This weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona will see the international debuts for both the Acura NSX GT3 and Lexus RC F GT3 cars, in what’s been an intensive, and strikingly different development paths for the two manufacturers in the rollouts of its new GT machinery.
The latest manufacturers in the ever-growing GT3 platform will go up against the established likes of Audi, Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Mercedes-AMG, for what’s shaping up to be the most competitive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season to date in the GT Daytona category.
According to Paul Gentilozzi, who’s heading up the 3GT Racing team that will give the new Lexus its 24-hour race debut, there’s undoubtably a high level of expectation involved.
“I think it’s a combination of excitement and apprehension,” he told Sportscar365. “When you represent a program of some size, as ours is, you worry more about failure than you do success because you don’t want to fail.
“I think there’s more self-induced pressure than anything.”
The pressure to perform is even greater with the second go-around of the RC F, after the Japanese manufacturer opted to mothball its underperforming first-generation model last year and build an all-new GT3 car that would better fit within the FIA’s performance window.
The revised car has already gotten off to a promising start, winning in its race debut in VLN9 in October with the Farnbacher Racing team, with Gentilozzi’s Michigan-based squad having taken delivery of its first chassis shortly after.
With extensive mileage already under their belts, Gentilozzi said he’s been pleased with the team effort between Toyota Technocraft, Toyota Racing Development in Japan and the U.S.-based TRD in the RC F GT3’s development.
“You have three different cultures you have to assimilate,” he said. “The TRD guys are very involved in NASCAR. But they have a lot of road racing knowledge in a lot of the people in their program.
“Steve Hallam is the technical manager and under Steve, who has a lot of Formula One experience, are great guys. They’ve been very open to helping us with the resources they have and helping us learn what we don’t know.
“TTC from Japan, this is their child. We’re really pleased they’re helping us at the level they are.”
Acura, meanwhile, has taken a different approach to the launch of its highly anticipated NSX GT3, which also started life in Japan, but has since seen a varied test program and multi-national involvement.
Italian squad JAS Motorsport, Honda’s World Touring Car Championship partner, was initially tabbed to spearhead the program, before California-based Honda Performance Development took over the project last spring.
“We were not involved from the beginning so we had a quick learning curve to see how the car was and what we needed to do to make it appropriate for IMSA endurance racing,” HPD Race Team Leader Allen Miller told Sportscar365.
“In six month’s time, we’ve had to tackle quite a few things. I’d say we’ve come pretty far with it.”
HPD, known for its championship-winning IndyCar and prototype programs, has had to come to grips with developing a FIA-homologated GT car for the first time, and the limitations that are presented with a production-based car.
Miller said their strategy of testing the NSX GT3 during Pirelli World Challenge events at Mid-Ohio and Utah Motorsports Campus, prior to the FIA’s Balance of Performance test in Ladoux, put them in better position prior to the car’s homologation.
“It’s great to go to a track yourself but you can fool yourself,” he said. “When you’re running the same day and same time as the competition, you get a much better read on what your performance is.
“We’ve dealt with P2 homologations but that’s a whole different program. In previous events, you show up, ‘Here’s our car, check it out, are you happy? Sign it off and you’re done.’
“Here, it’s a whole different process. If we hadn’t gone and run it at Mid-Ohio and Utah, I don’t know if it would have gone as smoothly as it did.”
While the Lexus already made its race debut, Daytona will not only mark the NSX GT3’s first 24-hour race, but maiden race altogether, with the two-car factory supported Michael Shank Racing effort.
The car has racked up more than 6,000 miles in testing so far, with promising results.
“It seems pretty competitive at this point,” Miller said. “Reliability is obviously going to be the key to this race, having been [to Daytona] a few times and knowing you have to finish.
“That’s what we’re focusing on, really. Performance-wise, it’s pretty raceable. We’re quick and we’ll work on making sure we can finish.”
For Gentilozzi, who returns to GT racing after a four-year stint in Prototype Challenge, the level of competition in GTD, which features a 27-car entry for Daytona, has been one of his biggest surprises thus far.
He’s also mindful the class could very well turn into a chess game of Balance of Performance, especially with this year’s increased manufacturer involvement.
“You’re at the mercy of the BoP,” Gentilozzi said. “As the new guys, you can’t expect parity right away.
“We don’t have parity right now but we have faith in Simon [Hodgson, IMSA VP of Competition] and Geoff [Carter, IMSA Sr. Director of Technical Regulations and Compliance] and faith in our manufacturer to make sure that we get a fair BoP.
“In the end, the first race may not have perfection, but eventually it will balance.”
HPD’s Miller, meanwhile, has also set realistic goals for Acura’s maiden outing and the expectations that come with the brand, which has a cult following.
“The number one goal is to finish but we’d like to finish high, with a top-five or top-three,” he said.
“[The NSX] has a huge following from the previous generation. The name is it’s own thing. This has to live up to people’s expectations.
“The new car itself is awesome. Now we have to show that it is.”