Sept. 13-16, 2007 was the weekend of the second NASA National Championships presented by Toyo Tires at Mid-Ohio. Honda Challenge competitors from all over the country came to battle and take their shot at the National Championship title in each respective class. For drivers, it was an opportunity to measure their skills against the best in the nation. For spectators it was a chance to watch some of the finest Honda racing there is.
Mid-Ohio is well known as one of the most technically challenging road courses in the country. Despite severe rain and flooding at Mid-Ohio in the weeks leading up to the event, track conditions were first rate and the weather for the event was near perfection.
Honda Challenge saw three new champions crowned for 2007. Bernardo Martinez took top prize in H1, Brian Shanfeld led flag to flag for the H2 win and Joseph Moser clinched H4 in tight formation with his father Robert Moser as runner up. Last year's H5 champion, Zephyr Belski, came back with a new car to put on a repeat performance becoming HC's only two-time national champion.
Check out http://www.nasachampionships.com/media.html for complete race results and online Honda Challenge video coverage.
Superhero B-series man Kevin helms laid to rest the notion that the B-series is uncompetitive in H1. His B20/VTEC-powered Hondaworks EK gets a 150-pound weight break over the K-powered cars. Kevin won both qualifying faces, started on the pole, and led the first seven laps of the championship race on Sunday. He was also the only other guy in the field besides Martinez turning 1:36 laps. Bravo. Kevin's planning to run a few World Challenge dates for 2008. Those will be races you won't want to miss.
Wai-Ho Chiang was consistently near the top of the H2 time sheets. A first-lap tangle took him out of the Friday qualifying race. In the Saturday qualifier he got punted from the lead by our own, resident bad boy Andy Hope. All that put him at the bottom of the starting grid, just ahead of Andy, for the Sunday main. A long, hard charge to the front earned him a well-deserved second place finish.
Bernardo Martinez, in the Hasport Integra, was the man to beat this year. Given that it was his first time racing at Mid-Ohio, he was cautious in both qualifying races and in the opening laps of Sunday's championship battle. His patience paid off though. He took the lead on lap seven and never looked back.
Walter McKinney was the fastest in H2 all week but bad luck around other cars in the qualifying races put him fifth on the grid for Sunday's championship race. Running as high as third place, a spin took him down to a disappointing fifth place by the end of the race. He still managed to set the lap record by a large margin and was the only H2 driver to dip into the 39s for the weekend.
Former HT editor and resident celebrity bad boy Andy Hope made a guest appearance in a Toyo sponsored H2 Civic. A less than ideal final drive ratio and open differential kept him slightly off the pace for the week but a disqualification for contact in Saturday's qualifier sealed his fate with a bottom-of-the-grid starting position for Sunday.
The H2 class saw solid growth over last year. Ironically, there was only one returning entry from 2006. John Reamer was one of the new guys. He was consistently on pace and brought home a third place trophy for his effort. H2 may well be the "in" class for 2008. The number of H2 cars is on the rise and the swap-friendly rules have opened it up beyond premium model Preludes and ITRs running previously.
The daft between Joseph and Robert Moser was like a two-car bullet train during the Championship race. This was about the best view the other H4 cars ever got.
SoCal regular Benoit Pecqueur was third on the podium in H4. After the Honda Challenge race he looked good for another strong finish in the Performance Touring D race. However, the cam timing got inadvertently changed between the HC post-race inspection teardown and the start of the PTD event. It was a disappointing finish to an otherwise brilliant week. Also a good argument for running engine seals on pre-inspected engines.
H4 competitor Sam Myers' family hosted a delicious potluck dinner Friday night for all the Honda Challenge teams. Tab and Ruth Hunter of Road Hunter's Caf donated enough smoked brisket to feed the entire HC grid along with their crews. (At least one investigative journalist managed to sniff out their secret brisket recipe for use back home in California).
Another highlight of the Honda Challenge potluck dinner was Amie Myers' strawberry-pretzel salad. It sounds awful, but wasn't. Leftovers were in short supply by evening's end.
Brian Shanfeld's enduro racing experience really showed during his drive to the H2 class win. His '06 Civic Si was the H2 Energizer Bunny and showed what speed and consistency can do in a championship race. Lap after lap he hit his marks for an entire race of incident free, sub-1:42-second laps. It was boring as hell to watch but a championship is a championship and Shanfeld earned it.
Zephyr Belski and Thomas Lamb had a great race in H5 and traded the lead several times. Belski was ahead when it counted though and took the checker to become Honda Challenge's only two-time National Champion.
A last lap pass on his own father and teammate gave Joseph Moser the win and the H4 National Championship. The pair repeated the 1-2 father/son finish in ITA at the American Road Race of Champions days before this issue went to press.
Kevin Helms [left] and Chris Drabouski [right] ran nose to tail in second and third place for the entire race on Sunday. Both were fast and had cars that were incredibly well-prepared. Expect them both to be up front in H1 again next year