Last Saturday NASA Arizona kicked off the 7th regional race at Arizona Motorsports Park in Litchfield Park, AZ. The track has a colorful past….built in 2003 next to Luke Air Force Base, it was shut down just a few short years later due to noise complaints. Luckily for the local and regional auto enthusiasts it was reopened in 2015 for public motorsports events once again with a 94 decibel noise limit. Last weekend’s Honda Challenge race was only the 2nd race at the facility in the last ten years. The lack of seat time for most of the drivers on this track added an interesting challenge for the drivers and teams to try and set the cars up with very little data or experience to go off of. Couple that with many of the drivers and teams having to use sound muffling intake and exhaust modifications to ensure the cars would safely pass the decibel restriction while ripping by the sound meters at 8,000+ rpms, and the field was truly leveled for this event.
Honda Challenge camp – kicking back between sessions
The NASA Arizona region wasted no time getting down to business in 2015 by kicking off the season on January 10th and 11th, at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. The H2 class featured 5 cars for the opening weekend: Team Backwards Logic Racing, Team LBR, Team LateNite Motorsports, Jake Casto and Erik Woods. Honda Challenge paddock – 2015 Season opener – Wild Horse Pass – East Track
This was arguably the most eclectic racer roster the H2 group has ever seen. Team Backwards Logic, was formed for 2015 by fusing Robert Rose’s lead foot and ability to coach with Steven Williams’ competitive spirit and desire to take his Integra coupe to the next level. Also new for 2015 is Team LateNite Motorsports; comprised of seasoned racers Eric Dayton and Jason Noel, in a brand new royal blue Integra coupe that was built in just 2 months. If the car races even half as good as it looks, the H2 field is in for some trouble this year. You can follow the entire build in this time lapse video: http://youtu.be/cokJQ3BBtDQ . Team LBR, returns in 2015 for their fourth season together. The 2 lone rangers for the weekend consisted of Erik Woods and Jake Casto. In one corner you have Erik Woods, the longest tenured Honda Challenge racer with roots going back to 2003 when Honda Challenge was first debuted by NASA in the Arizona Region. Woods took some time off from racing in the past few years, but has plenty of experience that he hoped to use against some of the greenhorn racers that he would be going door to door with him this season. In the other corner, we have Jake Casto. Casto is a fresh graduate from competition school, making his club racing debut. The new ride for Team LateNight Motorsports
The weekend started off with an exciting qualifying session. 15 minutes and many position changes later, Team LBR would come out on top claiming P1, followed by Jake Casto, Team LateNite Motorsport, Erik Woods, and Team Backwards Logic. As the racers made any last minutes changes or modifications to the cars before the race, dark clouds quickly rolled in overhead casting a shadow on the track and clamor in the paddock. Erik Woods brought his red Integra coupe out of retirement for the 2015 opener
With about 15 minutes before the race was scheduled to start, small rain drops began to fall. Small drops turned to big drops, and soon the track would be soaked as the racers were released from grid for the warmup and formation lap. As the group formed up for the green flag to drop all eyes were on the first braking zone for the kink at the end of the first straightaway, where the physics of friction on a wet surface coupled with physical constraints of the track width would make for quite the start to the race…throw in 15-20 racer’s egos for good measure and you’ve got one hell of a Saturday afternoon. When the green flag dropped, Robert Rose of Team Backwards Logic (starting in 5th) would rocket to the front of the pack and by the first corner have leap frogged 3 positions to 2nd place with eyes on the only thing standing between him and a 1st place finish: the blue Civic of Team LBR. The rest of the field cautiously negotiated the race traffic and inclement weather. Here’s a first hand view of just how exciting the first few laps were as viewed from Jake Casto’s perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lz-Ek7PAkMI
By the halfway point in the race, Rose had run down Team LBR for the 1st place position and rest of the field had settled into a rhythm in their respective positions. With the rain stopped it was only a matter of time until the Small Bore group would dry out a narrow path of dry tarmac. Lap times started dropping as the racers began pushing the envelope in the sections that had traction, but the dry line would prove only wide enough for one car making passing extremely difficult. When the checker flag finally came out Team Backwards Logic Racing would emerge victorious, followed by Team LBR (2nd place), Jake Casto (3rd place), Team LateNite Motorsports (4th) and Erik Woods (5th). Congratulations to Jake Casto for a clean first race and podium finish on his debut to race group! Saturday’s podium finishers: Jake Casto (3rd), Team LBR (Ortega, 2nd), Team Backwards Logic Racing (Rose, 1st)
