To the casual observer, racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats looks easy. There's plenty of room to go fast. Seemingly plenty of time since Speed Week is just that, a week, an there are 358 days to get the car ready for the next event. No problem, right? Wrong. Reality is a bitch. Don't let the accomplishments of Jeff Cheechov, team Progress Group, and Dan Paramore fool you. Sure, Progress took two '99 Honda Civic Sis to the Bonneville and set two records their first time on the salt. Trust us it wasn't easy. It's 610 miles from Anaheim, CA to the salt. It seems like a million. The day before they planned to leave, neither car had an engine in it. After three all night thrashes, with after hours help from the crews from Holeshot, Area 51, Killer Bee Racing, and DPR, both cars were dynode and loaded on the trailers. Everyone and everything arrived in Wendover, Utah Monday evening. Two days of competition missed. Four to go. Progress ran one car at El Mirage and Muroc dry lakes in the Southern California desert the previous year. The short course lengths merely whet their appetites for more room, time and shorts-staining speed. Cheechov and crew planned a trip to the salt for Speedweek. Run with the big guys; see what they know. Then they thought, Why not take two cars and set two records? The Progress/Vortech Civics aren't twins. The blue car runs in G/Production. G indicates a piston-type engine sized up to 2000cc, normally-aspirated running on race gas. No blower, no turbo, no nitrous. Aerodynamic changes are limited to removing the wiper arms and side mirrors. Other than that, lowering the car's ride height to reduce turbulence is the only thing allowed to tweak the car's aero. Every bit of displacement counts when running 4000 feet above sea level, so the B16Xs original displacement wouldn't cut it 400 below the limit. A B20 block from a '97 CR-V went in to make up the missing volume. Holeshot Racing converted it to VTEC by mating a DPR custom ported B16 head to the bigger block. Bottom-end tricks include Eagle rods with custom Arias pistons. The engine is kept alive by RC Engineering injectors fed through a Vortech fuel rail and managed by a Hondata-modified ECU. A Meziere electric water pump, which pumps 20 gallons a minute, keeps things cool. A Crane ignition fires through one of the Hi-Tech ExhaustsXs beautiful stainless steel headers. A black air dam/nose combo and long rear spoiler keep the green Civic from running in the Production class. This car runs as Altered. G/BGALT to be precise. Same engine size, but with additional class code BG, which is Bonneville speak for Blown Gas, thus, the huge vinyl Vortech Engineering stickers on the doors. Driver Richard Holdener is responsible for the supercharged engine. When time ran out, Holdener pieced together a strong B16A. Bottom-end internals mirror the blue car's. Despite lacking 400cc, the Vortech supercharger more than made up for its handicap. Air density is a premium at the high elevation of the salt flats, favoring blown and turbo-equipped cars even more than lower elevations. Beyond raising combustion pressure to the brink of insanity, the blown car is also equipped with an air-to-water intercooler big enough to swim in. Twenty gallons of ice water flow through the Vortech aftercooler from a tank in the trunk. Despite its short lifespan, its well spent, keeping intake temperatures downright chilly through the entire run. This allows for maximum boost and timing advance without the worry of picking up the engine from the salt piece by piece. The chassis on both cars are right on the money. The cars' straight-line stability at speed is amazing, according to Holdener. Progress coilovers were re-valved for competition at the salt. Goodyear Frontrunner funny car tires are standard fare at Bonneville, as they're one of the few narrow tires rated for the insane speeds these cars run. Mounted to matching sets of 15x16.6 inch Axis Sport Touring rims, the crew had two different rolling diameters from which to choose. Taller tires produce a higher effective final drive ratio and are easier to install than a different gear set. The Catch-22 on a front-drive Land Speed Racing car is the taller the tire raises the car's ride height and increases drag beneath the car. Such are the compromises of racing. Despite all good preparations, the week had its share of mishaps. An unnoticed temperature spike melted one of the pistons out of the engine on the naturally aspirated motor, but did not damage the DPR head. It took two days for UPS to deliver an extra set. The Blown Gas car had electrical gremlins, causing the ignition to quit at irregular intervals in top gear. Switching the ignition on and off would bring the engine back to life. Thus, Holdener had no choice but to drive one-handed on his record runs just to keep the engine lit. Still, they went home with two new records. The blue car averaged 153.415 mph between two runs and bumped the existing record set last year by 11.5 mph. The green car ran 172.961mph in one direction, and averaged 164.995 mph, which put it past the 1996 record of 163.223 mph. Outstanding for the team's first time at Bonneville. But it wasn't enough. Cheechov knows the team can get 200 mph out of the blown car. They won't rest until they do.
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