The popular formula in setting up a new race team is to put together the best people and talent within the allotted budget and choose the car and series that offers the most realistic chance of podiums and sponsor visibility. Some take a different route. Imagine your first season using a car that had little or no success, then switching to a proven winner and then going right back to develop the original car.
Think Volvo to Porsche back to Volvo. That script belongs to Jim Haughey of K-Pax Racing. After a couple of drivers championships and a manufacturers title in the SCCA World Challenge with a Porsche, Haughey returned to Volvo and put all of his efforts into a brand that does not immediately come to mind when one thinks of performance, and even fewer still would consider the subtle Swedemobiles as a suitable platform for competition. That script is in rewrite.
european car: How about starting with the history of K-Pax and then your association with Volvo?
Jim Haughey: The history of K-Pax came about because of my experience with Volvo. I opened up Scandia Auto Service and ran it for 22 years now and it led me into the racing. And I’ve always been an outside observer of racing. I’ve never done racing that much. I’ve done track days and some Skip Barber stuff.
ec: When you say racing, which particular class or type?
JH: I used to go to Laguna Seca and watch drag racing at Fremont. I started getting serious about life and working all the time instead of going to Laguna Seca and drinking a six-pack on the weekend. I’ve never been a hard-core fan but when I saw someone trying to run Volvos in the World Challenge that had a deal with Volvo Cars North America, that got my attention.
ec: I remember the program vaguely, mostly due to the notoriety of Derek Bell as a driver. Having a multiple Le Mans winner will always get you ink, but not necessarily some wins.
JH: Volvo Cars North America didn’t renew their contract with that team so consequently, like many outfits do when they lose their major supporter, they downsize quickly and things go up for sale. I contacted them and we negotiated back and forth. I didn’t want to run or start a racing company per se, like hire the engineers and buy all the equipment because I was working here full time and running this place full time so we negotiated a deal where they contributed the cars and I contributed the working capital. It was probably a very fortunate thing that I did it that way.
ec: A quick learning curve?
JH: It was a terrible experience and a great experience. Between the time I went there and looked at the cars, interviewed the crew, and looked at their facilities and the time we got to the first race, you know, there was only two guys left from the original crew so it was almost like we were starting over.
ec: The expenses really mount up in a hurry.
JH: Yes. When you are on the road the hotels and meals and fuel and all that stuff is very expensive but it was a very good learning experience for me. We didn’t do very well, I let them do what they were doing for a while and after a while I just got sick of it and said this is nonsense. Near the end of the season we brought in Michael Galati for Mid-Ohio.
ec: This was in the Volvo S60, which had previously been a grid filler?
JH: Correct. He was having all sorts of problems with the front bearings on the car. He pitted, took it apart, fixed it, helped put it back together and went out and came in Third Place. So I became a Michael Galati fan after that. He drove the rest of the season and eventually he won a race in the rain. The first race the Volvo ever won in the rain and he lapped everybody in the field except for one. Then we brought in Randy Pobst for the final race of the season. Randy drove at Road Atlanta, we had a little bit of a problem then we went to Laguna Seca and he won. However, the Volvo was clearly not ready for the track and I learned so many things that year about crew, about preparation, the wind at the track, you know, I could summarize it probably real fast with three things: you need a good car, a good driver and a good crew. If you don’t have those things you are wasting your money and wasting your time so it was a very disappointing season for me overall.
ec: It’s interesting that you say it was a disappointment because a lot of teams don’t get to the podium in their first season. Did you just have higher expectations?
JH: I had a lot higher expectations in my anticipation of what the crew would be like and where the cars would be in development and that’s where I really got disappointed. We shot ourselves in the foot so many times in 2006 because of the crew making mistakes, the cars blowing up, it was just one thing after another.
ec: You parked the Volvo and went with Porsche.
JH: At that point I was just wondering if those Volvos would ever be ready so I ordered two Porsche GT3 Cup cars. I wanted to learn more about this but I still wanted to race with Volvo. We ran the GT3 Cup cars in 2007 and 2008 and did very well. In 2009 we brought out the Volvo S60s, and Randy was teamed up with Andy Pilgrim.
ec: Two series champions on the same team? Andy was the go-to guy for Cadillac wasn’t he?
JH: He was. Andy is a fantastic guy on so many different fronts, he is personable in the paddock and he’s fast. He’s a great public speaker. He’s great with the executives and with the fans. We had him for two seasons, and in 2011 he returned to GM.
ec: When you switched from Porsche back to Volvo, what was your decision based on? It could have been 2006 all over again.
JH: I don’t know of any other series, other than rally cars, where you can run an all-wheel-drive car except in GT World Challenge. In addition to GT there is Touring, which is for rear-wheel drive. I wanted to run the model available that would fit into the GT class. The S60 may be all-wheel drive but one of the things I’ve learned running the Porsches is not every race is a rain race. But when it does rain it’s nice to have a car that handles well. The Porsche had more traction than any other car and in 2008 we had three or four races in the wet and we won those because you can drive a Porsche hard in the rain. I knew all-wheel drive had an advantage in corner exits and so forth.
ec: You must have made the decision well in advance, while you were still running the Porsches, to develop the S60.
JH:We did, and while running the Porsches I contacted Gino Effler at Volvo. He said to make a proposal and he would pass it on to the appropriate people. I did and they agreed to help out. Three new S60 bodies were pulled off the assembly line in Sweden and shipped to Colorado.
ec: Were you still working out of the same shop in Colorado?
