Peter Cunningham: Pirelli World Challenge, now in 2014, it's just absolutely exploded

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A transcript from Friday's Honda Media Availability with RealTime Racing's Peter Cunningham, discussing the new Acura Motorsports program in the Pirelli World Challenge.

Moderator: T.E. McHale, Manager Motorsports Communications, American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us for the third of our media briefings for the 2014 racing season. While our earlier briefings in St. Petersburg and Long Beach focused on Honda's activities in the IndyCar Series, today we're going to highlight a program which is scheduled to makes its debut during the Pirelli World Challenge weekend in Detroit May 30th through June 1st.

Our guest today is Peter Cunningham, who, though he may not exactly be a household name to all race fans, owns a résumé which on sheer numbers ranks with the most successful drivers in the sport.

Peter Cunningham, Acura TSX
Peter Cunningham, Acura TSX

Photo by: Mike Geng

In addition to holding the record for most World Challenge driving championships at seven, Peter holds series records for most starts with 232; most race wins with 43; most pole positions with 50; post top three finishes, 118; most top five finishes, 158; most top 10 finishes, 198; and fastest race laps with 28.

He now prepares to take on a new challenge in the GT category of the Pirelli World Challenge where his RealTime Racing team will take on the likes of the Audi R8, the Chevy Corvette, the Dodge Viper, the Lamborghini Gallardo, the Mercedes SLS, Porsche 911 and Ferrari 458 with a brand new HPD developed Acura TLX. The TLX has developed from the production 2,015 Acura TLX by Honda Performance Development, using features HPD chassis and aerodynamic performance parts, will be powered by a direct injected twin turbocharged 3.5 liter V6 engine, developed by HPD from the normally aspirated production TLX luxury sport sedan, will utilize all wheel drive as found in Acura's super handling all wheel drive system.

Peter, thanks for being with us today. Let's open by talking about the status of the TLX program as we sit here this afternoon.

PETER CUNNINGHAM: All right, thanks, everybody, for coming. Definitely we couldn't be more excited about this new TLX, from well before we revealed it at the Detroit Motor Show in its show car trim let's call it, to all of the things that have been going on before and since to prepare it to make its debut at Detroit.

I think when people see this car get unloaded at Detroit, they're going to be impressed with it. The cars that we're racing against are definitely impressive. One other you didn't mention, TE, was the McLaren 12C, which was second quick in that session if things didn't change towards the end.

Just an incredible group of sports cars that we're going to be going up against, and we're going to be doing it in a four door sedan with a pretty big motor in it that's not going to have any problem keeping up in a straight line, and with all of the work that has gone into the whole package we think it's going to handle well and stop well and do a really good job out there, so we can't wait to get out there.

THE MODERATOR: I'm going to ask you to talk a little bit more about the quality of the competition in the GT Series. It's a measure of the strength of World Challenge that so many OEMs field entries in that particular series. You touched on what a challenge it's going to be. Maybe you could expand on that with a few more remarks, just the general strength top to bottom of GT competition in World Challenge.

PETER CUNNINGHAM: You bet. So as far as strength goes, this is the 25th year of the World Challenge, so it's a special anniversary since 1990 when the series began, and RealTime has actually competed at this level in GT for a number of seasons with a good amount of success. We won the championship with the NSX in '97, and we finished second in 2001 and 2002 with a supercharged version of the NSX, and we finished second to the champion Audi RS6 factory effort. So certainly there have always been some pretty cool hotrods going on in the World Challenge GT championship.

Now, in the Pirelli World Challenge, now in 2014, it's just absolutely exploded. All those cars that we've already talked about, and another one occurs to me that will make its debut at Road America, the Bentley GT3 car with Dyson. I think they've run a few races in the past, so they should be pretty good.

So it's just absolutely exploding, and there's a lot of competition out there for Pirelli World Challenge, but I think a lot of people are seeing the format of the series and appreciating the venues that we go to, tagging along with the IndyCars at many of them. When we're not with IndyCars we're with NASCAR at Road America Motorsports Park, and Miller Motorsports Park so there's just a lot of really cool things.

