HPD Blog

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Project Honda FF Diary - 4

[Welcome to the latest 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.]

It’s been a busy four weeks since my last post, and we’ve gotten a ton of work done on our Van Diemen, so here’s a recap of the effort so far:

At the end of December, our car – now officially named “Orange Crate” to go along with the other “named” Quantum cars such as “Black Beauty” and “Old Blue” – had been disassembled down to the bare frame. As noted last month, the old Kent engine was sold almost immediately, so the Quantum guys were able get started right away on the gearbox/driver train, suspension and hydraulics.

Everything was taken apart, inspected and re-assembled or replaced as needed. For the actual suspension components, this was a fairly simple process as all the important parts – wishbones, axles, stub axles, brake hats, etc., checked out okay. One of the tripod joints was junk, but that was about it.

But for the hydraulics, it was time for a complete rebuild, including all three master cylinders and all four brake calipers. The worn steering rack bushings also were replaced, a standard Van Diemen maintenance item.

The transmission was completely disassembled and turned out to be in pretty good shape, needing just regular maintenance; same with the differential, CWP and all the various bearings, carriers and related parts. The bell housing/oil tank assembly needed a bit more work, but turned out fine in the end with a fresh coating of matte black. All we need now is the Honda Fit input shaft, and the transmission can go back on the car.

Likewise, the fuel cell was in good condition and now only needs the pump and other fuel-system components in the Honda Fit “chassis kit” – and then it can be re-installed on the car.

Paperwork we got with the “Orange Crate” indicated the Penske dampers had fresh rebuilds from Stimola (good!), but two warped brake rotors were discovered (bad!), and replaced with fresh units from TDI Engineering.

A couple of the uprights previously had their brake caliper mounting ears ground down excessively, most likely in a vain attempt to make up for the warped rotors (dumb and bad!), so they were repaired properly. THAT wasn’t cheap, but necessary, and everything was bead-blasted, nickel plated, painted and/or powder coated as required.

The biggest single expense for the month was the purchase of a set of RTS modular wheels, so that we can start the season with two complete wheel sets [and I’m sure I’ll be buying a third set at some point this year].

Pretty picture of new and cleaned up bits attached for your viewing pleasure….

While the new wheels might have been the largest single parts cost of the month, by far the most labor-intense job was straightening and aligning the engine bay. This is a critical area for Van Diemens, as the engine is a semi-stressed component, and one that is often overlooked or misunderstood by typical FF owner/driver/mechanics.

But this isn’t the first Van Diemen rodeo for the Quantum boys, and the Millers understand the importance of proper engine alignment and the procedure to use to achieve it. Not a terribly difficult procedure, but one that demands the proper tools, knowledge, time – and patience.

You begin by placing the bare frame on the shop’s surface plate – an elevated work table, completely flat and level in all dimensions. The frame was fine from the engine bulkhead forward, but the right side of the engine bay itself was twisted past repairable tolerances, most likely by a previous crash. That meant purchasing replacement right side tubing and hours of work [I haven’t had the courage yet to ask just how many hours] spent with digital levels, calipers, tape measure, straightedge, and shims of various thicknesses, to make everything square & happy once more.

This is one of those time-consuming projects that makes you extremely proud once it’s completed, but miserable and cursing repeatedly while underway…..

The final job for January was to prepare the chassis for pouring the foam/bead driver’s seat. At Quantum, they line the cockpit area with aluminum panels to create a smooth surface on the floor and sides. This makes it much easier to install and/or change out seats since they’re now made to expand and fit against a flat, smooth surface – rather than expanding out and forming around the chassis tubes. It also makes the cockpit area a bit safer for the driver in the event of a shunt – with fewer exposed tubes to hit with flaying arms, hands, etc.

We still need to make the seat, which we’ll likely do on my next trip down to the shop. The Fit engine and engine kit should be arriving soon, and hopefully the Van Diemen chassis kit will quickly follow, so that we can finish up the transmission and fuel cell installation, clutch slave cylinder, engine mounts, etc.

We also have to decide what to do about the radiators, as the ones that came with my car are aftermarket “double-pass” models and have a different plumbing arrangement from the stock VD rads, and start bolting everything together. Then there’s the installation of the Fit engine, ECU, wiring loom, et al.

In other words, we’ve made a great deal of progress this month, but there still is a lot to do prior to our competition debut. We’re also working hard at finding a second driver for my car, and a driver for Quantum’s other Van Diemen, which is a couple of steps behind mine in the conversion process. I’ve had discussions with a pair of potential karting graduates in recent weeks, as well as with a young Midget/Sprint Car driver interested in giving road racing a try. Interest in the program – and in FF racing in general – seems to be growing, and that’s one of the primary goals of this project.

To say it’s been a busy January is a bit of an understatement. At one point there were no less than ten cars at the Quantum shop: the seven (including mine) that currently “live” there, and three more visiting customer cars (a Van Diemen F2000 car, a VD RF97 FF and a Swift DB-1 FF) all getting repairs, winter upgrades, or pre-season prep work done. Wendell called them “groupies that just want to hang with the good-looking ones like Crate and Beauty”. Works for me….

That’s a wrap for this month’s update. By next time we should have received our first Fit engine and be close to – or (hopefully!) have already have competed – our first test at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit, a GREAT club racing/test track just up the road from the Quantum shop. Talk to you then.

Picture 1 (frame on the surface table as seen from the left side)
Here’s the frame on surface table with the engine bay alignment nearly complete – note digital level and caliper atop the refurbished bell housine/oil tank assembly.
Picture 2 (new wheels, brake rotors, etc)
Some shiny, new bits (wheels, brake rotors) and shiny, refurbished old bits (uprights, master cylinders). Can you tell the difference?

Picture 3 (cockpit with unpainted aluminum panels installed)
The aluminum panels tidy up the cockpit area and will help with seat making and installation.

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