Acura held the public unveiling of its new ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) IMSA-spec race car during the 2017 Monterey Car Week, rolling the car out at The Quail. For everyone in attendance ahead of Sunday’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, it was an exciting moment not just for Acura but also for the renowned Team Penske and, perhaps most importantly, fans of American sports-car racing.
“Remember when we were here in Monterey two years ago?” Acura vice president and general manager John Ikeda asked Automobile at an exclusive preview event held the night before the car’s public debut. “We had a couple of NSX [road car] prototypes running around. The road car was still in development. And now we have the NSX on sale and NSX GT3 race cars winning this year in the IMSA WeatherTech Series, and now a DPi car with Team Penske. We are pushing hard on performance.”
Where Acura ultimately lands in the greater automotive landscape—of course driven by how consumers react to its latest moves—remains in question as it steadily attempts to reinvigorate the marque, but there is no doubt the executives who run the company believe in well-performing street cars and the value of motorsports.
On the heels of a quickly improving NSX racing effort, this new DPi entry is slated to contest the entire 2018 IMSA schedule beginning with the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona in late January. The two-car effort will be, as announced previously, run by Roger Penske’s Team Penske operation, which needs no introduction to racing fans—or anyone even marginally aware of the Who’s-Who of American racing.
Beneath the new skin, the car is an ORECA 07 LMP2-class chassis featuring bespoke Acura bodywork and “design features, including Acura’s signature “jewel eye” headlights, powered by the AR35TT twin-turbocharged engine.” This is the Honda Performance Development-created race version of the powerplant based on the production 3.5-liter V-6 found in most of Acura’s production models. Exact horsepower is a moving target in sports-car racing thanks to the Balance of Performance formula, but IMSA’s rules dictate it should come in around 600 hp, give or take.
Team Penske earlier this week announced one of the team’s two ARX-05 entries will be driven by seven-time Formula 1 race winner and 1999 CART IndyCar champion—and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner—Juan Pablo Montoya, who has also won sports-car and NASCAR races, along with sports-car champion Dane Cameron. The second driver pairing will be announced at a later date.
“I’ve never gotten so many calls from drivers [interested in a ride],” Penske joked during the reveal.
Earlier this racing season, rumors swirled that three-time Indy 500 winner and longtime Penske IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves was in line to switch to the sports-car program, but his strong running in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year may have given Penske and the former “Dancing with the Stars” champion second thoughts.
As for the ARX-05, DPi rules require manufacturers to use one of four approved prototype-spec chassis, fitted with IMSA-homologated, manufacturer-designed and branded bodywork and engines. Manufacturers already racing in the DPi category include Cadillac, Mazda, and Nissan.
Honda Performance Development created the ARX-05’s bodywork with input from Acura global creative director Dave Marek—responsible for the company’s road cars and a noted race car design enthusiast—who also drew the prototype’s appealing livery. Compared to other DPis, this car is notable for its aggressive, aero-heavy front end featuring a formula-car-style wing that diverges notably from existing DPi entries.
The car you see here is “80-percent close to what it will look like on the track next season,” Team Penske president Tim Cindric told us at the reveal. In other words, there are a couple of livery modifications in the works (independent of potential sponsor acquisitions and requests), a notable one being a change of the black rear wing to Acura orange—something Roger Penske requested of Marek at the reveal.
The ARX-05 is scheduled to begin testing next week at Road Atlanta—a key reason Penske announced Montoya and Cameron as its first two drivers ahead of the actual car’s unveiling. Beyond that, it will not see action this season ahead of next year’s full-schedule assault—there is no chance of it racing in, say, IMSA’s season-ending Petit Le Mans, also at Road Atlanta, as such a move would require it to be homologated by IMSA by now, and that won’t happen until November.
But the Team Penske crew is fired up, Cindric stressed, to get back into the swing of things, sports-car-racing style, by running something at Petit in October. If it happens, it would make a lot of sense to run a non-Acura-influenced ORECA spec-prototype chassis—just for practice, after all. But we can’t help but imagine a one-off entry with a Team Penske NSX GT3. Either way, for U.S. sports-car racing fans, things continue to heat up.