HPD Blog

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Little Racers - HPD Community Outreach

For the last three years, an associate from Honda Performance Development in Santa Clarita, CA has visited a local elementary school to do a community involvement project with the kindergarten class, and this year was no exception. In fact, this year provided some of the best racing yet by the Northpark Elementary kindergarten class.

The project, based on a higher-level engineering project designed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), uses common household items to build self-propelled cars that then compete for top honors in the class. While the original higher-level project incorporates testing several variables that may affect the performance of the car, the challenge of car construction was enough to keep these kids, their teacher, and Mr. Aaron (as the class affectionately called him) sufficiently engaged.

“At this early age, the children are still developing their motor skills at the same time they are learning how to read, write, do arithmetic, and [most importantly] follow instructions,“ says their teacher, Miss Bennett. “The last two years of doing this project have taught us a lot about how to put forth the information in a way that they can easily comprehend and follow.”

The cars themselves, constructed of a milk-carton chassis, with wheels made from push-pops, axles made from straws, a balloon power plant, all held together with several pieces of tape and glue, have also benefited from a couple years of evolution. “The previous versions of the cars used a chassis made from thick construction paper or paperboard that the children had to cut out, accurately fold, and tape together,” said Mr. Aaron. “While the kids were capable of all this, we found that there were inherent weaknesses. The chassis had to be enlarged to help the children handle the cars easier. This led to a weaker chassis overall. That, combined with what we have dubbed the “Slobber Factor,” resulted in several wetness-related chassis failures during, and even before, the final races.

“This year, we used eight-ounce milk cartons instead of the paper chassis. Since they are fully boxed they have much more structural rigidity, and the wax coating is an effective countermeasure to the wet demise of the earlier chassis.”

The project wasn’t just about building balloon-powered cars, though. Said Mr. Aaron, “We had a lot of classroom time to talk about racing and cars in general. We looked at videos, talked about the different types of racing, different types of tracks, and safety equipment that is necessary to keep the drivers and crews from serious injury. It was very evident which kids had family members that enjoyed racing, as they would chime in at every race-related question.”

Basic car construction and its relationship to what they were building was also discussed. When the time came to actually build the cars, the kids knew all the major components and could follow the instructions easily. Not all questions were easily answered, though. “I think the moment this year that I will always remember was when we were talking about how the engine sits in the chassis and one young boy asked why race cars had the engine in the rear [after looking at an HPD ALMS car] and street cars had the engine in the front,” Mr. Aaron recalled. “I was totally blown away. We had not discussed the concept of engine placement at all; it was just something he noticed. I didn’t know how to answer him. It was a very valid question with a complex answer about vehicle dynamics and balance that I struggled to find a simple way of explaining. I ended up using weight and friction to explain the concept.”

Mr. Aaron said he couldn’t claim all the credit, though. “I borrowed Mr. Miyagi’s hand-rubbing technique to teach them about friction and how more weight / force makes more friction and heat. I’m pretty sure they have never seen the original Karate Kid, so they’ll never know of my plagiarism.”

With all this combined, the racing this year was better than any before. The children were given balloons weeks in advance so that they could practice blowing them up, which is a challenge for those of such small lung capacity. When race day came, the kids were all charged up and ready to go. Races took place in bracket form, with the top four finishers competing against Mr. Aaron for the overall class win. With the balloons all inflated, and the cars perched on the starting line, the green flag was dropped and the cars took off. “The race across the short drag strip was so close that we had to actually review the video that the class assistant was taking in order to determine the winner,” claimed Mr. Aaron. “We have never had that many cars perform so well.”

At the end of the day, the champion – who won three races to get to the top – was Aidan LeVan, followed by Davis Perkins in second place. Mr. Aaron’s car came in third, but as his was only an honorary entry, the actual award was given to Abigail Montoya who finished just behind Mr. Aaron. “Despite the affection of the class, I felt oddly alone on the starting line, as all the students that were not in the finals were cheering for the students to beat me,” Mr. Aaron recalled.

