In the last Project NSX update, we were spinning dyno hubs at Chequered Tuning. A couple of weeks later it was time to push the rubber down the road.
It all started a few months back at the packed Black Label event in Melbourne, where I was busy chatting to people at the VicRoads Custom Plates stand about the recent work on Project NSX.
The builds on display were wild and made my car look like a wallflower, but a steady stream of Honda lovers stopped by to say hi, including Rhys Yeomans and David Napoleone. I mentioned that I was keen to get Project NSX to the track and they threw down the gauntlet: Their event, the Honda Nats, was scheduled for a long weekend in October, and I should bring the NSX out and put down some lap times.
I quickly agreed; Rhys and David were chilled guys and I figured their event would be the same.
Yeah, oops. My foray into Australian Honda ownership is still fresh, and I’d clearly missed the memo on Honda Nationals being properly competitive. Time to get prepped.
Amateur track days in Japan are very relaxed, with little-to-no scrutineering or safety preparation required. In the safety department, Project NSX needed to shape up a little for its first Aussie track day.
First was to fit a fire extinguisher, as required by the event regs.
Melbourne-based KAP Industries didn’t have an off-the-shelf option for an NSX, but managed to fabricate and install one in a couple of hours at a stellar price. It tucks tightly under the front of the passenger Cobra seat, and is invisible to the passenger once seated. The unobtrusiveness is a big win; even though this was added for the track day, I like to carry an extinguisher on the road anyway – you never know when you (or someone else) might need it.
The other update wasn’t a mandatory, but I was keen to ensure that the stock front tow hook – which tucks into the front bar – was replaced with something a little more accessible.
NSX specialists Science of Speed make a nice bolt-in solution that includes the mounting plate on the left and a screw-in hook.
Fitting it was a simple matter, and as with all SoS pieces the quality was top notch, which mostly justified the high cost (thanks to the terrible Australian dollar at the moment). The NSX doesn’t have a rear tow hook nor an easy place to mount one, so that’s been added to the list.
The SoS hook is a sharp haircut’s worth heavier than stock (14 grams), and the extinguisher mount added a worthwhile 2.85kg.
I’d been loving the Bridgestone Potenza RE-71Rs we fitted back in Japan, but the super-soft compound was never going to last long on the long highway stretches here in Australia.
It was a good excuse to head down to the new MK Motorsports showroom in Clayton and catch up with Micky, the owner.
Micky has been in the aftermarket wheel and tyre game for a long time, and now with MK has the physical space to bring his vision to life.
A couple of customer cars were tucked into the corners of the work area, including an Amuse-kitted S2000 belonging to V-Spec Performance. Nice.
MK is the official distributor of RAYS wheels in Australia, so Micky had a tantalising selection of their latest and greatest Japan-made performance wheels on display.
This provided a good chance to finally compare two types of Volk Racing wheels I’d been fantasising about: the ZE40 and the CE28N. The bronze almite finish looks as sweet as I’d expected next to the Brooklands Green paint, but I was surprised which style wheel I ended up preferring. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
(Note that the RAYS wheels are sitting a foot in front of the actual car in these photos, hence the appearance of rubber band tyres.)
On a side note, is this not the best workshop lighting setup you’ve ever seen?
Waiting for us at MK were a set of Dunlop’s new Direzza ZIIIs.
The ZIII was released in Japan in 2017 but is only recently making its way into Australia, so it’s one of the newest performance tyres on the market. With a 200 treadwear rating it’s aimed squarely at Bridgestone’s Potenza RE-71R and Yokohama’s Advan A052 – tough competition. But I’d heard good feedback from some race driver friends so was keen to see what difference I could feel between these and the tyres they’d be replacing.
The rear camber on the NSX (like all of Honda’s double wishbone cars) is problematic once it’s been lowered, but the guys at MK got it dialled back to a reasonable number, and Project NSX was dropped back down to the ground.
Honda Guys Aren’t So Bad
I met up with Honda Nats organiser Rhys early on Saturday morning prior to the event. Winton Raceway is a 2.5-hour highway drive north of Melbourne, so while I was appreciating how silent the new Dunlops were at highway speeds, I suspect Rhys was cursing his super-short final drive ratio.
His EK hatch looks pretty tame, and I guess it is, but Rhys is a rather quick driver and has only modified what he knows will make the car faster. Here it is in ‘street’ mode; once we arrived at the track Rhys got to work fixing his splitter and wing, and changing his road wheels and tyres over to sticky Hoosier race rubber.
