HPD Blog

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Project FF Diary 3

[This is the third in a series blog posts detailing the Layton Racing/Quantum Mechanics Honda FF program, as we convert a Kent-engined Van Diemen to Honda Fit power and run a season of SCCA National Racing. It should be fun, and you’re welcome to follow our progress – Dan Layton.]

Yeah, I’m going to drive the car some this year (Hey! It’s MY money that bought it and will run it). But I’m 50+ years old, and my Honda IndyCar PR commitments will make it impossible for me to run more than three or four National races this year. So, we’re going to try to find someone young and fast to put in the car for those SCCA weekends when I’m doing my IndyCar thing, and we’ve already had some encouraging talks in that direction.

In addition, Quantum has bought a second Van Diemen RF98 FF2000 that we plan to convert into another Honda FF. It has joined the “Winter R&R” project lineup at the shop along with my car, Quantum’s Van Diemen FF2000 Zetec (which is slated to run the SCCA East Coast Pro Series in 2010), and a pair of Lola Sports 2000s. For those of you keeping score, that’s three Van Diemens and two Lolas, all in various stages of “refresh & rebuild”. It’s going be a busy winter in Oklahoma City.

But first things first. Within an hour of arriving at Quantum and unloading my Van Diemen, it was time to start taking it apart for inspection and replacement of any broken down and/or worn-out bits.

The good news is there were no major, nasty, expen$ive surprises. One of the tri-pod joints was junk, a couple of bearings and bushings were worn out (in the gearbox, steering rack, etc) but all-in-all, it was just about what you’d expect from a car of this age and mileage. I’ve got to compliment Jim Geithner, the car’s previous owner, who was completely honest in his dealings with me; and accurate in his descriptions of the car, its history and condition. It was a pleasure doing business with him.

Wendell DID find evidence of a pretty big hit to the rear of the car at some point, most likely from the period when it was a Pro FF2000 car. That will require some repair work – and perhaps some time on the shop surface plate. But again, that’s no great shock for a car with around 35 total races in two separate pro series on its resume.

The guys also pulled the engine out right away, and it sold almost immediately for $5,500, much faster than I had anticipated. I didn’t even need to advertise it, word-of-mouth in the FF community got it done. I love it when a plan comes together.

That’s about a wrap for now. The next edition of this blog will follow in January with a recap of the chassis R&R process and our finalized race schedule for 2010. I’ll be heading back down to the shop again shortly to "help out" and make a seat for my old, fat, self. The Fit engine and chassis kit parts should arrive in time for February’s report and – assuming the Honda FF is approved for SCCA competition starting in March – we’re aiming to debut at the March 5-7 Double National race weekend at Texas World Speedway in College Station.

With five cars (two FFs, an FF2000 and two S2000s) in various stages of winter rebuilds, the Quantum shop is a busy place in December. The "Kent" engine seen here in my car? Already pulled out, inspected and sold!!!

Project FF Diary 2

[This is the second in a series blog posts detailing the Layton Racing/Quantum Mechanics Honda FF program, as we convert a Kent-engined Van Diemen to Honda Fit power and run a season of SCCA National Racing. It should be fun, and you’re welcome to follow our progress – Dan Layton. ]

Step 2: Take it apart and see what you REALLY bought…

Getting the car from New Paltz, NY (just outside New York City) to its new home at Quantum in Oklahoma City – on Thanksgiving weekend no less – was a bit of an adventure in itself. But that’s a story for another time.

Run by the father/son duo of Wendell and Slade Miller, Quantum Mechanics has been around for decades and always does a great job. They’ve got experience running everything from SCCA Club Racing programs to Pro Sports 2000 and Pro FF2000, plus Vintage and even a USAC Midget effort(!).

The cars they run are competitive, safe and reliable – exactly what you want from a partner/prep shop. We approach racing with a similar mindset, and we both see the long-term potential in developing a strong FF program and building Quantum into a "next step team" for karting graduates.

The Van Diemen’s new home: Quantum Mechanics in Oklahoma City, OK.,
Because that’s one of our goals for this project: establish the team as a multi-car Honda FF effort and started heading some talented kids up the racing ladder towards IndyCars.

Monday, December 21, 2009

HPD Formula F - FAQ v1.2

Formula F - Frequently Asked Questions v1.2

  • What happens to the $500 deposit for the Formula F Kit?
    The $500 deposit request was generated in an effort to help us plan the number of bespoke parts to kick off... Sumps/Manifolds/etc. The deposit does not lock the customer into the purchase of a particular level of assembly. The deposit can be applied to a purchase of any of the kit levels that we offer:

  1. Entire FF engine+chassis installation.

  2. FF engine kit (OE Fit crate engine + bespoke FF engine kit).

  3. Bespoke FF part kit (above, minus Fit crate engine).

  • Will the gearbox input shaft be included in the Kit? What about the clutch slave cylinder?
    Yes, input shafts come with the chassis kit. Clutch slave cylinder will be included also. The DB-1 will be a complete slave cylinder with throw out bearing; the DB-6 will have a spacer behind the original slave cylinder. The Van Diemen is in process.

  • What is included in the Swift DB-1 Formula F kit?
  1. OE Fit crate engine; assembled.

  2. Honda bespoke FF engine parts kit which is required to convert the OE Fit engine into the Formula F unit. The kit consists of Throttle, Intake Manifold, Sump/Pump, etc. (Conversion does not require changes/adjustments to the engine's internal moving/reciprocating engine parts.)

  3. DB-1 chassis installation kit; parts needed to install the Formula F engine into a Swift DB-1 chassis. These parts include Mounts, Hoses, Adapter, Input Shaft, Lower Engine Panel Body Blisters, etc.

  • How will the fuel system be set up? What modifications do I need to do to my fuel cell?
    The fuel system will be a dead head type. A high pressure pump and regulator will be in the cell with only the main feed, vent and electrical connector exiting the cell. You will need to drill a third whole in the filler plate for the connector and remove some foam to make room for the pump and regulator.

  • Will I have to modify my bodywork?
    The Swift DB-1 and DB-6 will require the addition of blisters on the lower right and left engine covers. These will be supplied in the Kit. Slight modification of the internal air box area may be required. Preliminary work on the Van Diemen is showing the need for a new engine cover.

  • What complete conversion kits will HPD be supporting?
    The Swift DB-1, DB-6 and 1999 to present Van Diemen.

  • Will HPD supply the dash with the kit?
    A dash will not be supplied with the kit. We will supply an engine harness, chassis harness and ECU.

  • How do I know what dash will work with the Fit engine?
    The harness will include a CAN breakout for dash and one for an analog tachometer. The ECU will use the Bosch MS4 protocol. Check your dash manufacture for compatibility with the Bosch MS4.

  • What sensors will be standard on the engine?
    Engine speed (RPM), Cam Phase, Throttle position, Manifold air pressure, Water temperature, Air temperature, Wideband Lambda sensor and Oil Pressure switch. Optional sensors will be available for Oil Temperature, Oil Pressure and Fuel Pressure. The engine will be delivered with the stock oil pressure sender which will operate an LED on the dash.

  • Will the ECU have sensor diagnostics?
    Yes, there will be a breakout for an LED light box that will flash codes for diagnostics.

  • What is the power curve of the Fit engine?
    This will be determined by the SCCA at a dyno test at the end of January. The SCCA will determine the restrictor size at that time.

  • Will the engine and Kits come with an assembly manual?
    Yes. The kits will include a Honda Fit service manual, an HPD produced manual for installing the engine kit parts onto the stock Fit engine and an HPD produced manual for chassis installation. There will be a trouble shooting section and dash connector information included.

  • Will I need to modify the frame to properly install the Fit?
    For the HPD supplied kits, no frame modifying will be required.

  • Where can I get a price list?
    The price list for Swift DB-6, Van Diemen and individual parts will be released at the beginning of the year. The Swift DB-1 kit is $11,750.00.

  • Will any junk yard Fit engine work?
    You will need to be sure that it is a 2009 model: L15A7. You can tell by the single exhaust port in the head.

  • Do I have to run the Honda Fit Alternator?
    HPD will supply the kit engines with a smaller Denso unit. This alternator and the stock unit will both be legal for use.

  • What is the weight of the engine?
    The weight of the engine is 221 lbs. This includes the starter, small alternator and the clutch assembly.

  • What oil pan skid plate is used?
    Use the stock Swift skid block and hardware.

  • What's the best way to remove the oil pan locator dowels without damaging them?
    We use a Snap-on style dowel puller set. If you have a slide hammer and small internal bearing pullers, that would work as well. Worst case, try some local heat and use vise grips, (you can polish out slight damage).

  • Will a power curve graph be published to establish gearing, shift points etc.?
    We are trying to setup a database for gearing recommendations, however this may take a while. In the meantime, you can gear for a 6,600 or 6,700 RPM shift point. With the 27.5 restrictor you will probably notice the power drop off around 6,400 RPM. The rev limiter will hit at 7,000 RPM.

  • The Racing Line part list shows 2 different spark plugs for the L15A7 engine (Denso, NGK). Which ones are appropriate for the racing application?
    Our testing used the NGK specification, however either spark plug would be fine to use.

  • Is the ACG pulley field replaceable such that we'd only need a spare ACG (Part # 31100F21SA20) or will it require a complete ACG & pulley for it to be useable as a spare in the field?
    Yes, the pulley is field replaceable.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Project Honda FF Diary 1

[Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts detailing the Layton Racing/Quantum Mechanics Honda FF program, as we convert a Kent-engined Van Diemen to Honda Fit power and run a season of SCCA National Racing. It should be fun, and you’re welcome to follow our progress – Dan Layton.]

As someone who began racing in FF with an Elden Mk 10, w-a-a-a-a-a-a-y back in 1979 (special bonus points for any of you who actually remember what a Elden Mk10 was – hint: not so good), I was extremely enthusiastic when Honda announced plans to enter the FF arena with the 1.5-liter Fit engine.

So enthused, in fact, that I raised my hand and said “I’ll buy one and run it,” even before the program was officially approved by the SCCA. Ready, fire, aim…

So, over the last couple of months, I’ve re-acquainted myself with the class and cars (I last raced FF in 1997-2001), developed a budget, bought a car, and partnered with a veteran race team to prepare and run FF in 2010.

But first, it’s full-disclosure time. As some of you already know, I work with Honda in the company’s IndyCar Series program, as part of the Public Relations effort, and have done so since 1995. But I am employed as an independent contractor, and this program is separate from my IndyCar work.