But the trademark of the series is the standing starts and the fact that it's a sprint series. It's not something that you have to try to as a spectator sit there for a long time to try to understand and the pit stops and the complexity of that. I'm sure that's an intriguing part of the sport, too, but certainly that is a different of the World Challenge, standing start and all out sprint for 50 minutes. You're welcome to make as many pit stops as you'd like but you're probably not going to do very well if you do that.

Given that you are starting in the middle of the season and will miss the first three race weekends, what is the goal for 2014? Well, you know, we're looking at the bright side here. We would have certainly liked to have been ready to go at the beginning of the season, but with the late start that we even got to commence the project and the complexity of what it takes to build not a GT3 car, and for the record, all the cars in World Challenge GT are GT3 cars with just a few exceptions, most notably the Cadillac team and now the Acura TLX program.

But as a yardstick, we certainly would like to see the podium this year. We'd like to get a win this year, and the silver lining that we're trying to hang our hat on is because we're not in the points championship, we have no hope to really do anything there this season, maybe if we can come in and steal some of the glory here in the second half of the year once we sort things out, the competition might not be quite as angry as they would otherwise, and then the plan is in 2015 to have a two car program with an all out assault in 2015 to try to do something.

And then one other point about missing these first few races, since RealTime racing started competing in World Challenge at the beginning of the 1993 season, we've never missed a race, we've never had less than two entries in each of the races. Sometimes we've had five or more entries in these races. The last few years it's been at least two. But now as of St. Petersburg this year, that's the first time we've missed being able to go to a race since we began with the program in 1993. So we're very eager to get this thing up and running and back out there.

How long has this program been in the making? I would say that we first heard wind about the idea of it a year ago. But we didn't get a green light to really get going until September, so very late. To build a car in such a short period of time is an incredible challenge, and it's definitely taken longer than we'd like, but it's really coming together now. We see how it's going to work out to get us there, so we're excited about that.

One of the problems to even get the program going in the beginning was the availability of these cars because the TLX as you know is not in production yet, so the cars that we started with, to even begin to take them apart to try to build them into a race car was very late, and they were very it was very difficult to get parts out of the factory because they needed them for crash testing and other evaluation, so they weren't so willing to free up those first couple of parts to even get us going. So that was certainly another challenge.

How much testing has been done, or do you anticipate doing, with this new car? Well, for the record the car hasn't turned its first wheel yet and won't for another few weeks, but there's an intensive plan to do some shake down running at some developmental testing of the different systems prior to the load in date in Detroit, but we've been very impressed. We haven't researched going to a track that's lit at night, but we do plan on trying to get as much time as possible to make sure that we're well sorted before we get to Detroit.

Was the general lack of parts the biggest obstacle to overcome? Well, I guess the answer is that was the first obstacle, but there have been many others since. We're relying on a lot of outside vendors for all different kinds of componentry that's going into this car, and the lead times on some of this stuff is a lot longer than you want it to be. When you want to order an Acura part you can order it at 3:00 in the afternoon, and the next morning it's there in your FedEx truck, but that's not always the case when you're building drive shafts or racing transmissions or the other 11,000 parts that are going into the car. Definitely time is the biggest challenge to try to compress that because we can fix a lot but we didn't add more hours to any day.

You will be racing against a lot of exotic super cars, do you kind of see yourself as perhaps maybe a giant killer? I'll let you know after we kill some of them, but definitely it's going to be interesting. Certainly the Cadillac doesn't quite fit into the same box as some of the other cars that it's racing against, and it's done pretty well. So we're not afraid of that. Like I say, we've competed in this class before. We're confident of the power that this three and a half liter twin turbo engine is going to make, so we just don't think that they can do anything to limit us as far as horsepower is concerned. It's just a matter of the rest of the package. We've got a lot of experience. We know what it takes, so we're hopeful that we can figure it out and be very competitive with those guys.

Honda Racing

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