How a Street-Smart Supercar Got Ready for the Racetrack

Late in the night at Daytona International Speedway last month, a January chill settles over the usually warm Florida coast that hosts the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race . Just under the halfway point, in the garages and pit lanes of the Acura race teams, something equally discordant has materialized: Nothing. It was quiet, serene even–well, except for the endless Doppler-shifting roar of racecars rocketing past the start/finish line of the legendary racetrack.It was loud, but unusually calm. There was little wrestling with engine components in the garage, scant duct-taping of body panels out in the pits, and a dearth of crazed gesticulating from crew members trying to troubleshoot this or that problem. Cars blazed by all night long, coming in just for tires, gas, and driver swaps. Team Penske and Meyer Shank Racing, driving machines based on Acura street cars, enjoyed a mood lacking in the frantic energy typical of previous decades in racing. The trackside action felt clinical and precise—and sporadic.
Thanks to decades of racing evolution, machines are far more reliable and now can easily go the distance of even the most grueling races. Acura’s engineering A-Team has pushed vehicle reliability even further. “The cars are so good these days that races are now won mostly by strategy,” said Team Penske driver Ricky Taylor, who drives the #7 Acura with teammates Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi.
Stay in the know with our Transportation newsletter. Sign up here !
For Acura, the success of their race cars can be traced to the components and engineering in the famously reliable road cars made for decades by its parent company, Honda, and specifically the Acura NSX supercar. The low-slung, $150,000 hybrid road rocket, which can hit 60 mph in 2.7 seconds on the way to a top speed of 191 mph, has delivered essentially bulletproof reliability in its five years on the road. It’s the Honda of supercars.
While the NSX has been significantly enhanced for racing performance, the GT3 Evo race cars fielded by Meyer Shank Racing is in some ways a “dumbed-down” version of its street counterpart, without the high-tech hybrid, all-wheel-drive system that contributes to the NSX’s status as a supercar.The GT3 engine, according to Acura, is a direct carryover from the one in the production car, with few modifications. The electric motors that give the NSX its uniquely advanced AWD capability have been removed. (Regulations in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship stipulate rear-drive only and don’t allow hybrid engines.) Also, at the Anna, Ohio, factory, a few holes are drilled into the block of the 3.5-liter, twin turbo race engine for an element unnecessary in the hybrid version—an alternator, to supply electricity to the car’s onboard systems.
The reliability and longevity of the engine are essential to its success, says Meyer Shank team owner Mike Shank. “The cool thing about this car that the engine rolls off the assembly line in Ohio, has a couple of little outside machining bits done to it and the computer reflashed, then we stick it straight in the racecar,” he says. “Then it runs 10,000 miles. It’ll stay in the car until we get about halfway through the season, running at race speeds almost constantly. But we don’t have to worry about the engine.”
The GT3, developed by Acura Motorsports and Honda Performance Development (HPD), won the championship in its class for Meyer Shank Racing last year. While the engine is barely changed, the cars themselves are much looser interpretations of the production NSX,, and the insides look more like a science fair project than a production NSX. The GT3 uses the same space frame chassis as the NSX, but beyond that, it’s all racecar.