I strolled through pit lane and had my suspicions confirmed that I was probably about to have my ass handed to me by a bunch of Civics and Integras.
Thankfully though, Honda Nats uses a classing system to grade competitors by the base chassis plus number and type of modifications made, and Project NSX landed in the middle of five groups. If I could do well amongst this group, I could go home with my head held high.
There was a nice mix of machinery present, representing almost all of Honda’s greatest hits from the 1980s, through the ’90s and ’00s to the present day.
A Beat, Honda’s only other mid-engined car outside of the NSX even made an appearance.
The crew from Elusive Racing brought out a bunch of toys including their awesome boosted F20C Prelude that would be aiming for outright fastest lap.
They also debuted a new shop build. We definitely need to take a closer look at this S2000.
Owner and builder Kenny and driver Brett were also doing some testing with their absurdly quick DC2 Integra. You can see Matt’s feature on the car here.
Project NSX was pitted next to David Napoleone’s EG Civic, sporting a fresh K-swap and corresponding gearbox upgrade. This was a run-in for the new setup, but Napo was here to reset his personal PB and also the club’s naturally aspirated record.
As for me and Project NSX? I’d be trying to get a feel for the tight Winton track and get a handle on the Dunlops.
This didn’t leave a whole lot of time for photo taking, but thankfully my favourite Victorian photographer/ramen junkie Gwyn Morgan was the official snapper for the event and got some cracking shots of Project NSX on track. You can check out Gwyn’s photography on the GSS instagram.
The ZIIIs are known to benefit from a close eye on the temps, so Dunlop’s Loc Tran and I would be checking the temperatures across the face of each tyre with this old but effective Billion tyre pyrometer I brought back from Japan.
Pressures can give an indication of a tyre’s overall temperature, but to understand if the whole tyre surface is being worked effectively it’s best to use one of these probe-type pyrometers. We started with high pressures and gradually reduced them over the day’s sessions and watched the temps in the centre of the tread gradually come down to match the numbers on the inside and outside of the tyre. Eventually we settled on slightly lower front pressures which balanced the car nicely, albeit with a bit of ‘safe’ understeer at the limit.
Before we started I’d set a target of getting a sub 1:40 lap and was hovering in the 1:41s in the early afternoon. The car and tyres were feeling great, but I knew I was leaving lots of time on the table.
Time for a driver mod…
Ben Johnson’s lightly-modified S2000 was running about five seconds quicker than me, so I asked if I could ride shotgun and take a few notes.
Despite my significant ballast, Ben showed me the lines while I held on for dear life. An S2000 driven on the limit is really something special.
I jumped back into the NSX and instantly went quicker – snagging a 1:39.7, good enough for sixth in my class of 11 cars.
Above is the in-car video of my fastest lap of the day. Without changing the current setup, I think I’d benefit most from more entry speed into the three high commitment corners – turn one (Honda corner), the sweeper and the final esses. I’m still building up to the limits of the car, and quite frankly get a tad scared putting the car on the limit when there are walls waiting at the corner exit.
Would I change anything on the car? We would benefit from some more front-end grip through the winding back section of the track, and some wider tyres than the current 215s would be nice – but that means wider fenders which I’d rather avoid. Perhaps a bit more camber and some further experimentation with the suspension settings will help next time. I’ll also be off the limited tune, meaning I can run the RPM higher than the temporary 7,500rpm rev-limit and keep the engine on the VTEC cam, which might be worth a second or two.
Napo’s EG was flying in the top class. Once he’d adjusted to the new gear ratios and started to deploy the torque of the K24, knocking over his previous best for a 1:28.8 came easy.
One of the stand-out performances for me was Tom Bullock in his EF CR-X. As the plates suggest, this car is also K-swapped but uniquely retains its status as a bonafide street car. Tom drove the car to the event, proceeded to do a 1:29.6, and drove it home.
This build sums up a lot of what appeals to me about the Honda life – no frills and fast lap times.
Just behind Tom on the timesheet was Dean Trajkovski’s recently-boosted S2000 with a 1:31.4.
Dickie’s Prelude lived up to expectations and laid down the fastest outright lap – a ferocious 1:25.8.
Lap times aside, it was a good day out amongst one of the most oft maligned groups of car enthusiasts out there.
Maybe Honda guys aren’t so bad after all? Love or hate the big H, these guys are undeniably quick on track and I’ve got some pace to find before Honda Nats 2020 comes around.
Cutting Room Floor