"Drink plenty of water." "Try to find some shade." "I think I'm actually, physically melting..." All things heard throughout the day at FF Battle 2019, our 11th annual track event dedicated to all things FWD. Typically held later in the year (during cooler months), we decided to change things up in order to have our coverage in Super Street print fall within the 2019 calendar year, and due to track availability, well, we ended up in probably the hottest part of the year at one of the hottest places in SoCal. Nevertheless, good times were had, competition was stiff, and by the end of the day, as that burning sphere up above threw even more heat across the tarmac, we had a new record to celebrate.
The Race Class vs. Street Class designation is determined by a few factors, including the vehicle's level of modification and interior, or lack thereof; driver experience and whether or not the owner wants to do battle themselves, or pass the responsibility onto a more seasoned driver. Opting for a hired gun automatically places you into the Race Class. Final ruling is laid down by our returning track Marshall and former owner of last year's winning hatchback, Duane Bada. You know his name from the multiple @vtecclubusa events that we cover as well as his shop, @rcompoundusa, a high-performance tire resource in Whittier, Ca. Having successfully run the VTEC Club track events for a few years without issue, we were confident he could split the competitors up properly keep things interesting.
As always, events as fun and exciting as FF Battle simply don't happen without the help of some great sponsors and for FF Battle 11, both ENEOS Motor Oil @eneosusa and SPEC Clutch @specclutch once again stepped up to make this day possible. Thank you again to both partners for your participation!
Without further ado, here's the list of Race Class vehicles and drivers in order of their best lap of the day:
John Cruz, '93 Civic hatchback - 1:22.704 WINNER
In 2017, two-time FF Battle champ Joel Etrata laid down an impressive 1:24.901 to better his 1:25 the year prior. In 2018, Billy Jang took the wheel of Duane Bada's EJ hatch and did work, blasting a 1:23.409 which earned the duo the top spot. Based on the weather forecast, we weren't expecting to see a faster time for FF Battle 11.
By the time the first session began at 9am, we were already well into the 90s with no relief in sight. High temps typically mean slower times and a greater potential for mechanical error, but apparently no one told John Cruz, who shrugged that off and stayed in it. The effort paid off as John smashed last year's best with a mind-blowing 1:22 that didn't happen first thing in the morning during lower track temps, but rather in the afternoon, when the sun did its best to set Streets of Willow on fire.
Those that have spent some considerable time within the Honda world certainly remember the meteoric rise of the cult classic FF Squad, and one of the main reasons for the group's popularity was certainly Goldy—the simple, tastefully modded, well-rounded and highly effective EH hatchback that had legions of internet users pining for a similar look and feel. That was a few decades ago and from the outside, Cruz hasn't changed much. The classic look remains, well, classic, and it still draws plenty of attention, even in these "try to wow me" times.
Under the hood still beats the B-series heart you always imagined belonged there, though this one was installed by its current owner and sports Toyota Corolla-based ITBs. You won't find a massive rear wing, huge splitter or even razor-sharp canards protruding from the bumper sides, instead, Cruz keeps the add-ons basic, the driving consistent, and in the end, delivered his personal best performance and a new FF Battle record of 1:22.704, in the scorching heat, mind you.
Will Drees - '91 CRX 1:23.764
If there was a polar opposite to John Cruz' gold hatchback, it would likely be Will Drees' overtly aggressive CRX. Jagged, almost threatening edges, various vented panels, and by far the most purposeful feel of any vehicle of the bunch on this track day; Drees' fierce 2-door isn't the type of build you'd spot cruising your local streets. The already lightweight chassis sheds additional pounds with a stripped-down interior, cut doors, and just a semblance of a dash derived from a custom series of panels that cover the driver's side of the crossbar which joins both ends of a custom cage.
Recently revamped, this CRX is but one of the badass builds from Dree's Honda-heavy stable that includes an Accord previously raced by Spoon, an NSX, and others. There's certainly more in store from this CRX, but the 106-degree temps, according to various phone apps, and the 137-degree concrete in the paddock (which means probably 150-plus degrees on track) were nobody's friend. Through the sweat and feeling out process to get back into the groove once again with car's latest round of changes, Drees pulled a very respectable 1:23.764.
Last year, the K-series reigned supreme in the Race Class, but for FF Battle 11, the classic B-family took the top 2 spots and proved, once again, that all out horsepower and torque aren't always the answer on a course like Streets of Willow.
Xi Chen - '95 Integra 1:24.943
At FF Battle 9, Xi Chen and his then B18CR-powered Integra RS took home the 5th-place spot in an extremely competitive Street Class. Fast forward a few years and Chen made his return, this time in the Race Class, packing more power and more seat time that earned him a 3rd-place finish.
The power increase comes courtesy of a K24A2 fitted with a K20Z3 transmission and RBC intake manifold. Other than a few bolt-ons, the swap is entirely stock but provided the additional thrust he needed to better his previous outing by almost 10 seconds! A huge improvement for Chen, who not only moved into an even tougher class but managed to finish on the podium for 2019, making his trip all the way from NorCal worth the effort.