So, for purposes of “Project Honda FF”, I’m a customer, like anyone else. I’ve placed my own orders for the engine, engine kit and chassis kit, and made my own deposit. Ours will be an independent team, on the same footing with all the others who choose to go the Honda FF route.

However, I’m not a novice at this game. Indeed, I’ve been an SCCA racer, on and off, for more than 20 years, in a variety of classes including FF, Formula Atlantic and endurance racing. I even made a stab at “going pro” in the mid-1980s. Most recently, I’ve been running a tube-frame, rear-wheel-drive Honda CRX-Si a couple of times a year in the GT-Lite class.

I’m passionate about the sport, and have always believed that FF – a class with no aerodynamics, no ground effects, and more “grip than grunt” (handling over power) – is THE best place for a young racer to learn chassis setup, tire management and race craft, before moving on to the more sophisticated classes.

Once upon a time, nearly everyone who wanted to be a professional racer started out in FF, and fields of 30 or more cars were the norm. But, for a variety of reasons, that hasn’t been the case for some time now. I truly believe that Honda’s participation in FF will help rebuild the class and once again make it the best place to start an open-wheel racing career, in addition to making it more fun and affordable for “regular” SCCA club racers.

With all that in mind, it was time to get started.

Step 1: Buy a car.

As I mentioned earlier, this is my own project, so I don’t have anything like an unlimited budget. To make it work with the funding I have available, I need to be able to put a competitive car on track for about $30,000. Hey, it was either this or a buy new Honda CR-V, and my current one’s still got plenty of miles left in it…

So, the search for a good FF chassis began. A quick look at recent SCCA national race and Runoffs results soon made it apparent there are several competitive chassis available in decent numbers: the Swift DB-6, Piper DF3/DF5. Citation 94/95F and current-model Van Diemens.

All are modern, wide-track designs, with pushrod suspensions and stiff, well-engineered chassis. Plus, I fit in them. That’s not a small [pun intended] consideration, as I am 6-foot-2, 195 lbs – too bloody big, really, to be a race car driver. That fact alone eliminated the Swift DB-1 from my search list. Even though it’s still very competitive – and the most popular FF chassis out there – I simply can’t fit in the cockpit without beating up my knees, elbows, shoulders, etc.

The newer Swift DB-6 works, since it has a longer cockpit than the DB-1 and has done away with the shin-bashing front rocker-arm suspension in favor of pushrods. The problem with the DB-6 was price. The nicer cars out there were all priced in the mid-30s or higher – out of my range by the time I factored in winter rebuild costs. Meanwhile, the “project” cars, most priced in the high ‘teens, all needed TOO much in replacement parts and labor to make them race-ready. I would’ve ponied up more than 40k by the time the car was on track. And it wouldn’t do me any good to build up a nice car and then have no cash left to run it…

I couldn’t find any used Piper DF3s or DF5s for sale (and a brand-new one would be a budget-buster). A shame, because it does appear to be a VERY well-engineered car. After some thought, I also eliminated Citations. They are quite competitive (ask Scott Rubenzer, who won the Runoffs in one this year) and very strong, but are a bit labor-intensive to maintain, and I have no real experience working with them.

But I do know Van Diemens very well, having previously raced both an RF86 FF and an RF98 FF2000, and I have a ton of respect for designer Dave Baldwin. There is great parts support and the car is very competitive in FF. There were also several for sale, and I ended up buying the second one I inspected.

Originally an RF98 FF2000 Pro Series car, it was later converted to FF specification and run in the professional Ontario (Canada) FF Series. The logbook showed only 7 races – and no crashes – since being turned into an FF, and it hadn’t been run at all since 2004.

The chassis floor was carpenter’s-level straight, the fuel cell was good, and there were no leaks anywhere in the oil/water systems. The transmission had been blueprinted, with an aluminum differential; 3-way adjustable Penske/Stimola dampers were fitted, along with a data-logging AIM-3 dash. Sweet. The engine was a fresh Marcovicci-Wenz unit (“dyno time only”).

The asking price was $18,500, and it came with plenty of spares: a second full set of wishbones and pushrods, a half-dozen alternate spring sets, and some miscellaneous bits. The only thing it lacked was spare wheels and gear sets. After sitting for so long, it also would need to be taken apart for the surface rust to be cleaned off and all the wheel bearings, hydraulics, tri-pod joints, etc. inspected and replaced as needed. Some quick, in-my-head math on what all that would cost, a bit of haggling over the price, a check, a handshake and the car was mine.
Oh, one final thing. The paint was in great condition, no chips, crazing or fading anywhere. But the color … um, err … well, see for yourself:

Here’s the Van Diemen as purchased. Yeah, I know, it’s ORANGE. “House of Color Dayglo Orange”, to be specific. I call it “highway-cone orange”.

Monday, December 14, 2009

PRI Blog – Day 3 (12/12/09)

Sorry it took me so long to get to writing Day 3’s blog. It was a long night on Saturday (the last day of the show). PRI representatives forewarn all exhibitors that it could take as many as four hours after the 5 p.m. close of the show to return all crates in order for exhibitors to pack up their displays. Well, we at Honda Racing/HPD received our crates at 8:30 p.m. EST, a mere 3½ hours after the close of the show. I guess we shouldn’t complain; it could have taken another 30 minutes!

We passed the time by tearing down the display and prepping everything as much as we could, prior to packing it all up. We ordered pizza, ate and waited. While waiting, I decided to check out some what-I-thought-were abandoned booths (Many people leave the convention center for a few hours to go eat until their crates are returned). As I approached a neighboring booth and was about to enter its meeting room to compare it to ours, I found a handful of shoeless men sleeping on the floor. Luckily, I discovered these exhausted exhibitors prior to actually entering their area, but boy, would I have been a surprise to them! I hope they got some rest, because they were still packing up when we left the convention center at 9:30 p.m.

The last day of the PRI show brought us much the same as the two prior days, just less of it. There were fewer people, fewer giveaways and less energy. By the end of these trade shows, the majority of the exhibitors look like they’ve been beaten with sticks and left on the curb. Toward the end of the show, other exhibitors stop by and comment that we look as tired as they feel. If I weren’t so tired and they weren’t so correct in their assumptions, I might think they were telling me my appearance was not so stellar. However, seeing how tired I truly was, I decided to let it slide this time.

We managed to hand out every last spark-plug keychain and Honda Racing/HPD National Speedway Directory that we brought to the show. The keychains ran out a couple hours into the last day and left people asking us for more throughout the remaining hours. Meanwhile, there were four directories left as the last hour of the show began. It became a sport for me to see if I could hand them out. On the surface, this seemed like an easily reachable goal, based on the love of trade-show attendees for all that is free. However, by the show’s final hour, the only people walking by are other exhibitors getting ready to pack up. The odds of giving away the last four books were looking pretty long. I only needed to get rid of one book every 15 minutes, but I wasn’t so sure that was going to happen. Suddenly, I saw a group of four men walking by and I shouted out, “Would you like a book listing all the racetracks in the US and Canada?” Unfortunately, I was rejected and they kept on walking. Fifteen or so minutes passed, and we still had all 4 books. There went my average. Five minutes later, two twenty-something men came by, and each was thrilled to take a copy. Two down, two more to go…

Within minutes, another gentleman approached our booth, and another book disappeared. Now, there was one last lonesome book on the podium, and there was no way just one book was getting shipped back to HPD. Approximately 30 seconds later another gentleman approached and began talking to us. I was determined not to allow him to walk away without his very own copy of the Honda Performance/HPD National Speedway Directory. As he finished talking and began to back away from the podium in anticipation of leaving, I reached out and offered the prestigious last copy. His eyes lit up (as did mine, to tell you the truth) and he happily accepted. Success! We did it! All 484 directories given away and on their way to homes across the world. (Yes, the world. There was definitely an international presence at PRI.) I told you these giveaways are a sport; or, more accurately, a marathon! (Hey, it is the closest I will ever get to participating in one.)
So, as the last crate was closed and we gathered up our belongings to march our sweaty, tired bodies back to the hotel (they turn off the air conditioning to the convention center once the show is over), we reflected on our first year of trade-show presence. Most of us were green to the whole trade-show experience at the beginning, but by the end of PRI, we had learned some very valuable lessons. Wear comfortable shoes; take part in preventative maintenance (i.e. wear band-aids and extra-thick socks); come prepared with anti-bacterial hand sanitizer; enjoy every “good ole days” story any racer had to offer; and take in all of the visual stimulation trade-shows are famous for, because it will be a few months before the next race season kicks off and hey, you need something to hold you over.

I have had a great time getting my feet wet in what is certainly a world of its own … the trade show. I never would have thought that automotive/motorsport trade-shows were in my future, but somehow, it was meant to be. Thus far, I have been to two shows in two months and run into two people from high school that I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years. The trade show stars must be aligned and perhaps there is more in store for me in the future. As for now, all I know for sure is that HPD and the Honda Racing/HPD group have barely reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of public appearances. We have a lot planned for 2010, but you have to stay tuned to find out all the details. Until next time… Jenn, OUT!

PRI Blog – Day 2 (12/11/09)

The show opened this morning with a herd of people once again making its way methodically down the aisle; row by row, booth by booth. Ahhh, Day 2 of the PRI show is now open.

There was a steady crowd streaming through the convention center today. So far, we have gone through approximately 700 spark-plug keychains (a show favorite!), 352 Honda Racing/HPD Speedway Directories and endless numbers of Honda Racing/HPD decals. We hope to pass out the rest of our stock tomorrow because the less we have, the less we have to ship.

One incident I didn’t mention from Thursday: Sandy Shamlian from Quicksilver RacEngines fell though the wall of our back meeting room, taking a panel down with him. Apparently, Sandy tripped over the 10 or so laptop bags on the floor, causing him to lose his balance, and he placed his hand on the wall/display panel in an effort to regain his equilibrium. Sandy very quickly discovered that the panels are not solid walls and suddenly, he was on the other side of the meeting room, in the middle of an aisle, with panel in hand. Luckily, the panel was put back in place, and the only way those at the front of the booth became aware of the incident was because the entire display shook as if we were experiencing an earthquake. Seeing as we are in central Florida and not California, an earthquake wasn’t too much of a possibility. By the way, Sandy walked away with only a bruised ego.

