HPD Blog

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Aaron Hale--A Champion Among Us

Aaron Hale is a Senior Engineer in Commercial Motorsports at Honda Performance Development, and along with his duties here he is also an accomplished racecar driver. In just his second season racing a 1991 Honda CRX in land speed racing at Bonneville and El Mirage, Aaron and the Hondata Team set several records and finished their season with the 2016 Southern California Timing Association Points Championship. Below is the story of their impressive season.
2016 was a fast year.... Really fast. Coming off my rookie season in land speed racing in 2015, I was set to continue learning as much as I could about the car and the sport.  The first meet was in May, and our Hondata Team shook out the cobwebs for a record-setting 215.041 mph run down the 1.3-mile El Mirage dry lake bed course.  Unfortunately, as soon as I crossed the finish line, the small 1.5L engine came apart, ejecting a piston and rod through the side of the block.  I did not know it at the time, but this set us up for a championship run.  We stuck in the only other engine we had at the time, which was a 2.0L engine that was not built for the power we were putting down.  We managed the engine through the June and July El Mirage meets, setting records of 201.128 mph in June and 204.180 mph in July, gaining points for each record we set. 

In August was the Bonneville Speed Week. Our goal was to set a record and join the Bonneville 200 MPH Club.  We had to turn down the power due to lack of traction on the loose salt surface, but were still able to put down 2 runs, averaging 227.644 mph on the 5-mile-long course, setting a record and securing my place in the 200 club.  In September we were back at El Mirage with the same engine.  We decided to turn the power back up, subsequently setting a new record of 219.687 mph, and melted a hole through the cylinder head.  At this point, we realized that we were in the top 10 in points with 2 meets left.  We also had a new 2.1L engine, built for big power, and putting us in a different class again.
After some dyno tuning, we were back at El Mirage in October ready to rock. We had over 1000 hp at my foot, and we were ready to use it all.  The run went nearly perfect, and we set a new class record of 224.525 mph, smashing the old record by over 20 mph, and putting us in a tie with the 1st place championship car going into the final meet of the year.  One month later I was lined up right beside the other 1st place car on the starting line.  We wished each other the best luck and got in our cars.  The run went perfect, and we set a new record of 227.813 mph down the 1.3-mile course, beating out the other car, and securing the 2016 SCTA Points Championship. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Maxxis/HPD Score Another B-Spec Win at Sno*Drift Rally

Atlanta, MI. (Jan. 27-28, 2017) – Maxxis renewed its partnership with Honda Performance Development to continue campaigning the 2015 B-Spec Fit developed specifically for Rally competition at the Sno*Drift Rally, the first and second round of the 2017 Rally America National Championship.  In addition, the veteran Honda rally team would field a 2011 Honda CR-Z in the 2WD category as a way to start testing the waters in the overall 2WD field. 

The Maxxis/HPD Rally Team had already built up an impressive four National Championships in B-Spec, as well as some strong finishes in the 2WD Category over the past several years.  Leading into 2017 season, the Ohio-based Rally team has begun plans to expand into outright competition in the highly competitive 2WD category.  The plan is to campaign a new 2017 Honda Civic, but with the car is still being prepared for competition, the only option was to field one of the team’s back-up cars, a 2011 Honda CR-Z.  With James Robinson taking the 2016 season off, there was a lot to do to regain competitiveness in the 2WD field, and to gain some familiarity with the relatively unproven CR-Z platform.    In addition, there was a new driver / co-driver pairing in the 2015 Honda Fit B-Spec Car … Dan McCarron and Matt Blake.  The newcomers to the B-Spec Fit have had a few years of rally experience at the regional level, but this would be their first outing in National Competition.   All in all, the first two rounds of the Rally America National Championship would prove to be exciting for the Maxxis / HPD Rally Team!

“It’s very exciting to be back in a Rally car,” stated James Robinson, Honda engineer and driver for Maxxis/HPD. “It was very relaxing to have a year off from competition, but I can easily see that we’ll have our work cut out for us.  Everyone has gotten so much faster in 2WD, and we have some very quick looking newcomers that we’ll have to keep our eyes on!”

