HPD Blog

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Paddock Report 11 – Watkins Glen


-Dan Layton

Last year, the Watkins Glen race generated one of IndyCar’s “feel good” stories of the year, as Justin Wilson shocked the field with a victory for perennial mid-field [and that’s being kind] team Dale Coyne Racing. I called it “the day the minnow ate the sharks”.

But this year, order was restored, and the sharks dined mightily. Scoring his third win of 2010 – no other driver has more than one – Team Penske’s Will Power firmly established himself as the man to beat for the title. Two other Penske/Ganassi drivers, Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchitti, filled out the podium, leaving the rest to fight over table scraps.

This was the sixth time the IZOD IndyCar Series has run at The Glen, and Scott Dixon has won three of them. But not this year, as Dixon’s just slightly over-eager move on Helio Castroneves in the chicane during the early laps sent both to the pits: resulting in a flat right front and damaged wing for Dixie, and a flat right rear for “twinkletoes”. That ruined the race for both and was probably the only thing preventing a 1-2-3-4-5 for the BTT (Big Two Teams).

This was Will Power’s weekend, and that’s been a bit of a trend this year (see also Ryan Hunter-Reay@Long Beach, Dixon@Kansas, Franchitti@Indy, Briscoe@Texas, etc). Here, Power started from the pole, led over half the laps, and basically looked to be in command pretty much from start to finish.

After nine races this season, we’ve had seven different winners, which is way cool. But only one of them – the Aussie from the little town with the weird name of Toowoomba – has more than a single victory.

So here we are, halfway through the 2010 season and this much is obvious to me: With three wins so far, Power’s my somewhat obvious tip to win it all this year. Not too bad for a guy who was rideless 18 months ago … a part-time driver 12 months ago … and nine months ago, was held together with pins and screws after a back-breaking crash at Infineon.

Other Stuff

In addition to IndyCars, we also had Indy Lights, the SCCA World Challenge (see my blog on another RealTime GTS class win) and a pair of F2000 Championship Series races on the holiday weekend schedule at The Glen.

On the “Light-er” side, “JK” Vernay expanded his championship points lead with a narrow victory (two-tenths of a second) over his closest title challenger, James Hinchcliffe. Two other possible challengers – Charlie Kimball and Stefan Wilson (Justin’s younger brother) – were eliminated early with engine problems.

Besides the battle at the front, where “Hinch” led early, but was eventually chased down and passed by Vernay, the highlight of the day was watching the series debut of Anders Kohn. The F2000/Star Mazda graduate started mid-field and had an entertaining day, dicing with Wilson (before the latter’s DNF), Martin Plowman and James Winslow until a late off-course dropped him back to 10th.

Over the last five laps, Hinchcliffe gave it all he had, usually trying to pass at the “Inner Loop” chicane, but could never quite pull it off. Sebastian Saavedra, winner in Iowa two weeks ago, rounded out the top three finishers.

The F2000 Championship Series is NOT the US F2000 Series that is part of the "Road to Indy" ladder system. But it does have large fields (32+ for two races at The Glen) and some truly talented young drivers at the sharp end of the grid.

This weekend, Aussie Dan Erickson (who - full disclosure here - drives for the Quantum Mechanics team where I have an FF partnership) won both days, just ahead of quick American Chris Livengood. On Sunday, it was 18-year-old Brazilian Victor Carbone who finished second, while another US kid to watch, Cole Morgan, held off Livengood for third. Great races, both days.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

HPD Civic Scores First Victory in Toronto

TORONTO, Ont. (July 17, 2010) – Acuras and Hondas abounded in Victory Circle following three support races run at the Honda Indy Toronto, taking class wins in both the SCCA World Challenge and the Canadian Touring Car Championship events, and claiming the first World Challenge Touring Class victory for the HPD Honda Civic Si.

Driving the RealTime Racing-entered Honda, Nick Wittmer started from the pole and held off strong challenges from both Mazda and Scion entries to claim the Touring Class win, the first for the HPD Civic since its introduction earlier this year at the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

In the GTS category, RealTime’s Peter Cunningham continued his winning ways, taking his Acura TSX to its fourth victory of 2010, and Cunningham’s record-extending 36th SCCA World Challenge class win.