We had a visit from another friend today. Bob Boileau is back, this time minus his brother, Al. Bob was with us at the American Honda/Honda Racing/HPD display last month at the SEMA show, and it had to be expected that he wouldn’t miss PRI. I have given Bob the title of “HPD Groupie”, mostly because he is two-for-two with his trade-show presence, and when he does arrive at our booth, he never seems to leave. (I am not saying you should, Bob … we enjoy having you!) Anyway, just as Bob likes to be known as the “2009 SCCA Runoffs Champion”, if you should see him at a track or another trade show in the near future, please feel free to call out “Hey, HPD Groupie!” and see if he answers. I am sure he will love it!

For those of you who read my last set of blogs from SEMA, you should know that I was working on my germaphobe issues, and not obsessing over sterilizing with anti-bacterial every chance I got. Well, that sounded good in theory at the time, until, a few days after returning home, I got VERY sick! Apparently, my immune system was not strong enough to rid itself of all the germs with which I came in contact at the show. This time around, I am determined not to get what my melodramatic self would call “deathly ill”, or – for reality’s sake – catch a cold, so don’t be offended if you are here at PRI and you see me using antibacterial sterilizer fairly frequently. I am determined not to get sick this time around. Let’s cross our fingers!

As the show came to an end today, the crowds seemed to depart a little more quickly than they did yesterday. I noticed that half of the convention center lights were turned off in a not-so-discreet way, in hopes that the attendees would depart a little sooner today. I was told that the lights were turned off yesterday as well, but the first day’s excitement must have been too much for the lights to compete with and the crowds hung around despite the darker convention center.

There is only one more day of PRI excitement ahead of us, and then we pack up and head back to California. So far, we haven’t seen the sun, but on the plus side, there has only been a day or so of heavy humidity, so I guess this native Californian shouldn’t complain. Maybe the sun will peek out for our last day at PRI. We shall wait and see…

Friday, December 11, 2009

PRI Blog – Day 1 (12/10/09)

Here we go again. Different city; different show; completely different ambiance.

Today was Opening Day of the PRI Trade Show in Orlando, FL. Compared to SEMA in Las Vegas, the lights are dimmer, the colors are more subdued and there is one major “thing” missing… trade show girls, which apparently are not permitted, although a few have snuck in.

We have had our share of passersby. So far we have seen Tomas Scheckter, Buddy Rice, Duncan Dayton, and Scott Goodyear; and Dan Wheldon was here in the Honda Racing/HPD booth signing autographs. Some stopped by to say “Hi” and some checked out our new line of performance parts. Tomas and Buddy were here to compete in the CKI All-Star Karting Classic on Thursday night. The go-karts were still running at 9:30 p.m., so it sounded like they had fun!

One other major, very noticeable difference between SEMA and PRI is the lack of giveaway suitcases rolling around the Orange County (FL) Convention Center. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely giveaways, but it is not as much of a sport here as it was at SEMA. Speaking of giveaways, HPD has added a new giveaway to its lineup this time around. We (and when I say ‘we’, I mean HPD’s Machine Shop) manufactured replica IRL engine spark plugs out of aluminum for use as keychains. Coming from someone who is not into trinkets or chotchkies, they are definitely cool. One show attendee said that they were the coolest giveaways that he has seen in three years. They are definitely a hit.

Something memorable from today concerned a very spirited debate that took place in our booth, and ‘spirited’ is saying it nicely. For reasons of propriety, I must refrain from quoting the exact conversation, but it was very interesting. The debate began between two gentlemen who were on opposite sides of the Formula F/Fit engine debate. One was a fierce defender of Honda’s new program and the other was concerned over the heritage of what was formerly known as the Formula Ford series (he was also fueled by the many rumors circulating over the Internet). At one point, we HPD associates thought we might have to stand back because fists would begin flying, but I am happy to announce that the disagreement was resolved and both combatants went on their merry, trade show way. There is never a dull moment...

As the doors of the convention center opened this morning, something very interesting occurred. There were display rows on the convention floor that were gridlocked, and others that didn’t have a person in them. Soon, it was discovered that show attendees take a very clear and apparent path. A strategic attack, one might say, in their route through PRI. Maybe it is this the way at all trade shows, but seeing as this is only HPD’s second appearance and we were located in a far corner at the first, this discovery was new to us. This time around, our booth is located in the second row, about 10 or so booths deep (#5525 for those of you attending), so we have a great view of this herd of people.

As 6 p.m. rolled around, the crowds VERY slowly diminished. Unlike at SEMA, PRI does not clear out immediately at the end of each show day. Normally, this would be perfectly fine with us. We are happy to sit and chat with anyone who stops by. However, on this particular night there was a free Happy Hour going on in the lobby of the convention center. I am sorry, but after a long day standing in the booth, free appetizers are very appealing. So, free appetizers it was.

Friday would be another full day of giveaways, crowds and crazy adventures… or so we hoped! Until then…

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Honda Performance Development, Inc. to Begin Sale of Performance Parts for Racing

Company Will Manufacture a Variety of Components In-House

Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD), the racing arm of American Honda Motor Company, Inc., will begin offering performance automotive parts for sale to registered racers competing in amateur and entry-level professional racing series, it was announced today.

The announcement took place concurrent with the annual Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show in Orlando, Fla. HPD is offering performance parts for racing as a component of its grassroots motorsports initiative, announced in July.

“We at HPD are extremely proud of the legacy we have established in open-wheel and sports-car racing,” said Erik Berkman, HPD president. “One of the cornerstones of our new motorsports initiative has been to establish a connection between our accomplishments in premier series and those of the many competitors who support Honda and Acura through the club racing and entry-level professional ranks.

“We believe that the manufacture and sale of racing performance parts by HPD are integral to helping us establish that connection.”

The product line will be comprised of HPD-designed parts and branded components. Through the validation process, HPD will rigorously test parts and components to confirm their performance and give consumers the confidence that comes from HPD’s years of success at the top levels of motorsport.

HPD plans to manufacture many of the performance parts in-house, including camber and caster plates, steering and front lower-arm bushings. HPD worked with various suppliers to develop front stabilizer bushings, rear stabilizer bars, engine mounts, transmission differentials, and brake fluid. HPD will co-brand components such as brake pads, brake lines, and coil springs with established leaders in the performance parts industry such as Cobalt Friction Technologies, Goodridge, and Eibach.

The Grand-Am Series has approved the majority of components announced today for use on the 2006-2010 model Honda Civic Si vehicles competing in the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Street Tuner (ST) class. HPD has also developed performance parts such as brake pads, brake lines, and rear differentials for Honda S2000s competing in the SCCA T3 class.

HPD performance parts are expected to become available in early 2010, with the exception of the engine mounts, rear stabilizer bars, and front stabilizer bushings, which will be available in the spring of 2010. Additions to the product line will be offered as the market warrants and will be posted on the HondaRacing.com/HPD website for registered Honda racers.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) is Honda’s racing company within North America. Founded in 1993, and located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for Honda’s high-performance racing cars and engines. In addition to its new grassroots motorsports business, HPD is the single engine supplier to the IndyCar Series and spearheaded Acura’s championship-winning efforts in the 2009 American Le Mans Series.

Honda Performance Development, Inc. Broadens Scope of Honda Racing Line Benefits

Tech Support to Be Offered to Registered Racers Through ServiceExpress

American Honda Motor Company, Inc., through its racing arm, Honda Performance Development, Inc., is expanding the scope of benefits available to members of its Honda Racing Line program for amateur and entry-level professional racers.

American Honda’s service publication support is now available online to Honda Racing Line members 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through ServiceExpress, Honda’s official online reference source for the independent repair community. ServiceExpress will offer Honda Racing Line members the most up-to-date service information, and will make it available at the same time it becomes available to authorized Honda/Acura dealers and repair centers.

“We have been very pleased with the growth in registration since we launched the Honda Racing Line program this past July,” said HPD President Erik Berkman. “We are working regularly to expand the list of benefits available to Honda Racing Line members, and are announcing this link to factory-authorized technical support from ServiceExpress as the first of numerous advantages which will be available to them in the future.”

ServiceExpress, created to provide professional technicians with up-to-date details regarding Honda and Acura vehicles, will offer the following reference materials to Honda Racing Line members:

· Service manual diagnostics and repair procedures;
· Service news and bulletins;
· Diagnostic trouble codes and troubleshooting procedures;
· Parts specifications and service limits;
· Electrical troubleshooting manuals for Honda and Acura vehicles;
· Body repair manuals and installation procedures;

· Electronic owners’ manuals.

Launched in July, 2009, the Honda Racing Line is a program targeted at licensed participants in sanctioned amateur and entry-level professional racing. The Honda Racing Line was formed to provide its members with a direct connection to Honda Performance Development and its unparalleled record of success at the highest levels of motorsport. Competitors may register for the Honda Racing Line through HondaRacingLine.com.

Friday, December 4, 2009

THR-W Returns to the 25 Hours of Thunderhill Race - This Weekend

Team Honda Research – West has entered an Acura in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill road race, looking for a podium finish in the very competitive E0 classification.

Team Honda Research – West (THR-W) returns to the NASA Pro Racing 25 Hours of Thunderhill race this weekend with the goal of finishing on the podium in the extremely competitive E0 classification. THR-W has participated in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill since 2004, including collaborations with sister team THR-Ohio, and has finished first, second and fourth in class at past events. This year’s effort is led by 2008 25 Hours E0 Class Runner-up Lawrence Hwang, who hopes to better his 2008 finish (second in class, third overall). Honda Canada associate Scott Nichols, retired American Honda associate Bob Endicott and Honda R&D Americas, Inc. associate Steve Neese will handle driving duties in addition to Hwang. The race will begin at 11a.m. on Saturday December 5, 2009 at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, California. The 25-hour race is the longest endurance road race in the U.S and annually attracts factory-supported and top privateer racing teams. Highlights of the race will be televised on the Versus Network on a date to be determined.

THR-W is the officially sanctioned employee road-racing team of Honda R&D Los Angeles - comprised entirely of Honda associates who strive to exhibit in themselves and their vehicles the challenging spirit first demonstrated by company founder Soichiro Honda. The team and its sister team, THR-Ohio, is an expression of the racing spirit that is a fundamental part of the Honda’s DNA. Operating under the mantra, “We develop what we race, and race what we develop,” the team strives to translate lessons learned on the track into new-vehicle development as part of the “fun-to-drive” character found in Honda products. The fact that Honda associates are themselves enthusiasts and racers is an indication that they have the interests of enthusiasts in mind when they bring new vehicles to market. THR-W was founded in 1996. Additional information about the team can be found at http://thrw.hra.com/.

Through its new Honda Racing Line program, Honda Racing/HPD provides support and incentive programs to Honda and Acura racers competing at the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Runoffs and in other forms of grassroots motorsports competition. Additional Honda Racing Line details can be found at http://racing.honda.com/hpd.

