The only one way to fully appreciate the Honda Civic Si Coupe that Honda Performance Development has created for grassroots racers is to first drive the fresh-from-the-showroom 2012 Civic Si Coupe on its available high-performance tires.
We recently did so, completing two laps at the 2.5-mile Willow Springs International Raceway. The factory-built Civic Si is rather impressive for a car with a sticker price of $23,175. A hint of a snarl came from the tailpipe when the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine started up. We got ourselves comfortably situated and took off from pit lane, soon bending hard left into Castrol Corner. The Si was easy to drive, very predictable, and impressively fast, topping 100 mph as we came all the way around through Turn Nine and flashed across the start-finish line on the half-mile-long main straightaway.
But this is a sport suspension for the street, not a racing suspension for the track. The Si wiggled upon entering the turns and squirmed as physical forces built up while completing them. The body rolled a fair bit as well.
The racing car donated for comparison was from the stable of Compass360 Racing, whose driver Lawson Aschenbach won the 2011 title in the SCCA World Challenge's TC division. (The Civic will also run in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.)
We strapped in behind its wheel and completed two more laps. This SCCA-spec Civic Si is faster, but to the driver the difference is hardly discernible because of the greater poise in the corners. This poise starts with slightly wider racing slicks that are mounted on 17-inch forged aluminum wheels. About $10,000-worth of improvements to the suspension made body roll simply disappear. A much larger rear stabilizer bar helps to tie down the racer. As a result, the car was utterly neutral and composed, and it inspired tremendous confidence.
There was also more power and torque from the blueprinted engine: 230 hp and 185 lb-ft, according to Honda. (Compass360's boss Karl Thompson gave higher figures from his team's tests.) The brakes were stock except for the pads, but they unfalteringly arrested the car's momentum
Factoring in the racer's lighter overall weight at 2450 lb, which represents a loss of 427 lb, and the improved traction with HPD's limited slip differential, it all added up to an entertaining time.
HPD has put together the whole package necessary to get on the track in these two superb series. A Civic body-in-white is now available for $3,500 through HPD to save the racer the expense and trouble of buying a new car and stripping it for competition. Seven units have already been sold even before the body-in-white receives its introduction at the upcoming SEMA show in Las Vegas.
So the idea is to let HPD do all the development legwork on the critical parts and save yourself a lot of track testing once you've bolted the car together. "All of our parts are race-tested before being sold to the public," said a Honda spokesman. For his part, Karl Thompson reckoned Compass360's car represented an investment of about $85,000, although the cost comes down with HPD's body-in-white as the starting point.
2.4L four, 230 hp @ 7000 rpm (201 hp @ 7000 rpm stock), 185 lb-ft (170 lb-ft stock), redline 7500 rpm (7000 rpm stock)
6-speed manual with HPD limited-slip differential
Stabilizer bar 18.0/25.4 mm (18.0/15.0 stock)
Pirelli 225/45R17 racing slicks (215/45R17 stock)
2450 lb (2877 lb stock)