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Penske, Acura DPi program formally confirmed

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After months of speculation and anticipation, Team Penske’s return to top flight sports car racing has been made official on Tuesday.

The Penske and Acura Daytona Prototype international (DPi) program will premiere in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a two-car effort.

The full release is below.

Acura Motorsports today announced it will join forces with Team Penske to field a prototype effort in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  The program will include a pair of new Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype International (DPi) entries, fielded under the legendary Team Penske banner.

The official competition debut will take place at the season-opening Rolex 24 in January, 2018.  Testing of the Acura DPi will begin soon, with a formal unveiling of the ARX-05 slated for Monterey Car Week in August.  The driver lineup will be announced at a future date.

“Roger Penske is already an important part of the Acura family as one of our great Acura dealers, and now it is a thrill to have him as part of the Acura Motorsports family as well,” said Jon Ikeda, Acura senior vice president and general manager.  “We look forward to building on the success of the race-winning NSX GT3 program, and couldn’t be more thrilled to return to the prototype category of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a partner like Team Penske.”

“We are excited to join forces with the Honda Performance Development family and represent the Acura brand with two prototypes starting in 2018,” said Team Penske Founder Roger Penske.  “Sports car racing has been an integral part of Team Penske’s heritage, from our first race at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1966 to running the American Le Mans Series in the late 2000s.  Reviving a Team Penske sports car program has always been a goal for us, but to do so required strong and successful partners like Honda and Acura. It’s great to extend our relationship from the dealership to the race track and we are excited to come back to IMSA and the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.”

The Acura ARX-05 [Acura Racing eXperimental, generation 5] is the latest in a line of endurance prototypes to be fielded by the company dating back to 1991, just five years after the 1986 launch of the Acura brand.  Based on the very successful ORECA 07 chassis, the new ARX-05 prototype features Acura-specific bodywork and utilizes the race-proven, production-based Acura AR35TT twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine.

The multi-year program will be administered by Honda Performance Development, the racing arm for both Acura Motorsports and Honda Racing in North America.

“We had a very spirited competition with Team Penske during our previous ALMS Acura prototype programs, and we are looking forward to working with, instead of against, Team Penske as the ideal partner for our return to the prototype ranks,” said Art St. Cyr, HPD president.  “We also had a great deal of success together in CART and IndyCar competition, and Team Penske’s overall record in all forms of racing is unrivaled in our sport.”

The Acura ARX-05 will add to a rich legacy of Acura sports car racing campaigns and championships, including the 1991-93 IMSA Camel Lights manufacturer and driver championships; 50 IMSA and American Le Mans Series class or overall race victories [through Watkins Glen 2017]; and the 2009 American Le Mans Series manufacturer, driver and team championships in both the LMP1 and LMP2 classes.

Acura Motorsports currently campaigns the Acura NSX GT3 in the IMSA GTD category with Michael Shank Racing – where it has already won IMSA GTD races at Detroit and Watkins Glen this season – as well as with Real Time Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge GT division.

One of the most recognizable names in motorsports, Team Penske has scored victories in nearly every series in which the team has competed. With more than 460 major race wins and 29 national championships, including 14 in INDYCAR and 10 in sports car competition, Team Penske is among the most successful teams in the history of professional sports.

More than 30 years after first winning at the highest levels of sports car racing, Team Penske returned to its roots with a successful LMP2-class effort in the American Le Mans Series from 2005-08, winning class championships between 2006 and 2008.

HPD was affiliated with Team Penske in Championship Auto Racing Teams Competition (CART) in 2000 and 2001.  The partnership resulted in 10 race wins, two drivers’ championships (both for Gil de Ferran), and the 2001 CART Manufacturers’ Championship.

More recently, during the single-supplier era in IndyCar Series competition, Penske and HPD combined for two Indianapolis 500 victories (Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 and Helio Castroneves in 2009), plus the drivers’ title for Hornish in 2006.

Born out of founder Hugues de Chaunac’s passion for racing, ORECA began life in 1972 and has visited Victory Circle in a variety of motorsports disciplines, ranging from prototype endurance events to open-wheel to touring car and rallycross competition.  Teams using ORECA chassis have won more than 350 races, to go with more than 40 national and international titles.

Based on the “J35” family of engines found in Acura RDX, MDX, RLX and TLX production vehicles, the Acura AR35TT engine to be used in the ARX-05 was initially adapted for racing in a joint effort between HPD and Honda R&D Americas.  Used in a variety of prototype chassis, the engine has powered class winners at the 12 Hours of Sebring (2011-13); the 24 Hours of Le Mans and LMP2 World Endurance Championship (2012); the American Le Mans Series LMP2 titles (2012-13); and the overall winners at the Rolex 24, 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans in 2016.