Team Honda Research-West is proud to represent, test and use products from the following companies: Honda Research & Development Americas, Inc.; American Honda Motor Co., Inc; Honda Racing/HPD; Hoosier Tires; The Westside Group; H&R Springs; Brembo Sport; Baja Designs, Inc.; Skunk2; Traqmate; Hondata; APR; Exedy; Recaro; Red Line Oil; Tyga-Box Inc.; Prototype Racing, Inc.; HMS Motorsport; Schroth Racing safety harnesses; Goodridge; ASR; Porterfield; King Motorsports and Aquapel Glass Treatment by PPG Industries, Inc.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Team Honda Research Caps Impressive Year

T3 National Championship Highlights Season
RAYMOND, Ohio (November 3, 2009) – Bob Boileau’s victory at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs last month was a fitting finish to a season of race wins and divisional titles for BFGoodrich-sponsored Team Honda Research.

Driving his THR Honda S2000 CR in the competitive Touring 3 class, Boileau started from the pole and battled both fellow competitors and a wet-but-drying Road America circuit to claim his first national title, and the second in as many seasons for THR, a team formed by American Honda engineers working in the company’s Research & Development subsidiary.

“I can’t express enough how well the THR Honda ran at the Runoffs,” Boileau said. “The BFG R1 tires were perfect for Road America. The BFG/THR combination was unbeatable at the Runoffs this year and I was thrilled to be part of it!”

From their Central Ohio base, THR drivers posted seven race wins in SCCA National events in 2009 aboard Touring 3 class Honda S2000 CRs; and another 10 victories driving Honda Civic Si’s in the Showroom Stock B category. The THR program helped launch the Honda Racing Line, a program of support for grassroots Honda and Acura racers, announced earlier this year by Honda Racing/Honda Racing Performance [HPD], the competition arm of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

With three wins and two poles in five starts, Inness Eisele led the THR’s season-long T3 attack in the Midwest to claim the SCCA Great Lakes Divisional Championship. New to THR this season, Sage Marie won four times in seven starts of his Honda S2000, and qualified on the pole three times to finish second in the highly competitive Southern Pacific Division.

“This season served as a great foundation for the launch of the Honda Racing/HPD racer-support initiative, and the Honda S2000 CR proved to be the ideal race car: fun, reliable, competitive and – with the help of the H&R dampers – perfectly balanced and controllable,” Marie said. “Our ace in the hole was really the BFG tires, which gave us a definite competitive advantage throughout the season.”

Defending SSB National Champion Lee Niffenegger also won a divisional title for THR this year, taking SSB honors in the SCCA’s Southern Pacific Division with a near-perfect record of six wins and seven poles in seven race starts.

T3 National Championship for THR - 2

Chad Gilsinger also approached perfection during the SCCA regular season, winning four times in as many events to claim the Great Lakes Division SSB title. Completing THR’s SSB lineup, rookie Matthew Staal finished fourth in the Great Lakes SSB championship to qualify for his first SCCA Runoffs.

All six THR drivers featured in their respective classes at the Runoffs, at which a single, final race determines the national champion. After several years at Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas, this year the Runoffs moved to the famed Road America circuit in southeastern Wisconsin and more than 600 competitors turned up to take part in 25 national championship races.

Marie started his S2000 CR alongside Boileau on the outside of the T3 front row in his first Runoffs appearance, but was hit and knocked off course on the opening lap to end his day. Eisele completed a THR 1-2-3 performance in qualifying, starting on the inside of the second row. After falling back in the early, wet laps, Eisele gained ground during the final half of the race and finished fifth.

Niffenegger was unable to repeat as SSB champion in his Civic Si, but still finished second for his third consecutive SSB podium result at the Runoffs (second in 2007, prior to winning the 2008 championship). Gilsinger started third and finished fourth in his THR Civic Si, with rookie Staal starting fourth and finishing seventh in his Civic.

“At the start of 2009, the future of THR was uncertain due to the economic conditions we all faced,” Niffenegger recounted. “Fortunately, Honda Performance Development stepped up to expand Honda’s presence in grassroots motorsports. I also can’t say enough about our partner, BFGoodrich, for sticking by us while everything got sorted out. They make the best tire in the paddock right now and we are fortunate to have them on our side. The combination of Honda performance and BFGoodrich R1 tires has proven once again to be as good as anything out there.”

Honda Performance Development (HPD) is Honda’s racing company within North America. Founded in 1993, and located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for Honda and Acura’s high-performance racing cars and engines. In addition to its new grassroots motorsports business, HPD is the single engine supplier to the IndyCar Series and spearheaded Acura’s championship-winning efforts in the 2009 American Le Mans Series.

Through its new Honda Racing Line program, Honda Racing/HPD provides support and incentive programs to Honda and Acura racers competing at the SCCA Runoffs and in other forms of grassroots motorsports competition. Additional details on the Honda Racing Line can be found at

Friday, November 13, 2009

Paddock Report: Homestead season finale and a look ahead to the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series

It’s been a couple of weeks since the IndyCar Series wrapped up with Dario Franchitti’s race win and championship, but the typical off-season November/December doldrums have yet to kick in. Instead, there’s been a lot going on, highlighted by the long-anticipated announcement of IZOD as the new series title sponsor in a multimillion-dollar, multi-year, deal.

But first, how ‘bout a recap of Homestead, a.k.a. “How Dario Beat The Odds, Snookered His Rivals, and Claimed His Second Semi-Consecutive Crown”?

It began during the race’s opening stint. After starting on the pole, Franchitti soon found out that both teammate Scott Dixon and Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe – Dario’s sole remaining rivals for the 2009 IndyCar championship – had better setups for race day. Not sure what it was; wing angles, tire pressures, but something wasn’t working quite as well for the red #10 as it was for his fellow contenders.

Mind you, all three were still head-and-shoulders above the rest of the 23-car starting field, pulling away from Marco Andretti, et al, from Lap 1 onward. It was almost too good to be true; the three remaining championship contenders battling for the race win and title.

Midway through the first fuel run, Dario realized that he didn’t have enough outright speed to go for the win. He’d spent a half-dozen laps running side-by-side with Dixon, then another 20 or so running behind both ‘Dixie’ and Briscoe. By the time the first round of pit stops approached, Dario, team boss Chip Ganassi and race engineer Chris Simmons had made the tough call to pull the trigger on what they euphemistically called their “alternative” strategy, i.e. … ‘save fuel at all costs.’ Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

IF Dario ran lean and could make pit stops at 50-lap intervals, he could do the race on three stops. Dixon and Briscoe would need to make four, IF there were no yellows. A single yellow, at any point up until about Lap 190 or so, and either Dixon or Briscoe would be your 2009 champion.

The problem for Franchitti & Co.: in the entire history of the Indy Racing League, there had NEVER been a race run without at least one full-course caution. Until Homestead, 2009.

By mid-race, it was apparent that Briscoe was the fastest of the quick three. But he also was getting the worst initial fuel mileage, pitting for the first time on Lap 45. His second stint was a bit better, and he didn’t need to pit again until Lap 95. Briscoe made his third stop on Lap 143. Ryan did everything he could, grabbing the bonus points for leading the most laps and holding amazing, l-o-o-o-o-o-o-ong powerslides coming out of Turn 4 lap after lap, ending just inches from the wall nearly every time. The guy was driving the race of his life. But it all went for naught, as the track stayed “clean and green” and Briscoe had to make a fourth and final stop for fuel on Lap 193.

Dixon was in slightly better shape early in the race, but then had to turn the wick up in a vain attempt to keep Briscoe away from the two points for most laps led. As a result, he had to make his final ‘splash n’ go’ one lap prior to Briscoe. When both were done, Dario went from being ALMOST one lap down to instead holding a comfortable, 10-second lead.

Game. Set. Match.

It wasn’t a grip-the-edge-of-your-seat, scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs, side-by-side for lap-after-lap-type race, but it was terribly interesting strategically. Franchitti and his guys REALLY rolled the dice and played some very long odds. If you had asked me prior to the start if the race would go yellow-free, I would’ve said no way. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.

And how close was Dario on fuel? He ran out while trying to celebrate with donuts and a reverse victory lap. Technically, it was his second consecutive IndyCar title, following his abortive year in NASCAR in ’08.

It also marked 10 years since his CART title fight went down to a tie-breaker with Juan Montoya at the season-closing California Speedway race – the same event where we lost Greg Moore. Props to Dario for remembering and speaking about his good friend after this year’s victory.

Race trivia and other bits that don’t fit anywhere else:

  • It was HOT at Homestead. I’m talking Kansas-in-July, with-tons-of-humidity hot.

  • At 36, Dario became the oldest champion in IndyCar Series history. Hmmm, he still looks like a punk kid to me….

  • It was another great year for the IndyCar teams at HPD and Ilmor. We had only one in-race failure all year, and that was due to a chafed alternator wire on Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car at Infineon. When you think about all the miles and abuse these engines take, that’s an incredible record of reliability. Take a bow, folks.

  • What was up with all the suspension-failure crashes at Penske this year (there were at least three, and I think I may be forgetting one or two)? The latest befell Helio’s car in practice at Homestead, as the left-rear corner collapsed, putting him into the fence – hard. Are they running the car so that they’re shock-loading a wishbone or pushrod? Or is it something else? Either way, it’s something that needs to be fixed for 2010, obviously.

  • Shameless plug to keep you reading: There were a couple of announcements at Homestead regarding new programs for 2010, and a couple of more have followed since then. They’ll follow later in this blog.

  • Did I mention it was bloody HOT at Homestead????

IZOD Signs On!

Biggest and best news of the off-season has been the long-expected and very welcome news that IZOD has signed on as a multi-year, multi-million dollar title sponsor. It’s been a long courtship (starting back in 2008), but it looks like that will pay big dividends starting next year.

This year, the clothing maker spent a reported $6 million in the series, with about a third of that going to keeping Ryan Hunter-Reay on the track with Vision, and later A.J. Foyt, Racing. The rest went into sorely-needed marketing and promotional work, including TV commercials, billboards, magazine ads and the like.

For 2010, that investment will more than double, with everyone getting a taste. The series will get a large lump sum each year; RHR will get enough to move “upmarket,” from Foyt to about-to-be-renamed Andretti Green Racing; full-time teams will get increased financial support; and there will be increased advertising and marketing activation for the series and drivers. The total is expected to be in the neighborhood of $10 million annually. In the immortal words of Pete-the-coach-driver: “It’s all good”.

