HPD Blog

Friday, April 8, 2011

I RACE A HONDA: DAVID THILENIUS

I’ve been racing for more than 25 years, and about 20 of those professionally, mostly in the series now known as the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. But last year was the highlight. Together with Lawson Aschenbach and the stellar crew at Compass360 Racing, we won the team, manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships in the Street Tuner class.

Compass360 Racing is a four-car Honda Civic Si team from Toronto. Before joining the team at the beginning of last season, I had driven for Bill Fenton Motorsports, another Honda team in the series. When Bill decided to move on to other things, I contacted Karl Thompson at Compass360 about doing something together. He teamed me with Lawson, and it was the beginning of a great year.

I didn’t know Lawson before that season, but we just really clicked right off the bat. I’m a bit of a smartass and he put up with that. He takes my ribbing pretty well and I take his. But it was really a lot of things that made it work. We found out that we both liked to sit in exactly the same position, so on the driver change, we didn’t have to adjust the belts … we didn’t have to adjust the seat … little things like that. Our backgrounds are similar; Lawson started out in open-wheel formula cars like I did, so we like the car the same way, with the same setup. We don’t like a super-loose car; we both like a car with a bit of understeer on corner entry and in mid-corner. If he got in the car and liked it, I knew that I was going to like it, and vice-versa.

The 2010 season couldn’t have started off any better; we qualified on the front row at Daytona and won the race. We later won at Watkins Glen, where I both started my professional racing career and had a big crash in 1992. But one race that stands out in my mind was Mid-Ohio. We were running pretty well, in the hunt for at least a top five and maybe a podium finish, when Lawson got hit by another car and broke a wheel and had to come in for a stop. It would have been so easy for him at that point to quit and accept a bad finish; but he just kept plugging and plugging and got us back to 10th. For me, that was a great thing, because I’m thinking, “Here’s a guy that’s never going to give up.” It was one of those weekends where nothing really went right, but everybody pushed so hard and tried so hard, that I’m really proud of that weekend even though the results weren’t that great.

For 2011 I’m teamed with Zach Lutz in the No. 74 car. Zach finished third in the drivers’ points last year in the No. 75 car. We both handled qualifying and starting duties for our cars last season, and we were very competitive with one another. It was always positive, but clearly you want to beat your teammate! That was one of the things that made the season so much fun. Through the first two races at Daytona and Homestead, Zach and I have been working together really well. It’s been great. We seem to like the car the same way, just as with Lawson.

We’ve struggled a bit so far this year with some mechanical problems; but there is no way this car isn’t going to be good for the rest of the season. It’s the nature of the beast that if you keep pushing and pushing, you always find the weak link. Last year we got lucky and didn’t have things break. I’m confident that we’re going to be there the rest of the season challenging for podiums. I don’t think there’s a better team out there than Compass360. We’ve got a good shot not just based on speed, but on strategy as well.

Our four-door Civic Si is a fantastic racecar. We’ve got a restrictor because of the rules this year, so we’re struggling a bit with power. But the handling of the car is fantastic. It really, really works. With that and the support we get from Honda, such as having a Honda engineer like Lee Niffenegger at the races with us, I’m expecting good things. Lee is a racer himself and understands the importance of the little things. He knows that being half a second off is a big deal, unlike some that aren’t intimately involved with the sport. It’s like we speak the same language.

Put all that together with some performance enhancements, and I see us up front for the rest of this season.

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