Wittmer visited Victory Circle yet again in the first of two Canadian Touring Car Championship races at Toronto. Driving another Honda Civic Si, this time for Quebec-based Lombardi Honda Racing, Wittmer won both overall and the Super class in Saturday’s race, edging the Audette Racing Acura RSX of Mathieu Audette by just four-tenths of a second.

In the Touring category, local favorite Tom Kwok posted a pair of victories in his M&S Racing Honda Civic. Saturday’s race was a 1-2-3 sweep for Honda, as the Civics of Anthony Rapone (Compass360 Racing) and Patrick Sequin (Classic Canadian Cars Motorsports) filled out the podium.

A joint effort by Honda Performance Development and Honda R&D Americas, the RealTime Racing HPD Civic Si is competing in select SCCA World Challenge and Grand-Am Continental Tire Challenge events in 2010.

The HPD Civic utilizes a variety of components from HPD’s racing parts line, including HPD-designed brake ducts and camber/caster plates; a lightweight competition wiring harness developed by Honda R&D; a racing fuel cell produced to HPD specifications; and the Honda 2.0-liter K20 Type R race engine.

The HPD Civic Si will also serve as a platform for confirmation of the quality and performance capabilities of HPD-designed racing parts and branded components, available to racers through the Honda Racing Line.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More Victories At Home and Abroad

Patrón Highcroft Racing's Simon Pagenaud and David Brabham took their HPD ARX-01c sports prototype to a third straight American Le Mans Series victory at Miller Motorsports Park last weekend; while “across the pond” the Honda Civics of Team Dynamics continued to rack up the wins in the British Touring Car Championship.

Despite the handicaps imposed by Miller’s high elevation – where the turbocharged competition was less affected than the normally-aspirated HPD machine – Patrón Highcroft drivers Brabham and Pagenaud used superior handling and excellent fuel mileage to come through for yet another victory.

After starting on the pole, the HPD machine was shuffled back to sixth at the start as the turbocharged competition, led by the Intersport AER-Lola of Jon Field and the Drayson Judd-Lola of Jonny Cocker, burst ahead on Miller’s long front straightaway. Starting driver David Brabham soon had the Highcroft car up to third behind Cocker and Field.

When the leaders all pitted under caution near the one-hour mark, the Patrón Highcroft crew got Pagenaud out fastest and into the lead. The HPD driver would lose that advantage to the two Lolas during the next stint, but Pagenaud ran eight laps further than his primary rivals before making his final pit stop, half an hour from the checkered flag.

That was enough to vault Pagenaud back into the lead, 15 seconds ahead of Cocker's teammate, Emanuele Pirro, and he inched slightly further away before clinching the win and bolstering his and Brabham's championship points lead.

In the always exciting BTCC, Gordon Shedden posted another pair of victories in his Team Dynamics Honda Civic Si at the Croft circuit in northeastern England, while teammate and former series champion Matt Neal recorded a pair of top-four finishes to continue leading the drivers’ championship after five of 10 race weekends.

The unique BTCC format includes three races per round, with race winners “rewarded” with success ballast and grids inverted for the second and third races each weekend.

Former series champion Neal finished fourth and second in the first two races at Croft, but dropped out of the third with a punctured tire. He now holds an eight-point lead over Chevrolet racer Jason Plato.

“Flash” Gordon Shedden – yes, he even has the name sewn on his fire suit – won the first race by just 0.035 seconds over the BMW of Rob Collard; then led a Dynamics/Honda 1-2 result in Race Two. Contact at the start of the third race left Shedden with damaged steering and a ninth-place finish, but he remains third in the championship, just one point behind Plato.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

RealTime Acuras Rule at Watkins Glen

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (July 7, 2010) – The Acura TSXs of RealTime Racing dominated the GTS class at last weekend’s SCCA World Challenge Grand Prix of Watkins Glen, finishing 1-2 with Peter Cunningham leading teammate Nick Esayian at the historic 3.77-mile road course in upstate New York.

