HPD Blog

Monday, August 19, 2013

HPD and THR head to 2013 New England Forest Rally with B-Spec Honda Fit

Newry, ME. (July 26th-27th , 2013)

Team Honda Research partnered with Honda Performance Development to showcase the B-Spec Fit developed specifically for Rally competition at the New England Forest Rally (NEFR), fifth round of the Rally America National Championship. 

“Based on the interest in B-Spec from its inaugural year in 2012, we wanted to come back and run a full season to showcase the true competitiveness of the B-Spec Rally Fit," stated James Robinson, Honda engineer and driver for THR.  “In 2013, we hope to have more competition and excitement in the class, thanks to the continued involvement of Ford Racing and Toyota.” 

Moving on to the fifth of seven National Championship rounds, the B-Spec Fit was coming off a strong finish in the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally [STPR].  “We were able to get a first-place finish in the B-spec category and also finished overall among two-wheel-drive entries,” Robinson recalled.  “This race is going to be much more interesting for us, as we have no crew for this event and a brand new co-driver for the Fit.”

The team was in for even more challenges before the beginning of this notoriously rough event. The B-Spec Fit’s regular co-driver had to be replaced with a new THR team member, Zach Jacobs.  Unfortunately, Zach’s flight to Maine was cancelled at the last minute, leaving the Fit without a co-driver and on the brink of having to withdraw from the event.  

With only a few hours remaining before the close of registration, THR and the B-Spec Fit got a lucky break with the availability of Ross Forde (www.rossforde.com) to co-drive. “This is a really great opportunity for us to have such an accomplished competitor in the co-driver seat for us,” said an elated Robinson at the start of the event.  “Without the help of Rally America staff and fellow competitors Seamus Burke and Frank Cunningham, we wouldn’t be running today.”

Ross Forde is no stranger to Rally, and has an extensive winning resume to back it up.  As the winner of the prestigious Billy Coleman Award in 2008, Ross has extensive experience in 2WD rally cars very similar to the B-Spec Fit.  “With Ross in the car, we should not only have a safe and fast race, but also a chance to pick the brain of a fellow competitor in these types of low-cost rally cars,” Robinson observed. 

New England Forest Rally is extremely challenging for most rally teams due to the very rough, long stages.  With a promise of improved road conditions for the 2013 event, the new Fit team was hopeful to add to the B-Spec Championship lead.  As Robinson stated during Parc Expose on Day One, “We’ve been very fortunate to have strong finishes this year, with only one DNF at the Oregon round.  I’ve struggled at finishing NEFR in the past, so I’m really focused on making it through this event!”

With only four stages to contest on the opening day, the B-Spec Fit team quickly set out to get ahead of its competitors in the Toyota Yaris.  By the end of Day One, the Fit had built up a solid, five-minute lead over the B-Spec competition.  “We’re happy to get through the first day’s stages with minimal issues,” Robinson said.  “I know that the rough stages start tomorrow, so any lead we can build up today will help us get through tomorrow.”

Moving into the second day of competition, the B-Spec Fit continued to build a lead over the Toyota.  By Stage 7, the team had built up an eight-minute lead over the second-place Toyota Yaris.  This lead would come in very handy, as Stage 8 caused some serious damage to the Fit, and to the times for the remaining five stages. 

“Wow… I can’t believe we made it back to service after that stage!” Robinson said at the first service on Day 2.  “We hit a rock that took out our exhaust, both skid plates, shattered our A/C compressor and ripped the serpentine belt off the car – and we still had 10 more miles left in the stage!” 

Despite that damage, Robinson, with some major help from Frank Cunningham and the crew from Ken Block’s race team, was able to get the car running for the remaining five stages.  “We’re going to have to be in limp mode to get to the finish now,” Robinson explained. “With no skid plates and a damaged accessory drive, we really can’t afford another big rock impact.”

With the expert help of co-driver Forde, the B-Spec team stuck to a conservative driving style and nursed the Fit through the remaining stages. 

To add more stress to the event, as the THR team finished the last stage and began the 23-mile transit to the finish of the race, the damaged accessory drive (which runs the alternator AND water pump) failed, as well as one of the engine mounts which had absorbed much of the impact at Stage 8.  With some careful jury-rigging of the remaining serpentine belt and very gentle driving, the team was able to make it to the finish time control, in one piece and on time. 

Even with the much-reduced speed during the final five stages, the B-Spec Fit finished 14th overall, first in B-Spec, and fifth among 2WD entries.  “We’re thrilled just to finish this event, let alone keep the first-place finish in B-Spec,” Robinson said, “This helps us extend our overall lead in the B-Spec championship, and shows that the B-Spec Fit can really absorb some serious punishment.” 

“We hope we can continue to have good stage-time battles with the other B-Spec prepared cars in two-wheel drive,” James added. “The Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris are both excellent cars, and we should continue our exciting competition for the remaining rounds this year.”

Look for the THR B-Spec Fit at the next round of the Rally America National Championship Series, on August 23-24 in Detroit Lake, Minnesota.

New England Forest Rally:
The fifth race on the Rally America National Championship schedule and always a favorite with drivers due to the technical demands of the course, the New England Forest Rally offers challenging logging roads with some of the longest stages on the Rally America National Championship.  This rally is also a crowd pleaser because of its stunning scenery and wildlife.  Quintessential northeastern settings such as winding creeks and one-lane bridges add not only beauty to the race, but also excitement, when encountered by drivers at breakneck speeds.

About Rally America:
Based in Williston, VT, Rally America, Inc. sanctions the Rally America National Championship, which consists of at least seven national-level events located at a variety of venues across the country, from Portland, Oregon to Newry, Maine. Top competitors in the Rally America National Championship reach speeds of well over 100 miles per hour, driving highly modified street cars such as Mitsubishi Evolutions, Subaru WRX STIs, Ford Fiestas and Scion XDs on natural-terrain courses consisting of gravel, dirt, ice or snow. For more information regarding Rally America’s National Championship or the sport of performance rally, visit www.rally-america.com

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