A Look Ahead to 2010

Since it’s never too early to gossip and speculate, here’s my initial look at the field we’ll be seeing in 2010, ranked from the top of the food chain on down:

Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Standing pat with Franchitti and Dixon. Ten wins and the championship says it all. Why mess with success?

Team Penske/Penske Racing: Holds with Briscoe and Castroneves. Meanwhile, expect a third full-time car for Will Power entered under the separate-but-equal banner of Penske Racing, with Verizon as the likely sponsor. This might just be enough to tip the scales in their direction.

“Michael Andretti Racing”: a.k.a. AGR minus Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who have left to focus their efforts on race promotion. Tony Kanaan will be back, seeking to rebound from a simply disastrous 2009; as will Danica Patrick (with a new three-year deal in hand, regardless of any NASCAR stuff she’ll have going on the side) and Marco Andretti. Hideki Mutoh is gone to Newman Haas Lanigan (see below), but in his place comes Ryan Hunter-Reay, armed with the aforementioned IZOD money.

Newman Haas Lanigan: Appears to be growing to three cars next year. Graham Rahal is expected back (although not signed yet), and Alex Lloyd appears to be bringing sponsorship from HER energy drink for the second seat. The third is a bit of a surprise, but since it’s already out on the “interweb”, it looks like Hideki Mutoh will be headed here from AGR. Hey, he already lives in Chicago, anyway…

Dale Coyne Racing: Ever thought you’d see the day when Coyne was ranked this high? Well, this was the only team to win this year outside of Ganassi and Penske. Justin Wilson would like to improve his lot in life (he really DID drive for “hot dogs and peanuts” this year) so he should be back at even a halfway-decent salary. Coyne also would like to add a second car to his steadily improving operation, but that depends on $$$. If the long-mooted Brazilian race actually does come off, maybe Bruno Junqueira could return with home-country support….

KV Racing Technology: Again, he’s not yet re-signed, but it looks like Mario Moraes will be returning. Mario had great speed all year long, but there were certain, errr, lapses in judgement from time to time. Still, as the old racing saying goes, “you can teach smart, but you can’t teach fast” and Mario has the speed. The team definitely wants to run two cars full-time. Paul Tracy has enough support for five to seven races or so, but can they find the rest? There are other drivers floating around with partial sponsorship deals (see below), so we’ll have to see what develops here.

Luczo Dragon Racing: For IndyCar Rookie of the Year winner Raphael Matos, see “Mario Moraes” above. Unlike Mario, “Rafa” most assuredly does not come from money (he moved to the US six years ago with all of $50 to his name …), but he has the speed and flash of Moraes. And, like his fellow Brazilian, he had several moments of brain fade in ’09 (see “Danica Patrick at St. Pete” and “Vitor Meira at Indy”) but he’s really, really fast. He should be back.

Vision Racing: On occasion (Kentucky), Ed Carpenter could be as quick as anyone on the ovals. On road courses … well … But Vision and Carpenter showed marked improvement on the left-turn-only circuits this year. The key now for Tony George’s team is to build on that base. For that, it needs more sponsorship. Indeed, it needs increased support just to guarantee it can run the full schedule next year. Hopefully, they’ll find it.

Panther Racing: Here’s a team you would normally expect to be ranked near the top of this table. Not after the 2009 they had. It’s very safe to say that both the team and new recruit Dan Wheldon were deeply disappointed. Most of the time they simply weren’t quick enough, and on the days they WERE fast (Indy, Chicago, etc), something always happened to knock them out of the picture. Despite all that, Dan will be back with the “Panther Pack” for 2010, but this team needs to turn things around fast.

Dreyer & Reinbold: Having finally stopped throwing his car at various immovable objects over the final quarter of the season, Mike Conway is expected back next year. As for a second (or even third) car, there are several possibilities, including Milka Duno, Tomas Scheckter, E.J. Viso and even Oriol Servia, among many others. I doubt if anything will be resolved here before January – or later.

A.J. Foyt Racing: Vitor’s back, and A.J.’s got him. Meira’s healed up and raring to go, but Foyt’s team still has a long way to go to match the abilities of Panther or Rahal, where Meira has previously run. Still, it’s a paid drive, and “Vic Myers” is grateful for that – as well as for A.J. and Larry’s loyalty during his recovery from the back injuries he sustained at Indy.

HVM Racing: Underperformed by its standards last year, and E.J. Viso has left the building as a result. E.J. has some sponsorship, so he should land somewhere. Meanwhile, Robert Doornbos was equally disenchanted with Hewman Haas Lanigan by mid-’09, so he rejoined his former Champ Car team, where they’ve won in the past. They were unable to rediscover the magic over the last six races, but will try again next year. Second driver wanted. Apply within. Bring $$$.

Fazzt: Guess what, I’ve ranked this new team above regular ’09 entrants Conquest Racing and Team 3G. Why? Because they appear to have decent funding, Alex Tagliani is still one fast (spelled right this time) driver, and Team Manager Rob Edwards has been around a long time and will find good people to fill out the squad. Plans are for a full year, with a second car at Indy and the Canadian rounds (for someone like Canadian Indy Lights driver James Hinchcliff, perhaps?).

Team 3G: Stanton Barrett is a really nice guy, the kind of guy you wish good things for. But can he run at this level? The jury is still out. Meanwhile both Jaques Lazier and Richard Antinucci showed they were better than the team when they drove the #98 car.

Finally, there’s Conquest Racing: A once decent operation that has, unfortunately, been spiraling downhill these last few years (including its tenure in both CART and IndyCar). Tagliani bolted after Edmonton, while Nelson Philippe came onboard at Infineon, only to suffer season-ending injuries in the very first practice session. Philippe may return in 2010, but not necessarily with Eric Bachelart’s team.

Sarah Fisher Racing: Ran a half-dozen races in 2009, but will be adding events and an occasional second car next year. Sarah is scheduled to race nine times, including the road courses at St. Pete and Mid-Ohio. After a year away, former Indy Lights champ Jay Howard is set for at least four races in a second car. This is a team that is improving steadily.

Taken all together, that gives us 22-24 likely full-time entries for 2010. Pretty encouraging, all things considered. Then there are:

Other Possibilities

Polestar Racing: A veteran Atlantic team run by Jim and Pam Griffith, who were at Homestead with a sponsor in tow, and making plans to step up with a single-car, full-time effort next year. More news here as it develops.

Newman Wachs Racing: The championship-winning Atlantic team this year, with former F. Mazda champ John Edwards. Has some funding, and is looking to move up to IndyCar in partnership with an existing team (KV?, DRR?). There’s more to come here, too.

de Ferran Motorsports: This ALMS team is also trying to move into IndyCars. But, along with Walker Racing and Rahal Letterman Racing, is still lacking the budget to run. Still, hope springs eternal….

Then, there are the perennial “Indy only” entries, such as Hemelgarn and Sam Schmidt. They’ll be back, too, along with “Indy only” drivers like Davey Hamilton and John Andretti.

On the Outside Looking In

It’s an unfortunate fact of IndyCar life, but there are always more talented, proven drivers out there than rides available. There are also numerous ”Young Turks” hoping to move up from Atlantic, Lights, GP2 etc.

Here’s a partial rundown of the veterans: Bruno Junqueira, E.J. Viso, Buddy Rice, Oriol Servia, Nelson Philippe, A.J. Foyt IV, Buddy Lazier, Jaques Lazier, Dan Clarke and Darren Manning.

Some potential new kids on the block: Indy Lights champ JR Hildebrand, Atlantic champ John Edwards, multiple ALMS race-winner Simon Pagenaud, James “Hinchtown” Hinchcliff, Jonathan Summerton and even P.J. Chesson.

That’s a wrap for now. More later as the countdown to the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series continues.

-- Dan Layton

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Acura made history by becoming the first manufacturer to win the LMP1 and LMP2 drivers’, team and manufacturers’ championships in the same year.

Patrón Highcroft, Monterey, California, at the Laguna Seca raceway.
The American Le Mans® Series season came to a victorious end this month as Acura made history by becoming the first manufacturer to win the LMP1 and LMP2 drivers’, team and manufacturers’ championships in the same year. To top it off, Gil de Ferran, driver and team owner of de Ferran Motorsports, announced his retirement from professional racing earlier this month and he finished off his career in dramatic fashion.

The last race of the season was held in Monterey, California, at the Laguna Seca raceway. Coming into the race, both LMP1 Acura cars were in the hunt to cement their place on the team championship podium. The Acura LMP2 team, Lowe’s Fernández, had already clinched the team and manufacturers’ championships two weeks before but still made history by winning their eighth LMP2 victory this year, tying them with the 2007 Penske Racing team for most class victories in a season.

For the fifth time this season, Acura swept the race, with de Ferran placing first overall, Lowe’s Fernández coming in second and Patrón Highcroft rounding third. As a result, Acura took home the ultimate prize, the 2009 LMP1 Manufacturers’ Championship. Patrón Highcroft took home the 2009 LMP1 team championship crown even after a horrific crash that forced them to rebuild a new Acura ARX back in September.

Acura, which entered the American Le Mans Series only two seasons ago, has clearly made a name for itself as a powerhouse in the racing world. We congratulate all three Acura teams and their drivers, who bravely competed this season and made 2009 a year to be recorded in the history books.