Starting from the GTS pole, Cunningham scored his record-extending 35th SCCA World Challenge class win, but his first World Challenge victory at Watkins Glen.

“My first professional race win was here in June of 1982 in the 24-hour race, but it’s nice to get my first World Challenge win here,” Cunningham said. “It’s such a fun track, one of the most challenging in North America, and we love it. I had my way today. The Acura ran great, and I’m glad to have such a strong finish.”

Cunningham now has a 90-point lead in the GTS Drivers’ Championship over fellow RealTime driver Esayian, who posted his fourth podium and second runner-up finish of the season. Acura also holds a commanding lead over Porsche in the GTS Manufacturers’ Championship.

In the Touring Class, native Russian driver Alexander Lvov’s battle for second in class with Dan Gardner’s Scion SC was a highlight of the race, as the pair traded positions repeatedly, culminating in a fender-banging final lap that sent Lvov briefly off course before he finished third. It was the first podium finish of 2010 for Lvov and his GMS Honda Civic Si.

Also in TC, series rookie Brett Sandberg finished fourth, equaling his best previous finish this year, driving an Acura TSX for the Whitehall Stable team.

Next up for SCCA World Challenge competitors will be the July 16 Honda Indy Toronto.


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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Paddock Report – Iowa

-Dan Layton


If Newton, Iowa, isn’t in the middle of nowhere, it’s at least in the same zip code. I mean, it’s a good 40-mile drive from Des Moines, much less any other outpost of western civilization. But boy, do they love their open-wheel racing up in the land of corn and John Deere, and that’s good enough for me.

At just under a mile, Iowa Speedway is a genuine short track, the only one on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule this year. I do wish it was a bit flatter. Steep banking helps big, lumbering stock cars heave their overweight, under-tired selves around the corners; but all it does for IndyCars is pin them to the track. Still, I’m just grateful to have at least one short track left where fans can marvel at the speed and raw energy of an IndyCar at full song.

Race Day
Sunday’s Iowa Corn 250 was not only the best race of 2010, it was one of the most combative and competitive shows in recent memory as almost 35,000 people (about 85-90% capacity, despite some reports to the contrary) were treated to a pass-happy 250 laps and one long overdue, heck-of-a-drive by Tony Kanaan.


Of the 17 lead changes, all but one came at speed and on track – not in the pits. Teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon battled each other for first place like their jobs were on the line while Kanaan and Franchitti went side-by-side and swapped the top spot five times in 25 laps. It was just a GREAT RACE.



Dario’s undefeated streak at Iowa (he won in 2007 and ’09) came to an end when gearbox failure set him to the pits for a long stop. That took him out of the picture, but Helio Castroneves stepped in and became Kanaan’s strongest late-race threat….until the last 10 laps, when TK REALLY stepped it up and pulled out to a four-second margin of victory and his first win since – wait for it – Richmond in 2008!

And while this was the first time Franchitti didn’t win in Iowa, it was the first time Kanaan even managed a finish. He had crashed here in all three previous races…

Rounding out the top three was E.J. Viso, finally providing KV Racing with a ray of sunshine among the “festival of carbon fiber” that all-too-often has summed up the team’s season. It also was E.J.’s career-best IndyCar finish and maybe, just maybe, made up a little bit for teammates Mario Moraes (an innocent victim in Justin Wilson’s first-lap spin/crash) and Takuma Sato (who once again was mega-fast, but once again stuck it in the fence mid-race).

Good day. Great race. But after four ovals, this old road racer is ready to head to Watkins Glen for the start of the July road-course swing.

Bits ‘n Bobs
Alex Lloyd had a decent run to 13th, especially considering he was coming off surgery to remove his appendix during the week leading up to the race – but he shouldn’t expect a Christmas Card from Sarah Fisher this year. She was most displeased after being pushed off line (her belief), onto the marbles and into the Turn 4 fence on Lap 92.

Hideki Mutoh, who’s had great runs (including a second-place finish) here in the past, had a weekend from hell instead this year – starting with a crash over the infamous Tunnel Bump in testing the week prior to the race. The team parked him during the race after he struggled all through practice, qualifying and the race.

