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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.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.