After some Saturday afternoon bench racing and a good night’s sleep, the group would return for practice and qualifying on Sunday morning. The consensus in the paddock after practice was that the track and temperatures were prime for some fast qualifying times. The predictions would hold true with every driver or team going faster than the day before. Team Backwards Logic would snag P1 with the fastest lap time of the weekend (1:05.41), followed by Team LBR (P2), Team LateNite Motorsports (P3), Erik Woods (P4), and Jake Casto (P5). Jake Casto making some last minute changes to the Integra on Sunday after qualifying
Sunday’s race would feature a standing start and have the group bunched up separately behind the rest of the Small Bore Group. As the cars took their marks, all eyes were on the starter as the furled green flag was displayed to the drivers for a moment….as the green flag dropped the cars roared towards the first corner and their respective rev limiters; anything to gain an advantage to establish position going into the first corner.
Team LBR would end up getting a slight advantage over Team Backwards Logic (with Steven Williams behind the wheel) and slot into the first position for the first turn. For the first half of the race, Williams and Team LateNite Motorsports driver Jason Noel would badger Team LBR for the lead position. Team LBR took advantage as the group approached some of the slower out of class cars and created some breathing room from the rest of the pack. Erik Woods wasted no time to pounce on the chance to get in the fight once they encountered the other race group traffic and Noel had to balance his offense against Williams with some defense of his own to keep Woods at bay. Eventually Noel found a way around Williams towards the end of the race and would succeed in holding the 2nd place position. Williams, now desperately trying to stay in podium contention, was tested numerous times by Woods but ultimately would prevail and keep his 3rd place spot. Woods would follow closely in 4th, followed by Jake Casto in 5th. Sunday’s podium finishers: Team Backwards Logic (Williams, 3rd), Team LateNite Motorsports (Noel, 2nd), Team LBR (Ortega, 1st)
Lots of close, clean, racing in the 2015 Honda Challenge season opener. Some familiar faces….and some new ones all joining in to get their adrenaline fix for the weekend. With two more new cars (including the series’ first K-series powered entry!) that are near completion and projected to debut at next month’s race at Chuckwalla, the region is looking at the largest field of active cars since the series inception in 2003!! Will this be the year the Arizona region has a 10 car field race? See you next month at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway.
Round 5 of the 2014 Arizona Honda Challenge season rolled through the The City That Never Sleeps this past weekend as they embarked on Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch. Because this event was a crossover event with the Southern California region, the fields were twice as large as normal and even more competitive with many of the nation’s fastest Honda Challenge drivers coming from Southern Cal. Honda Challenge had 13 cars total, 11 of which were H2. Making Honda Challenge and H2 the largest competition group (Race or TT) at the event. The track was one of the largest circuits the series will run this year, at 3 miles in length, elevation changes at nearly all of the 20 corners, and table top smooth surface.
As you can see from the track map, Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch has an infinite number of layouts
Normally the event recaps start with the qualifying results, however for this recap it’s important to note the anticipation in the paddock as the cars lined up for practice. None of the drivers had driven this configuration before which meant that the drivers had 15 minutes to sort their car and line out before hitting the track again in a few short hours for qualifying. With the drivers starting the session in the 2:45 per lap range this meant that they would only get about 5 or 6 hot laps to experiment with different strategies for the myriad of corners. As the drivers pulled into the pits they were all grins; the thrill of the elevation changes, the supernatural levels of grip from the fresh asphalt, and opportunity to race against some fresh blood!
