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1990 Honda CRX - Mighty Mouse

Small, explosively powerful, and snapping at the heels of the world's fastest teams, Rob Nguyen's first car is revolutionizing Time Attack

Alex Grant
May 23, 2016
Photographer: Alastair Richie

For most of us, our first cars are a short-lived phase; a quick skim project held back by minimum wage paychecks and cut short by the temptation to upgrade. So imagine if you'd stuck with it, and built it to the spec your teenage creativity wanted to bring to life. Rob Nguyen will tell you it's a long haul, but worth the wait.

1990 honda crx cawthorne composites winglet Photo 2/25   |   The aero is completely custom and carbon thanks to Cawthorne Composites.

It's been almost 20 years since Rob took ownership of this second-gen CR-X, and what's happened since goes way beyond what he could have dreamed up. That standard coupe has morphed into a Time Attack muscle car, now chasing world-class teams at events all over Australia. Already a two-time record holder at the World Time Attack Challenge, it's worked its way up to third place in the Pro Am class, defeating Evos, STis, and RX-7s-and showing no signs of slowing.

"I always knew I wanted to track this car," Rob says. "It's been stripped and 'caged since the second year I owned it. Plus, the CR-X happens to be the best front-wheel-drive car under the current WTAC rules-it's a lightweight hatchback, which doesn't kill the aero performance of the rear wing."

1990 honda crx cawthorne composites rear diffuser Photo 6/25   |   1990 Honda Crx Cawthorne Composites Rear Diffuser
1990 honda crx cawthorne composites rear spoiler Photo 7/25   |   1990 Honda Crx Cawthorne Composites Rear Spoiler
1990 honda crx cawthorne composites rear wing Photo 8/25   |   The downforce, power to weight, and balance of this CR-X make it faster than cars twice as powerful!

The car is nicknamed Mighty Mouse, and the step from track days to Time Attack began with an entry into Superlap Australia in '08, working with Brisbane's 101 Motorsport. Rob and 101 Motorsport have competed in WTAC since '11 and the team has delivered faster times every year, most recently a 1:29.5170 in '15 at Sydney Motorsport Park-that's keeping pace with Formula Two record-setters!

Owning one of the best-handling front-wheel-drive cars may have been the reason why Rob never saw the need to upgrade, but it's also made this a great starting point. Stripped of half of its body panels in the 101 Motorsport pit garage, there's little of the original car left-each part redesigned, modified, and upgraded as the coupe got faster.

1990 honda crx k20 k24 hybrid Photo 12/25   |   1990 Honda Crx K20 K24 Hybrid
1990 honda crx rbc intake manifold Photo 13/25   |   480 bhp to the front wheels from a boosted K20A/K24 hybrid bored and stroked to 2.6 liters.

Probably the best place to take that in is the cabin. Every seam is stitch-welded or riveted for extra strength, stiffened with a heavily braced six-point chrome-moly 'cage, and stripped back to its bare bones. But it's not just lighter-the re-engineered front end means the engine is 90 mm farther back, converted to left-hand drive to balance that weight, and the driver sits 50 mm closer to the centerline and 100 mm farther from the bulkhead. The corner weights are scarily close to perfect.

Rob says the Mouse proved too mighty for the stock chassis setup in '12, and the team called in ex-McLaren Formula 1 engineer Barry Lock to scratch-build a fully adjustable double-wishbone setup to replace it. It can carry huge speed through corners, but the 13-inch rotors and four-piston AP Racing brakes give organ-churning stopping power when it's needed, while the Ferodo pads get up to temperature quickly-ideal for a car that is only out on track for a few minutes.

022 1990 honda crx lhd conversion Photo 14/25   |   The stripped interior matched with the lightweight aero keeps weight to around 1,750 pounds.

Building on Honda's hard work has helped the team take WTAC's naturally aspirated and front-wheel-drive records, but from '15 it's only able to challenge the latter. After a VTEC solenoid failure during '14, 101 opted to move to a much more potent setup. It's one of eight cars at the event with an engine built by JHH Racing, in this case a K20A/K24 hybrid bored and stroked to 2.6 liters and with a new addition to the lunacy.

"We added a Rotrex supercharger this year, so we're making twice the power," Rob explains. "It made 480 bhp at the wheels on 101's dyno, at 18 psi and 7,500 rpm. Hypertune had to change the final drive and increase the rev limit to 8,500 rpm to give us a 170-mph top speed, otherwise we would've hit the limiter at 155 mph on the pit straight."

020 1990 honda crx rotrex c38 91 supercharger Photo 18/25   |   The team added a Rotrex blower this year to make it a more competitive car against the bigger dogs of World Time Attack Challenge.

Unsurprisingly, Time Attack has completely changed the way it looks. Like a lot of '90s CR-X owners, Rob used to have a Cyber body kit on the car-and the side skirts and rear bumper are still fitted. But, as it reached its limits in '11, the team called in Brad at Cawthorne Composites to replace it with something more functional. The resulting aero kit creates enough downforce to destroy a set of wheel bearings on almost every event, and the Quaife power steering rack was needed to make it even remotely driveable at high speeds. Serious stuff!

