The pain from a concussion doesn’t mask the pain from cracked ribs. I know that now. Something else I’ve learned: At Summit Point’s Shenandoah Circuit, the concrete is always close at hand. My nearly new, and thoroughly crumpled, Civic Type R, is proof of that.
How did this happen? Well, after owning my ’98 Honda Prelude for 10 years, I was looking for something a little bit more practical, something that the fiancée and I could take on road trips more comfortably. It was the fall of 2016, and continuing to use my NC700X as my main form of transportation didn’t seem like the best idea when winter was right around the corner. A new car was in order. I had narrowed my choices down to something practical, but somewhat fun and with a turbocharged engine… something I could take to the track from time to time. In other words, a new Civic—and I picked the turbo hatch over the be-trunked Si variants. I flew 500 miles to pick up one of the few Orchid Pearl white Civic hatchbacks with a manual transmission available in the U.S. Man, did I love that car. It was fun, great on gas, and super practical for the days when one of my tenants called and I needed to haul drywall or a dishwasher.
After coming to appreciate the Civic’s many virtues, I decided to retire my BB6 Prelude not just from daily duties, but also from track and autocross. After eight or so years of going to autocross events and track days in the Prelude, I figured it was time to see what the Civic hatch could do in stock form. So, I took it to NJMP and stomped on it for six 20 minute sessions, one hot lap after another The chassis felt great, the motor felt willing—and yet, I was left with wanting more. The main differences between the 10th-gen Civic hatch and a contemporaneous Civic Si are as follows: The Si has better seats, better suspension, some engine tweaks—and, more importantly, a limited-slip differential. While I weighed my options, I took the little hatchback to three more track days, where the lack of power and LSD really started to limit my fun. I had aspirations to put in an Si LSD, a racing bucket, some coilovers and a tune from KTuner when it hit me: for just about 12–14K more than my little sport hatch, I could have my cake and eat it too in the form of the FK8 Civic Type R.
In order to close the deal, I had to call around 40 Honda dealers and bargain the price down to MSRP plus 1K in accessories. At the time, this was a very good deal. Shortly after buying the Type R, and after the break-in period was over, I was back at the track. The Type R handled quite well; there were hints of lift-off oversteer and +R mode kept body roll to a minimum. In addition, the brakes are very resistant to fade, the seats hold you in place while you were at maximum attack, and the engine is always willing to put down the power. I managed to squeeze six track days in the Type R from late summer through November of 2017. That winter I made the decision to get into competitive motorsport.
Some of the best features of the Type R have nothing to do with the way it drives, but with its practicality. The hatch lets you fit four wheels and tires, a cooler full of food and drinks, a large bag full of tools and a canopy—everything you need for a fun day at the track or at autocross. Through the spring and summer of 2018, the Type R and I saw a good number of track days, and it also played a great role as support vehicle when I brought the Prelude out of retirement for SCCA Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association hillclimb events. The rest of 2018 was spent on hillclimb races and at track days.
Fast forward to spring, 2019. Preparations were well on their way to turn my Civic Type R into a competition and track-day-only car. Installed mods included the KTuner Stage 1 tune, Acuity Pedal Spacer, longer shift knob, Konig Ampliform 18x9.5 +35mm wheels wrapped in Federal 595 RS-RR tires, ATE Type 200 brake fluid, more aggressive pads and some extra negative camber out front courtesy of a free and simple modification. In the list of parts/mods about to go in: PRL intercooler, PRL Downpipe, PRL Front Pipe, custom 3-inch straight pipe exhaust, custom tune by IMW. Koyo radiator, USR turbo blanket, Acuity shifter upgrades, bucket FIA-rated seat, and a roll cage.
When going into competition, rules and regulations vary, so you have to pick one set of rules and build your car to that spec. I was drawn to time-attack events. It’s a step under wheel-to-wheel racing, but still quite challenging, as the person with the fastest lap time wins. SCCA had an excellent Time Trials program, while Global Time Attack and #GridLife do a great job of hosting their own. I figured this year was going to be the year of Global Time Attack, so that’s what I was going to build the car up to compete in. However, in order to get good at motorsport, nothing is better than seat time; so in addition to Global Time Attack events, I started booking up my summer with track nights, open track days, SCCA time trials and the one of the first events of the season: Gridlife Track Battle 2 at Summit Point Shenandoah.
After a track day at Pocono, I loaded up my Colorado ZR2 diesel with a U-Haul trailer and headed down to West Virginia. I wanted to get comfortable with my new Federal 595 RS-RR tires, and this track seemed like the right place to do it. A ton of tight corners, with some sharp bends in between, a carousel, and even a corkscrew section make this one of the more challenging tracks I’ve ever been to. Gridlife runs 4–5 sessions per day, and fastest lap in any session of either day takes the overall win. At this event, I had built my Type R to Street spec, which put me up against some fast machinery, but nothing as ornery as the Viper ACR gridded up for Unlimited class.
I took it nice and easy at the start, learning the track, seeing where I could push the limits, seeing where I should back off. My favorite part of the track was the mini corkscrew; if you get your line right, you lock your steering wheel in position and make the car dance around as necessary with some footwork, it’s quite lovely. Best of all, my Civic Type R had a natural adversary in the form of a well-worn DC2 Integra Type R and a fellow named Les. He had the stock B18C under the hood with straight-piped exhaust, some very nice Fortune Auto Coilovers, and the RE71R tires. Throughout the day, Les and I battled for third place for Street overall, and at the end, we wound up being within .04 seconds from each other. Competition like this is hard to come by, so I was having the time of my life.
As we got ready for the second-to-last session of the day, I noticed cracks in my brake rotors and a lot of wear from the front two tires. I refreshed the brake rotors, pads, and fluid, then rotated the tires, missing the session as a result. Which left me with one more chance to set a better lap time.
It started off well enough. The car was running great, pulling off amazing maneuvers through tight turns by oversteering its way through the corners. By the end of the session, the tires were hot, the engine was heat-soaked and more importantly, I was fatigued, but I wanted one last chance to get the fastest lap of the day. In hindsight, this was my biggest mistake, because the rear of my car was getting a bit too unsettled for my liking. I was too stubborn to bring the car in, especially not when I still could have one more shot at winning. Through what turned out to be my final lap, I made a very conscious effort to make sure I was just a little bit past my comfort zone, braking a little later than usual, powering out a little sooner.
“Big Bend” is the left-hander at Shenandoah before the start/finish line; it’s also the fastest turn on the track. I dropped the right rear wheel off the track’s edge. That was enough to unsettle the car and send me into the bumpiest side of that fast left hander, further unsettling the car. The rear tires, which were fairly greasy from having been up front in the prior sessions, couldn’t hold on. By the time I was at the middle of the inside apex of the turn, the car was going fully sideways and I was feeding it opposite lock to try to recover it. If you know anything about Summit Point Shenandoah, you know that the concrete wall is never more than a few feet away from the track.
With an extra 4–7 feet of runoff, I would have straightened it out and, besides a change of underwear, the whole thing would have been OK. Instead, I hit the wall—and hit it hard. Which brought the day to a halt. The session was stopped and my crumpled Civic was dragged in like a crippled animal.
So, what did I learn from this event? The biggest lesson: You have to know when to call it quits for the day and bring it in. Don’t let ego or the so-called “red mist” get in the way. And you also have to know the signs of tires that are losing significant grip over the course of the session.
As for the car, I’m not certain yet. I will likely be straightening things out at a professional laser-guided straightening machine, and slapping on secondhand Type R parts. At this point, the days of my Type R being a daily driver are long past it, but its days of tearing up the tracks and down the U.S. are just beginning. If you want to follow along, you can find me on YouTube.