The week before Iowa, Tony Kanaan had a blast running a “late model” dirt-track car in Tony Stewart’s annual “Prelude to the Dream” charity race at Eldora Speedway. TK said he’s already looking forward to coming back next year.

Graham Rahal was “Driver of the Week”, substituting for the injured Mike Conway at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Tomas Scheckter was the sub at Texas, and the ole’ Chrome Horn himself, Paul Tracy, will sit in at Watkins Glen before moving over to KV for Toronto and Edmonton.

One of the more unique calls to start engines came from Tim Burrack, chairman of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board: "Drivers, please start those no-tar-ball, corn-ethanol engines!"

And on that note, we’ll close this one out. See you again after the ‘Glen.

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HPD LM-V8 Engine and ARX-LMP2 Chassis – Information, Specs

HPD's championship winning LM-V8 engine and the ARX-LMP2 chassis continue to have a presence in the American Le Mans Series during the 2010 season with the Patrón Highcroft Racing entry in the prototype category.

Patrón Highcroft Racing is fielding an updated ARX-01c prototype, co-driven by David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Mario Franchitti for 2010. During the 2010 season, the team achieved outright victories at Long Beach and Laguna Seca and placed second in class at the Sebring 12 Hour race.

For each of the past three American Le Mans Series seasons, Duncan Dayton's Patrón Highcroft Racing and Honda Performance Development fielded the highest-scoring Acura team - and won last year's LMP1 championship. In 2010, the Patrón Highcroft team is racing an iteration of its original HPD LMP2 ALMS entry. The team has scored key milestones for HPD - recording the first overall American Le Mans Series win, as well as the first LMP1 victory.

Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD), the Honda racing company within North America, is the technical operations center for Honda high-performance racing programs, specializing in the design and development of race engines, chassis and performance parts, and providing technical/race support. HPD is the single engine supplier to the IndyCar® Series and leases engines for prototype sportscar racing in the American Le Mans® Series (ALMS) and European Le Mans Series (LMS).





Friday, July 2, 2010

Paddock Report – Texas

-Dan Layton

The ending line to the movie “Winning” has Lou Erding (Robert Wagner) saying to Frank Capua (the late, great, real racer Paul Newman): “After Indy, we always go to Milwaukee.”

Not this year, Bunky.

Unfortunately, Milwaukee couldn’t answer the bell for 2010. Hopefully, ‘The Mile’ will be back on the schedule next season. This year, however, instead of a one-mile, flat track, we headed to the most intimidating, highest-banked, pucker-inducing track on the schedule: Texas Motor Speedway.

With Texas being a Saturday-night race, it was a very quick turnaround for the teams after the Indy 500, and that impacted several teams that had “issues” at Indy.

De Ferran Dragon, for example, had planned to run both Rafa Matos and Davey Hamilton at Texas. But as both drivers crashed out at Indy – and with the team having only two cars – it was a VERY busy two days at the little shop just south of the Speedway, as the small team thrashed hard and late into the night to get just one car ready for Matos at Texas.

They got it done – just. Hamilton would have to watch from the sidelines, and returned to the network radio booth.

Additional post-Indy fallout included the departure of co-owner Jim Freudenberg from the impressive new FAZZT Racing effort, the result of continuing concerns on the sponsorship side of the team that resulted in primary owner Andre Azzi having to write a couple of large checks to cover expenses.

Team Manager Rob Edwards has assumed Freudenberg’s duties, and can hopefully get things turned around on the commercial side, as, on the actual competition side, this has been a very impressive new team, punching well above its weight with Alex Tagliani driving.

Although his future beyond Iowa is not yet certain, Ryan Hunter-Reay was back with Andretti Autosport, his left thumb in a cast after breaking it against his steering wheel following contact in pit lane at Indy. Fortunately, he escaped injury in the HUGE ONE on the last lap of the ‘500.’


Mike Conway, of course, was not so fortunate, but he was released from Methodist Hospital in Indy on Friday, June 4, and is back home recovering from his broken leg and fractured back. He’ll be out of the cockpit for at least the next three months, but should recover fully.

