Over the years we have seen so many characters come and go at WTAC but very few have been there since day one. Rob Nguyen has been at it since our very first Superlap Australia event, 2 years before the World Time Attack Challenge even existed! Coming back year on year relentlessly in a true “David vs Goliath” story in his “Mighty Mouse CRX” Rob certainly has some unfinished business to settle in 2017.
We caught up with Rob as he was busily preparing the Mighty Mouse at the 101 Workshop for his grand finale at WTAC 2017 before retiring the car.
WTAC: Hi Rob, thanks for your time. I guess we should start at the beginning. You have been involved right from the start. Tell us a bit about how you got into time attack racing in the beginning.
Rob Nguyen: I still remember my first track day back in 1997, so it’s fair to say I’ve had plenty of experience with the Mouse. Believe it or not it is the same car I run at WTAC today!
We were at the first Superlap when it was incarnated in 2008 at Oran Park and it was super exciting to be part of Australia’s first national Time Attack event. We came in fastest front wheel drive and it has since become an addiction.
WTAC: In 2011 you debuted the first incarnation as ‘Mighty Mouse’. A lot has changed over the years and I believe that started when you met Barry Lock.
Rob: Yes, I have been lucky enough to be in the same boat as the MCA, PMQ and CJA teams. The results from those teams and myself speak for themselves. Barry is extremely efficient in extracting performance out of the car. He does my aero, suspension design, structural design and race setup. The truth is, he wants to do so much more to my car but I am the one that is holding things back. Can you imagine how much more insane the Mouse would be now if I let him have his way!
WTAC: And why did you choose the old CRX shape to build?
Rob: Most will know this is actually my first car, so it holds a high sentimental value. And by pure luck it’s the best front wheel drive car for WTAC under the current rules. Low oem weight, hatch back design that doesn’t destroy the rear wing for example.
WTAC: And running time faster than the current GT Championship cars in a 25 year old front wheel drive on street tyres must be quite a challenge! Tell us what you have had to overcome to achieve this.
Rob: It certainly hasn’t been straight forward. Out of the factory, the car has 70:30 front to rear weight distribution, which, as you can imagine it is understeer city. We have managed to move the engine back almost 100mm and as a result the distribution is 63:37. Now the front end is almost too good for the rear.
We are seeing continuous 2.0+ lateral g’s and peaking at over 2.5. The chassis was never designed to take this kind of load so season after season we are seeing hairline cracks throughout the chassis. I am pleased to report though, that over the last 2 years we have had this under control with additional gussets and bracing.
Putting 700 wheel horse power down to the pavement is obviously a major challenge. I can say we run no kind of traction control. We help it with small things like geometry and dampening but adapting the driving style is key.
WTAC: So then you went on the full aero mission. Tell us a bit about how this has evolved over the years.
Rob: Yes, we joined the aero race back in 2012. That saw a quantum leap in lap times for us. Most do not realise my aero was designed for the old naturally aspirated engine. Although we have done some minor tweaks here and there over the years, I am actually quite out-of-date aero wise. The constraint is obviously cost but having said that the aero is still very good and better than most in the field.
WTAC: The engine obviously plays a big part in the picture. Tell us about the evolution of this and how it has got to where it is now?
Rob: JHH Racing has been involved in my program since day one. It was a good learning experience developing the naturally aspirated engine. We made great power out of the box but from there it was an uphill battle changing head designs, camshafts, piston design and a multitude of inlet plenum design to gain 5 more hp here and there. But look at where we are now. All of that R&D and the new JHH CNC head put together makes us one of the most powerful supercharged K-series engines in the word. It’s not just the power, I have absolute confidence in leaning on the motor and over revving it during the shootout lap.
WTAC: And what other changes have you made for 2017?
Rob: You will be surprised how little the car has changed from last year. For sure there is refinement in suspension setup but this year we are up 10% on power and we have lost some more weight, making us only around 10kg overweight at 815kg.
WTAC: And we also hear this may be your last WTAC and the Mighty Mouse will be retiring? What is the story there?
Rob: Mainly it is because we have finished the development program. The return on investment from where we are now is extremely poor. To find the next second would cost $30,000+. Also developing it the top level over the years is extremely hard work. We most likely will do more local events next year and just simply enjoy the car.
On this note I would like to thank some people who have been pivotal in creating the success we have to date:
101 Motorsport, for providing track support and dyno tuning
Oceania College, for providing first class facilities for vehicle preparation
Momentum Motorsport, Quaife gearbox and anything European
Competition fabrication, responsible for all suspension arms and anything structural.
JHH Racing, 101 Motorsport, Oceania College, Haltech, Turbosmart, Hypertune, PWR, Cawthorn Composites, FabLab, MCA suspension are all a part of the DNA of Mighty Mouse!
WTAC: Do you have a message for other people aspiring to do Time Attack racing?
Rob: Don’t forget the basics and do things in order! Work on your driving, suspension setup first before trying to add tons of power. Power – money can buy. Braking late, requires lots practice and chances are that it’s worth more time than power. I’ve said this many time before – Weight is King. Don’t underestimate the value of it especially when most of the time removing it is free.
I also see a disturbing trend in people wrongfully copying race cars. One must remember a lot of devices like wings may look simple but takes a very experienced engineer to not only design it correctly but correctly position it as well. Prime candidates are front splitters, diffusers and swan mount wings. Yes, they make the car look “racey” but you’re far better of putting your resources somewhere else.
After installing your front splitter, if you do not need to adjust the suspension what so ever – don’t. Chance are you have just added ballast to the front of your car. Rear diffuser without a floor – it can work but only the most experienced engineers can shape and position them correctly. The rest is just a solid parachute.
I would advise to spend more time in understanding your tyre especially if your event is on a controlled tyre. Collect data – how they ramp up in pressure; how to warm them up on your out lap; are they in their optimal operating temperature window during your hot lap – getting a grip on this early on will give you a huge competitive advantage.
WTAC: So the plan will be to go out on a high? What do you have to say to your competition in 2017?
Rob: Like every year we will run our own program and try to maximise it. Our goal is to run mid 1:26 times and to be the fastest Honda ever! We came 3rd two years ago, 2nd last year, so it would be a dream to finish on the top this year.
While we cannot control or influence what the competition does, all I would like to say is the Mouse is going to be everywhere!
So, check your pantry, check your closet, check your breakfast, check your car and the Fins – please check your mirrors!
WTAC: Thanks for your time and we look forward to seeing you and the Mouse in October!