Acura, Team Penske ending partnership in IMSA SportsCar

Acura Team Penske
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Acura announced the end of its partnership with Team Penske in the DPi class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship after its third season concludes in November.

Last year, the No. 6 ARX-05 of Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya won the championship and Penske had scored four victories, nine pole positions and 18 podiums since returning to the series in 2018. The team, which also includes the No. 7 of Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves, is winless without any podiums through three races this season, which had a five-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“On behalf of everyone at Acura and HPD, we’d like to thank Team Penske for their incredible efforts and impressive results racing the ARX-05,” Ted Klaus, president of Honda Performance Development, the competition arm for Acura Motorsports, said in an Acura Team Penske release Tuesday.  “The success we’ve achieved together during the first two-plus years of the program makes us even more determined to score more victories, defend our championships, and conclude our partnership on the highest of notes.”

The release provided no indication of Honda’s plans for sports cars beyond 2020.

In a statement, Team Penske president Tim Cindric said, “We are proud of the efforts that our organizations have put forth together over the last three seasons but we simply couldn’t align on how we should go racing in the future. Sports Car racing has always been a big part of the heritage of Team Penske, and we are certainly interested in going to Le Mans one day with the right partner under the right circumstances.”

In January, IMSA and the  Automobile Club de l’Ouest announced that the DPi class would be rebranded in 2022 as Le Mans Daytona h (LMD h) to  allow crossover between the top categories in IMSA and the FIA World Endurance Championship (whose top division will be Hypercar). That would allow IMSA’s top teams to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

According to the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer, Penske won’t be racing sports cars next year.

Here’s the release from Acura:

TORRANCE, CA (July 21, 2020) – Acura Motorsports today announced it has come to a mutual agreement with Team Penske to end its successful partnership at the conclusion of the current IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

The championship-winning program originated in 2017 in preparation for Acura’s debut in the premier class of IMSA competition at the start of the 2018 season.  Acura Team Penske scored its first Daytona Prototype International (DPi) victory – at the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio – in 2018; and captured three more victories en route to sweeping the Manufacturer, Team and Drivers titles last year.

“On behalf of everyone at Acura and HPD, we’d like to thank Team Penske for their incredible efforts and impressive results racing the ARX-05,” said Ted Klaus, president of Honda Performance Development, the competition arm for Acura Motorsports.  “The success we’ve achieved together during the first two-plus years of the program makes us even more determined to score more victories, defend our championships, and conclude our partnership on the highest of notes.”

In addition to sweeping the major IMSA DPi championships in 2019, the Acura ARX-05 scored four race wins, 14 additional podium finishes and nine poles from 22 races since its debut in 2018 racing against Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan.

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.  Together with our partner ORECA, and based on the ORECA 07 chassis, HPD led the design and development of the ARX-05; featuring Acura-specific bodywork and powered by Acura’s production-based AR35TT twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine, which shares over 400 mass production components with Acura’s road going V6 products

The Acura ARX-05 has added to a rich legacy of Acura sports car racing campaigns and championships, including the 1991-93 IMSA Camel Lights manufacturer and driver championships; 53 IMSA and American Le Mans Series class or overall race victories; and the 2009 American Le Mans Series manufacturer, driver and team championships in both the LMP1 and LMP2 classes. Racing and competition are cornerstones of Acura’s existence, and these on track achievements continue to epitomize Acura’s tagline of Precision Crafted Performance

Acura Motorsports also campaigns the Acura NSX GT3 Evo in the IMSA GTD category with defending GTD champion Meyer Shank Racing and the Gradient Racing organizations.

Previously, 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 NTT 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.

“Roger Penske has long been an important part of the Acura family as one of our great Acura dealers, and it has been a privilege to have him as part of the Acura Motorsports family as well,” said Jon Ikeda, Acura vice president and brand officer. “We’ve also had a very spirited competition with Team Penske during our previous ALMS Acura prototype programs.  We will always be thankful for the contributions made by Team Penske over the three-year course of our DPi program”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”