Off Season: Honda Challenge Natl. Champ Runner-Up Michael Lee Switches from Wheaties to Special-K

From Michael Lee G...
My family and I are in Sacramento this week. And because we are helping Sharon’s cousin clean out the garage at her old house, I brought the trailer. Never know when you might have to make a run to the dump or find something you want to bring home. (Her late husband was an import car mechanic, so that’s pretty likely.)

Last week, I was talking with my NorCal enduro co-driver, Andrie Hartanto. (You remember Andrie… ’06 National Champion in Honda Challenge H1 and World Challenge engine swapping king?) When I mentioned I was coming up here with the trailer Andrie asked if I could take Michael Lee’s car up to Red Zone in Freemont.

“Why?” I asked in my most earnest, journalistic tone. “Because he’s going to have me and the guys at Red Zone put a K-series in it.” Damn. Good thing I’m not running H1 anymore.

Let’s put this into Thawley perspective. Last year I was runner up in SoCal points for H1. Almost won, too. But I am an idiot and gave up too many points making stupid mistakes. (Don’t worry; I’ll get to detailing all that eventually.) Anyway, I had a decent shot at winning on any given weekend last year unless any one or more of the following things occurred:
• Andrie showed up in tourist mode to kick some “out-of-region” butt.
• Bernardo Martinez actually showed up and then beat his demons to finish a race.
• Michael Lee crossed the finish line without mechanical issue.

None of the above happened very often. And that is why I had such a good season. All three of those guys are wicked fast. But none of them were much of a threat in the points because they seldom entered or finished a race.

Now let’s look it the National perspective. Hartanto put the hurt on the entire Honda Challenge field at Mid-Ohio. Chad Slagg smoked him at every start. But shortly after that, it was all Andrie all the time. They were the men to beat at Mid-Ohio last September. And they were both running the newer Honda K-series engines. Bernardo runs a K also and is usually as fast or faster than Andrie on the West Coast, but Bernardo had to miss Nationals this year (he had trouble finding umbrella girls at the last minute, or something). All of this seemed to confirm the general feeling in H1 that the K-series engine is the bullet to have, and that the B-series was on the way out.

Enter Michael Lee. Michael used to run a Spec Miata during a dark period of questionable sexual orientation. When his Spec blowed-up and he was looking at the big picture, he decided that Honda Challenge was the place to be. (HC cars are cooler, significantly faster, the drivers are funnier and are generally much more heterosexual.) So he bought Ryan Flaherty’s B-powered H1 Integra. The car was a proven, well-sorted mount with a good race history. Michael’s problem last year was that every part that was about to fail eventually did and it waited until the day he bought it to do so. He spent the season becoming “one” with the car and fixing shit.

Undeterred by a disastrous finishing record, Michael still loaded the car up and sent it to the NASA Nationals in September. Michael is a racer. And the best of the best were headed for Ohio. As it turned out, the mild-mannered taxman from Bakersfield California ran in the top five most of the week. When the last checkered flag dropped, he had passed all the rest of the regions had to offer to finish second behind Andrie.

In the off-season Internet rules arguments that followed, Lee was used as THE example of why the B-series was still a viable, well-classed engine choice for H1. Lee was a hero to many a B-series loyalist. But all that ended the day Bernardo Martinez let Michael take his K24 powered HASport Integra for a spin at Buttonwillow. Lee’s mind was made up. He was going K.

Looking forward to this year’s Nationals then, it is a safe be that all the front-runners will be running K’s. Unless we find an engine-builder and driver combo that really wants to make a splash, the top 4-5 cars will likely be K-series.

The good news is the B-series engines all have a much better home, now, in H2. Stay tuned…

1 comment:

bernardo said...

once you go K you never go back!