Acura Announces P1 Plans; Corsa Unveils Zytek Hybrid

Two significant announcements were made this afternoon at the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. Acura firmed up plans to step up to LMP1 next year, while Corsa Motorsports revealed that it has entered a partnership with Zytek to run a hybrid-electric P1 car starting at the Petit Le Mans.

Acura’s long-awaited foray into LMP1 next year will be with its two most successful teams: de Ferran Motorsports and Patron Highcroft Racing. Both outfits will campaign the ARX-02a in the premier prototype category, while Lowe’s Fernandez Racing will remain in the LMP2 class with an upgraded ARX-01c chassis. A fourth Acura team is yet to be announced, and would be destined to join Fernandez in the P2 ranks.

photo by: John Thawley “This is the logical step in our business plan,” said Erik Berkman, Honda Performance Development president. “The Acura sports-car program has energized HPD’s associates and met numerous objectives during its first two seasons of American Le Mans Series competition. We feel we are fully prepared to take on this new challenge.”

Chassis development will continue with UK-based Wirth Research, but it will be with a clean sheet of paper, unlike the 01a/b, which was based off the Courage LC75 tub. Berkman said no specifications of the new car will be revealed until later this year when the car hits the track for the first time. “Right now it’s running great lap times on the computer,” he joked.

photo by: John Thawley Acura’s decision to elevate de Ferran and Patron Highcroft came mainly on the team’s desires and resources. The Duncan Dayton-led effort has bagged four class victories this lead and are drivers David Brabham and Scott Sharp are in the thick of the P2 drivers’ championship battle. The step up to P1 next year was a logical step for them.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to have been awarded this P1 project. It’s a dream come true for us,” Dayton said. “I met with Scott Atherton about four years ago and mapped out a strategy to hit some milestones along the way, and this is the latest we’ve hit on target. We’re really pleased to have this opportunity.

“I have to also thank Robert Clarke, who took a big gamble on Highcroft in signing us with AGR and Fernandez a couple of years ago. It was a gamble that a lot of people thought was misplaced at the time, but as I said to him in a letter when he retired, his faith in our organization and ability to deliver has motivated us every single day. It’s been a relentless pursuit of excellence in trying to live up to the trust he put in us.”

photo by: John Thawley De Ferran Motorsports is a fresh face to the Series but has already put solid results. A debut podium at Salt Lake City and an overall pole position at Mid-Ohio has put de Ferran and co-driver Simon Pagenaud as constant race contenders. Just last week, de Ferran looked to be on his way to his first class victory but came up one lap too short on fuel. But this announcement has turned around their attitudes.

“I can hardly stop smiling,” de Ferran said. “I’m super excited about this program. We are very young operation but this is yet another step in a very long relationship I have with HPD. We enjoyed very much this year working on the Acura Motorsports program. We have been able to contribute some to the whole program, and that’s for sure our intention next year. It’s an important step into the highest category of sports car racing. We’re very, very pleased.”

There was no mention of Andretti Green Racing, Acura’s fourth current team in the P2 ranks. Rumors have circulated suggesting that this effort will not return to the Series in 2009, although that has yet to be confirmed.

Hybrid Power for Corsa Zytek

Shortly before Acura’s big announcement this afternoon, Corsa Motorsports made news of its own. The Steve Pruitt-owned effort unveiled plans to enter a hybrid-electric-powered Zytek 07S in the LMP1 category, starting at the Petit Le Mans in October. The team will compete as a factory team, with its main focus planned on the 2009 season. Johnny Mowlem and Gunnar Jeannette will handle the driving duties in the unique car.

photo by: Zytek Motorsport“I am truly excited about this opportunity with Zytek,” Pruitt said. “Not simply because Zytek constructs one of the best Le Mans prototype cars, but because of the technological relevance this car represents as society looks to the world’s need for global energy reform.  The LMP1 chassis will be fitted with a full hybrid system – one that is untried in the harsh conditions of endurance racing.  If it proves successful, it will transcend motorsports by its social and technical relevance.  Bringing such technology forward in a safe, reliable and competitive manner is a true challenge.” 

The car (codenamed Q10) will use the revolutionary KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) currently being tested in Formula One. This recovery system will take energy from the rear wheels under braking and transfer it to lithium-ion batteries stored in the car. Then, with a push of a button, a 35kw electric motor will turn on and provide extra power. Pruitt estimated that it could produce 50 more horsepower to compliment the power made by the Zytek 4.5-liter V8 engine, which will run on E10 fuel.

photo by: John Thawley Hybrid technology is nothing new to the sports car racing scene, as in 1998, Zytek worked with Panoz Motor Sports to develop the Panoz Q9 Hybrid, which also utilized an electric engine, but with more battery storage. The philosophy behind the new Q10 is to have less battery capacity in order to keep it at or near the minimum weight (900kg).

“We are delighted that, on the 10th anniversary of the Panoz Q9 hybrid Le Mans car, we have been able to resurrect the project with the help of Steve Pruitt and Corsa Motorsports,” said Bill Gibson, Zytek CEO.  “Obviously, our technology has progressed rapidly over this period and our new car encompasses these advances.”

Mowlem said the electric motor will be able to produce about eight seconds of “boost” for every 10 seconds of regeneration through the KERS system. That translates into about two or three-tenths of a second improvement in lap times on typical circuits.

photo by: John Thawley The car will run at Petit Le Mans under a waiver. However, Pruitt said they may or may not have the hybrid technology ready for their debut at Road Atlanta, as its main focus set on the 2009 season. He said the project is a work in progress and will continue to evolve during the off-season.

“This is a landmark announcement not just in the American Le Mans Series but for North American motorsport in general,” said ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton. “We have said for some time that our platform which encourages manufacturers to develop new technologies and relevant automotive innovation is ideally suited for the challenges the auto industry faces. And as concerns over oil, energy and climate change continue to play prominently in headlines around the world, here is an example that offers a practical, real-world advancement that will be tested and developed in the most extreme environment in the world.”

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