The opening practice session saw a lot of typical Texas two-wide running, as drivers were trying each other out and seeing how cars would handle with rubber building up on the high side. As a result of all the drafting, it was a curious time sheet at the end of the session, with the likes of Milka Duno in sixth (!), four spots ahead of Helio Castroneves (!!!).

Overall, the gap was just .4222 seconds from the quickest (Scott Dixon) to Mario Romancini at the back of the 26-car field. With an abbreviated, two-day race weekend, this would be the sole practice before qualifying, with the second practice, early Friday evening, being used for race setup prep.

Oh yeah, have I mentioned that was typically Texas HOT over the weekend. Mid-90s ambient, a cool, comfortable 60+% humidity.

Qualifying wrapped up with the usual suspects P1-P5 (All Penske/Ganassi, All the Time). Ryan Briscoe went from zero (crashing out at Indy) to hero by qualifying on the pole for The Captain, followed by the rest of the Gang of 5: Franchitti, Power, Dixon and Castroneves. Yawn.

But then it got …. Interesting.

In P6 was none other than Alex Lloyd, driving for Dale Coyne Racing. Over the winter, Coyne lost a lot of talent, both behind the wheel (Justin Wilson to Dreyer & Reinbold) and behind the pit wall (engineer Bill Pappas to KV).

But, in typical Dale Coyne fashion, he’s found a way to bounce back, first by adding Alex Lloyd as driver for the #19 Boy Scouts car and, starting at Indy, veteran team manager/engineer Mitch Davis as – naturally – team manager/engineer. The results were almost immediate: an excellent fourth-place run at Indy, followed by a sixth-place (and “first in class”) qualifying effort here.

Even Milka qualified 17th out of 26. Of course, that was alone on the track. In traffic during the race, she would do her usual immediate march to the rear of the field…

A couple more tidbits from qualifying: Hideki Mutoh slotted in a strong seventh, as he continues to fit in well at Newman Haas; while Danica was eighth and the fastest of the Andretti cars. But overall, the AA cars still continue to struggle in oval qualifying sessions. The race (just check out the Indy results) is usually a different story. Mutoh’s countryman, Takuma Sato, put in another solid qualifying effort, quickest rookie and 11th overall.

The final practice, as expected, saw everyone packing up. And if a driver didn't naturally wind up in a pack, he/she would slow until she/he got caught by one. At one point, it looked like about 15 cars were hooked up together. All exciting/scary to watch, but all necessary to prepare for 228 laps around the place on Saturday night.

Forget the final practice times, they’re basically irrelevant in the pack. It’s all about how the car handles in traffic. Does it want to understeer “up the hill” when running closely behind someone (bad car!) or does the back end want to pass the front when someone else pulls alongside (VERY bad car!!!). How much added wing is needed to keep it planted? How hot will it be at the start, and how much will it cool down as the race progresses? How many cautions are expected? Decisions, decisions. These are what keep the engineers (and many drivers!) up even later at night here.

Remember that the IRL changed the rules last year to allow teams to run different downforce levels. And we saw just that at Texas. There was a mixture of teams using or not using the "wheel ramp" (I think that is what it's called) that extends from the top of the sidepod to a point just in front of the rear tire. It also ends just above the "kick-ups" that attach to the undertray and are again just in front of the rear tires. Obviously, this produces different downforce levels. More decisions.

And on to Race Day we go….

Continuing this week’s theme of “Heroes and Zeros”, lets take a look at who starred in Texas and who got fitted out for tar & feathers:

Heroes:

Ryan Briscoe came back from finding the wall at Indy to victory in Texas. The race was really good, with typical Texas pack racing through the first two stints. At the end, it turned into just a bit of a fuel-mileage deal, stringing out the field for the last 30 laps or so, but the fastest car and driver won – and boy, did Roger Penske look uncomfortable wearing a cowboy hat in Victory Circle!
Danica Patrick came back from boos at Indy to huge cheers in Texas. She was there or thereabout all night long, but owes teammate Tony Kanaan a big one after inadvertently chopping him BIG TIME during some mid-race cut-and-thrust. Still, she got the crowd on its feet and cheering. She briefly took the lead after the last green-flag stops, but there wasn’t too much doubt that Briscoe would come back strong after his final stop. Still, an excellent run for “Miss Sparkle Pony” (Tommy Kendall’s nickname for her), and at exactly the right time.