Rob says he barely recognized it: "The first year with the aero kit, we had a 5-second decrease in lap times; it was a major thing to get used to. But I've had a few years to learn to drive an aero car, and in terms of downforce to weight ratio, we're probably one of the best in there. We're seeing 2.5 g while cornering; we're faster around corners than the Pro cars now."

1990 honda crx rob nguyen Photo 19/25   |   Rob Nguyen and his Mighty Mouse hold records for fastest front-wheel drive and naturally aspirated in World Time Attack Challenge.

That's helped by its lack of weight. WTAC sets strict minimum weights for every class, based on the lightest production version of the car-and that's not much for a CR-X. A full set of Lexan windows, smaller fuel tank, and tiny Braille battery shed yet more pounds for '15, and the engine isn't wasting energy turning an alternator or powering fans. Neither is needed during a single lap, so the coupe weighs in at around 1,750 pounds. Setting the fastest cornering speeds is even more impressive when you're running the narrowest tires on the grid.

1990 honda crx 949 racing 6ul Photo 20/25   |   1990 Honda Crx 949 Racing 6Ul

Mighty Mouse is not finished, either. Having ruffled feathers on their home turf, Rob and the team are planning to enter the Rev Speed Super Lap Battle at Tsukuba in December, showing Japanese tuners how the Aussies do it. And there's some more fine-tuning to get through before it goes anywhere near a shipping container.

"In the world of Time Attack, if you stand still you will get overtaken. The hardest part, year after year, is finding new and innovative ways to get additional performance without overspending. And every year we do go faster. The reward is that one perfect lap, and knowing that no other Time Attack car takes corners as fast as the Mouse does, including the Tilton Evo," Rob says.

1990 honda crx cawthorne composites aero Photo 21/25   |   1990 Honda Crx Cawthorne Composites Aero

An interesting case for keeping your first car, wouldn't you say? "You make mistakes here and there but that's part of the learning curve, so we wouldn't do anything different. Our results speak for themselves. I hope I inspire a few of the younger guys on how to build a race car correctly, and show what a FWD platform can do."

1990 honda crx cawthrone composites front Photo 25/25   |   1990 Honda Crx Cawthrone Composites Front
By Alex Grant
11 Articles
1990 Honda CRX - Mighty Mouse
Tuning Menu
Owner: Robert Nguyen
Hometown: Mount Gravatt East, QLD, Australia
Occupation: Vice President, 101 Motorsport
Engine: K20A/K24 hybrid with 89mm bore and 1,033mm stroke (around 2,600 cc); JHH Racing sleeved block with custom Wiseco 10:8 pistons and Carrillo rods; Aviaid three-stage dry-sump kit; Kelford cams; Rotrex C38-91 supercharger; TurboSmart Race Port blow-off valve; TurboSmart Pro-Gate 50 wastegate; Hypertune intercooler; Honda RBC intake manifold ported by JHH Racing; Sigma Racing 4-2-1 headers; 3-inch straight-through stainless exhaust with center-exit tip; Injector Dynamics ID1700 injectors; custom 30.0L Spot On Performance fuel tank with 5.0L surge tank; dual Walbro 460-lph fuel pumps; TurboSmart FPR2000 fuel pressure regulator; PWR radiator; Meziere electronic water pump, fans, and alternator removed; Wiggins hose clamps; engine moved back 90 mm
Drivetrain: Quaife sequential transmission with Momentum Motorsport E8J gear set; twin-plate clutch; Driveshaft Shop level 2.9 axles; OS Giken 1.5-way differential
Engine Management: Haltech Platinum Pro
Footwork & Chassis: custom MCA Suspension Gold kit with 1,500 pounds front and 1,400 pounds rear springs; blade-style adjustable front and fixed rear sway bars; custom double-wishbone front suspension; Quaife Ford Escort Mk2 2.4 high-ratio quick steering rack; all solid rose joints; custom rear subframe; inner wings cut out
Brakes: 330x28mm AP Racing brakes with four-piston calipers; Wilwood rear rotors and calipers; AP Racing and Ferodo pads
Wheels & Tires: 15x9" front, 15x8" rear 949 Racing 6UL wheels; 225/50R15 Advan A050 tires
Exterior: stitch-welded and riveted shell; full carbon-fiber nose cone, floor, diffuser, and wings by Cawthorn Composites; Lexan windows
Interior: Sparco R 333 steering wheel; AIM MXL Strada Pista digital dashboard; left-hand-drive conversion with driver moved back 100 mm and 50 mm closer to centerline; six-point chrome-moly rollcage; OBP floor-mounted pedal box
Thanks You: Varun Sharma, owner of 101 MotorSport; Barry Lock; JHH Racing; Momentum Motorsport; Brad Cawthorne; Haltech; TurboSmart; HyperTune; Sixties Rust; Crawford Crash Repair

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