On June 25th and 26th, the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) hosted HPD Honda Challenge races at Central California’s Buttonwillow Raceway Park. The weekend presented a number of challenges to the competitors, not the least of which was triple-digit temperatures and new tire choices. Just as daunting, though, was the unusual course configuration. As the drivers entered through what is normally the exit, they found an unfamiliar and unforgiving beast of a racetrack lying in wait.
For the last five years, every Honda Challenge race has been run on Toyo R-compounds, which helped to keep races tight by eliminating the performance variables between the different manufacturers’ competition rubber. However, the recent disaster in Japan created supply shortages for the specified RA-1s. This forced NASA to open the tire rules, allowing any DOT-legal R-compound to be run on race day. The Buttonwillow event was the first battle in what is rapidly developing into an all-out tire war. Everyone who had switched brands had to learn the heat cycle and tire pressure characteristics of their choice on the fly, while others drove home solid performances on their tried-and-true Toyos.
Anyone who is familiar with the American time attack scene should know the 19 turns of Buttonwillow like the back of their hand. However, the NASA guys switched things up and ran the course in the counterclockwise direction, making it a whole different animal. All of the gentle turns that normally open up at the exits were transformed into wicked decreasing-radius monsters. They enticed drivers to enter with too much speed only to spit them out into the dirt just after the apex. The natural solution was to brake early and stay wide while setting up for the apex, but in racing that leaves the door open for a competitor to dive-bomb underneath you. Therefore, every lap was different. When someone was within striking distance, they had to defend, and when it was clear, they rode the outside and hung on for dear life.
The best drivers thrive on adversity, and they fought their way to the front. Jeremy Croiset’s B16A-powered Hoosier-clad CRX muscled its way to first place in the H2 class on Saturday, followed by Benny Pecqueur’s K24 Civic coupe on Hankooks, and Loren Fancy’s B18C1-powered DA which was dialed in on Toyos. On Sunday, AEM Performance Electronics owner Greg Neuwirth took the H2 win in his Integra Type-R on Hankooks, with Manny Coates’ B20 “Hoosier daddy’d” CRX and Fancy hot on his tail. The H4 class drivers made a gentlemen’s agreement to run their old Toyos, and the racing action was as tight as ever. Angel Velasquez’s CRX Si took first on Saturday followed by Gus Heredia’s DC2 Integra LS and Joe Barile’s classic Si hatch. Miguel Escobar and his LS took the top spot in H4 on Sunday, with Heredia and Velasquez flanking him on the podium. In the end, it doesn’t really matter where they are racing or what is bolted to their hubs, throw these guys on a track together and they are guaranteed to put on a good show.