The top three finishers received Honda Racing t-shirts and models of HPD’s sports cars for their achievements, along with HPD notebooks, knapsacks, INDYCAR posters, and Honda Racing stickers that were distributed to all the students courtesy of Honda Performance Development. It was a winning day for all, though, with all the kids cheering each other on and jumping around in jubilation at their achievements. In a contradiction of HPD’s extraordinary reliability, one car experienced an “engine failure” during the race when an overinflated balloon burst right at the start of the semi-finals. “The young boy was incredibly upset that his balloon popped, and thought it was unfair that he didn’t get to finish the race,” noted Mr. Aaron. “I guess in racing, some things never change.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Latest from the IndyCar Paddock... Canadian Style

-Dan Layton

Northern Exposure

Hit somebody! It rang in his ears
Blood on the ice ran down through the years
The king of goons with a box for a throne
A thousand stitches and broken bones
He never lost a fight on his icy patrol
But deep inside, Buddy only dreamed of a goal
He just wanted one damn goal

There were Swedes at the blue line, Finns at the red
A Russian with a stick heading straight for his head
Brains over Brawn — that might work for you
But what's a Canadian farm boy to do?

Hit Somebody!
-Warren Zevon: Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)

The late, great Warren Zevon would’ve loved the two recent Canadian IZOD IndyCar Series races in Toronto and Edmonton. There was enough slamming and banging in those two races to fill a full-season DVD.

Historically, Toronto has always been a scene of frequent contact and short tempers – going all the way back to the first race in 1986, when even race winner Bobby Rahal was fuming at the finish (after a mid-race “stop-and-wait” penalty) and 10 of the 25 cars in the starting field were eliminated by crashes – including the likes of local hero Jacques Villeneuve (Gilles’ younger brother), Mike Andretti and Tom Sneva.

The course layout seems to encourage passing attempts, but the bumps and asphalt-to-concrete pavement changes frequently makes zeros out of [potential] heroes...

Even so, this year was something else. By my unofficial count, at least 24 of the 26-car starting field had contact with other cars and/or the wall at least once at Toronto, while more than a half-dozen had two incidents of contact, and THREE (Alex Tagliani, Graham Rahal and Danica Patrick) were hitters/hittees no fewer than three times each.

As near as I could tell, only Sebastien Bourdais and Simona de Silvestro were able to complete the race in unmarked cars.

In purist terms, it wasn’t a great race. Heck, the [beautiful, new] Honda Civic Si pace car led 32 of the 80 laps! But it sure was entertaining, and it definitely ratcheted up the intensity factor as the IZOD IndyCar Series entered the second half of 2011.

And the first half of the subsequent event at Edmonton looked to be more of the same. The VERSUS television crew certainly got into the act right from the show’s cold open, which featured a highlight video recap of all the Toronto crashing set to the music of Ce Lo Green’s “[Forget] You”. Classic. I laughed my head off in pit lane just listening to it on my scanner.

And for the first 25 laps at Edmonton, it things appeared to be much the same. First, Alex Tagliani got sucked into a w-a-a-ay over-ambitious move at the end of the second straight, spearing into Rahal’s rear tire which, two turns later, sent Rahal into a spin and Paul Tracy over the top of him, ending both of their races.

Wait a minute … Paul Tracy a victim of someone else’s brain lapse? Yep.

More mayhem ensued (Mike Conway into Oriol Servia, E.J. Viso into Scott Dixon, and Ryan Hunter-Reay into pole qualifier Takuma Sato), but then things calmed down and a more “normal” IndyCar Series race broke out over the final 30 laps or so, with Will Power leading home teammate Helio Castroneves and Toronto winner Dario Franchitti.

So now, the point race has tightened up a bit and we head into Honda’s midwestern “Home” race at Mid-Ohio. It looks to be a hot and humid weekend at Mid-O, and the temperature in the paddock is expected to be equally high, despite some of the “happy smiling faces” put on for public display.

It should be fun.

Postscript: Just as I was getting ready to hit “send”, the word came down from INDYCAR that Conway, Hunter-Reay and Tagliani had all put on probation by “the iron hand of justice” – aka Race Director Brian Barnhart. These three all had at least one instance of contact at both Toronto and Edmonton, and as a result, have received the IICS equivalent of “five-minute majors”… Now the question is: Will this dampen some of the “enthusiasm” of the Canadian races or only put more fuel on the fire?

Monday, August 1, 2011


My name’s Kevin Ruck and I’m currently in my 12th season of SCCA Club Racing. And in all of that time, I’ve never raced anything other than a Honda or an Acura.