Friday, November 6, 2009

SEMA Show: Day 4 (11/06/09)

Finally, we have made it to the last day of SEMA. It has been a great experience all around. We have learned that you should take part in preventative maintenance by using band-aids on your feet at the beginning of the day, as opposed to at the end. We have learned to always have water at hand, because all the talking will inevitably cause you to be parched. We have learned that Advil, or some kind of pain reliever, is a necessity, because, between the neon lights and the sore legs from standing all day, we definitely should have invested in the economy-sized supply. Can you expense a full body massage as ‘trip miscellaneous’? Seriously, though, it has been a great experience all around.
The FAQ for today was about the Honda timeline which was featured along the back wall of the Honda Racing/HPD display. Many attendees enjoyed reading and reminiscing about a certain period in time, and the most talked about Hondas. I guess we found one of our potential pieces of literature and/or giveaways for another show in the future…take-home timeline magnets, anyone?
Throughout the week, the new Honda slogan: “Everybody knows somebody who loves a Honda” has definitely stood true. Now, don’t get me wrong, there have been some challengers to Honda brand loyalty. We have listened to those who are devout Toyota owners and even a passionate Datsun owner, but each of them, somewhere in the conversation, has dropped the fact that he or she knows someone, or several people, including their own family members, who love their Hondas. Lisa Kubo, “The First Lady of Racing”, and her car were featured next to the Honda display, and she has taken loving Honda to an extreme. She has an “H” tattooed on her shoulder; it’s a real tattoo, not henna or removable. For all of you Honda lovers out there who don’t have Honda logos permanently tattooed on your bodies, she’s got you beat. The best quote came from a Honda Goldwing owner who showed us his motorcycle key and told us that he calls himself a “grandma chaser” (FYI: He was an older gentleman), and told us that the difference between him and a Harley owner is that he gets dates because the ladies don’t mind riding on the back of his bike. Let’s face it, there are many different reasons way people love their Hondas. You gotta love them all!
On a personal note … and anyone who knows me (Jenn) will appreciate this. I have not allowed my OCD to stop me from shaking any hand that was offered to me, and I didn’t even use antibacterial disinfectant after each one, either! That may not sound like a big deal to most of you, but it was definitely a feat for my psyche. Part of me would like to say that I have overcome some of my germophobic issues, but I will probably be back to sterilizing my hands as soon as I leave this town. Moving on …
As time ticked away and the 2009 SEMA Show came to an end, there was once again, as on every previous day, an announcement over the P.A., telling everyone that the show was now closed. What made today differ from days past was the roar of applause, followed by the even louder roar of almost every engine in the convention hall. For all of you engine, car and racing fanatics out there, it was quite a sound to hear. However, if you are trying to write a blog before the power to your display is turned off, it can be a tad distracting…cool, nonetheless. All of us at the Honda display would have liked to have overpowered all the other motors with the sound of our IndyCar engine, but maybe we will save that for next year.
Well, seeing as the display and the desk I am using to type this on are literally being disassembled around me, I am going to have to bid farewell. It was a great show and an overall great experience. Now it is time to think about HPD’s Open House and then, the PRI show, come early December. Ahhh, more cars, girls, racing stories from the “good ole days” and the sound of engines roaring … What more could any girl want? Thanks for tuning in…Jenn, OUT!

SEMA Show: Day 3 (11/05/09)

Theme music of the day at the Honda display is primarily rap. Yep, you heard me right, Honda, the fairly conservative company where I have personally worked for almost five years, is playing rap music. I guess the “no music in the workplace” policy doesn’t apply to a trade show … and speaking of policies, just so you know, the ladies in the Honda display are definitely sticking to Honda’s dress-code policy and are NOT going with traditional trade-show-girl attire, if you get my drift!
We have had a steady flow of people visit our corner of the South Hall today. This morning was a little slower than the first two, but maybe people are spending a little more time at the blackjack tables or bars as the week goes on. If that is true, we may have the weekend party crowd come through sometime tomorrow, and that should be an interesting way to end the week.
By Day 3, those of us who have been here since the beginning of the week have pretty much gotten the groove down, and there are definitely frequently asked questions (FAQ) we get used to answering. The FAQ for the day was related to the chassis concept IndyCar for 2012. Attendees loved the futuristic and recognizable look of the car. At one point, I saw a man running through the display and he was headed towards the concept car. I didn’t really understand why he was running because the car doesn’t have an engine and it is on a pedestal surrounded by Plexiglas, but hey, he was excited, and in the long run, that is what we are hoping for.
We have yet to mention the presence of the Boileau brothers, Bob and Al. They have a long-standing family history with Honda Racing and two Boileau-driven cars are on display here. The first, frequently discussed around these parts, is the 1974 Honda Civic 1200 driven by the late Bob Boileau, Jr. (their father). Then, there is the most recent, the 2009 SCCA Runoffs Championship-winning S2000 driven by Bob Boileau, III. The brothers are very proud of their family’s history and accomplishments, and they very much welcome any conversation having to do with their father’s car, which, by the way, is now exhibited at the Honda Collection museum in Torrance.
A funny thing happened toward the end of the day having to do with the Boileaus. There was discussion of a potential photo-op involving the two Boileau-driven Honda race cars and the Boileau brothers. It was decided that the cars needed a little touch-up to add some shine before the impromptu shoot. (To be honest, it was actually just Marc Sours, Large Project Leader for HPD’s grassroots motorsports efforts, with a camera!) So, a visit was paid to the Mother’s (Polishes-Waxes-Cleaners) display to get some free polish. When the ‘touch-up’ party returned, they had not only gotten some free polish, they brought a Mother’s rep to help shine up the cars, too. That’s not the last of it, though. As soon as they approached the Honda display, HPD associates began to gather around one of the cars. Come to find out, the Mother’s rep wasn’t just a rep of the company, he was actually the OWNER! So now, we had the owners of Mother’s polishing our 1974 Honda Civic 1200. It was a classic moment, for sure.
At this point, there are only seven hours of show time left. I can’t believe we have made it through 24 hours in the first three days of SEMA. What will today bring? The Honda Racing/HPD key chains are almost gone and hopefully, we can give away the last of the stickers (the fewer we have to bring home, the better). It has definitely been an interesting experience thus far, and I am sure there is more to come…

SEMA Show: Day 2 (11/04/09)

We are back! One day under our belts, three more to go. Today brought another set of high-profile visitors: Bobby and Graham Rahal stopped by to check out the Fit engine, Sarah Fisher and Jay Howard came by to say hello and rumor was that Danica was at the Apex show across the way, but we have yet to see her in our neck of the woods.
Again, there has been a lot of interest in the Fit engine and HPD’s Honda Racing Line program. We actually met a father-and-son duo who race their Honda Accord on dirt and were interested in fitting traction-control to their Accord racecar. With all the stories we have heard about the various racing series around the country, Accords racing on dirt was a first, at least for me.
One cool thing that I didn’t mention from yesterday was the badge-scanning system they have here. Any exhibitor can order a scanner and use it to track all the visitors to the display. Each person attending the event, whether an exhibitor, buyer, media member, or attendee, wears a badge that has a barcode on it. The barcode stores each person’s information, i.e. name, company, position, contact information, etc. We can scan an interested party’s badge and immediately, we have all their contact information. After the show, we can send out information about HPD and our various, upcoming racing activities. Some visitors are aware of the scanner and ask us to “scan them”; others learn about it when we offer to “scan then” and sometimes, just for fun, we do ‘drive-by’ scans, scanning those who least expect it. When you are at the show all day, you find ways to make the work even more fun.
News alert: Giveaways are huge around here! At our Honda display, we have key chains and Honda Racing/HPD decals that are literally flying off the countertops by the handful. We actually had to have HPD send us another case of decals, but I guess that is a good thing, and maybe soon we will see our Honda Racing/HPD logo on cars and tool boxes everywhere. As for myself, I picked up a Falken Tires stress ball in the shape of a helmet. I am sure that as the week goes on, it will come in handy.
Something interesting that someone new to the tradeshow scene might not be aware of (at least I wasn’t), is that many attendees travel with rolling suitcases. I didn’t know exactly why at first – it is Vegas, after all – but soon you notice people dropping giveaways into a top opening. It is crazy! There are people with suitcases full of free stuff. I can’t help but picture them trying to open their cases up at the end of the day, and stuff just comes pouring out. Some exhibitors are actually giving away (or selling, I am not quite sure) cardboard suitcases with slots at the top made for dropping in literature and small items. Maybe it is our fascination with free stuff, but I can’t even begin to imagine what these attendees are going to do with their cases of stuff, especially if they are here for all four days. What I want to know is, after they get home, where do they put it?
So, today was full of giveaways, interesting “racecars” and drive-by scanning. What will Day 3 have in store for us? Tune in tomorrow to find out…

Thursday, November 5, 2009

SEMA Show: Day 1 (11/03/09)

It has been long in coming, but we made it. Honda Performance Development (HPD) has survived and frankly, in our humble opinion, flourished, on the first day at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, NV today. It was quite the debut, and we are proud of the turn-out. There were some high -profile visitors, some Honda Racing fans, a potential family reunion and all-around car fanatics to be seen everywhere. In what better place could we spend our time during the off-season, when not at the race track?
The day started off with a press announcement at the Honda display given by Erik Berkman, president of HPD, and Bruce Smith, vice president of parts operations for American Honda, relating to both Honda’s production cars and HPD’s grassroots activities, specifically the Formula F engine and Honda Racing Line programs. That was followed by a visit from Paul Tracy himself. He stopped by to say, ‘Hello’, and admire the new Honda Racing/HPD Formula F modified Fit engine. (If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out!)
As the day progressed, race fans, car enthusiasts and potential business contacts made their way through the maze of production cars and both grassroots- and pinnacle-level race cars and engines. Still, one of the more interesting non-car-related things to happen in the Honda booth today was the meeting of two potential relatives. One gentleman spotted another’s last name on his SEMA credential and, lo and behold, both had a cousin from the same city, with the same first and last name. The family connection has yet to be confirmed, but we at HPD would like to think that Honda Racing has brought the family together – or at the very least, provided the platform/booth to help make it happen.
Continuing into the afternoon, we got another high-profile visitor: Marco Andretti. Marco came by and spent some time signing autographs for Honda Racing fans and car fanatics alike. It was great to have Marco as a part of HPD’s presence at this inaugural trade-show event, considering his family’s history with Honda Racing.
We got to meet many people from all over the country today. There were many who had a story about a CART race they saw “back in the day,” or how Honda had “dominated” the competition in IndyCar, resulting in no competition at all. And then there were those devoted Honda car owners who were simply interested in all in which Honda is involved. No matter what their reason for visiting the Honda display, we at HPD and American Honda were pleased to talk with them. It gave us a chance to speak to the public about all the things we work so hard on behind the scenes, and many were happy to be our captive audience … well, at least until they exited the display and re-entered the madhouse that is SEMA!
With Day 1 under our belts, we would like to think we are a little more prepared for what to expect from the crowds and fans at SEMA, but we will have to wait and see and let you know tomorrow whether our expectations are as reliable as our engines. Stay tuned…

Friday, October 30, 2009

HPD's Formula F Initiative Approved by SCCA

Honda Performance Development’s Formula F Initiative Approved by SCCA
Engine Sanctioned by Board of Directors for Use in 2010

TORRANCE, Calif. (November 3, 2009) – The Board of Directors of the Sports Car Club of America has ratified a Honda Performance Development, Inc. proposal to begin supplying Honda Formula F engines for competition in the SCCA’s Formula F (FF) class in 2010.

Through its introduction to the category, HPD hopes to strengthen FF’s position as the first step in American open-wheel racing.

“We look forward to launching our FF program at the outset of the 2010 club racing season,” said Erik Berkman, president of Honda Performance Development. “We hope that this initial step in HPD’s new grassroots motorsports initiative will help make the FF class more affordable and more competitive.”

