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1997 Honda Civic DX - King Of The Hill

Dissecting the Honda Challenge Champion car.

Andy Hope
Sep 13, 2011

A national championship title is something that can never be won. If you want to win something, pick up a lottery ticket or throw down a pair of dice. Better yet, go buy an oversized highlighter and stamp your way to victory one letter and number at a time. Those are all popular games of chance, with far better odds of winning than haphazardly entering in a competitive automotive race, especially if it’s for the title of National Champion in the HPD Honda Challenge series. That’s because the title can’t be won, it must be earned. Here is the story of Jonathan Meris’ Civic and how it was carefully built to take first place at the year’s biggest race.

Htup 1109 01+1997 honda civic dx+cover Photo 2/6   |   1997 Honda Civic DX - King Of The Hill

In early 2010, Meris began working on the recipe for his H2-spec B16A. Two identical engines were built and tuned separately. The first served merely as a backup and initial test mule for dyno time. Both bottom ends were blueprinted with optimum clearances for maximum power gains on the entire rotating assembly. As per the H2 rules, Meris used a set of CTR cams, intake manifold and throttle body, while increasing the compression to the 10.9:1 H2 B16A limit. Revving to 9,400 rpm at times on the track required an extremely reliable valvetrain. Skunk2 titanium retainers and valvesprings prevented valve float during dives into stratospheric revs. Arguably the single most crucial asset that granted the largest gains was the precision valve job performed by RLZ Engineering. Although the rules allowed for cylinder heads to be ported 1 inch into the ports, this was not done to Meris’ head, a true testament of RLZ’s advanced practices. AEM cam gears were used for cam timing adjustments as well as an AEM fuel pressure regulator and fuel rail to control the flow of 100-octane gas to the RC Engineering injectors.

One of the most important decisions to be made was what size tires to use. The mandated spec rubber for Honda Challenge is the Toyo RA-1 DOT race tire. Meris knew that most, if not all of the H2 racers at the championships would be using 225/45-15s. With that in mind, he opted to try 235/40-17 tires mounted on Konig 17x7 Lightspeed wheels. After a test day of comparing both sizes, there was no question that the 17s were significantly faster. He determined there was not only more grip, but the increased diameter made it possible to use only third and fourth gear through almost the entire Miller Motorsports Park circuit.

Htup 1109 02+1997 honda civic dx+track Photo 3/6   |   1997 Honda Civic DX - King Of The Hill

Meris chose to use an Integra Type R transmission for its close-ratio gearing, but he didn’t stop there. Because of the taller tires, a Gear-X straight-cut 4.9 final drive was selected. To ensure the power met the concrete at will, an OS Giken Superlock LSD was chosen. Lastly, Syncrotech carbon synchros were installed to ensure every shift would remain smooth and positive during track abuse.

Carefully selected suspension upgrades included Koni 2812 dampers complete with 800-pound front and 1,200-pound rear Eibach race springs, while Hardrace spherical bearings on both the front and rear lower control arms replaced the factory rubber. SPC Performance Extreme upper control arms allowed 4.7 degrees of negative camber and 4.5 degrees of negative caster up front, while Wicked Tuning’s rear camber kit with spherical eyelets were used to set 2.5 degrees of negative camber in the rear. In addition, Pro Car Innovations’ (PCI) trick spherical rear trailing arm bearings replaced the torn and worn rubber pieces that anchor the trailing arms to the body of the car. Finally, a CT Engineering 22mm adjustable rear antisway bar was connected to a beefier Civic Type R rear subframe. Testing revealed that the car performed best with 1⁄16 inch of toe-out in the front, with zero toe-in the rear and cold tire pressures of 23 psi front and 27 psi rear.

Htup 1109 03+1997 honda civic dx+timing belt Photo 4/6   |   1997 Honda Civic DX - King Of The Hill

A 1-inch ITR master cylinder was used to pump Motul RBF 600 brake fluid to the NSX brake calipers up front, which clamp down on a pair of Fastbrakes redrilled 4x100 slotted NSX brake rotors. To provide friction to the rotors, Hawk DTC-60 and Hawk HB 350 black compound pads for the front and rear, respectively, were added to the list.

Htup 1109 04+1997 honda civic dx+engine Photo 5/6   |   Over 200 dyno pulls and countless hours of adjustments paid off in the end, with the reliable B16 serving as one of the variables needed to capture victory.

Unlike most of the Honda Challenge racers who use AiM or other data-acquisition systems to improve their driving, Meris literally drives by the seat of his pants while monitoring engine vitals via Auto Meter analog gauges. A custom 10-point rollcage that includes NASCAR door bars provided the necessary safety in case of the unthinkable. Sparco harnesses keep him snug in the Sparco Pro 2000 race seat, while a Firecharger fire system and extinguisher sit at arm’s length.

The setup listed above was ultimately found after on-track trial and error, and over 200 pulls on Midnight Performance’s Dynojet, painstakingly making microadjustments one at a time. This was followed up with last-minute dyno time in Utah for Miller Motorsports Park’s 4,500-foot elevation—something no other H2 competitor, other than his teammate, bothered to do.

The epic championship-deciding race was not the blowout that you might have expected. It was full of talented drivers all clawing for the top spot. However, Meris’ unequalled preparation was obvious after he was knocked back to mid-pack with just a few laps to go. In those final laps, his car was still cornering hard and his motor had just enough left in it to pull him through the field and across the finish line first. This was followed by an unprecedented nine-hour teardown in impound. Eventually the flabbergasted tech inspectors could find nothing illegal on the car and officially awarded Meris his first national championship. Congratulations Jonathan, you earned it.