JH: I switched to 3R Automotive and it was a great move. It’s one of the things I learned in 2006. I was in the paddock at every race and I saw what was going on. If you are going to build a Volvo, these are one-off cars, you need people that can handle the manufacturing of the car, tearing out all the crap you don’t need, putting in all the tubes and everything structural.
ec: With the transition to using 3R, did you have the same personnel in place with the new S60s for 2009?
JH: Well, 3R has been in the business for years, Bob Raub was racing Trans-Am cars back in the ’70’s and Will Moody has been around for years. It so happened that 3R lost their drivers and they were looking for work, so we hired Will Moody for the engineering work and it didn’t take me long to figure out that I was working with the wrong team. I bought new cars from Porsche, had 3R come pick them up, do all the modifications and build the cars for the season. We had Michael Gilati and Randy Pobst and there we go, we got a crew, we got drivers and we got a car. And we got a championship.
ec: Since you had professionals in Michael and Randy, what were their impressions in going from all-wheel drive and front engine to a 911?
JH: Randy did not have a problem, Randy has been a Porsche driver for years. Where he had to make an adjustment was going from the Porsche to the Volvo. Michael is a good guy but I think he had a lot of trouble with the transition and I don’t think he ever figured it out. Randy just fit right in, it was like putting on old boots or gloves or something for him.
ec: The reason I asked is it’s always interesting to find out how teammates, when they share the information on setups, both coming from different directions, from a Porsche to a Volvo, what’s compatible for them and what isn’t.
JH: It’s not compatible, they didn’t like the cars set up the same way at all. It’s communication. Pobst is so good at feedback for what he wants and what the car is doing, he and Will Moody clicked at that. Michael Galati wasn’t as specific so he ends up driving the car the way it is instead of trying to make it better sometimes. Maybe due to the Italian and English, we never could get the car precisely what he wanted because he couldn’t tell us exactly what he wanted.
ec: Well, for a lot of drivers the sweet spot is something that is not really described. Luis Diaz is a brilliant prototype driver but simply could not come to terms with driving a GT, it was a completely foreign concept. Galati may have been thinking “I’ll just get in it and drive and we’ll keep adjusting it until it’s right” and feedback wasn’t his thing. I believe that you can’t program the human element and the driver is going to tell you what you cannot pick up from any sensor, any probe or any telemetry.
JH: Both are critical. We separate the drivers when we do a download because we don’t want what one says influencing the other one. Then we take what they say and we look at the data too and compare the two. It can be enlightening.
ec: Well, how did you handle the development, you got the tubs from Sweden and were delivered to Colorado and then the prep starts. You are almost to some degree, your own manufacturer.
JH: Absolutely, there are a lot of people involved with the Volvo, we just took that a step further. The chassis design was done by 3R, they are very good at building cars. They reduced as much weight in the tubs as they could. The unibody has been strengthened considerably. The same detail has been applied to the drivetrain, Mahle does the motors, the areas of concern from 2006, you learn which direction to go.
ec: Some examples?
JH: I think almost every single part, like the uprights. In 2006, one of the things that happened right away in testing was the right front spindle broke and the car went into a wall. In racing, this is a component that cannot fail. So we started over and we used an engineering company in Colorado that helped us design new uprights, hubs and all the suspension geometry.
ec: From the time that the tubs were delivered from Sweden, how long did it take for you to have a completed car for your first test session, and where was it held?
JH: The first test session was done at Pikes Peak International Raceway, and we did that maybe two weeks before Sebring in 2008. We were working on the cars for almost a year but also were competing with the Porsches, so yes it was a dual program.
ec: Anyone at Porsche know that?
JH: Not until the end of 2008, they kind of figured that out.
ec: A lot of times a driver will tell you or an engineer when a car is right, meaning that if it’s a pig from the start it’s going to be a pig for the season. Some subscribe to that, some don’t; but was the overall feeling within the team, yourself and the drivers that you had a very good car from the start?
JH: I think so, we had a good car and what we needed to do was keep the car on track, keep the car doing laps in the time frame while still in development. Volvo doesn’t make a transmission that we could put in this car so we had to get transmissions made. And it took several suppliers to get what we needed for the S60. For 2009, we had no failures in that area.
ec: Volvo is not thought of as a performance automobile and you beat some of the most talented drivers in the challenge in an extremely competitive series. What does it say or what does it mean in terms of personal satisfaction? This must feel so much better than, say, having run a Cadillac or a Porsche where you had limited input. This is really an individual effort of David versus Goliath where you can point to this and say that we beat them with something we developed basically on our own.
JH: I think there is a lot of satisfaction in that. I remember one time in the paddock some of the Volvo executives were there and we had been lining the cars up in the pre-grid, all these Corvettes, Vipers, Porsches and the two Volvos and I’m standing there with these executives. This is truly a royal challenge for Volvo, these cars have been custom built and we have been able to beat these guys. It’s a lot of satisfaction and it’s a tremendous amount of work. We’d be at the track at 3 in the morning, 4 in the morning, swapping motors, swapping transmissions. We did a lot of things in the off-season to improve the car. It wasn’t like we didn’t have problems in 2009. Andy had four DNF’s during that season.
ec: What were the causes?
JH: They were varied causes. They had an exhaust manifold break on one car and we had a cooler break, a water cooler—the weld broke on the little transfer tank. A harmonic vibration issue, a bolt came loose in the bellhousing that took out the crankshaft sensor one time.
ec: A basic question but an honest one, why do you race?
JH: What gets me most excited and one of the things that keeps me going is when you are at a race and you see two Volvos at the front, leading the pack, leading the Vipers, leading the Vettes, leading the Porsches, that is just the coolest thing in the world. That’s what does it for me.