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Inside Acura: GT3 Customer Program

A look at Acura’s customer racing GT3 program with program manager Lee Niffenegger…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

While only in its second year of GT3 competition, Acura NSX GT3 program manager Lee Niffenegger believes they’ve made significant gains in both on-track performance and customer support heading into 2019.

The Japanese manufacturer, through its U.S.-based Honda Performance Development arm, saw a successful debut of the Acura NSX GT3 in 2017 with Meyer Shank Racing and RealTime Racing, with wins in both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge.

Shifting to a full customer rollout with the addition of several teams in North America as well as in Europe and Asia, the car has continued to be a regular challenger for wins, and for MSR and Katherine Legge, a GT Daytona class championship contender heading into this weekend’s WeatherTech Championship season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans. 

Niffenegger, who oversees the customer program globally, said HPD’s first mass-produced GT racing project has resulted in the manufacturer initially playing “catch up” to the competition.

“GT3 is a tough market and we’re not an established brand,”  Niffenegger told Sportscar365. “A lot of the brands are on Gen 2 or Gen 2.5 and we’re on Gen 1.

“As the new homologation period begins, everything keeps advancing. We’re just behind the curve a little bit, so we have to establish ourselves as a legitimate GT3 manufacturer.

“We’re starting to have success in ADAC GT Masters, which is probably the most competitive GT3 series in the world and we’re starting to gain more customers in Asia.

“And we’re trying to break into Pirelli World Challenge and hoping we get some customers next year and some more in IMSA. We’re slowly getting there.”

A pair of class victories by Legge in the WeatherTech Championship and fastest race lap in the NSX GT3’s only PWC appearance of the year at Watkins Glen have been among the highlights of the significantly different-looking program compared to last year’s factory-backed operation.

However, Niffenegger believes the first-year MSR and RealTime programs helped put Acura and HPD on more equal footing in the highly competitive GT3 marketplace.

“We entered at a time of immense struggle within the GT3 community,” he said.

“Stephane Ratel, he’s talked about how it needs to get back to more customer-based racing. We received some criticism with the way we started last year. But that’s what we felt we had to do to catch up.

“We learned a lot about our car and a lot about how to service the customers vs. if we had gone straight to a customer, it would have been difficult for them and for us.

“For us, it had big benefits and allowed us to catch up to the established GT3 manufacturers. Now we’re finding it is a difficult market and we have to establish our name and customer service.”

Niffenegger said that CJ Wilson Racing, its newest customer in IMSA, has been able to enjoy a “better relationship” due to the manufacturer’s proximity.

While final assembly of the car is made at JAS Motorsport in Italy, the majority of the NSX GT3’s components are all built in Ohio alongside the production car, with HPD also providing trackside support with a parts truck at all IMSA events.

“For a North American customer, I think there’s huge advantages to go with us,” Niffenegger said.

“Our engines are all built here, the space frames. We can repair a crashed space frame in Marysville, Ohio for a GT3 car rather than force someone to take a brand-new one and half to fly one over at great expense.”

Further Customer Growth Expected

Additional North American customers are expected for 2019, with Niffenegger confirming discussions with prospective teams in both the WeatherTech Championship and PWC, which evolves into the newly named Blancpain GT World Challenge America moniker. 

He believes the performance shown by Mario Farnbacher at Watkins Glen last month has proved the car’s capability in multiple racing environments.

“We were able to show the NSX GT3 to several prospective customers, and show that the car is clearly competitive in the SRO BoP,” Niffenegger said. 

“We had the second fastest lap in Race 1 and scored the fastest lap of Race 2 even after being on the receiving end of contact from a competitor.  

“This was a good demonstration of the capabilities of the car.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

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