The Sno*Drift Rally is set in the middle of the picturesque forests of Michigan, making it one of the most unforgettable and challenging rounds in the National Championship. The unpredictable winter weather could mean conditions anywhere from sheer ice, to mud and water or, most preferably, deep powdery snow.  Sno*Drift takes advantage of the rugged terrain of Montmorency County and continues to live up to its reputation as a real driver’s event. It challenges 2WD competitors to find the best way to keep the cars moving quickly on the treacherous winter roads. 

“In 2015, we were able to get a first place in B-Spec at Sno*Drift, and a second place in 2WD,” Robinson explained, “with the fact that I’ve been out of the car for 15 months, though, my priorities this weekend have shifted from a podium finish to just getting some valuable points in 2WD and trying to stay out of the ditches!”

With six stages to contest on the opening day, the CR-Z and the B-Spec Fit team set out to establish a strong pace against the competition.  “We’ve got a super tough field here in B-Spec, so we’ll have a tough job ahead of us to get on the podium,” McCarron noted at the first service of the day.  “The conditions are fantastic, though, so we’re going to go as fast as we can!”

By the end of the first day, the HPD / Maxxis team was leading B-Spec and was provisionally sitting fourth in 2WD.  “We’re working hard to keep up with the 2WD national competitors, but overall, I am very happy with how our day is shaping up,” stated Robinson at the end of Day 1.  “Our teammates in B-Spec are doing a great job and adapting well to the tough conditions.”

Moving into the second day of competition, the B-Spec Fit continued to lead in class, but the CR-Z was struggling to keep pace with the faster 2WD National competitors. “We’re having a great run today, with no real issues,” McCarron stated at the end of Stage 11.  As for the CR-Z team, Robinson was feeling the impact of more than a year out the driver’s seat.  “We’re doing our best not to lose touch with the 2WD leaders, but we’re clearly in need of more practice in the car,” he stated.

By the final service, the B-Spec Fit team had a commanding lead in B-Spec.  “We couldn’t be happier with how the day has been going for us, especially for our first National competition,” observed McCarron before the start of the final stages, “We are consistently showing just how reliable and competitive these little B-Spec cars can really be.”

Unfortunately for James Robinson and co-driver John Sharps, the second day of competition would continue to see them slip down the 2WD leaderboard.  “I’m amazed to see just how much faster everyone in 2WD has gotten since 2015,” said Robinson at the event’s conclusion.  “It’s very motivating to me because it shows how much we need to improve our speed and consistency for the remaining rounds of the National championship!”

Coming into the final time control, the Maxxis/HPD team could celebrate with a first-place finish in B-Spec and a sixth-place 2WD finish for the CR-Z Team.

“We had an overall great event,” Robinson said at the awards ceremony. “I’m so impressed with Dan McCarron and Matt Blake to see them get the B-Spec Fit to first place in their first National competition!  In addition, I am very grateful for having John Sharps’ help in getting back into Rally [competition].  I’m very much looking forward to the next round and hopefully, driving a new car.”  

Look for the THR B-Spec Fit and the new THR Rally Civic throughout the 2017 Rally America Series.

About Rally America:
Based in Williston, VT, Rally America, Inc. sanctions the Rally America National Championship, the premier performance rally championship in the United States, and a number of regional rally championships throughout America.
The eight-event Rally America National Championship stops at venues across the country, from Denver, Colorado to Houghton, Michigan. Rally America competitors can reach speeds of well over 100 mph in modified street cars on natural-terrain courses consisting of gravel, dirt or snow over a course covering hundreds of miles.

With an excellent mix of geographically diverse stage rally events, an eight-event Rally America National Championship making up the 2017 Rally America schedule, it’s certainly a busy season.  But 2017 promises to be bigger and better with additional stage rally events now being planned and even more rallycross events added to next year’s event calendar.