Team Snail laying some rubber down on Saturday (photo by: Zachariah Woods)
Qualifying on Saturday was one of the most fun sessions to watch on Race Monitor since the application was introduced to NASA AZ. The drivers seemed to be cutting off 1-2 seconds per lap. Trying to track the top 5 was nearly impossible with a new driver crossing the finishline every 15-20 seconds resulting in constantly changing standings. Arizona’s own Mervin Tan of Team LBR jumped out to a quick start and actually held P1 by over 3 quarters of a second. Unfortunately for Tan, Ken Adelberg edged him out by just a tenth of a second in the last lap to claim P1 for the race. Still a strong showing for Tan against a very talented field of 11 H2 drivers. The qualifying order for the race would shake out as follows:
(1) Ken Adleberg 2:29.1, (2) Team LBR 2:29.3, (3) Andy Hope 2:29.6, (4) Benny Pecqueur, (5) Ryan Flaherty, (6) Jeremy Croiset, (7) Marcel DeKerpel, (8) Manny Coats, (9) Eric Dayton, (10), Team Snail, (11) Steven Williams.
Saturday’s race would feature a rolling start with all 11 of the H2 cars grouped up together. With the outside position going into turn 1, Tan was left vulnerable to the cars stacked up on the inside. Adleberg, Hope, Pecqueur, and DeKerpel rocketed past him going into turn 1. Tan would follow them for a few corners until DeKerpel spun out in the tightest corner on the course. The spin and 4-off, caused Pecqueur to take evasive action resulting in him losing ground, placing Tan back in 3rd place. The group would settle into this order for a few laps until Tan pushed too hard in one of the corners and went 4 wheels off halfway through the race, causing him to join the field all the way in the back of the pack. Back in front, Hope and Adelberg continued to pull away from the field and looked untouchable. The middle of the pack group comprised of Pecqueur, Coats, and Croiset, were tight and consistent with none of the drivers really changing position. DeKerpel, post spin, rejoined some of the Arizona drivers (Tan, Dayton, Snail, and Williams) to dice it up in the back. Tan quickly ran down the group from dead last and seemed poised to regain his position on the podium. One by one he worked his way through DeKerpel, Dayton, Snail, and Williams. Manny Coats (H2 National champion in 2011) made a late charge on Pecqueur on the last lap to edge him out, and looked like he might even make a run on Croiset (H2 National champion in 2012) for the final podium position of the day.
The finishing order after the checker flag dropped was: (1) Andy Hope, (2) Ken Adleberg, (3) Jeremy Croiset, (4) Manny Coats, (5) Benny Pecqueur, (6) Team LBR, (7) Team Snail, (8) Eric Dayton, (9) Marcel DeKerpel (10) Steven Williams, (11) Ryan Flaherty-DNF
The drivers and teams started Sunday morning off making some adjustments on the cars based on the previous day’s data. All of the drivers went faster in each subsequent session the previous day (including in the race, with traffic), so with cool weather, a basic knowledge of the track, and some setup data from the previous day, the field would continue to drop their time throughout practice making the previous day’s times and leaders seem obsolete in just one practice session.
