Acura Motorsports will enter a fourth Acura ARX-01b sports car in the LMP2 division of the 2008 American Le Mans Series, company officials announced today.
The newest Acura entry will be campaigned by de Ferran Motorsports, a newly formed team owned by former Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time CART Champ Car champion Gil de Ferran. In addition to ownership of the Acura factory-backed organization, de Ferran will return to the cockpit as the team's primary driver of the ARX-01b. A co-driver of the de Ferran Motorsport machine will be announced in the future.
Acura entered sports-car racing in 2007 by fielding Acura-powered LMP2 prototype cars from Andretti Green Racing, Highcroft Racing and Lowe's Fernandez Racing on the 12-race ALMS tour. The three-car contingent marked the first factory motorsports program in Acura's 20-year history.
Headquarters for de Ferran Motorsports will be in the Indianapolis area, and veteran racing executive John Anderson has been named the team's general manager. Sponsorship of the De Ferran Acura will be announced in the future.
"It is extremely exciting to be involved in the new Acura Motorsports program," said de Ferran, who won a combined 12 races in his U.S. open-wheel career, in CART and the Indy Racing League. "The American Le Mans Series has a tremendous combination of technology and fierce competition. In addition, I am so eager to get back into the driver's seat and on the track. The racing in the ALMS series is spectacular. I know this program will be a challenge for me, both on and off the track. Having John Anderson on board is a great start for our organization, and we are working hard to put the remaining pieces together now."
While the original three Acura teams will compete in all 12 American Le Mans Series events, the de Ferran team could enter the series as early as the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 17-19.
De Ferran ventures into team ownership after serving as Sporting Director for the Honda Formula One racing team from 2005 to 2007. His most recent competition in a race car came at Texas Motor Speedway on October 12, 2003, when he drove to victory for Team Penske in the IndyCar Season finale. He retired from driving after that event.
The 2008 Acura American Le Mans Series program's four cars will feature the new ARX-01b chassis developed by Honda Performance Development (HPD) and Wirth Research, as well as an updated, 3.4-liter normally-aspirated V-8 engine.
"The 2007 American Le Mans Series was a learning experience for Acura and HPD," said Erik Berkman, new president of HPD. "Our three teams did a great job last year in gaining information and racing competitively. Now, we are thrilled to add another proven champion to our Acura family, with Gil de Ferran and his new organization. Gil's racing history is certainly impressive, and we plan to continue the process of making the Acura ARX-01b a winner. We hope to have the de Ferran car on track as soon as possible to join in our quest for victories in 2008."
In its debut season in the American Le Mans Series, Acura won its initial event with Bryan Herta, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan co-driving Andretti Green Racing's XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a to the LMP2 class title at the prestigious Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. In addition to the Sebring victory, Acura machines scored nine other podium finishes in 2007.
"Gil de Ferran is another 'A List' name being added to the American Le Mans Series that resonates throughout motorsports, joining the likes of Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal, Michael Andretti and many others," said Scott Atherton, ALMS president. "His stellar career as both a championship-winning driver in CART and key player in Formula 1 for BAR-Honda exemplifies excellence in our industry. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be successful in both roles with Acura. We welcome him into the American Le Mans Series paddock with open arms and eagerly await his debut as a driver and team owner later this season."
De Ferran, who attended engineering college in Brazil, began his racing career in karting at age 14. After attending college and winning several championships in his home country, he moved to England to pursue a professional racing career and quickly established himself as a young talent by becoming a regular sight on top European podiums in different formulas from 1988 to 1994, notably winning the prestigious British Formula Three Championship in 1992.
In 1995, de Ferran scored CART Rookie of the Year honors and captured the season finale at Laguna Seca. Driving for Penske, de Ferran won CART driving championships in 2000 and 2001, and he established an all-time closed-course qualifying record by clocking a lap of 241.428 miles per hour on the two-mile oval at California Speedway in 2001, a record which still stands. Having been runner-up in the 2001 Indy 500, he captured the 2003 Indy 500 before retiring at the end of the season.
Acura's racing operations reflect the manufacturer's commitment to being a leader in automotive performance and technology. Launched in March of 1986 as the Japanese luxury nameplate, Acura has continually led the charge for automotive firsts including: all-aluminum production vehicle, revolutionary VTEC variable timing and lift valvetrain system, titanium connecting rods, in-dash satellite-linked navigation system, DVD-Audio audio system, Active Noise Cancellation, and more.
Acura currently offers a full line of technologically advanced performance-luxury vehicles through a network of 268 dealers within the United States. The 2008 Acura lineup features five distinctive models including the RL luxury performance sedan, the TL performance-luxury sedan, the TSX sports sedan, the turbocharged RDX luxury-crossover SUV and the award-winning MDX luxury sports-utility vehicle.
Honda Performance Development (HPD) was founded in 1993 as the wholly-owned racing subsidiary of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. Located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for Honda and Acura's high-performance racing engines. HPD coordinates Honda's participation in the IndyCar Series and Acura's activities in American Le Mans Series.