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David Malsher-Lopez

Albuquerque expects Acura’s Long Beach struggles to continue

Albuquerque has twice won the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s round supporting IndyCar’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, but at that time he was driving for Action Express Racing in a Cadillac DPi-V.R, a type yet to be defeated at the 1.968-mile street course.

Although Acura Team Penske won pole at Long Beach in 2018 and ’19, and Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya earned a win for the same team at Detroit, generally the turbocharged ARX-05s have been known to struggle on bumpy temporary tracks compared with the naturally aspirated DPi-V.Rs.

Albuquerque, now into his second year racing the WTR Acura with Ricky Taylor, says there’s not much that can be done in the car’s fifth and final season of competition to help boost its chances on street courses, and says that’s as much due to chassis behavior as engine characteristics.

“I’m sorry but I think the gap is so big there is not much we can do about it,” said the 36-year-old Portuguese ace in response to’s questioning. “I know how the Cadillac acts, I know how the Acura acts, but I think for this specific track, the deficit is too much.

“If we go down to facts, I think that last year our fastest lap the whole weekend was eight-tenths off, and that was in qualifying. And trust me, if you had seen my qualifying replay, I was scratching all the walls, I was trying my best. But there is a limit…

“The fight will be to stay ahead of the other Acura [run by Meyer Shank Racing] to minimize the loss of points, and hope that some of [the Cadillacs] have some problems.”

The 2021 edition of the 100-minute race ran without caution periods, and the WTR Acura finished 50sec behind the winning car. As Albuquerque recalled, in neither qualifying nor race trim could his ARX-05’s fastest times come within eight-tenths of the best times set by the winning AXR Cadillac of Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr.

“An Acura car has a chassis made by Oreca, which was especially made to be on WEC circuits, which is flat circuits,” observed Albuquerque, “so when it’s flat, when we go to Laguna, the aerodynamics is superior to the Cadillac, I really believe that, in terms of drag and aero flow.

"But then when we go to bumpy parts… the car just was not made for that. They don’t even have street circuits in Europe for WEC, so whenever we get bumpy, we cannot put the power down, and in slow corners it’s even another struggle – two points combined in one track.

“And I do remember when Acura did very well with pole in Long Beach, it was due to a massive [break] in BoP [Balance of Performance]. It’s because the Oreca chassis – the more you take weight off the car, the more the car performs on a single lap on new tires. When you have good tires you have good grip and if the car is light, the more you can traction it out [of tight corners] so you stay away out of traction control.

“But as we go to the race we add more weight [full fuel load] which makes the car more lazy, we go more slowly into corners, we get more into the mechanical grip of the car and then you get the tire degradation which means you then starting [depending] too much on the t.c.…

“When I was with Cadillac, we knew if a Cadillac was within three-tenths in qualifying, the race was going to be even, because the Cadillac has a greater operating window…

“There is no secret, to be honest. It’s just plain and simple. So we need to survive on the tracks where we are not as good and then move on and maximize when we are good. After Long Beach, for sure Laguna is a track where we are better. But I think the gap between those two … In Long Beach we are really far off, and in Laguna we are better but they are not really far off. They are not beyond half a second.

“I think the best way to analyze that is looking exactly at lap times, average stints and race pace.”

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