Htup 1109 05+1997 honda civic dx+moving car Photo 6/6   |   1997 Honda Civic DX - King Of The Hill

HPD Honda Challenge
The Honda Challenge series is sanctioned by the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) and now has Honda Performance Development (HPD) not only as its title sponsor, but also as a direct OEM supplier to participants through their parts program. Although technically there are five different classes within the series, most of the drivers now compete in either H1 or H2. Both classes are primarily filled with Civics and Integras sporting B- and K-series swaps, although H22-powered Preludes and Accords hold their own quite well.

The allowable modifications are specific and strictly enforced. Aside from the individual brands that he chose to go with, Meris’ build sheet is pretty much an exact list of the modifications that a B16A-powered H2-class car can have. This includes the CTR cams and 7-inch-width limited wheels. NASA has regions across the country that host races and driving schools throughout the year. However, the national championship is decided annually at one single event where racers from all regions meet for one balls-out, door-to-door race.

Bolts & Washers

Propulsion
B16A
PRS/Comptech blueprinted short-block
PR-3 cylinder head with RLZ Engineering valve job
Skunk2 Racing valvesprings and titanium retainers
B16B/CTR throttle body, intake manifold and camshafts
AEM fuel rail, fuel pressure regulator and cam gears
RC Engineering injectors
CT Engineering Icebox intake and air filter
SMS Products header
Muffler Tech custom 3-inch exhaust piping
JDM ’98-spec ITR transmission
Exedy Stage 2 clutch
CT Engineering 6lb aluminum flywheel
Gear-X straight-cut 4.9 final drive
OS Giken Superlock LSD
Synchrotech carbon synchros
HaSport motor mounts with 88A urethane
Fluidyne radiator
Power
181hp and 117 lb-ft of torque
Stance
Koni 2812 dampers with Ground Control top hats
Eibach ERS springs. 900lb/in front, 1,200lb/in rear
Civic Si front LCAs with Hardrace spherical bearings
OEM rear LCAs with Hardrace spherical bearings
DC2 GSR knuckles
SPC Performance front UCAs with camber and caster adjustment
DC2 GSR RTAs with PCI rear trailing arm bearings
SPC Performance spherical rear toe links
Wicked Tuning spherical rear camber kit
CT Engineering 22mm adjustable rear sway bar
Civic Type R rear subframe
Resistance
Fastbrakes slotted rotors, NSX calipers, Hawk DTC-60 pads, front
DC2 GSR rotors and calipers, Hawk HB 350 Black pads, rear
Goodrich SS brake lines
Motul RBF 600 brake fluid
ITR 1-inch master cylinder
Wheels and Tires
17x7 Konig Lightspeed, -35 offset
235/40-17 Toyo RA-1
Exterior
’00 front end update
Carbon Creations carbon-fiber hood
Custom front chin spoiler and splitter
Custom polycarbonate rear windows
World Challenge–spec rear wing
Interior
SCCA PRO and NASA-approved 10-pt rollcage
Firecharger 4 nozzle fire system
2.5lb fire extinguisher
Window and center restraining nets
Modified-lightened OEM dashboard
Sparco Racer steering wheel
Sparco 5-pt competition harness
Sparco Pro 2000 seat
Auto Meter gauges (tach, water temp, oil temp and oil pressure)
Longacre aircraft-style pushbutton start and switches
8lb battery relocated to interior
Longacre master switch
Integra Type R shift knob
Electronics
Hondata S300
Props
HPD, Toyo Tires, Midnight Performance, Special Projects Motorsports, Gear-X, SPC, Exedy, Heel Toe Auto, CT Engineering, Konig, Skunk2, RLZ, Synchrotech, OS Giken, Fluidyne, Hondata, Nology, PCI, Ground Control, Fastbrakes, Muffler Tech, SMS, H-Motors, RCF Racing, Driving Ambition, Zach “Nuts” Vierra, Rick “Casins” Cruz, Ray Barrero, John Almazan, Anthony Samonte, Glenn Swin, and my dad, Jose Meris Jr.

Owner Specs

Favorite Website
Facebook.com/merismotorsports
Screen Name Or Nickname
VTECJJ
Building Hondas For How Long
18 years, since ’93
Your Dream Car
Ferrari FXX
Build Inspiration
Slipstream Racing
Current Stable
’99 Honda Civic sedan, ’03 Chevrolet Silverado Diesel, ’01 Honda GS-R H1 project, ’93 LS special (retired race car), ’92 Honda Prelude (retired drag car), ’72 Honda Z600 (B-swap), ’98 Birel 50cc Kart (3-year-old daughter’s first step into F1!)
What’s Playing In Your IPod/CD/MP3 Player Right Now
Usher
Greatest Movie Of All Time
Top Gun

Connect

RLZ Engineering
www.rlzengineering.com
CT ENGINEERING
www.ct-engineering.com
SPC
www.spcperformance.com
Skunk2 Racing
www.skunk2.com
Auto meter
www.autometer.com

Sources

Auto Meter
Sycamore, IL 60178
866-248-6356
www.autometer.com
Skunk2 Racing
Norco, CA 92860
951-808-9888
http://www.skunk2.com
CT Engineering
Rancho Cordova, CA 95742
916-635-4550
http://www.ct-engineering.com
SPC Performance
800-525-6505
www.SPCPerformance.com
By Andy Hope
29 Articles

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