Acura & Honda Eyeing Championship Glory

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Acura Team Penske is leading the championship charge for Penske and Honda this weekend at the Petit Le Mans. (Dennis Bicksler photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If it all plays out to their advantage this weekend at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Acura and Honda Performance Development could walk away with as many as eight more championships in IMSA competition.

In the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, No. 6 Acura Team Penske co-drivers Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya hold a healthy 12-point advantage in the Daytona Prototype international driver and team standings heading into Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans. Along with its sister No. 7 entry, currently in third place, Acura has already clinched the DPi manufacturer’s crown.

Meanwhile, Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman need only start Saturday’s race in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 to wrap up the driver and team titles in the GT Daytona class. Their focus, along with co-driver Justin Marks, will be overtaking Lamborghini in the manufacturer’s chase (Acura trails by a single point) and overcoming a four-point deficit in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup that awards points in the four longer-distance events.

Finally, in Friday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge race, Honda sits just four points out of the lead in the manufacturer hunt, with No. 37 L.A. Honda World Racing Honda Civic co-drivers Tom O’Gorman and Shelby Blackstock 11 points behind first place in the Touring Car class.

Needless to say, much is at stake in the climax to the 2019 season. But Ted Klaus, president of Honda Performance Development (HPD), believes his company’s decades of performing under pressure has Acura, HPD and its teams as ready as they can be.

“Mr. Honda (Soichiro Honda, company founder) said you have to be at the start line with confidence and best prepared,” Klaus said. “The ideal scenario is every one of our efforts is at that start line, our partners have confidence in us and they just fully realize their capability in all their preparation.”

Acura’s DPi program is on the precipice of WeatherTech Championship titles in just its second year of competition. Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud will again join Cameron and Montoya in Saturday’s 10-hour race as they try to hold off the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac for the driver and team honors.

“We just have to have a consistent day” was the way Tim Cindric, Team Penske president, summed it up. “Obviously, we have to have reliability, we have to be able to run the entire race and have a solid 10 hours. It’s not over ‘til it’s over. We need to continue to approach it in the same way.

“For us, I think we can be a bit more conservative on and off the racetrack, but we still need to have a solid day to be sure that we finish off the deal.”

Everyone realizes there are no guarantees, with 10 hours of grueling competition on the 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course, mixing it up with cars in all categories – some much slower and causing anxious moments working through lapped traffic.

“It’s going to be tough,” Klaus said. “It’s a long race, it’s been a cruel race in the past. You have the chance of accidents and damage. Again, I think we’re confident but we’re treating the race with respect.”

In GTD, the No. 86 and its sister No. 57 Acura, the Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing co-driven by Katherine Legge, Bia Figueiredo and Christina Nielsen, are all in on overtaking the trio of Lamborghinis in the field for the manufacturer championship. Still, team co-owner Michael Shank isn’t overlooking the fact that the driver and team titles that will be secured when the green flag flies Saturday come as sweet satisfaction after the No. 86 came up four points shy of winning them last year.

“We really deserved to win last year in a lot of ways but didn’t quite make it happen,” Shank said. “This has been an extension to that.

“One of the really cool stories about this car is it has done every lap of every race for two years now. We’ll see what happens at Petit – I don’t want to hex it, knock on wood – but I think that’s really the true story here. The team’s delivered a very reliable piece driven very well by the drivers last year and this year. It’s getting what it deserves right now, honestly. We’ve only won one race this year, so it’s just been hitting our marks and really strategizing on how to win the championship. And it’s really paid off for us.”