When building a racecar, you have to make the thing safe before you can make it fast. The major difference between the car you drive to work and the racecar you play with on the weekend isn’t the performance of the engine. It is actually the safety equipment. For our budget build Honda Challenge car, we had to come up with ways to make the car as safe as possible without breaking the bank.
After purchasing and stripping the car — see the March 2016 issue of Speed News — we started with the installation of a roll cage for our Acura Integra. There were options aplenty when it came to choices for the roll cage. We could buy a ready-to-ship bolt-in cage or have a cage custom made for the car. We went with the custom-made option because it allowed us to put specific designs into play that we wanted for our Honda Challenge car. Knowing our own limitations with a welder, we chose to leave this part of the build to the experts. We towed our chassis down to San Diego, and handed over our project to the boys at Autopower. They supply bolt-in or weld-in roll cages for almost any production car built, but they also do custom cage installs if you are willing to take the car to their shop.
NASA’s rules on roll cages and the Honda Challenge rules on roll cages don’t match up perfectly in regard to adding extra support to the cage. The Honda Challenge rules take priority, which allowed us more freedom in the design of the cage. We chose to tie the cage directly to the rear and front suspension pieces — with no weight penalty per the rules. We also chose to add more support to the rear lower portion of the cage and rear suspension. We added these pieces of the cage to the rear of the car to add weight to the back of the front-heavy, front-wheel-drive Integra.
For side-impact protection, we chose an X design on the passenger side to add rigidity to the cage and a modified sloping NASCAR door-bar design to the driver’s side. The lower leading edge of the NASCAR bars allow for the ease of getting in and out of the car. There is nothing in the rules that says both sides of the roll cage must be the same. We chose the best designs of different cages and implemented them into our Honda Challenge car. That is why we went with NASCAR door bars for driver-impact protection and an X bar on the passenger side to keep things square.
Once the cage was done, we moved on to other safety equipment. One of the best pieces of equipment you can purchase for your safety is a full containment seat. For this part of our build, we did not go low budget. We waited for a year-end sale and scored a composite Momo seat for $700, which is $200 more than we paid for the whole car. The full containment seat allows us to avoid installing a right-side net for lateral head protection. I’m a proponent of the right side net because it really does assist in driver protection, but they make me nervous about a driver being able to exit a car out the passenger side rapidly. These nets have a breakaway design, but that is just one more thing for a driver to have to pull or get out of his or her way in a fire.
Along the lines of quick exits, we installed a Phase 2 Motortrend steering wheel quick release. We like to the have the steering wheel pretty close to us in our driver position, which makes getting in and out of a full containment driver’s seat more difficult. The quick release, with handy easy-to-grasp wings on the side, makes removing the steering wheel quick and easy.
To keep us planted in the driver’s seat, we chose to use a seven-point Autopower harness with the narrowed shoulder harnesses for better fit over a HANS device. We have used these in the past and have had great luck with them, and they are very reasonably priced.
NASA CCR requires a fire extinguisher, which is a heavy thing to add to a racecar. We chose to mount ours as low as we could to keep the center mass of the car as low as possible. However, we didn’t put it in the most optimal weight position because we still had to adhere to the CCR, which states the extinguisher must be accessible to the driver while in the seat. Everything in a racecar build is a little give and take. For all of our cars we always use I/O Port Racing Supply’s double-strap fire extinguisher mount. Nobody needs the grief of having a fire extinguisher get loose in a racecar during a race. It happened to me once. Never again.
Pursuant to the rules, we added a master cut-off switch. There is much debate about the correct way to install these, positive battery cable versus negative battery cable, two-post versus, four-post, etc. The reason the debate rages on is because there is no right or wrong way to do it as long as the switch turns the car off and cuts off the battery. We chose to use a four-post switch, which includes cutting power to the alternator. We cut off the negative battery cable with the two larger posts on the switch so we don’t have lengthy wires of positive 12-volt power running all around the car to get to the switch. Then we used the two smaller posts on the cut-off switch wired to a relay to cut all power, like the OEM ignition switch, and cut off the alternator. This system works well and fulfills NASA’s rule requirements. We installed it in a location we could reach while strapped into the seat as well as in a location that an emergency worker could use it. A small decal from I/O Port Racing Supplies slapped on the door signifies its location.
We added a driver’s side window net with a trick swivel mount, which is detailed in this month’s Toolshed Engineer column on page XX. Last but not least, we installed roll-bar padding anywhere the cage could touch the driver. As much as the roll cage is there to save your life, it also can kill you. You do not want to smack your noggin on the cage in a crash. Padding is crucial, as well as the position of the seat and the design of the cage as far away as possible from the driver.
Now that our Honda Challenge car has some safety equipment, it is officially no longer a street car bought for $500 from a tow yard. It is a real racecar. All it needs now is an engine, a transmission, clutch, brakes and, well, pretty much everything.
Our next installment of the Honda Challenge budget build will detail the suspension of the Integra.
To read more from Rob Krider or to contact him go to www.robkrider.com.