After my first outing to Willow Springs with Project Civic, I was immediately hooked. If you’ve ever been to a track day, you know the feeling. I knew I had to do whatever I could to get myself back on track as soon as possible, and that meant getting down to business with a few more upgrades and changes to my car.
On the first track weekend, Project Civic fared pretty well. Even though the car is tuned for 93-octane Oregon pump gas, the 91-octane California horse urine seemed to be proving ample for my needs. I experienced a few hiccups and misfires, but nothing that raised a serious concern in my mind. The car is NA, after all, and with a compression of only 11.5:1, I wasn’t overly concerned about detonation. However, there were plenty of things that needed to be addressed to get the car more aptly prepared for track duty.
One of the first things I needed was a set of my own 15-inch dedicated track wheels. For this, I turned to Mackin Industries, the U.S.’s official importer for all Volk Racing wheels. My weapon of choice is a 15x7-inch +35mm TE37, in the ever-classic Volk bronze — a color often imitated, but never duplicated. For rubber, I turned to Toyo Tires for its R1R tire, a great option for anyone who’s looking for a very sticky dry-weather tire that’s still street friendly. I wanted to make sure that I could drive to and from the track on the same tires I would run on the circuit, so the R1R was an easy choice for me. Sized at 225/45R15, this tire choice is a bit wider than some will claim to be ideal for a 7-inch-wide wheel, but the extra contact patch makes up for the minute loss in sidewall stiffness at the limit, and therefore makes a worthwhile compromise in my mind.
One slight drawback to the 225 width is that I’ll need to roll my fenders in order to avoid rubbing while cornering. This is actually a very easy process, just be careful if you care about your paint. Use a heat gun to warm up the metal and decrease the likelihood of chipping the paint, and go slow and methodically when massaging the fenders.
Next on my list was a new intake solution. Contrary to popular belief, all intakes are not created equal. The 2.5-inch AEM short ram intake that was on my Civic proved to be more efficient than a to-remain-nameless JDM-brand induction box I previously owned (approximately 8-whp increase, circa 2008), but a 3-inch cold-air intake would provide even better flow, thus more power. Installation of AEM’s cold-air intake is a simple affair — only simple hand tools and about 30 to 40 minutes are necessary.
The last item of preparation that was direly needed before another track excursion was the oil department. A known issue with Honda non-VTEC bottom ends (like my B18B Integra LS block) is oil starvation, due in part to the nature of the oil journal design. If I could do it all over again, I would’ve started out with a GSR or Type-R block, but in the interest of saving time (and lots of money) I’m going to continue running my built LS block as long as I can get away with it. To help lengthen the life and increase my block’s chances of survival, I employed the use of a baffled oil pan from Mugen to help keep oil distributed under all circumstances. Oil starvation can lead to spun bearings among other problems, which can occur, for example, while the car is on a high-speed corner where gravity can cause oil to shift toward one side of the pan and starve the oil pickup. Another way to help battle oil distribution problems (and even pressure loss) is a dry-sump system, but those are a bit more hardcore than what I’d like to use on my Civic for the time being.
When I had the oil pan off, I discovered a very unsettling problem, which made me even more happy I had decided to upgrade the oil department. My oil pickup had a massive dent in it, which significantly hinders the amount of oil the engine can draw from the pan. No bueno! Obviously, this inexpensive OEM part was replaced at this point, and I took the opportunity to fill my motor with Redline 5W30 synthetic motor oil.
With the Civic all sorted out and ready for another session, I contacted Aaron Bitterman at Speed Ventures. A track day and event organizing body, Speed Ventures offers a wide variety of track driving experiences, ranging from typical open track days to specialized challenge series. There happened to be a weekend at Buttonwillow Raceway Park coming up, so I signed up and headed north on Interstate 5 late one Friday night. Aaron and his right-hand man, Dave Lach, were kind enough to set me up for seat time with an instructor, which (not surprisingly) proved to be very valuable. Having a person who knows his way around the track is very helpful as a new driver, and I managed to drop more than 10 seconds from my lap times throughout the course of the weekend after my in-car instruction session. However, lap times aren’t the most important thing for a driver of my experience level. The increased confidence and comfort of knowing the person sitting next to you recognizes the best line is what makes in-car instruction extremely helpful.
This weekend would play host to a Honda FF Challenge event as well, so I decided “What the heck?” and entered my Civic. With slightly less than ideal weather, and due mostly to my lack of experience, I didn’t place in the competition. Two off-track excursions left the car a bit muddy and my ego a bit bruised, but I took a lot of valuable experience away from the event (namely, don’t ever lift off throttle when entering the corner before Lost Hill if you’re in a FWD car — yikes!). We were all very pleased with our experience with Speed Ventures, and we highly recommend looking to them for enthusiast-level track events in California and Nevada.
Toward the end of the second day, the car was hiccupping a bit more than usual and I experienced a drop in power (and a nice plume of white smoke out the tailpipe) when I had the car under heavy load. Knowing these were bad signs, I eased up and pulled over. After checking the oil and discovering a milky consistency to it, I knew it was most likely a case of “bye-bye, head gasket.” Thankfully, the car was still in reasonably decent running condition at low rpm, so I hung my head, put in my Journey: Greatest Hits album and limped home at low speeds.
Luckily, replacing the head gasket is a fairly simple repair on a Honda B-series motor. One thing to make sure and do is have a machine shop give the head a once over, both for a pressure cleaning and to check the tolerances (and ensure the head isn’t warped). Along with all the gaskets and small incidentals involved with removing and reinstalling a head, I wanted to replace a few parts while we had the motor open.
Blueprint Racing provided a set of its head studs for our rebuild, along with a set of LS/VTEC conversion dowel pins. All the pieces from Blueprint are built to the highest of quality standards, and the fitment is superb. I also took this opportunity to install another two pieces I’d had for a while but never got around to doing anything with. An old school first-generation Skunk2 intake manifold (essentially the same design as an Integra Type-R manifold) and JDM 64mm ITR throttle body found their way onto my head, but not before being shipped off to Maxbore, a throttle body bore and honing specialist. Maxbore machined the throttle body to a diameter of 70mm, replaced the butterfly and port-matched the intake manifold to the newly bored throttle body. These modifications should improve response drastically over the restrictive and anemic stock B16A IM/TB and offer the capacity for more power due to the better airflow characteristics.
Now that the head is on, the next thing on our plate is a fresh tune. I’ll be heading out to Church Automotive in our next installment of Project Civic — stay tuned!
Volk Racing Wheels
5W30 Synthetic Motor Oil
High-performance Driving & Track Events
Head Studs & Dowel Pins
Maxbore Throttle Bodies
Throttle Body Services