Automakers never invite ink-stained wretches like me to drive race cars without a good reason. Nevertheless, for the folks at Honda’s upmarket Acura division, the reason seemed like little more than an excuse to have fun.
As you’ll see from the accompanying video, Acura asked only that each car magazine or online outlet invited send their more experienced staffers, and that some of that experience should include track time in real race cars. We were asked to bring our helmet, fireproof suit, shoes, and gloves, though all but the shoes and gloves would be supplied for those of us without such accoutrements.
I have the gloves and the shoes (though I’m not sure the Pilotis, which I got as a gift from Chrysler when I attended the first drive of the Dodge Challenger fully met the spec). My race-car experience has heretofore been limited to 50-mph camera passes in a 1966 Ford GT Le Mans race car for a cover feature in Motor Trend Classic and laps at a short road course at Honda’s Twin Motegi racetrack in a Honda Side by Side open-wheel, motorcycle-powered racecar. Oh, and I used to compete in the Visteon and Panasonic Leagues at the Kart2Kart indoor track in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
I borrow a suit from Ryan Eversley, who drives the number 43 RealTime Racing Acura TLX GT for team owner Peter Cunningham, who drives the number 42 car.
Eversley won a Pirelli World Challenge race from pole earlier this year at St. Petersburg, Florida. He’s fifth in the point standings, and the first four leading him will give you an idea of the challenges of campaigning an all-wheel-drive car against mostly rear-wheel-drive ones: 1.) Olivier Beretta in a Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia; 2.) Kevin Estre in a McLaren 650S GT3; 3.) Johnny O’Connell in a Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3, and 4.) Ryan Dalziel in a Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The TLX GT benefits from an Acura-developed aero kit, has a race-oriented all-wheel-drive system and six-speed sequential racing gearbox, and a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 that retains the stock cylinder head and block, direct-injection, crankshaft, and throttle body, and adds racing connecting rods, pistons, camshafts, and dry sump lubrication. Loathe as I am to break any stock components on a street car while doing laps at GingerMan, I’d really hate to throw one of those expensive racing rods. Fortunately, the sequential manual won’t allow overrevs.
But first, Acura wants to show off its new TLX with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. The notion behind this is that Acura, which is having some decent sales success with its RDX and MDX crossovers, would like to sell more of its passenger sedans as lower-priced BMW alternatives. This brand figures that race on Sunday, sell on Monday works.
To wit: The TLX’s optional SH-AWD now uses the brakes to extend torque-vectoring in order to get you around the track with pretty neutral handling. The torque-vectoring is, in fact, designed to “push” you out of tight corners like the ones at the 1.88-mile GingerMan Raceway in Western Michigan, public relations emphasizes.
Mostly, I figure, laps first in a street Acura TLX (with racing brake pads, special tires, and accessory underbody spoilers) are designed to slow down an anxious group of race-driver wannabees, and so before I don my borrowed helmet and suit, I figure I’ll eat up most of my allotted time in the same kind of car you can buy at your local dealer and maybe ease into the race car later in the day and minimize my exposure.
It doesn’t happen. Acura’s pit marshals wave me in after just three laps, including in and out laps, in order to open up GingerMan for the race cars. From my very limited time in the street car, I can say, yes, the new SH-AWD system does push you out of the corners nicely.
And so, I spend the rest of the day getting in and out of the RealTime Racing Acura TLX GT racecar. Well, twice. There’s some waiting for one of the two cars, and just strapping in and out of the seat takes up a majority of the allotted time. Suffice it to say, none of us did anything in the morning session to make Peter Cunningham rescind his offer of an afternoon session, and after that was done, Saukville, Wisconsin’s RealTime still had two working cars ready for the next race at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin’s Road America.