The Honda Formula F engine is based on the Fit L15A7, a 1.5-liter engine that can be installed into several existing FF chassis. Testing has shown that the Honda engine provides performance equal to the long-out-of-production “Kent” engine, while featuring a modern fuel-injected design with superior service life, improved availability and lower operating costs.

A prototype, utilizing a Swift DB-1 chassis and HPD-developed bolt-on conversion kit, made its public debut during the FF 40th Anniversary Celebration at Road America in late July. The Swift-Honda, along with a Honda FF engine mated to a Citation chassis, was also on display during last month’s SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America.

The Honda FF engine has been developed by Honda Performance Development in cooperation with Sandy Shamlian of Quicksilver RacEngines. The engine was developed to equal the performance of the Kent powerplant through utilization of an HPD-developed intake restrictor plate and appropriately mapped Engine Control Unit (ECU). If additional performance adjustments are required, changes can be made to the restrictor plate and/or the ECU maps to achieve this goal.

“Many of us, myself included, have been involved in FF racing,” said Marc Sours, HPD Production Division Manager and Large Project Leader for HPD’s grassroots projects. “We believe that introduction of the modern, less-expensive Honda FF engine can restore interest in and raise the profile of FF to a point where it once again becomes the place for young drivers to begin their careers, and where current SCCA club racers will find economical, close competition.”

Original equipment in the 2009 Honda Fit, the L15A7 is a fuel-injected, 1.5-liter, overhead cam engine, at the beginning of its current production generation. Per Honda corporate policy, a minimum of 10 years’ parts support is mandated at the conclusion of production.

HPD will supply all parts from intake through exhaust, including multiple chassis conversion kits. The result will be a modern and reliable engine requiring minimal maintenance and tuning.

Specifically, HPD expects to offer FF competitors the opportunity to reduce their engine operating costs. Engine rebuilds will be reduced, while competitors should also experience a reduction in the need for top-end refreshing. In addition, crankshaft and valve-spring life should be extended dramatically; and most ignition and all carburetor maintenance will be eliminated.

The first conversion kit offered will be for the venerable Swift DB-1. This complete, race-ready package will sell for $11,750. It will include a base L15A7 engine, FF engine conversion kit (including intake, exhaust, dry sump, restrictor plate and ECU), and a bolt-in DB-1 chassis conversion kit, to permit installation of the engine without welding or other major modifications. Individual component parts will also be available for purchase separately.

Delivery of kits will begin in early February of 2010 and will follow in the order that requests are received. Deposits of $500, which will ensure a place on the delivery list, are being accepted. For more information, please contact:

Honda Performance Development, Inc.

HPD is working on two additional conversion kits for the Swift DB-6 and Van Diemen (1999-current) chassis. Market release of these kits is also expected prior to the 2010 club racing season.

Beginning with its initial entry into Formula One in 1964, Honda has a lengthy record of involvement in open-wheel racing around the world. In addition to its well-known accomplishments in IndyCar, CART and Formula One competition, Honda Motor also has an extensive history as an engine supplier in lower open-wheel formulae, including Formula 3, Formula Master, Formula Nippon and Formula Dream.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) is Honda’s racing company within North America. Founded in 1993, and located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for Honda and Acura’s high-performance racing cars and engines. In addition to its new grassroots motorsports business, HPD is the single engine supplier to the IndyCar Series and spearheaded Acura’s championship-winning efforts in the 2009 American Le Mans Series.

Quicksilver RacEngines (QSRE) is a private company in Frederick, MD owned and operated by Sandy Shamlian since 1973. QSRE engines have been a staple in open-wheel and sports-car racing, logging countless professional and amateur race wins and championships in the USA, England, Venezuela, Australia & Canada in classes such as Zetec F2000, Formula Continental, Sports 2000, Formula Atlantic, and FF1600.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Honda Performance Development, Inc. Participates in Cross-Promotional Community Activities

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (October 26, 2009) – On Saturday, October 24, customers visiting the Best Buy in Santa Clarita were greeted with something out of the ordinary. There on the sidewalk was the deFerran Motorsports Acura American Le Mans Series P2 sports car. Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD) arranged the event to correspond with the launch of the XBOX 360 Forza Motorsport 3 game, in which the Acura ALMS cars are featured.

Those who purchase the game from Best Buy through November 10 will be invited to attend HPD’s Open House on Saturday, November 14, from 1 to 4 pm. Potential attendees may bring a guest and are required to bring the Open House invitation available at the Best Buy in Santa Clarita, with their receipt for the game, to HPD in order to attend the event. HPD’s Open House will include a tour of the facility with catered lunch, and IndyCar drivers will be on hand for autographs. The Forza Motorsport 3 game will also be on display and available to play. This marks only the fourth time in the history of HPD that such an event will be held.

Joining the Acura ALMS car on display at Best Buy was a 2010 Acura TL provided by Valencia Acura. HPD partnered with Valencia Acura in making the event possible and, following Saturday’s event at Best Buy, the Acura ALMS car was moved to the Valencia Acura showroom, where it will be displayed for approximately two weeks leading up to HPD’s Open House. Several Valencia Acura customers have also been invited to take part in Open House activities.

HPD hopes that this is the first of many community activities that it can be part of – in conjunction with other local businesses – to provide the residents of the Santa Clarita Valley with a unique and interesting perspective on HPD’s racing operations.

If you are interested in learning more about Honda Performance Development and some of its new racing activities, please log onto to http://racing.honda.com/hpd or contact 661-294-7300.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) is Honda’s racing company within North America. Founded in 1993, and located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for Honda and Acura’s high-performance racing cars and engines. HPD is the single engine supplier to the IndyCar Series and spearheaded Acura’s championship-winning efforts in the 2009 American Le Mans Series.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Acura: Laguna Seca ALMS 2009 Blog

The stage was set for many Acura celebrations during the final round of the 2009 American Le Mans Series at Laguna Seca Raceway. And the exciting weekend didn’t disappoint.

For the third year in a row, the Petit Le Mans had proven to be very frustrating for the Acura contingent, as another rash of misfortunes started with the brutal Scott Sharp crash and complete car construction by the Patrón Highcroft team, followed by tough breaks for the de Ferran Motorsports and Lowe’s Fernandez teams in the race.

But the page had turned as the three Acura racing operations headed to the picturesque Monterey Peninsula in preparation of the ALMS season finale. Somehow, traveling to the coastal California area south of San Francisco seemed to revitalize the teams, the drivers and everyone surrounding the ALMS tour. Maybe it’s the fact that the final race was imminent, or just the great atmosphere. Whatever it was, the scene brightened considerably for the Acura bunch.

The event would be Gil de Ferran’s final drive in a race car. After two years of sports-car racing, Gil felt it was time to concentrate on his management of de Ferran Motorsports. So, at Mid-Ohio, he announced that Laguna Seca would be his final race. And his team put together a great finale, with Gil’s former IndyCar team owner, the legendary Jim Hall, coming to the Monterey and bringing three famous cars from his stable; the 1995 Pennzoil Reynard Gil drove to his first IndyCar win at Laguna Seca in 1995; the famed Chaparral 2 sports car that won at Laguna Seca in 1964; and the legendary Chaparral 2F with the very first high rear wing that had raced in the Can-Am in the mid-1960s.

In addition, as a tribute to Hall, de Ferran ran new white livery on his Acura ARX-02a prototype with the ‘Circle 66’ car number. Sponsors such as XM Satellite Radio and Panasonic were portrayed in silver livery on the car. It made for a great look.

On Thursday, a test day at the track, the de Ferran team unveiled its new paint scheme, as well as the Jim Hall-inspired car display in the paddock area. It was neat to see the current sports car alongside the cars of some 45 years ago. Hall was pleased to be at the track with Gil and his family. Plus, the crowd of onlookers was impressive, as crew members from the entire paddock stopped by to get a “close-up” view of the old cars and visit with Hall and de Ferran.

Later that day, Acura hosted a photo shoot involving Acura’s three cars, six drivers, and all team members, as well as the HPD engineering staff. In addition, the 13 trophies that were won by Acura cars, drivers and teams in 2009 were displayed as part of the photo op. The photos made a great commemoration for the record 2009 season, which included the carmaker becoming the first auto manufacturer to win LMP1 and LMP2 classes in the same American Le Mans Series campaign.

Patrón Highcroft Racing, coming back from the incredible car rebuilding job at Petit Le Mans, came to the Laguna Seca race with a 21-point lead over the de Ferran squad. But the team had a new problem, as many of its members were suffering from the flu. Perhaps that 20-hour construction of the No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-02a at Petit Le Mans – along with weather conditions changing from hot and humid to cold and rainy – may have attributed to the illness on the team. In fact, Team Manager Rob Hill wasn’t able to appear at the track until Friday.

Still, the Patrón Highcroft team was prepared for the championship fight in the concluding round of the 10-race series. Drivers David Brabham and Scott Sharp were ready to go when testing began on Thursday afternoon. The Patrón Highcroft group knew its goal of completing 70 per cent of the race was well within reach, but the team wanted to race for the win against the de Ferran and Fernandez efforts.

The Lowe’s operation, meanwhile, had clinched the team, driver and manufacturer titles in LMP2, so they weren’t required to hold back in hopes of simply finishing. This time, the team was set to compete for the overall win. A tight circuit like Laguna Seca could be well-suited to another possible LMP2 overall win. An LMP2 car had not won an ALMS race overall since 2008 at Detroit, when Franck Montagny and James Rossiter captured the crown for Andretti Green Racing.

The teams were watching the weather closely again this week, noting that fog and low clouds from the Monterey Bay can roll into the racing facility and pose a major change from sunny afternoon conditions. The track surface can also cool quite quickly, while the dense air frequently necessitates engine adjustments.

In Thursday’s late afternoon testing runs, there was no doubt that de Ferran wanted to establish his love for the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course. Immediately, Gil was quick with a one-minute, 12.557-second lap, followed by Diaz at 1:12.983. The three Acura cars had more than a one-second advantage over the rest of the field. Last year, in qualifying, the four Acura LMP2 entries were in the top five positions at Laguna Seca, so, the Acuras were expected to be at the top of the speed chart.

Brabham was able to notch second in the test session with a 1:12.873 reading before Sharp jumped in for the final segment of testing. Both Simon Pagenaud and Adrian Fernandez also got laps in their respective cars as the sun set over the bay.