By the time qualifying rolled around, the drivers were 2-4 seconds faster than the previous day’s qualifying times! Here’s what Sunday’s qualifying results looked like:
(1) Ken Adleberg 2:25.9, (2) Manny Coats 2:26.1, (3) Jeremy Croiset 2:26.7, (4) Benny Pecqueur, (5) Ryan Flaherty, (6) Andy Hope, (7) Marcel DeKerpel, (8) Eric Dayton, (9) Team Snail, (10) Steven Williams
Three out of the four cars from the Arizona region getting some rest in the pits(photo by Steven Williams)
The standing start for Sunday was nothing short of epic as the drivers displayed their launch skills and car control skill by shoehorning 10 cars into turn 1 without incident. Here is a bird’s eye view of the start and the clamor to establish position going into turn 1: http://youtu.be/IHwAQc4QchI
After the field sorted itself out in the first lap the it once again looked like it would be the Andy Hope and Ken Adelberg show. Adelberg jumped out to an early lead for the first few laps, but around lap 3 or 4, Hope charged ahead to claim the 1st position. For the Arizona drivers, Steven Williams flexed the muscle of his B20 when the green flag dropped and rocketed past Team Snail and Eric Dayton for the first lap. Williams, a newcomer to H2 with only a few races under his belt and a brand new car, looked like he might show the more experienced drivers a thing or two. Eventually Eric Dayton squeezed by him at the end of the straightaway in lap 2. Markos Mylonas of Team Snail might have been facing the most challenging role that day with only 2 sessions under his belt (his teammate, Taylor Wilson drove the previous day) to learn the track before taking the green flag in the race, while the rest of the field had the previous day’s sessions plus Sunday’s practice and qualifying sessions to fine tune their line. Mylonas adapted quickly and made his way past Williams in lap 3. By the middle of the race it looked like most of the field had settled into a groove with the drivers opening up gaps between each other that were consistent lap after lap.
Southern California Regional Director Ryan Flaherty’s CRX (photo by: Zachariah Woods)
That is until with 3 laps to go though, Jeremy Croiset found some hidden speed as he leap frogged past Pecqueur and Coats (who retired due to mechanical problems) into 3rd place. He methodically stalked Adelberg who was in 2nd place at the time and eventually picked him off on the last lap! After the race it was determined that Hope (who took the checker flag) had some activity with an out of class car which resulted in a disqualification for Hope and the top position on the podium going to Croiset, followed by Pecqueur in 2nd place, and Ken Adelberg finishing out the podium with a very solid 3rd place performance.
Final Race Results for Sunday’s Race:
(1) Jeremy Croiset, (2) Benny Pecqueur, (3) Ken Adleberg, (4) Ryan Flaherty, (5) Marcel DeKerpel, (6) Eric Dayton, (7) Team Snail, (8) Steven Williams, (9) Manny Coats, (10) Andy Hope
Sunday’s Race Winner, Jeremy Croiset and his B-series powered CRX (photo by: Zachariah Woods)
At the conclusion of the race, all of the drivers seemed to have had a great time dicing it up with each other. Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch was a first class facility, and with it being a new venue for NASA AZ/SoCal, provided an equal playing ground for the drivers from both regions. The large field provided a very lucrative contingency for the drivers with Toyo Tires dishing out $1,175 in Toyo Bucks in just 2 races from the 1st place all the way down to 11th place! Honda HPD came through with $450 in contingency dollars for Saturday’s race.
With only 3 regional events left in the schedule for the Arizona region, the points chase is starting to get tight. Here are the two point scenarios… The first shows the raw scores up to this point:
1) Eric Dayton
2) Team LBR
3) Leland Forbes
4) Team KIT
5) Team Snail
6) Team Ramrod
7) Andy Hope
8) Steven Williams
9) Doug Evans
After you factor in the 3 drops allowed for the season, here’s what the leader board looks like:
1) Leland Forbes
2) Eric Dayton
3) Team LBR
4) Team KIT
5) Team Snail
6) Team Ramrod
7) Andy Hope
8) Steven Williams
9) Doug Evans
In the last recap, it was announced that there would be a rookie of the year award for this year’s top performing rookie driver in the Arizona region. Here are the details for the Honda themed trophy:
*The driver must have started 2014 under rookie status as defined by the NASA CCRs
*Only the top 5 races for 2014 for each driver will be what contributes to the scoring model, this allows for drivers driving on a team to have equal shot at the trophy
*The actual points awarded for that race is what the driver will receive towards the trophy chase
Honda Challenge Summer Get Together
Who: Honda Challenge racers and prospective Honda Challenge Racers
What: Pool party!
When: TBD in the last week of July
Where: TBD, if you have a pool at your house and would like to volunteer please message Gabe
Why: cause it’s hot and everyone’s always faster after a few margaritas!!!
Stay tuned for more information on the NASA forum and the AZ Honda Challenge Facebook page.