I began in Improved Touring C (ITC) with a Honda Civic, followed by several years of racing an Improved Touring A (ITA) Acura Integra, and eventually moving up to an F Production Integra and setting my sights on winning a Runoffs National Championship. I can proudly say that I’ve accomplished that goal, having become the 2010 SCCA F Production Runoffs National Champion.

I suppose that makes the journey sound a little easier than it really was. Going back a bit, I guess it started when my Dad brought home his first Honda Civic in 1978. Ever since then, our family brought home Honda after Honda as our cars of choice. Even though my Dad’s passion lay in old British roadsters, he obviously valued products that were reliable, innovative, well-engineered and safe for his family.

As I grew up, Dad and I would restore an occasional vintage car or motorcycle, but as a teenager in the ’90s, it was Integras and Civics and the budding “sport compact craze” that bit me hard. I learned quickly that you could swap parts around from car to car to create a unique ride. The cars were easy to work on and grasp, and only your imagination limited what you could build.

I quickly found myself looking for a safe and legal environment to see what my Hondas could do. I initially found autocross and track days, but those just fueled my next desire to race on-track, wheel-to-wheel against others. My move to club racing came soon thereafter in 2000, with the purchase of my first Improved Touring C Civic.

SCCA Improved Touring race cars are lightly modified road cars. Intakes and exhausts can be changed; springs, swaybars and shocks can be replaced; and interiors can be removed for the installation of required safety equipment. It’s a Regional Club Racing class, making it ineligible for the Runoffs National Championships, but each fall, the American Road Race of Champions (ARRC) is held at Road Atlanta, where the IT community crowns its own national champions. I competed in my first ARRC in 2004 with my ITA Integra, finishing a respectable seventh. A string of podium finishes began the following year, before my Integra and I were finally able to stand atop the box in 2008 as the ARRC ITA Champion.

The year 2009 brought a desire to attempt a new challenge, as I moved up to National Club Racing in F Production. Production cars are typically much more heavily modified than IT cars, having extensively stripped chassis, heavily modified engines, and completely re-engineered suspensions.

However, in recent years the SCCA has introduced some newer, later-model cars to the Production classes that meet the desired performance parameters of the classes, but at a more limited level of modification, preparation and cost. The Acura Integra falls into this category, and it created a simple, natural transition for me into a higher level of modification and speed, without a huge change in rule-set, philosophy, or cost from what I was used to.

That first season of National Racing brought a new learning curve, but overall, it went well. I finished fifth at the Runoffs National Championship, and was presented the Jim Fitzgerald Award as the National Racing Rookie of the Year. To top it off, I took my old ITA Integra back to the ARRC and successfully defended my ITA Championship.

In 2010, it all came together in a dream season. I won the F Production Runoffs National Championship in just my second try; won the nationwide points championship; and won my third consecutive ARRC Championship in an ITB Civic.

Defending these championships in 2011 may be my hardest challenge to date. My Integra is running well, though, and I’m currently first in nationwide points and looking forward to another F Production race at the Runoffs National Championship.

There are a couple of things that make all this possible. The first is the dependability and reliability of these Hondas. At one point this year, I ran five National races in 21 days, and you’d have a hard time trying to do that in a lot of other cars. Having to perform minimal maintenance on my car allows this, so I can be maximizing my time on track doing development. On occasion, I’ve also tried improving my car with aftermarket or custom parts, only to revert to the factory Honda pieces, as the sacrifice in reliability didn’t prove worthwhile for, at best, very marginal improvements.

The support of Honda Performance Development and its Honda Racing Line program has been another large part of my success. Being an amateur racer, I am immensely thankful for HPD’s generous contingency, and the available parts associates have proven invaluable. Finding OEM replacement parts for older Hondas can occasionally be tricky, but the guys at HPD do whatever they can to find them for you, wherever they may be in the world. Without help like that, what do you do?

The well-thought-out engineering and solid reliability of Honda and Acura automobiles, with the help of Honda Performance Development and its Honda Racing Line program, keeps me out on the racetrack. With that combination, I am confident that wins and championships will continue well into the future.

Look for Kevin Ruck at the 2011 SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America on Sept.19-25.

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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