On Thursday night, the Patrón Highcroft team had decided not to run the Friday morning practice, since the team was pleased with the car in Thursday’s testing. Perhaps a bigger reason was the flu factor within the squad, and the thought that giving the team some added rest would be beneficial throughout the weekend.

Pagenaud was quickest early in the Friday morning practice, but the de Ferran team had to send its car to the garage area with a suspension problem. A left-front bearing had failed, and the team needed time to make the necessary repairs That left the Lowe’s Acura as the only Acura on track for the remainder of the morning session. Fernandez put the car P1 at a 1:13.311 before parking in the pit area.

Guy Smith later bettered Adrian’s clocking with a 1:13.096 in the No. 16 Dyson Racing Mazda.

With numerous support series competing during the weekend, the different types of tire rubber caused some slippery track conditions. It figured to be difficult to see any track records established during qualifications later in the day. But the Acuras showed some great, competitive action between the three teams.

Pagenaud and Fernandez battled for the top spot during the Friday afternoon practice. Brabham led off in the Patrón Highcroft Acura after sitting out the opening runs in the morning. At the 30-minute mark of the afternoon session, it was Pagenaud at a 1:13.491, with Fernandez at 1:13.606 and Brabs at 1:14.355.

Then, de Ferran, Diaz and Sharp made the switch to their respective machines. Diaz, who had qualified on the front row a year earlier at Laguna, quickly showed his prowess and held the overall top spot at 1:12.355. In the last minute of practice, de Ferran moved to the top of the charts with a 1:11.943.

Brabham wasn’t as happy with his mount, but the personable Aussie knew there were a few tricks to try on the No. 9 car that might assist him as he looked to repeat his 2008 pole at Laguna.

The LMP1 track record of 1:11.175 was up for grabs in Friday’s late-afternoon qualifying session, but the lap times established in practice never got close enough to place the record in jeopardy. The track conditions were cool, which could help the teams in the quest for the pole position and a potential track record. But, once again, the fog rolled into the track and hindered traction.

Diaz was quick right out of the pit lane, as he took the No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura LMP2 car to a 1:13.928 only four minutes into the 20-minute qualifying run. By his fifth lap, Diaz was P1 with a 1:11.310. De Ferran figured to be the favorite for the pole in the No. 66 machine, and Brabham could again be the sleeper for the top spot.

On his seventh qualifying lap, de Ferran clicked off a 1:11.206 for the fastest time of the day. Diaz made another attempt at de Ferran’s time with several 1:13s, but he couldn’t dip into the 1:12 bracket.
Meanwhile, Brabham was getting quicker with each lap. David recorded a 1:11.462 for third on the grid. Then he ripped off a 1:11.298 with four minutes remaining in qualifying. Could David upset Gil in his final race? De Ferran was on a flyer when the left front tire cut and deflated. So, it was up to Brabham to take a run at the pole on his final lap. A bit too much sliding for Brabs in the end, though, and he settled for second.

It was an exciting dash for the pole, with the three Acura cars a mere tenth of a second apart. The pole was Gil’s third this year, as many as his teammate Pagenaud, and the seventh for the de Ferran team in 10 races. Now, de Ferran was setting his sights on victory in the race, his finale as a driver.

“I was sliding the car like a go-kart out there,” said de Ferran following his pole run. “It was my last qualifying session, but I didn’t think about it at the time. The session was tough and very close. I couldn’t lose focus at the end. Now, it’s kind of emotional. But we still have four hours of racing ahead of us. And we want to win this race very badly.”

The Saturday morning warm-up brought trouble for the Patrón Highcroft team. Brabs went out for just a lap, and an oil leak was discovered. The crew wheeled the car back to the garage and went through it completely. Meanwhile, De Ferran was quickest in the warm-up with a 1:14.111. So, the stars were pretty much in line for Gil to conclude his driving career with a pole and win. It would be just like he did back in 2003, in the IndyCar Series season finale at Texas.

The Laguna Seca staff had named de Ferran as Grand Marshal for the weekend, so Gil had some pre-race responsibilities, in addition to prepping for the four-hour race.

“Simon will start the race this time,” de Ferran explained. “I want to see the checkered flag for the last time from the cockpit. Win or lose, I think it will good for me to be in the car at the finish.”

The Patrón Highcroft team, still battling the flu bug, finally received some time to rest after finding the oil leak in the morning. Brabham would start and drive for the first two-thirds of the four-hour event. Diaz, after his brilliant qualifying run, was the starter in the No. 15 car, and hoped for a solid stint before handing the car to Fernandez.

At the drop of the green flag, Pagenaud was fast and pulled out an advantage. Brabham paced himself, but, as usual, the powerful Lola of Jon Field applied pressure. A full-course caution period came early when Paul Drayson and Klaus Graf came together in Turn Nine. On the restart, Field drove around Brabs on the front straight for second.

Pagenaud was on a mission in the white No. 66 Acura, as the popular Frenchman drove away from the field. By Lap 20, Simon enjoyed a 22-second lead and he diced his way through traffic well. By Lap 27, the advantage was up to 50 seconds, as Field had held up Brabs tremendously in the corners. Finally, David was able to scoot into second, but Pagenaud was long gone at that point.

On Lap 34, the yellow came out again, and Pagenaud pitted. A lap earlier, Simon had held a 69-second margin on Brabham. Brabs pitted on Lap 35 for fuel and tires. But David’s day almost ended in disaster three laps later. On the restart, Brabs’ mount was stuck in heavy traffic as he headed into Turn Two.

As David maneuvered his car down the hill, a very aggressive Oliver Gavin, in one of the GT2 Corvettes, clipped Brabham’s left rear and slid by into four other machines. Playing it cool as he entered Turn Two, Brabs hit his brakes early in the No. 9 Acura and avoided the big crash. A few inches further and Brabham’s title hopes might have been buried in a ton of crash damage.

Luckily for the Patrón Highcroft crew, the crash kept the yellow flag out for several laps, and David was able to return to the pits for new rear bodywork, tires and fuel. However, when the green flag flew on Lap 44, Brabs re-entered in sixth position.

Pagenaud and Diaz put on a good dice for the lead for several laps before Simon was able to open up a three-second lead by Lap 51. Trouble struck Brabham again on Lap 54, when the shifter indicator on the steering wheel went out. The team decided to bring Brabs into the pits again.

Would this small electrical problem cost the Patrón Highcroft team the LMP1 championship?

The Patrón Highcroft crew made the call to assist David with the shifting calls as he left the pits. Brabs would have to remember his gear shifting as he drove the track, and hope that nothing else would go wrong with the electrical parts of the car. Brabham remained in sixth by Lap 60, as Pagenaud held an 18-second lead.

Pagenaud extended his margin to 35 seconds by Lap 70, and Gil was getting prepared in the pit area for his final drive. The next lap brought a caution period, and Simon pitted the No. 66. Gil jumped in as the crew made a fast fuel and tire stop. Diaz also pitted and was replaced by Fernandez.

The No. 48 Corsa Hybrid LMP1 prototype, with Stefan Johansson in the cockpit, was putting on a sensational drive, running second overall when it encountered a steering problem. On the restart, de Ferran got stuck in traffic and Fernandez closed the gap. Meanwhile, Brabham was two laps behind the lead pack, but the Aussie was running a consistent pace in fifth. By Lap 90, Fernandez was pressuring de Ferran with the Lowe’s machine. The nimble LMP2 Acura was very competitive in traffic and staying right with Gil.

On Lap 100, de Ferran’s car came alive as the Michelins heated up. He was able to open the lead to 12 seconds. Four laps later, Brabs pitted at the two-hour, 35-minute mark and Sharp took the wheel. The Patrón Highcroft team needed about 10 laps to secure the title. Running third overall, Sharp was nursing the Acura through busy traffic.

On Lap 121, both de Ferran and Fernandez pitted for the final time. Under the green flag, the de Ferran team felt it only needed to fuel the car. This would give Gil a good advantage over Fernandez, who took on tires and fuel during his stop.

De Ferran hold a 20-second lead at Lap 126, but the question was, “Would he be able to hold off Fernandez?” Adrian’s fresh set of Michelins was going to be an advantage, especially as the track surface cooled in the darkness. Traffic was another problem for Gil. The heavier LMP1 Acura couldn’t get through the GT cars as easily as Adrian’s car could. Lastly, Fernandez’ smaller Acura would get better fuel mileage than the larger engine in de Ferran’s LMP1 Acura.

By Lap 135, Fernandez had cut de Ferran’s lead to eight seconds. And just 10 laps later, Fernandez was a half second from Gil’s white No. 66. The race was on.
It was a tremendous nose-to-tail battle, with Fernandez able to run right with de Ferran as the Acura-powered pair diced its way through lapped cars. On Lap 149, Fernandez dove under de Ferran in Turn 11 for the lead. But Gil’s LMP1 power was put to use on the long front straightaway and de Ferran soon went back to the front.

“Gil, Fernandez is right up your ***,” radioed Will Phillips, de Ferran’s chief engineer. “We need you to save as much fuel as possible. We’ll be able to use that fuel later in the race.”

“I know, I know,” said de Ferran. “I’m trying the best I can.”

Fernandez was in a strong position with better fuel mileage and fresher tires. But de Ferran’s power on the long straightaway always opened up a gap. Still, it was never more than a second. The racing was sensational, with two guys in their 40s putting on a great show.

You would have thought it was 10 years earlier in the CART days. Lap after lap, Fernandez applied pressure, and de Ferran held him off each time. With two laps remaining, Adrian was only .471 seconds behind Gil at the start/finish line, and he was much closer on other parts of the circuit.

On the final lap, de Ferran’s crew told him to use his fuel to hold off Fernandez. Adrian was pressing as hard as he possibly could. At the checkers, de Ferran completed a storybook ending by capturing his final race by .662 seconds. Adrian finished second, and drew some consolation from his eighth race win of the 2009 season, tying the LMP2 mark set by Penske Racing in 2007.

And Sharp, some three laps down due to the Patrón Highcroft team’s assorted problems, came home third overall, securing the coveted LMP1 team and driver championships.

There were smiles all around the Acura camp. The 1-2-3 overall finish was Acura’s fifth podium sweep of the year, and no car maker in ALMS history had ever taken both prototype championships in the same season.

“I never thought about those laps being my last during the race,” said de Ferran afterward. “I was totally focused on racing flat-out against Adrian. Our race was great, and it is memorable to have a final race be so competitive. It wasn’t until I shut off the motor that it finally hit me that this is it. That was my final race. It’s been a great career. Now, I move on to another portion of my life.”

-- Tom Blattler

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