In the early days of building Hondas, the biggest limitation for extracting power was the lack of an affordable engine management system. For the adventurous few who attempted turbocharging, the only bang for your buck option was to enrich fuel by tweaking the fuel pressure through an FMU. The elite few who had money could take the high dollar route of purchasing and tuning a stand-alone system. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that a company bridged the gap between the unreliable FMU and the high dollar stand-alone system. The company that did this was HONDATA. Over the years, they’ve evolved from basic re-flashes on stock ECUs to laptop tuneable systems featuring real-time updating for on-the-fly tuning, data logging and features such as nitrous control, boost control and launch control, which are typically only found on high-end systems. In recent years, HONDATA broke new ground with the development of its K-Pro system which cracked the limitations of tuning the Honda K-Series engine. So to bring you another great 21 Questions, we caught up with one of HONDATA’s founders, Doug Macmillan. Doug turns out to be a true enthusiast with a history of racing all the way back from his days growing up in New Zealand. This guy is all about performance and we can honestly tell you that he won’t sell anything that doesn’t make your car go faster. Here’s his story:
1 Please introduce yourselves and what you do.
My name is Doug Macmillan, co-founder with Derek Stevens of HONDATA.
2 What is HONDATA and how long has it been established?
HONDATA designs hardware and software for programming the engine computers of performance Hondas and Acuras. We started in New Zealand about 10 years ago, and moved to the US in late 2000.
3 How long have you been involved in the aftermarket automotive industry?
Officially for about 10 years, but we’ve been tweaking Hondas as a hobby for much longer.
4 What is the main focus of HONDATA?
We supply the premier tuning systems for B and K series engines for our dealers to tune.
5 Does HONDATA sell anything other than ECUs?
We sell relatively few ECUs as the software and hardware we manufacture in most cases works with the stock Honda ECU. We also sell a range of HONDATA heatshield gaskets, which were developed after early datalogging showed very high air intake temperatures. We wanted to be able to reduce those temperatures and the gasket was developed as a result of our testing.
6 Do you carry parts for other makes besides Honda/Acura?
Apart from a number of heatshield gaskets for other makes our engine management expertise is focused entirely on Honda and Acura.
7 Are there any plans to expand to other makes?
No, we have more than enough to keep us busy with Honda and Acura.
8 How did you get started in the import performance industry?
Both Derek Stevens and I were avid gearheads, owning and racing Honda CRX’s. We wanted to make products that would help our racing efforts and help the many forced induction Hondas in the US run like stock, but with power.
9 How important is it to have proper fuel management in a modified car?
Critical! The ECUs on most vehicles can handle simple bolt-ons, but when you change cams or go with forced induction you need to change the programming. Not doing so can damage your engine from detonation and leaning out.
10 What are some of the differences between HONDATA and other brands?
HONDATA rewrites a significant portion of the code to add features and functions that were not present before. Examples of this are boost control, boost by gear and nitrous control.
11 Are HONDATA ECUs simple to install?
For the most part, yes; our ECUs can be removed and reinstalled in a matter of minutes.
12 What kind of power gains can be expected from a car with bolt-on parts (intake, header, exhaust) after upgrading the ECU and getting it properly tuned?
How long is a piece of string? The answer depends: First you need an engine with good breathing to start off with. A good header on a 2 liter 2004 K20A2 RSX could make double the HP and torque gains than it would on a 2 liter 2004 K20A3 Civic Si. There is also a large quality range in aftermarket products. For example, some after-cat exhaust systems will actually decrease your power. So if you chose a RSX-S with good quality bolt-ons you could pick up 30 ft-lb torque and 30 HP. We have seen as much as a 50 ft-lb and 60 hp increase using the best bolt-ons and camshafts on this engine.
13 What upcoming trends do you see that are getting popular now?
As more engines are fitted with close-coupled catalytic converters, supercharging is becoming more popular.
14 What are some of the perks of your job?
I don’t have a job. I have a hobby - which is to tune and drive fast cars.
15 What advice do you have for our readers that want to get into the auto industry?
Learn as much as you can about engine/suspension/drivetrain as possible. This is the information age. Knowledge is power.
16 What changes would you like to see in our industry?
I’d like to see more education of consumers so that they can make smarter decisions about the products they purchase.
17 How do you predict the economy and higher gas prices will affect our market?
I’ve seen very little change to our business over the last 6 months. In fact, this is shaping up to be our best month ever. What I think has happened is that people still have money to spend on their cars, but rather than spend it on products for “show” it is being spent on products for “go”. Higher gas prices will lead to smarter tuning. With tuning, you can have a 350 hp 4 cylinder turbo Honda that sips fuel at 35 mpg.
18 What are some memorable projects that you’ve worked on?
Our HONDATA landspeed RSX would have to top the list. 770 HP through a stock gearbox and twin Rotrex superchargers with a 100 shot of nitrous and a world record of 230 mph.
19 What types of motorsports is HONDATA or has HONDATA been involved in?
Everything. I race landspeed in a landspeed RSX, Derek is an expert circuit racer in his K20-powered Civic and Javier has a 930 HP 9 second drag Civic.
20 Are you working on any special projects cars right now?
I’m just finishing the tuning for our K-Pro dual in a TSX with CT supercharger. 9 psi of boost and 330 wheel hp. This is 150 HP more than when the TSX was stock and makes it a lot of fun to drive...
21 What advice do you have for our readers that want to build there own project cars?
Read a lot, talk to others about their cars and don’t be afraid to make mistakes trying new things. Just because something is shiny and costs a lot doesn’t mean that it works. Twelve years ago my B16A CRX won all its circuit races and went on to set a New Zealand landspeed record using a stock intake, stock TB, stock head and stock header. Find out what works for your car and read as many magazines and articles as you can.