When you design an incredibly capable supercar like the Acura NSX — a vehicle that embodies your brand’s performance ethos — the ubiquitous question from fans and even within your own company is, are you going to take it racing? And indeed, on the eve of the 55th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Acura officials we spoke with said they had planned a competition version of the NSX since the outset of the street car’s development roughly four years ago.
The season-opening round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship marked the first time Acura has raced in the series, and at the Rolex 24 hopes were high for the two Acura NSX GT3 cars — cars that qualified seventh and ninth in the GTD class, a solid debut performance. The No.1 goal, as always in endurance racing, was to simply complete the race. After that, the team hoped for a top 10 finish. Unfortunately they came up just short. The No. 86 made it all 24 hours and finished fifth, but the 93 car, which had been running up front for much of the race, suffered a freak incident that led to most its front bodywork coming off, forcing it to retire just before end. It ended up 11th. But both cars proved their worth during a wet and cold weekend at Daytona International Speedway..
The race-car program began in earnest last summer when Michael Shank Racing, Acura’s partner in its NSX GT3 effort, began shaking down test mules. In November, Acura took the cars, which will compete in every IMSA round this season, to France for official FIA certification. Approval by the FIA—the international racing world’s official governing body—allows the cars to compete on a global scale.
After the FIA blessed the cars, Acura froze development of the NSX GT3, per the GT3 homologation rules. “We can’t touch a thing now,” Shank reminded us just before the cars hit the track. IMSA’s GTD class features cars like the NSX that resemble their street version (the Mercedes-AMG GT, Lamborghini Huracan, and Porsche 911 are among the other competitors in the class).
How similar is the Acura NSX GT3 to the street car? What were some of the challenges Michael Shank and Acura encountered during the car’s engineering? We asked Shank and other Acura team members for their thoughts. Here is what we learned.
— According to Shank, the NSX GT3 “is about 60-percent” stock, with key differences being the body, which is carbon fiber as opposed to the street car’s aluminum, aerodynamic add-ons, wheels and tires, and the suspension and brakes, beefed up to better handle the rigors of racing. GT3 rules, of course, dictate the amount of changes manufacturers can make to modify their production cars into race versions.
— The engine and turbochargers are bone stock and were taken straight off of the street car’s production line. Shank did say that the engines were dyno tested to give engineers an idea of how the engines would hold up. They held up. Some mounting points are modified, and the Acura NSX GT3 features additional cooling compared to the road version.
— Its fuel tank is 27 gallons, a standard size for cars in the class.
— The underbody “wing,” which Shank described “as one big piece of aero,” helps the car produce roughly 1,000 pounds of downforce, which Shank said is pretty standard for race cars in the class.
— Shank and Acura had 34 team members at Daytona working directly on the two cars, with 21 of those bodies assigned permanently to the job all season long.
— The team earlier experimented with a special racing-spec steering rack, but when it experienced issues during testing, it switched back to the car’s street car setup, with some minor changes to help it feel and respond better to racing-level loads.
— All-wheel drive is not allowed in the GTD class, so the street car’s front electric motors were removed.
— The car utilizes two lithium-ion batteries in the passenger side as its primary power supply.
— The car weighs approximately 2,900 pounds (per GTD weight rules, around 900 pounds less than the street car official 3,803 pound weight.
— Its steering wheel costs about $30,000, and on the back side of it, there is a single clutch paddle that the driver uses to shift and launch the car in conjunction with the paddle shifters.
— The team ran into problems during testing with an overheating engine ECU in the cockpit, so it improvised by adding extra cooling to it to keep everything running smoothly.
— Drivers of the Acura NSX GT3 do not yet benefit from air-conditioning, but the cars feature an A/C compressor already. The system should be up and running soon, before the IMSA season enters its hot summer stretch.
– Each car is roughly worth $500,000.