1) The Penske special sauce (shock knowledge/development)
2) Drivers that Penske had under contract (Juan Montoya, Helio Castroneves with Simon Pagenaud for endurance races).
3) Operational and strategic excellence.
The only thing that HPD got was (2).
The problem with Penske’s shock development was that it focused on one-lap time. And the set-up to get that speed burned out the rear tires, consistently. That has been the complaint from the beginning. No other Oreca LMP2 has this issue that I am aware of.
Likewise, the operational and strategic excellence was just not there. I remember my first encounter with this. It was the Watkins Glen race the first season. Dane Cameron and Juan Montoya were leading the race when there was a yellow on either the first or second stint. Everyone else in the field pitted, but not the 6. When it went green, every car behind them had full tanks and new tires. They got buried. When they finally stopped, there were buried in the middle of the field and their race was ruined.
There were a whole series of miscues like that in year 1 (2018) and some in year 2. It was like Penske was applying Indycar strategic thinking to sports cars.
Will Acura be in IMSA with a factory team next season?
Judging by everything written, yes. The only questions in my mind is how many cars (1, 2 or 3) and how many teams? While the easy thing to do would be to have one team and two cars, I could easily see two teams with one car each, or even one team with two cars and the other with one. Maybe even three teams with one car each. I believe HPD wants to see what happens if multiple competing teams take separate development paths with the chassis.
What is likely to change for next season?
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the team(s) that gets HPD’s business will share in the revenue commitment. That is, they will bring money. As in sponsorship.
One scenario would be for Acura to bring:
• The cars (the ones used by Penske now will be re-used for next year and possibly 2022)
• The drivers and some of the staff would be HPD employees
• The cost to run the cars
But there would not be enough for the team to make money. To do that, the team would have to sell sponsorship. In this case, all Acura’s money goes onto the track. And the team gets the opportunity to make money.
Handicapping the field
So which teams run the cars? Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each choice, based on what I am assuming HPD is looking for:
• Winning history in
, with a preference to a winning history with LMP-type cars. Extra credit for winning multiple Daytonas/Sebrings.
• History of developing and servicing sponsors. Extra credit for having a committed sponsor ready to go.
• Good eye for driver talent, and the ability to bring a championship caliber driver
• Experience and comfort working with HPD
HPD could pick two teams that check all of those boxes, but I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. So here’s how I rate the candidates.
Wayne Taylor Racing
team running Konica Minolta Cadillac.
PROS: Has been in the business a long time. Knows how to play the games. Developed the Cadillac-Dallara package. Has a strong sponsor (though Konica Minolta is going through a rough patch just now). Knows how to win big races in IMSA . This would be their flagship. Could reunite Wayne with son Ricky.
CONS: No experience with HPD .
Chip Ganassi Racing
—3-car Indycar team/
PROS: Has been through a lot with HPD since 1995. Ran Ford GT factory team in IMSA/ WEC . Builds strong sponsor relationships. Would Bring Scott Dixon, possibly best driver in North America. Excellent judge of talent. Brought Alex Zanardi, Juan Montoya, Dixon to Indycar. Still has technical team from Ford GT effort.
CONS: Mixed success with Ford GT team. Has not run LMP-type prototypes (DP cars don’t count in my world). Acura IMSA program would not be their Pinnacle program (Indycar, NASCAR ).
—5-car Indycar team, Formula E Factory
PROS: Long relationship with HPD dating back to predecessor Team Green in 1990s. Strong skills developing sponsorship. Previous success with original Acura America Le Mans Series program. Lots of experience with factory teams in other racing areas including Formula E. Many ownership possibilities including possible Marco Andretti/Herta team. Excellent business development capabilities. Knows how to win big races.
CONS: Might be spread a little thin. Has been out of sports cars for a while.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
—2-car Indycar team, two car
PROS: Long History with HPD dating back to 1990s. Can develop sponsors. Experience with factory teams.
CONS: Lack of Sponsor development has sometimes hindered their development. Has not raced LMP cars.
Meyer Shank Racing
—1-car Indycar team with Andretti, 2-car Acura
team won title in 2019.
PROS: Been through ups and downs with HPD , but has been a loyalist for last several years. Has raced HPD/Acura LMP2 cars and won big races with them. Addition of Jim Meyer to ownership team has stabilized finances.
CONS: Might be a little weak from a technical standpoint and would have to staff up for this program.
Core Autosport —Factory Porsche IMSA GTLM program.
PROS: Plenty of experience with IMSA , factory programs.
CONS: No record of obtaining sponsorship. Nissan DPi Program in 2019 was run on a shoestring.
—Two-car factory Lexus
Program/Indycar program with Dale Coyne
Pros: AIM motorsport has been running sports cars since the 1990s. Vasser has experience with HPD dating back to 1995. Sullivan is very good at developing sponsor relationships.
Cons: no one in this group has run sports car prototypes.
There are other possibilities, but I think the above are the most likely.
If I had to make a bet, I would say that this is how things are going to shake out:
Car 1: Chip Ganassi Racing. This would be the team that HPD is most comfortable with. They know how to work with each other. HPD could ship one of the Penske cars to Indy and it would be ready for Ganassi to test in a couple of weeks with minimal effort on HPD’s part. This assumes that Ganassi would be able to commit to bringing money to the venture.
Car 2: Wayne Taylor Racing. This would be a case of shipping a car to WTR to see what a proven big-race winning IMSA LMP team can do with it. I would also expect them to develop the coming LMDh successor car to DPi. I would expect that this might be a new 3rd car.
Car 3: If there is one, I expect it would go to Meyer-Shank, if for no other reason than as a reward for the effort they have brought to making the NSX program go. This would require Meyer and Shank to commit to funding an expansion of their operations. They have already committed to building a new, expanded shop in Ohio.
This would give HPD-Acura three teams, each with a different development philosophy to work together with HPD on developing the existing car and the next car.
Stay tuned. Things will have to start breaking before Labor Day.