Honda Performance Development will have a tough time repeating its remarkable 2019 season, when it scored championships in two IMSA categories. With Acura Team Penske sweeping DPi honors in the Drivers’, Teams’, and Manufacturers’ contests, its ARX-05 prototype became the first model to dethrone Cadillac’s DPi-V.R.
In the pro-am GT Daytona class, its Acura NSX GT3 delivered Meyer Shank Racing’s first championship of any kind as the No. 86 secured the Drivers’ and Teams’ titles, missing only the Manufacturers’ championship which went to Lamborghini.
Both achievements could make matching or exceeding the results a daunting task for HPD, but new CEO Ted Klaus says a different mindset has been adopted within the Southern California outfit.
“You have to set goals for yourself in life,” he tells RACER before drawing an interesting parallel from home. “I asked my daughter’s show choir director, who’s an award-winning show choir director, about trying to lead 40 high school kids to get out there and sing and dance a choreographed number. He wins every year, and to repeat, he has to come up with a new challenge and new show choir concept. So I asked him, ‘How do you repeat?’ He says, ‘You don’t repeat. You wipe the slate clean.’
“Whether you’re a sports team who’s in racing or stick-and-ball sports, you’ve got to reset those goals. And we’ve done that, not only with Acura Team Penske, but with our longtime partners at Meyer Shank Racing.”
For Klaus, who played a major role in developing the new Acura NSX road car before his appointment to lead HPD, the thrill of the manufacturers’ fight in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship serves as a personal motivation he shares from atop the organization. The only threat to that thrill is the accuracy of IMSA’s Balance of Performance settings, which attempts to equalize the various models in the two classes where Acura is represented.
“There’s nothing we can do about BoP, and I have enough respect for, not just IMSA, but all the manufacturers; we are working as a team,” he says. “Yes, we want to scratch and claw each other’s eyes out when we get on the track. But we also have a level of professionalism, a level of respect for each other and we are not necessarily trying to get one over on each other through the rules.”
“And that statement is challenged from time to time, but by and large, if you look at the arc of the last two years, since Acura has been back, I’m proud of the work that all the manufacturers have done working with IMSA to figure out a formula that is exciting. Not just for us, but more importantly, it’s exciting to me to see the fans coming back.”
With the 2019 DPi titles in hand, the next quest for HPD and its Acura ARX-05 is to take its first endurance racing win, and for the NSX GT3, which claimed a win at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, to take one of the 10-, 12-, or 24-hour contests.
To get there, Klaus believes some extra heat within the Penske and MSR camps would be helpful.
“This year is about a renewed focus, for both DPI and GTD, at Daytona, Sebring, and the Michelin Endurance Championship,” he says. “For DPI, specifically, I’m excited to see Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves, and in the endurance races, Alex Rossi go and earn it on the track, all the while having Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud right there with them. At some point you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to develop that rivalry, almost, within your team, to drive everyone harder.”
Klaus also likes the challenge MSR will face with a change to its championship-winning driver lineup as Mario Farnbacher learns to work with the incoming Matt McMurry in the No. 86 NSX. The same is true for the returning Alvaro Parente, who will groom prototype veteran Misha Goihkberg in his first season of GTD competition with the No. 57 MSR/Heinricher Racing Acura.
“Anyone who thinks, ‘Oh, well, Mario’s going to repeat,’ well, actually, what Mario has to do is figure out how to now lead Matt McMurry, who’s a young second-generation talent,” he adds. “And can Mario get his elbows up, especially in the end of the race? Because he let some wins slip away from him last year, so he’s going to be growing as a leader and as driver.
“And then think about Alvaro, who came so close to delivering our first Driver’s championship (in 2018) with Meyer Shank, and then he’s going to be pairing up with Misha to see how will Misha translate his obvious talent, but how does he go from DPi back down to GTD? Which is just a dog-eat-dog world?”
As Klaus and HPD prepare to support their partner teams over the 10-month championship bid, it becomes clear Acura/Honda’s official competition arm receives just as much inspiration from its teams as it delivers.
“You’ve got Acura, as a manufacturer, driving two really high-level, dedicated teams,” he says. “Obviously, Penske’s been around forever, and Shank… Mike has such a demonstrated performance, it’s hard to believe. He’s been at this for three decades, and yet, he seems the new kid on the block. He’s still is so hungry and earning it, and there’s even almost a different feel difference between those two teams.
“Where Penske rigorously executes their process, they might appear dispassionate, but then you see, after they have a victory, you see it just pour out of everyone on the team, that every achievement is not to be taken for granted. Whereas Mike Shank, he really, really grinds sometimes. But his team is probably a little more emotional. They probably wear their hearts closer to the skin surface, whereas Penske, because of years and years of success, it goes a little deeper into their body then it comes out when they win.”
Acura’s bid to win its first Rolex 24 At Daytona with Team Penske and Meyer Shank Racing starts Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET.