Miami Sports Day

Honda of America Racing Team Ready to Tackle Rolex 24 At Daytona

Once upon a time, it was somewhat common for a group of guys to get together, build a race car and head to the Rolex 24 At Daytona with a team made up of volunteer crew members.

For the most part, those days are now in the past. But now and then, there’s a team like the Ohio-based HART program, which reminds us of how it used to be. HART – an acronym for Honda of America Racing Team – consists of a group of Honda engineers who volunteer their time to field race cars.

“We all have day jobs,” said Chad Gilsinger, a Honda engineer who will co-drive the No. 69 Acura NSX GT3 in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the Rolex 24 with Ryan Eversley, Sean Rayhall and John Falb. “None of us get paid to do this. Every single bit of time on the car is done after hours on our own time. We do a lot of work in the evenings and on weekends, and even at the races. We’re just here because we love the sport, we love our product and we want to compete.”

While this year marks the team’s first foray into the Rolex 24, the team is familiar to IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge fans. The team owns 16 race victories in Continental Tire Challenge competition, good for a tie for fifth on the series’ all-time win list, and the team’s history goes back even further than that.

“Back in 1989, a group of Honda engineers went to a little club 24-hour race at Nelson Ledges (in Ohio), and they saw that most of the cars were basically like little performance street cars racing around the track,” Gilsinger said. “A group of guys put together a proposal to Honda corporate to try and see if they could get a couple cars that were old test cars and a little bit of budget to try and do their own club racing.

“It just snowballed from there. I think it was in the mid-‘90s, we got into Super Touring cars when that was in the States for a couple years. We ran the Firehawk Series and we moved into GRAND-AM, and then it turned into IMSA. We’ve always run mostly Civics, Preludes, Accords, stuff like that.”

The team was absent from the Continental Tire Challenge in 2017, as the manufacturer launched the new Acura NSX GT3 race car with a pair of entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship fielded by Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian.

They also ran a pair of cars in Pirelli World Challenge with Real Time Racing. Shanks’s program embedded the HART program engineers so they could gain extra knowledge.

“We got a couple wins with MSR in IMSA and the car has evolved pretty well,” Gilsinger said. “Fortunately, the car has always had reliability, so I hope we can continue that. The good thing is that I think we’re in pretty good shape there.
“Now, it’s just a matter of our team getting a handle on running a car like this, running an event like this and making it to the end. Of course, we want to finish on the podium, but more importantly, we just want to do a good job and prove that we can run a car at this level and make it to the end.”

The car has plenty of pace, as evidenced by Eversley’s fifth-place performance in qualifying at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 on the first weekend of January. And while his full-time job the last few years was racing Acuras for Real Time Racing, Eversley also has a lot of previous experience working with Gilsinger and HART.

“It’s a really neat opportunity,” he said. “I’ve raced for the HART team before in the Continental Tire (Challenge) in IMSA, and to be able to rejoin them as they take on the biggest task in their 20-something-year career is really an honor for me, and also really neat for these guys.

“They don’t work in motorsports. They work on designing street cars – Acura MDXs, Honda Civics, you name it. For them to come and compete against the best GT teams in the world, working on a car that they helped develop as a road car, I think is a really neat story that not a lot of other programs are going to have.”

An even bigger story would be if the team could pull off a victory in the Rolex 24. It’s not that far-fetched an idea according to Gilsinger and Eversley.

“You always want to win or finish on the podium,” Gilsinger said. “But what I’ve always told my guys is that for me, as long as we can be equal to another team running the same car, that’s step one. If you have another person running an NSX and they’re finishing on the podium and we’re finishing 20th, that’s not good.

“As long as we’re basically in the same realm or running similar times to the other NSXs, then that’s our first goal. Obviously, our goal for the race first is to finish, but of course, we would love to finish on the podium. That would be a dream come true. That’s obviously the pinnacle goal.”

“You can’t really find a bad (driver) lineup in this field, and I don’t think we have that exception either,” added Eversley. “The name of the game is just being there at the end. We know the car is capable. It’s won in the two series it ran in last year in North America, has a very successful chassis, and I’ve driven the car a ton.

“We’ve got guys that worked on the Mike Shank team last year from HART now taking what they learned and applying it to our program. It’s going to be difficult, for sure. There’s 20-something cars and every lineup is stacked. They’ve got factory backing and they’re the top brands in the world that are racing in IMSA from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Acura, Porsche, you name it. There’s no easy Rolexes given our here, but we’re hoping to get one.”

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