Penske, Acura relish 1-2 triumph at Mid-Ohio

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Given that Acura was the title sponsor of this past weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it was always going to be a pivotal weekend for their teams in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to showcase themselves.

And maybe no team had more pressure on it than the Acura Team Penske group, which had displayed a lot of speed with the Oreca 07-based ARX-05, but has suffered a number of needling problems with reliability and strategy that prevented them from battling for victories in the opening races of the 2018 season.

However, this past weekend at Mid-Ohio was nothing short of a dream for Acura and Penske. Both cars ran 1-2 in every practice, with Helio Castroneves putting the No. 7 on the pole on Saturday and Dane Cameron flanking him on the front row in the No. 6.

And to describe their race day as dominant would be an understatement. The No. 7, in the hands of Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, led from start to finish, while the No. 6, in the hands of Cameron and Juan Montoya, ran steady in second after an early battle with Mazda Team Joest.

In all, it was simply a perfect weekend for team and manufacturer.

“That was great,” said a jubilant Castroneves of the victory. “It started from the beginning, actually the front row, the No. 7 and the No. 6 were right there. Dane was really strong and put a lot of pressure on me, but in the end, it was a long race. I was taking it easy and making sure we made the numbers that we needed to make, and then I left it to my teammate here, Ricky, and what an incredible job he did.”

The victory is also a milestone for Taylor and Penske, with Taylor becoming the 50th different driver to win a race under the Penske banner.

Said an equally elated Taylor, “I’m driving with one of the best organizations in the world, and one of the best manufacturers in the world. We visited Acura’s factory for the NSX on Thursday and really got to see all that goes into these beautiful cars, and it really gives you a good sense of pride. On top of that, to win for the first time back for Mr. Penske is outstanding and to start the month of May off for Helio with a win is awesome. There was so much pressure to get the car from him in the lead. He did an awesome job, so I had to fight to make his efforts worth it.”

Steve Eriksen, Vice President and COO of Honda Performance Development (HPD) added that the victory coming at Mid-Ohio, not far from a number of HPD facilities, combined with a strong run from the Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s – Katherine Legge and Alvaro Parente finished second in GT Daytona, while Justin Marks and Lawson Aschenbach finished fifth – made it all the sweeter.

“Mid-Ohio is our second ‘home’, with all of our nearby facilities and thousands of associates. So it is especially gratifying to take our first win in the Acura ARX-05 here,” Eriksen asserted. “Our NSX GT3 program did not disappoint either, as the Meyer Shank Racing #86 waged an exciting battle all the way to the checkers, coupled with a strong run for the #93 car. Congratulations to all of our associates at HPD, Acura Team Penske and Meyer Shank Racing on an almost perfect weekend.”

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Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds