Who doesn’t love a good David versus Goliath scenario in motorsports? Especially when it’s a small, FWD Honda hatchback going up against more powerful RWD hardware. RWD hardware that’s really well-funded, too. With the help of SoCal’s Skunk2 and Griffin Motorwerke in the Bay Area, Roger Foo raced an EG hatchback in Speed Vision World Challenge back in 2001, and cleaned the hell up.
What I mean by cleaned the hell up, is he qualified in the front row at Laguna Seca that season. Then, as if every other racer suddenly, magically gained 500 pounds of ballast, took off, and didn’t drop back to second place for the race’s entirety. It was his first career win, and on his birthday; how rad is that? This took place in a TC-class field occupied by BMW 3-Series, Acura Integra Type Rs, and more; many of whom had deep, deep pockets. But this dynamic trio showed up and proved that it didn’t take much to spar with the best.
Skunk2 has a video of it on its YouTube page that’s quite entertaining. It’s also a hell of an early-aughts racing period piece:
Modest FWD Tuning In The Big Leagues
The way this all came together is pretty cool, and a testament to lower budgets not always meaning lower finishes. I happened upon the specs of the car, a 1995 EG hatchback, via this Super Street article. Author Jonathan Wong went into depth about the little beast’s power plant:
“To begin with, the stock single cam was pulled and in its place is a Japan-spec B16A. To keep engine-building costs down, Skunk2 used factory Civic Type R pistons on the bottom end. Up top, the cylinder head was reworked in-house … The rest remains entirely stock. With the only other modifications being an Integra Type R intake manifold and DC Sports four-into-one ceramic header; the compression has been bumped up to 12:1 and the car puts out 180.6 hp to the wheels with 123.4 lb-ft of torque. Amazingly, it is becoming increasingly clear that almost anyone can build a motor like this.”
Then it was just some ECU tuning, sticky tires, Advan wheels, coilovers, sway bars, safety equipment, bigger racing brakes, done. It didn’t take much to make these cars capable, especially with their double-wishbone suspension and ultra-light curb weight.
How Momentum Came Into Play
The David/Goliath factor is pretty huge… Not just in comparing platforms, but financial backing as well.
As the announcers discuss in the video, despite everyone in the field being in the same area of power-to-weight, momentum still made a big difference. Sure, the little Honda might’ve had a similar power-to-weight ratio as P2’s Bill Auberlen in his Turner Motorsport BMW 325i. But weight is weight, and a light car that car maintains as much cornering speed as possible in Laguna Seca’s tricky corners will always have the upper hand. But, Laguna Seca also has plenty of fast straight and straight-ish sections, too, so if momentum cars get stuck in traffic like Foo occasionally did, his lead could’ve gotten easily swallowed up.
There were other teams piloting momentum cars as well during the 2001 Speed Vision World Challenge. Some were a bit better-financed than others. The Mazda Protege ES was a popular platform in TC, as well as the Mazda 626. An Olds Achieva even made an appearance… weirdly. However, by far the most popular small platform was the Acura Integra Type R, and the most significant shop to campaign them was Wisconsin’s top racing institution, RealTime Racing.
Foo’s Civic was the only car campaigned by Griffin and Skunk2; I bet they probably didn’t roll up with huge trailers, scores of engineers, the lot. They were probably operating as if it was a normal SCCA or NASA club racing weekend.
What Happened Post-Laguna Seca?
Roger Foo earned ninth place in 2001 season points, but it looks like that was his only win that year. If someone’s only going to have one win in a season, having it at Laguna Seca, on one’s birthday, is definitely the best possible way to do it.
I actually learned a lot about this race thanks to my buddy Eladio, who bought the exact car a few years after its campaigning in World Challenge. He’s been involved in the import tuning scene in Las Vegas in one way or another for many years and bought it as a sort of preservation piece for this era of Honda road racing. Unfortunately, his plans never fully came to fruition, though he says the hatch is currently living a good life in Central American club racing.
He does still have a few things that came with it when he bought it, notably a few of the magazine articles, and its original World Challenge logbook. What I can decipher from this entry is the Laguna Seca race was the first race of the season in 2001. Again, this really adds to the significant amount of triumph that Foo, Griffin, and Skunk2 experienced that day.
This is all a fascinating look at American touring car racing in the early ’00s. It’s an era I think a lot of people look back on with a wistful gaze, partially because cool stuff like this happened all the time. It’s gotten significantly more expensive to run in any kind of pro racing ever since, and the general interest isn’t like what it used to be.
I’d love to do a follow-up piece on this, with an interview with either Skunk2, Roger Foo, Griffin Motorwerke, or all three. I love early-2000s American touring car racing.