Acura has launched the car it will campaign in the American Le Mans Series LMP1 category for the first time during pre-season testing at Sebring.

After two seasons competing in the LMP2 class, Acura will graduate to the premier category in 2009 with the ARX-02a, a car that bares a resemblance to its predecessor but features a number of significant changes.

To be campaigned by the Patron Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports teams this season, the prototype features an aggressive new front-end, revised side-sills and a unique rear wing.

It will be powered by a 620bhp aluminium alloy V8 engine, powered by unleaded fuel, unlike the diesel Audi R10TDI that has won its class for the last three seasons.

"We are very excited for the debut of the new Acura ARX-02a sports car," said John Mendel, American Honda Motor Company's executive vice president of auto operations. "Less than three years ago, we announced our intention to enter the American Le Mans Series under the Acura brand. We had always planned to compete in the ultimate sports-car category, LMP1. Now, it is a reality.

"We had six class wins and two overall victories last year in LMP2 competition. After those successful performances, we believe we can enjoy further success in the top American Le Mans Series division in the future.

"Our new entries are beautiful, and I am proud of the HPD and Wirth Research designers and engineers who are involved in this project. I want to thank them for their hard work. We look forward to seeing the de Ferran and Patr?n Highcroft teams in action."

Although Acura only confirmed their LMP1 plans last year, the team insist it was always their intention to compete at the highest level eventually, with Honda Performance Development president Erik Berkman revealing the car had been designed alongside their LMP2 machine.

"We were working on the Acura LMP1 car while we were racing in the LMP2 class," he said. "We understand the requirements of moving to the LMP1 class. It has been very challenging. Working with an all-new chassis and engine can be a daunting task for any manufacturer and team. But HPD and Wirth Research stepped up to the challenge."