Acura broke into the win column on its return to prototype racing last season with Team Penske. Entering the second year of its ARX-05 DPi program, the folks from Honda Performance Development, along with its partners at Penske, are focused on using the knowledge gained in 2018 to capture more rounds that went to its rivals at Cadillac and Nissan.
It’s hard to put an exact number on where satisfaction might be achieved for Acura Team Penske in 2019, but it’s safe to assume taking three or four victories from 10 races, at minimum, is a target to hit.
“The highlight for the year was the 1-2 finish at Mid-Ohio in front of many, many Honda and Acura associates. That was big,” HPD Vice President Steve Eriksen told RACER. “Then looking at the pace, we had pace in many of the races, which gave us confidence at least that the basic specs of the car were good, and the engine.
“The team, obviously, in Team Penske’s case they hadn’t raced the DPi category before and it had been some years since they had done some Grand-Am, so there was some learning curve there as you’d expect or coming back to the sport, and rules having changed, and getting up to speed certainly had some impact.
“The thing that I took away from it was this: Because we were able to run two cars through all of the season and gather data from all the tracks, it really gives us an opportunity to collect data and check simulation and the correlation thereof to understand how to do better this year and can use that as a foundation for making 2019 a success.”
All of Acura’s full-time drivers are also back for its second WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, along with Penske’s Simon Pagenaud for the endurance races in one ARX-05 and newcomer Alexander Rossi in the other. As a unit, Eriksen has a similar feeling of progress among the drivers — some who visited a few tracks for the first time last year — as they return to the cockpit with added IMSA experience.
“I think the real strength of having Ricky Taylor and Dane Cameron in the cars, besides their speed, is their experience level in sports cars,” he said. “They’re the go-to advice for the guys that haven’t had as many years in the seat in sports car racing. Particularly in the prototype category. I think that’s helped both Helio Castroneves and Juan [Pablo] Montoya considerably. Then I think Helio and Juan bring their own viewpoint and flavor to the mix, which is helpful for the younger guys because they’ve done a lot of stuff.
“And Simon was a champion with us in the ALMS days, so he’s highly experienced, and we’ve been tremendously impressed with Alex. I’m confident that we’ve got a very good and consistent lineup and I think we can build on what we had last year.”
Asked if HPD would look to make its ARX-05 available to customer teams in 2020, especially in light of Cadillac entering the new season with six DPi-V.Rs, Eriksen suggested its two-car presence with Team Penske could be its blueprint in the coming years.
“One of the things that I really like about the arrangement we have right now is that Acura Team Penske and HPD are 100 percent on the same page,” he said. “Every race, every session, every decision is made with a common goal in mind, which is we’re all in it together and we’re all in it to win.
“Yes, there’s a numerical advantage of there’s more [Cadillacs] floating around there, but I really like where we’re at right now with respect to being able to have a single-minded vision for how we’re going to achieve our goals.”