Buttonwillow Raceway Park, located just outside of Bakersfield, California, has long been regarded as the bar by which all U.S. Time Attack cars are measured. This is the same track, in the same CW13 configuration, that the fastest Time Attack cars in the country gathered just weeks prior for Super Lap Battle. On December 3rd however, the facilities were overrun by a hoard of Hondas — 66 total signed up for the competition, to be exact.
The difference in atmosphere was distinct. While events such as SLB have their own appeal — full blown, purpose built cars accompanied by teams of technicians all working to set the fastest lap possible in the least amount of time - VTEC Club is a little more relaxed. Many of the VTEC Club competitors drive their cars to the events, often armed with little more than a jack, small toolbox, and maybe a set of spare wheels. It's completely normal to see drivers doing everything themselves, from checking fluids and taking tire pressures to making any necessary on-site repairs. While the competition at the top of each class is fierce, with podium finishes being decided by mere tenths of a second, it's very common to see these drivers lending parts or tools to one another.
This particular event, the final round of the final season of 2016 (VTEC Club operates on a five rounds per season, two seasons per year format), was especially cold — perfect weather to break records. Colder air is denser and allows engines to operate at their maximum efficiency, and the colder track surface temps mean that tires stick better and last longer. And break records they did; a new class record was recorded in all but one class that day. Drivers could be seen pushing well into the twilight to get that new personal best or class record time.
In Group N2 class, Chewerks continued their domination with a 1-2 finish by Robert Choo and Jose Mejia. In his single cam D16 powered EG Civic, Robert posted a time of 1:59.345, a new VTEC Club N2 class record, and quite possibly the first D-series Honda to run a sub 2-minute lap time. Following Robert closely by just over one second was Jose in his B20-powered DC2 Integra with a time of 2:00.516. Both Robert and Jose run E85 in their cars to extract every last drop of power from the otherwise very pedestrian engines. The only pump gas powered car on podium in this class was Kristian Wong in a D16 powered DC2 Integra with a time of 2:02.240, good for third place.
To put these times into perspective, any one of these three times would have been a new record in the previous season. Coincidentally, the overall points standings for the season reflect the finishes of the day with Kristian in third, Joe in second and Robert in first place.
The top finishers in Group N class were also extremely close. Timothy Crane in his B18-powered EK Civic took third place with a time of 1:59.741. All VTEC Club classes run FF and FR cars together, so Timothy had to beat out all but two S2000s (out of 10 in the class) to take this position. In second place, piloting an S2000, was David Ishida from Chewerks with a time of 1:59.651, who also took a second-place points finish for the season overall. A new record was set for Group N as well, by none other than Sean Mulyanto, also of Chewerks, with a blisteringly fast time of 1:57.900, good enough for first place in this round and for the season overall. Considering that Group N does not allow any aerodynamic enhancements, requires street tires and, of course, no forced induction option, these times are incredibly impressive.
Group A2 does allow aerodynamic enhancements, so although these cars are naturally aspirated with powerplants close to stock, the lap times started to dip dramatically, especially at this high-speed track. In third place, with a time of 1:57.699, David Lara in his S2000 jumped into the competition just in time for the last two rounds and yet managed two podium finishes. In second place, with a time of 1:57.573 (yes, second and third were separated by less than two tenths of a second) is Brandon Camacho, also in an S2000. Brandon was in the running for a season win, but was just barely edged out by the eventual winner of Group A2, Amir Bentatou. Amir and his NSX were unstoppable this season, taking home three consecutive first-place finishes and two class records, including Buttonwillow with a 1:56.201, not to mention his first-place standing overall for the season.
Group A is pretty much the unlimited class of VTEC Club. Forced induction, aerodynamic enhancements, R-compound tires — it's all allowed. Despite the wide-open rule set, everybody in Group A that day drove fairly conservative cars in the sense that all of the cars had glass windows, intact uni-bodies, and even most of their interior. Now don't let the fact that these guys weren't maxing out the rulebook fool you, they all ran very quick lap times in a tight grouping. Their cars were very balanced, and incredibly well set up.
In third place, with a time of 1:55.879, was Scott Dukeshire, known for strapping an extra set of wheels and tires to the wing of his supercharged S2000 which he drives to the track. This finish was good enough to get him second place in the season overall. In second place was Dustin Dessero in his supercharged S2000 with a time of 1:54.882. In first place, with the fastest time of the day, was Chris Elders, who ran a 1:53.678. Chris ran this time with a naturally aspirated engine — granted, it is equipped with a stroker kit that increases displacement to 2.5 liters, but very impressive nonetheless. Despite Chris only competing in two rounds, this first-place finish was enough to secure third place overall for the season.
As the competitors of VTEC Club keep running faster and faster times, it really is amazing to see what they do with their low budget (sometimes even daily driven) Hondas. It's not something you can compare to other full-fledged time attack cars, at least not in terms of development dollars, or the sheer manpower that goes into set up and testing, but there is one relatable aspect: lap times. The times that these VTEC Club cars are running are getting closer and closer (and sometimes even surpassing) the times that you see at Redline and GTA events. We definitely look forward to seeing what VTEC Club and the series' competitors have in store for next season.