Acura, Honda Performance Development Eye Titles Across Multiple Classes This Weekend at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta
Tuesday, October 8, 2019

If it all plays out to their advantage this weekend at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Acura and Honda Performance Development could walk away with as many as eight more championships in IMSA competition. Talk about the “Power of Dreams,” indeed.

In the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, No. 6 Acura Team Penske co-drivers Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya hold a healthy 12-point advantage in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) driver and team standings heading into Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans. Along with its sister No. 7 entry, currently in third place, Acura has already clinched the DPi manufacturer’s crown.

Meanwhile, Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman need only start Saturday’s race in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 to wrap up the driver and team titles in the GT Daytona (GTD) class. Their focus, along with co-driver Justin Marks, will be overtaking Lamborghini in the manufacturer’s chase (Acura trails by a single point) and overcoming a four-point deficit in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup that awards points in the four longer-distance events.

Finally, in Friday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge race, Honda sits just four points out of the lead in the manufacturer hunt, with No. 37 L.A. Honda World Racing Honda Civic co-drivers Tom O’Gorman and Shelby Blackstock 11 points behind first place in the Touring Car (TCR) class.

Needless to say, much is at stake in the climax to the 2019 season. But Ted Klaus, president of Honda Performance Development (HPD), believes his company’s decades of performing under pressure has Acura, HPD and its teams as ready as they can be.

“Mr. Honda (Soichiro Honda, company founder) said you have to be at the start line with confidence and best prepared,” Klaus said. “The ideal scenario is every one of our efforts is at that start line, our partners have confidence in us and they just fully realize their capability in all their preparation.

Acura’s DPi program is on the precipice of WeatherTech Championship titles in just its second year of competition. Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud will again join Cameron and Montoya in Saturday’s 10-hour race as they try to hold off the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac for the driver and team honors.

“We just have to have a consistent day” was the way Tim Cindric, Team Penske president, summed it up. “Obviously, we have to have reliability, we have to be able to run the entire race and have a solid 10 hours. It’s not over ‘til it’s over. We need to continue to approach it in the same way.

“For us, I think we can be a bit more conservative on and off the racetrack, but we still need to have a solid day to be sure that we finish off the deal.”

Everyone realizes there are no guarantees, with 10 hours of grueling competition on the 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course, mixing it up with cars in all categories – some much slower and causing anxious moments working through lapped traffic.

“It’s going to be tough,” Klaus said. “It’s a long race, it’s been a cruel race in the past. You have the chance of accidents and damage. Again, I think we’re confident but we’re treating the race with respect.”

In GTD, the No. 86 and its sister No. 57 Acura, the Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing co-driven by Katherine Legge, Bia Figueiredo and Christina Nielsen, are all in on overtaking the trio of Lamborghinis in the field for the manufacturer championship. Still, team co-owner Michael Shank isn’t overlooking the fact that the driver and team titles that will be secured when the green flag flies Saturday come as sweet satisfaction after the No. 86 came up four points shy of winning them last year.

“We really deserved to win last year in a lot of ways but didn’t quite make it happen,” Shank said. “This has been an extension to that.

“One of the really cool stories about this car is it has done every lap of every race for two years now. We’ll see what happens at Petit – I don’t want to hex it, knock on wood – but I think that’s really the true story here. The team’s delivered a very reliable piece driven very well by the drivers last year and this year. It’s getting what it deserves right now, honestly. We’ve only won one race this year, so it’s just been hitting our marks and really strategizing on how to win the championship. And it’s really paid off for us.”

Shank is in his third year working with HPD and lauded the relationship. He pointed to the EVO upgrade this year that widened the NSX’s aerodynamic window as a prime example of the way HPD constantly pushes for success. He wants to repay the effort with a GTD manufacturer title.

“They deserve to get this,” Shank said. “And I feel like I owe it to them. I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I want this bad and my folks on both teams will hear plenty about that between now and Saturday.”

While the Pilot Challenge is a customer-supported effort, Klaus said it’s no less important in the scheme of things. It’s part of the Honda Racing grassroots effort that covers drivers as young as four in quarter midgets up to enthusiasts competing in local events in their retirement years.

“The TCRs are kind of the top end of all that activity,” Klaus said. “I see young drivers, whether it’s Tom O’Gorman or Shelby Blackstock or Colin Mullan (in Pilot Challenge), a lot of these kids came out of quarter midgets or karts, so ‘Powered by Honda’ means something.

“We talk about a ladder series and I think TCR is an important gateway series. People can step up from there. This is homegrown ingenuity and it really speaks volumes about how we take motorsports really, really seriously. It’s part of our core DNA.”

And this weekend is when it may all pay off – in DPi and GTD competition in the WeatherTech Championship, as well as in TCR in Pilot Challenge. And Acura, Honda and HPD wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We have a long history and heritage of earning success, wins and championships,” Klaus said, “so to have a chance to win one championship, let alone multiple championships, going into the final race, that’s our one goal.

“All we can say is we do have confidence at this point in the program. We’ve made steady progress and … we are rolling off the truck confident, but there always is a tremendous amount of respect amongst the competitors. We wouldn’t want it any other way. The victories only matter when you have that respect for your competitors.”

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