VIDEO: Celebrating Mexico’s motorsport culture and racing history

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Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has already established itself as one of the sport’s most exciting and vibrant races, with hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In order to get a flavor of Mexico’s rich racing heritage, NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton took time out of his summer break to explore Mexico City and also take part in the famous Carrera Panamericana road race.

The Carrea Panamericana is Mexico’s equivalent of the Mille Miglia, initially acting as a border-to-border sportscar event before being cancelled in 1955.

The race was revived in the 1980s, and continues to this day, offering drivers a gruelling, week-long challenge against the clock at high speed on public highways through the mountains of central Mexico.

2017’s Formula 1 race is set to be a poignant one for Mexico following the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck earlier this week, claiming the lives of over 200 people.

With the race set to go ahead as planned, it will be an important statement of unity from Mexico when it welcomes F1 at the end of October, the grand prix taking place on October 29 and acting as another chapter in the nation’s steeped motorsport history.

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has set up a fund through which donations can be made to help those affected by the earthquake with full details below.

Donations can also be made via PayPal by clicking here.

F1/IndyCar clashes frequent for 2018 as schedules shape up

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The latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council may not have yielded much in the way of groundbreaking news, but the confirmation of Formula E and the World Endurance Championship’s 2018 schedules did help us get a grip on next year’s racing calendar.

Perhaps the most notable thing with next year’s schedules is the heavy reduction in clashes between the FIA’s three premier track championships – F1, Formula E and WEC – next year, making good on its plans for calendar harmonization moving forward.

WEC confirmed its ‘super season’ schedule earlier this month, stretching 13 months from May 2018 to June 2019, and added Silverstone last week, with the calendar gaining FIA approval in Paris.

Of the 2018 WEC rounds, there is just one clash with another FIA track championship: between the 6 Hours of Fuji and the F1 United States Grand Prix on the October 21 weekend.

While the more pressing worry for drivers is between WEC and Formula E after the July 16 debacle this year, no WEC and F1 clashes is good news for Fernando Alonso, who could well appear at Le Mans next year as part of his Triple Crown bid.

Formula E does have a number of F1 clashes, albeit not until the sixth event of its season, with the Rome race being held on the April 15 weekend where the Bahrain Grand Prix also sits (for now – China is due to swap dates).

Other Formula E and F1 clashes come on April 29 (Paris/Azerbaijan), June 10 (Zurich/Canada) and July 29 (Montreal/Hungary), although by shifting the New York City ePrix back one week to July 14-15, a gap has been found in the schedule.

For those operating across all three series (including yours truly), there is now a busy run between the start of the F1 season in Australia and the start of the summer break in Hungary with just three empty weekends.

As for IndyCar clashes? The condensed nature of the series’ schedule and the expansion of F1’s calendar to 21 races means they are inevitable. That said, as IndyCar is outside of the FIA’s realm of control, it was never really in the mix for its harmonization plans.

Yet again there is a clash between the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, sadly something we have become accustomed to in recent years, but over half the IndyCar calendar faces an F1 clash next year. There may be further ones to come when a couple other race dates get announced.

Here’s a full run-down of the F1/IndyCar double dip weekends thus far:

April 7-8: Chinese GP, Phoenix Grand Prix
April 14-15: Bahrain GP, Grand Prix of Long Beach
May 12-13: Spanish GP, Indianapolis GP
May 26-27: Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500
June 9-10: Canadian GP, Texas 600
June 23-24: French GP, Road America GP
July 7-8: British GP, Iowa Corn 300
August 25-26: Belgian GP, Gateway 500
September 15-16: Singapore GP, Sonoma GP

Bahrain, China ‘on-track’ to swap F1 race dates for 2018

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Next year’s Formula 1 races in China and Bahrain are “on-track” to swap dates in order to maximize their local exposure, according to the sport’s commercial chief, Sean Bratches.

The provisional F1 schedule for 2018 lists the Chinese Grand Prix as the second round of the season, taking place on April 8, with the Bahrain Grand Prix taking place one week later on April 15.

However, plans are afoot to swap the races around due to the Qingming national holiday that is set to take place in China on the April 8 weekend, potentially having a negative impact on crowd numbers at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“We’re trying to take into account global events, local events, religious holidays and things to ensure we’re maximizing the opportunity for fans to attend the grands prix,” Bratches told Reuters.

“We’re talking to both of them to that end and if we can reach a mutually agreed upon solution, which appears to be on-track to happen, you’ll probably see that,” he said.

No updates were made to the F1 schedule for 2018 at the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris this week, meaning no switch between Bahrain and China will be ratified until the start of December at the earliest.

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”