ALMS Speculation: Acura preparing to move up to LMP1 with a diesel?

Several bits of information have come out about Acura and their participation in the American Le Mans Series over the past two months so it's time to put two and two together and see if we can get to add up to seven. Acura jumped into the fray in the LMP2 class in 2007 and had a reasonably successful first season with the ARX-01. Back at the Detroit Auto Show in January when ALMS CEO Scott Atherton announced the series "Green Racing" initiative, American Honda EVP John Mendel was on hand and I asked him about Acura's plans. While Mendel was coy about specifics, he did say that the company was evaluating both diesel and hybrid powertrains for the race program. Of course manufacturer participation in motorsports is at least as much about promotion as it is engineering. Since Acura also disclosed that they would launch a clean diesel in the U.S. market in 2009, that would seem to have the edge over a hybrid here.

Then at the end of January, retired IndyCar champion Gil De Ferran announced that he would launch a new ALMS team this year and run the Acura ARX-01B starting with the Long Beach Grand Prix weekend in April. During the course of the coverage of the 12 hours of Sebring this weekend, commentators mentioned the possibility of De Ferran's team and Acura moving up from the LMP2 to the LMP1 class in 2009. Acura splits the development efforts among the teams, with Fernandez Racing focusing on engine development, and Highcroft doing chassis, while Andretti-Green does integration. If the company were looking at a change in class or powertrain, it would make sense to have another team work on that. A diesel-powered LMP1 Acura running against the Audis full-time next year would be fun to watch. Or, perhaps, they will keep the diesel in a lighter LMP2 car which has an advantage over the LMP1s under the current technical regulations. Either way I say bring it on, the more the merrier. On the other hand, maybe two plus two only equals four.

[Sources: American Le Mans Series, Speed TV]

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