Clement Kwong - '17 Civic Type R 1:25.556
The FK8 is a tricky one in that even in stock form, it's pretty lethal from a power, handling, and aero perspective. Sure, there's plenty of aftermarket support to help improve an already stellar chassis, but fresh off the dealer lot (hopefully at a reasonable price), the CTR can more than hold its own under the right guidance. Because of that fact, all late model Civic Type Rs are automatically moved into the Race Class.
Clement Kwong, owner of this 2017 R, made his mark with the FF Battle series during its 9th iteration. Coming out of nowhere with a 1:25.540 with only springs and custom camber plates from Raceline, Kwong's 5-door put on a clinic, almost clinching the top spot. However, if there was one thing that could really put a damper on the CTR's performance on race day, it had to be the heat.
After an exhausting day of lapping on what seemed like the sun itself, Kwong had to settle for a 1:25.556. With his talent behind the wheel and a cooperative temperature, we're positive that number would have been even lower, and we expect Kwong to rematch with The Streets next time around.
Andrew Nguyen - '95 Civic 1:25.793
A mid-'90s Civic hatchback with K-power is what most have come to expect when FF Battle is announced each year. An inexpensive base with a very capable engine and all of the aftermarket love you might imagine from 2 of the most popular ingredients in the modified Honda world.
Andrew's K20 gulps E85 and produces 240whp that's transferred through a Type R transmission. Custom aero combined with PCI side skirts and rear wing help bring him back down to earth and a full array of spherical bushings help custom-spec S3 Suspension keep him in full control.
This type of setup has plenty of room for growth, and with an already impressive 1:25.793 this year, we're pretty sure the laps are only going to get faster for Andrew and his EH hatchback.
Dexter Piatos - '00 Civic 1:26.247
Having competed in the last few FF Battle events, Dexter Piatos is becoming somewhat of a veteran with the series. FF Battle 9 saw him in the Street Class with his '00 Civic hatch, but the following year he showed up in a former champ's Integra sedan in the Race Class.
This year it was back to that same EJ hatchback that, in 2017, delivered a 1:33.051. This time around he made a huge improvement, dropping all the way down into 1:26 territory—no easy feat.
Loi Song - '06 RSX 1:26.469
For every FF Battle event ever, Loi Song has attended and brought with him some sort of Honda to compete with. This year's event showed up much earlier than previous years, leaving Loi a very short window to put something together. Fortunately, he has a shop full of track-worthy builds to dust off and put to work.
This RSX used to be boosted and making big power, but for FF Battle, the forced induction was stripped off and the JE piston and BC rod-equipped 2.4L block and Drag Cartel cam-fitted K20 head hit the dyno to make just over 300hp. With the engine squared away, it was suspension that almost stopped this DC5 from competing, as it was sitting on stock suspension with just a few days left. Though there aren't a ton of RSX coilover options, TruHart @truhartusa offers a very capable suspension option in their StreetPlus coilover kit and they stepped up to rush deliver a set just in the nick of time.
At the hands of ace wheelman Amir Bentatou, the RSX mustered a 1:26.469 but it wasn't without a bit of drama. Toward the end of the day, a nasty "rattle" was heard coming from the bay and upon further inspection, looked as if the keeper let go. Not a total disaster and the RSX will live to fight another day; like clockwork, we expect to see a Sportcar Motion entry in 2020.
Jose Sandiego '97 Civic 1:27.282
With 14 years spent with his Civic hatchback, Jose Sandiego knows all of its strengths and weaknesses very well. He's competed in FF Battle previously, recording a 1:31.893 at FF Battle 9 and an improvement to 1:28.188 during last year's battle with a switch to K-power.
This time around he managed to get even quicker, bringing his best of the day down to a 1:27.282.
JT Teng '95 Integra 1:29.335
All the way from Texas, JT Teng brought out his K24-powered Integra. For additional grunt, JT added a Hybrid Racing 72mm throttle body to an RBC manifold, simple intake and header and relies on Hondata's KPro V2 for an easy 205hp.
Fortune Auto coilovers and Volk TE37s sit at all 4 corners and the Integra's flanks are lower thanks to PCI side skirts that go with the Tuner Wing from the same brand. Inside, you won't find much beyond the Bride carbon seat and dash as most of the interior's been stripped down to cut additional weight. Through the sweltering afternoon, the DC was able to produce a best of 1:29.335.
Jonny Guerra - Civic Type R 1:34.606
Originally, Johnny was set to make his FF Battle debut in a DC2 Integra but thanks to missing some last-minute parts, he had to take his other car. Not necessarily a bad thing when you consider that his other car is an FK8!
Over the course of the day the Type R was able to drop some precious seconds from its best and Jonny finished the event with a best of 1:34.606.