Also getting well-deserved cheers was Simona de Silvestro, who kept her cool when all about her were losing theirs. Simona started at the back of the field, as her team never messed with a qualifying setup, just focused on running her in traffic in practice. In the race, she moved up to mid-field early on, but then her car went loose and she tried to carry on at the same pace – only to learn just how bad an idea that can be.

As was inevitable, she finally dropped it in Turn 2, slapped the wall and then went for a Texas-style slide all the way to the exit of Turn 3 - with the ride side on fire the whole time. But the rookie kept her wits about her – even as the normally excellent safety team dropped the ball big-time (see “Zeros” below) – and came out of the deal with only minor burns on her right hand and a whole bunch of new fans.

Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti all make the “Hero” list, as once again Andretti Autosport suffered in qualifying only to star in the race. Marco said the team piled on the downforce for the race so its drivers would have stable cars over a long run, and it worked a treat for all four AA cars, led by Danica in 2nd, Marco 3rd, TK 6th and RHR in 7th.

Similar to the Andretti story, Vitor Meira and Dan Wheldon also managed to turn nothing (poor qualifying runs) into something -- 9th for Wheldon and 10th for Captain Vic. They were passing cars all night long and looking racy throughout.

Zeros:

How can you finish 4th and 5th, lead a bunch of laps, take over the points lead and still be a “zero”? Well, it may be a bit unfair, but you can’t grade the Ganassi boys on a curve. Both cars were too trimmed out, and it repeatedly cost them positions in traffic during the race, leaving them deep in the field at mid-race. Both recovered in the final laps as the pack racing broke up into single-file running, so Dixon salvaged fourth, just ahead of Dario (who moved into the points lead). But by Ganassi’s high standards, it was a less-than-successful outing.

After once again showing a lot of promise in practice/qualifying, KV Racing had another tough, tough night. Takuma Sato had something break in the right-rear suspension on lap 57, sending him to the wall. Like de Silvestro, Sato hit at the exit of Turn 2, then slid all the way down the backstretch until glancing off the inside wall at the entrance to Turn 3. You don’t have small crashes in Texas….

Then, teammate Mario Moraes brought out the final caution on Lap 130. Castroneves was trying to go around Moraes in the front-stretch dog leg, but Mario moved up (NOT cool, unless you CLEARLY hear your spotter say, “clear”) and collected the Penske driver. They both hit the wall and then slid down the front stretch spinning. Bertrand Baguette was having a good race, but he just clipped Castroneves to end his night.

Finally, there’s the IndyCar Safety Team, who flat-out dropped the ball in responding to Simona’s crash. This has already been hashed and re-hashed, but in a nutshell, the team was trying out a new procedure in responding to the crash (with fire hoses instead of bottles), and the first crew on the scene wasn’t sure how to react when things failed to go “according to plan”.
Fortunately, the crew which arrived on the second truck understood the issue, and it was those guys who: 1) finally put a fire bottle to the fire; and 2) got Simona out of the car. But the second crew came all the way from its station at Turn 2, so there was a 30+-second delay before it arrived on the scene.

That’s about a wrap, except for a couple of quick postscripts. During the week after Texas, Tony Kanaan became the first IndyCar driver to attempt Tony Stewart’s annual “Prelude to the Dream” charity dirt-track race, driving a 600 bhp “Late Model Stock Car” (trust me, it’s neither) on the ½ mile Eldora oval.

It was TK’s first time ever on dirt and while he didn’t star, he certainly didn’t embarrass himself either. Give him a couple of practice days next year and he could be REALLY quick.

Also, Alex Lloyd had an appendix attack on June 10, and underwent surgery that night to have the offending organ removed. He’s good to go for Iowa.

Speaking of Iowa, we’re off to our only short-track race of 2010, and as (my one or two) regular readers know, I love short-track racing – even if it’s off in a cornfield, somewhere east of no where…..

But hey, Iowa always gets a great crowd, and it IS a short track, so I’m all ready to go!

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