The Latest Generation Mustang and Civic Will Join the Michelin Pilot Challenge Field Early into the 2023 Season
By John Oreovicz
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – No matter where you look in the IMSA paddock in 2023, you’ll find brand new, state-of-the-art racing cars.
Take the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, for example, where the latest competition-developed versions of the Ford Mustang and Honda Civic are expected to make mid-season debuts.
The sixth generation of the production Honda Civic Type R, code-named FL5, was revealed to the world in late July, followed in December by the Civic Type R TCR that is eligible for Touring Car (TCR) class competition in the Michelin Pilot Challenge and other championships around the world. Deliveries of the new car are expected in time for an on-track debut in April.
The Type R TCR retains the basic 2-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and front-drive layout of the stock Civic Type R. California-based Honda Performance Development modifies the engine for racing use, while Honda’s touring car development partner, JAS Motorsport from Italy, handles chassis and aerodynamic development and vehicle production. JAS also builds the Acura NSX GT3 that competes in the GT Daytona (GTD) class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
JAS outfits the Civic’s body-in-white with the latest safety and ergonomic refinements, including a new multichannel driver display. The gearbox and antilock brakes have been upgraded from the previous FK7 model of the Type R TCR, along with a new quick-fill fueling system. The appearance of the FL5 is notable for its flared rear fenders, which leave the rear wheels semi-exposed when the car is viewed from the back.
The FL5 version of the Civic Type R TCR has big shoes to fill, as its FK7 predecessor is coming off its most successful year of worldwide competition, with 76 race wins and 19 championships across Europe and Asia. In total, JAS Motorsport-developed Honda Civics have claimed 397 TCR victories.
LA Honda World Racing, Honda American Racing Team (HART) and Victor Gonzalez Racing Team (VGRT) will be the first teams to campaign the new car. VGRT is carrying the momentum of a breakout two-win 2022 season that included dramatic triumphs at Sebring International Raceway and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
The Honda teams will continue to field their FK7 Civics in the opening rounds of the 2023 season until the new cars are race prepared.
Meanwhile, Ford has been teasing images of various racing versions of the fresh new S650 generation of the Mustang for nearly a year. The production model was revealed in Detroit in September, and the first racing iteration of the platform, developed for the Australian Supercars championship, was demonstrated at the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst in October.
Ford says it will officially take the wraps off the GT3 and GT4 racing versions of the S650 Mustang at Sebring International Raceway in March during the week of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. It marks Ford’s first official foray into the popular GT3 category, represented in IMSA by the GTD and GTD PRO classes of the WeatherTech Championship.
The current Mustang GT4, developed by Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports, made its competition debut in 2017 and has compiled a solid international record, most notably in the Michelin Pilot Challenge (where Ford earned the 2018 Grand Sport (GS) class manufacturer championship) and in the British GT Championship. The GT3 and GT4 racing programs are a key element in Ford’s marketing of the Mustang on a worldwide basis.
Multimatic is again spearheading development of the S650 version of the Mustang GT4, as well as leading the GT3 project. The Mustang GT4 will be on track for the second half of the 2023 season, while the GT3 is slated to make its debut at the 2024 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“Bill Ford (Ford executive chair) and Jim Farley (Ford president and CEO) are racers, and they are totally committed to having the seventh-generation Mustang raced in every class possible, all over the world,” stated Larry Holt, vice president of special projects for Multimatic. “It’s a fantastic vision, and I’m proud that Multimatic has been chosen to help execute a part of that vision with the development of the GT3 and GT4 cars.”
Ford is expected to field a factory GT3 effort in GTD PRO in 2024, but it will make both the GT3 and GT4 Mustangs available for customer sale. Team affiliations for 2023 have not been announced, but it is possible that we’ll see the latest GT4 Mustang in both the Michelin Pilot Challenge and the new VP Racing SportsCar Challenge.
The VP Racing SportsCar Challenge will debut during this month’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, Jan. 20-22, with two 45-minute races. The 2023 Michelin Pilot Challenge season opens Friday, Jan. 27 with the four-hour BMW M Endurance Challenge.