There you have it.  Whether you’d like to spectate or compete at a rally or a rallycross, learn more about what it takes to get involved in these fast-growing forms of motorsport. We hope you’ll join us at a Rally America event near you in 2017!

Friday, October 7, 2016

HPD and Maxxis win B-spec at the 2016 Ojibwe Forests Rally

Detroit Lakes, MN. (August 26-27th, 2016) – The 2016 B-Spec National Championship continued with the seventh round at Ojibwe Forests Rally, where Maxxis and Honda Performance Development traveled with their 2015 B-Spec Fit to again contest the B-Spec class.

At the conclusion of the New England Forest Rally, the Maxxis/HPD Rally Team was narrowly in second place in the season-long B-Spec championship. The team of Keanna Erickson-Chang and Ole Holter in their B-spec Ford Fiesta would be sure to keep up their momentum going into Ojibwe Forests Rally, so the Maxxis/HPD team would need to focus on picking up its pace and ensuring the car wouldn’t suffer from any mechanical failures.

“We’re really happy to be here at the Ojibwe Forests Rally,” stated Jordan Guitar, Honda engineer and driver for the Maxxis/HPD Team. “We came away from the New England Forest Rally (NEFR) with a bit of damage to the front shock towers and our brake system, but luckily we were able to make repairs. Right now, we are one point behind in the B-Spec Championship, and with Keanna and Ole running very quick stage times, this should be a great event to watch!”

Ojibwe Forests Rally stages are known to be quite technically challenging. Some areas are fast and flowing, while others are tight and twisty, with varying surfaces from gravel to sand. Day 1 would consist of three stages, run twice each. The Maxxis/HPD team began Stage 1 with a bit of caution, trying to feel how the repairs to the Fit would hold up over some of the rougher sections in the stage. The sun had set by Stage 3, so the remaining stages would be run at night. After a quick service, the Fit team turned up the pace a bit for the remaining three stages of the day. As the teams came to the finish, the Fit had built up a two minute, 20-second lead in B-Spec, and was narrowly in third place in 2WD.

“The stages today were a lot of fun,” noted Guitar after the finish of Day 1. “The second time through, the stages were pretty rutted, but the Fit and the Maxxis tires are holding up really well.”

“We are in a good spot heading into Day 2,” said Brian Penza, co-driver for the Maxxis/HPD Team, “but we’ll have to keep up our momentum to try and catch the 2WD cars and stay in front of the B-Spec field.”

Day 2 began with rain on the radar and eight stages to tackle. On the first stage of the day, 2WD competitors Steve LaRoza and Alison LaRoza in their Fiesta ST immediately overtook the Maxxis/HPD Team to regain third place in 2WD. Over the next two stages, the Fit pushed to keep up with them, as well as distance itself from its B-Spec competitors. “The last few stages were really amazing,” commented Guitar at service. “The Fit is handling these roads very well. We’re running very close in time with our competitors, making for a very exciting rally.”

Just after exiting service, en route to the next round of stages, the weather turned to a light rain, then to an intense downpour, combined with heavy hail. While only lasting a few minutes, conditions on the next stage had deteriorated heavily from the first running of the day, featuring a huge amount of standing water, even deeper puddles and very slippery terrain. This caused some difficulty for the team, and all competitors, but the remaining stages weren’t in as rough a shape, so the team was able to keep up the pace and make it to the final two stages, to be held on the streets of Detroit Lakes.

“Stage 10 was intense,” noted Penza before the start of the street stages. “It was really slippery; luckily, we were able to keep it just tidy enough to finish without any damage to the car … or our egos.”

As the final stage was completed, the Maxxis/HPD was able to finish first in B-Spec by roughly four minutes, and fourth in 2WD. “We’re really happy with this result,” stated Guitar after the finish. “The Fit once again proved just how durable the stock Honda Fit parts can be, and Brian did a great job of co-driving. Keanna and Ole put down some amazing stage times this weekend. It really made for a spectacular race in B-Spec.”

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