HPD Blog

Friday, April 29, 2011

I RACE A HONDA AND AN ACURA: BRIAN SHANFELD


My story is a little different from some you’ve read because I race a Honda, for Honda. I work for Honda R&D Americas in Raymond, Ohio, working on interior packaging and testing. I race with a team of guys who are all engineers, and we race with limited financial and logistical support from Honda. I started the road-racing part of the racing club 13 years ago and have been road racing ever since. I also did a little performance rally racing for about a year prior to that.

Primarily, I race in the National Auto Sport Association (NASA). Last year, I finished first in Performance Touring B and third in the Honda Challenge at the NASA National Championships at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, both in an Acura TL Type S. I also raced for the Honda team at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill in a Fit prepared to prototype B-Spec rules, a racing class for sub-compacts that looks set to be adopted by both NASA and the Sports Car Club of America.

Given the nature of my job, it might be hard to figure out the connection between interior packaging and racing. Racing, however, has given me a greater understanding of cars. The things I’ve learned working on race cars helped me have a greater knowledge of parts I wouldn’t get to know in so much detail during my day-to-day job. I now know what the chassis durability guys are talking about, or what the engine component crew needs. It gives me a good perspective of the entire car when we invariably end up negotiating for some piece of real estate that I want for something and they want for something else.

The TL was one of the performance models that was developed by the R&D Center here in Ohio, as opposed to being developed in Japan. The Type S that I raced at the National Championship was one we constructed for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill in 2004. We were inspired to build it because after it was launched, the model received some criticism for being front-wheel drive, whereas most cars in this luxury segment are rear-wheel drive. What better way to prove its prowess than race it? We won our class by about 50 laps that year and ended up third overall. The car is a lot faster than you would think, and it surprises a lot of people.

Since then, the car has been kicking around, seeing constant action. It’s run the 25 Hours twice, a couple of 13-hour races and a few four-hour events, in addition to countless sprint races. It’s fast, it’s tough and it never breaks, so we just keep racing it. It has been driven by 13 different drivers in its seven-year life and accumulated over 10,000 racing miles.

At the National Championships, I chose to run Performance Touring B in addition to Honda Challenge. The car was essentially the same for both races, the only difference being tires. Performance Touring is a points-based category where any car can run. You start with a base classification that comes from the car’s factory configuration – driven wheels, horsepower, etc. Anything you modify on the car is assessed a certain number of points, and for every 20 points you bump up a class. Most of the modifications include suspension upgrades and reduced weight; the engine is an unopened crate motor with a different intake and exhaust.

In PTB I qualified on the outside front row and led from the first corner. Winning races in cars which we developed is a big source of pride for all of us at Honda R&D. That includes not only the members of the racing team, but, when we bring back the results to show everybody that had a hand in development of the car, it’s a great feeling.

We had that same feeling with the Fit at last year’s 25 Hours. Running alongside the crew with our new CR-Z hybrids, we were testing the B-Spec rules. Mazda also had a Mazda2 B–Spec car in the race. The Fit was built mostly by our Torrance-based teammates; I just showed up to help them button it up and get it to the track. I was one of seven drivers – including Simon Pagenaud, the accomplished racer who won the LMP2 class for HPD in the American Le Mans Series last year.

The race was pretty uneventful for the Fit. We kept the car on the track, didn’t break anything and avoided any penalties. Our biggest challenge was dealing with the very wet weather and the faster cars around us. The car was actually fantastic to drive, especially in the wet. It was probably the best car I’ve ever driven in the wet in terms of natural balance and confidence in the tricky conditions. Even in the dry, it was a lot better than I expected. We ended up fourth in our class, having covered 1,710 miles at an average speed over 60 mph. And we turned our fastest lap just minutes from the end.

For 2011 I’ll primarily race an S2000 CR, to get some more rear-wheel drive experience. Our plans are still up in the air, but we know we’ll be at the NASA National Championships. This year, they move back to Mid-Ohio Sports Car course, just short distance away from Honda R&D and one of our favorite stomping grounds.

Look for Brian Shanfeld and other members of Team Honda Research on track in NASA competition in 2011, including the NASA National Championships at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sept. 8-11.

And if you’re a racer in a Honda or with Honda power, don’t forget to register for the Honda Racing Line program at www.hondaracingline.com.

Honda Racing Line is proud to offer original equipment replacement parts, performance parts and crate engines to Honda and Acura grassroots racers in the entry- level through professional ranks.

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