The Honda CR-V wouldn’t be many people’s first choice for a racing car. Fortunately, the men and women of Mission Motorsport aren’t likely to shy away from a challenge, and simple things like a relative lack of power and the laws of physics affecting tall heavy vehicles on racing circuits won’t stand in their way. When I visited the Mission Motorsport Heritage Workshop at Bicester Heritage in October, I got chatting with some of their main workshop team and asked how their preparations for the Race of Remembrance were going. Aston had a sly grin as he stated that they were “preparing a CR-V to race”. I racked my brain to remind myself what kind of sporty car a CR-V was, but my mind was blank. This doesn’t normally happen to me. I pride myself on my ability to recall and identify thousands of different cars. Did he mean CRX, or even CR-Z? I had to ask for clarification, and then the reason for his amusement dawned on me. The Honda CR-V is a soft-roader/crossover/SUV more familiar to yummy mummies and adventurous grandparents than racing drivers. This was going to be funny.
As the owner of an old Toyota RAV4, I know full well how amusing it is to hustle a car along a back road in a manner completely incompatible with it’s perceived image. It’s a fun challenge to manage the weight transfer on long-travel soft suspension in order to get the best out of it. However, I know full well that attempting to keep up with more dynamically-composed cars on a racing circuit would almost certainly result in me cooking the brakes, understeering off the circuit and possibly rolling it into a rather ugly ball. Hence it always stays round the back of the paddock at track days.
The reason Mission Motorsport ended up with a CR-V is more straightforward than the process to turn it into a racing car. One of their main aims is to transition Wounded, Injured and Sick former Armed Forces personnel into careers in the automotive industry via involvement in motorsport. A great example of this is Lionel O’Conner. Lionel lost his left leg while serving with the Royal Anglian Regiment in Iraq. He got involved with Mission Motorsport, specialising in developing the Car Control aspect of their work. Mission Motorsport CEO (and part-time racer) Jim Cameron describes Lionel as being one of the most naturally-gifted drivers he’s ever worked with. High praise indeed. It was this skill that enabled Lionel to work with Honda on gearbox calibration, specifically the CVT fitted in the Civic 1.0 litre. Some people might wonder why a gearbox needs to be calibrated. Surely it’s just a bunch of cogs swirling around which can’t be adjusted? Modern automatic gearboxes are very complicated things, and CVTs (Continuously Variable Transmissions) are no exception. They have their own separate computer to monitor various parameters and determine the best ratio to provide at the correct time, depending on road speed and driver inputs. As with any computer program, the quality of the output is dependent on the quality of the inputs, and the skill of the test driver is a key part of this, much as it is for suspension tuning.
Honda are one of several OEMs involved in directly supporting Mission Motorsport, and when the time came to provide a car for the Race of Remembrance, they opened their Test Vehicle garage to the Mission Motorsport crew. A Civic Type R would be nice, but it’s a bit too quick for the intended purpose, and doesn’t come with an automatic gearbox necessary for Lionel to take part. However, the CR-V 1.6 diesel automatic is close enough. Strip out the interior to make way for a roll cage and fire extinguisher, fit some very large prototype Type R front brakes and some adjustable suspension, and hey presto, a racing car. Sort of. The laminated glass roof puts rather a lot of mass above the driver's head, just where you don't want it. Hence on this car it's been removed and replaced with a sheet of Polycarbonate and some racey vents. Other racing car touches included a dramatically-shortened exhaust system and a wrap created and applied by the Mission Motorsport Livery team. The only further Day/night race modification was some additional LED lighting in the grille to give the drivers a better chance of seeing which way the track goes in the dark. Also, despite Anglesey feeling like the coldest place on earth, it was necessary to cut the grille a bit more and add a couple of cut-down plastic drink bottles to direct cooling air towards the slightly-out-of-it’s-comfort-zone transmission.
MM volunteer Dave Boulder was nominated to be Team Manager for the Race of Remembrance, despite having a background in law enforcement rather than racing. However, he did a sterling job to make a plan and execute it with a dedicated crew of mixed abilities and experience. Here’s Dave to explain who he was working with:
“Pit crews were allocated by Tony Compson, Crew Manager, and I got my first few guys. Will is a double lower limb amputee and a mighty strong chap AND CHARACTER. Jonathan is an ex US Marine, an all round stalwart all weekend. John, ex-Army with no visible injuries. I’d thought about how I was going to allocate roles….wheel-gun man, jack man, wheel man, fueller, extinguisher man, pit boards etc. I didn’t need to.
Will: ‘I’ll take my legs off and do wheels on and off OK’.
Jonathan: ‘I’ll do anything Sir’......he soon stopped the sir stuff thankfully.
John ‘ Can I do the refuelling?’
Is this a set up ? Folk are falling into roles naturally. That’s how it worked, all weekend, without issue. How much easier they made my life I cannot begin to tell you. "
"One of the more challenging jobs in inclement weather is doing the pit wall. You need to concentrate and as they were all doing 2.01-2.08 laps, every 2 mins we needed to be tuned in to the driver going past. Jonathan asked if he could do pit wall. Eh? So I have someone who actually wants to stand in the weather all the time. Result. ‘I’ll stay with him so there’s two of us’ says John my refueller. This gets better. Our whole pits refueller crew had another member. DuWayne. He was superb. All weekend. Call his name and he was by your side in seconds, ready for absolutely anything."
"Driver-wise, I had MM CEO Jim, a fast and experienced racer. I also had Lionel, who is about to embark on his first race having passed his ARDS test days earlier. Driver 3 is now a veteran of many races, Jon-Allan Butterworth MBE, gold medal Paralympian. I’ve met him numerous times, he’s laid back and just gets on with it. Driver 4, Alex Goy, Motor1 journalist and fine chap. Funny, witty, sharp, nervous. Race experience - Nil. Although he had put on his entry form that he’d once done an evening race in a cosy coupe at Toys R Us…. "
"My crew mechanic is a young guy called Dave Guilfoyle, not ex Forces so he’s laid back, which is in direct contrast to both the manic (but controlled) nature of the weekend and the general way the Forces guys and girls go about things. In addition to the MM guys, we have a skilled volunteer. Steve is in QC at Honda but is also a tyre expert for racing. He developed our tyre strategy alongside Dave G (Ex rally team mechanic so I seemed blessed with experience)”
So, did anything fail during the race? No. Nothing. This car could circulate for 12 hours consistently. Nothing other than tyres and fuel needed to be replaced. Lionel was able to set lap times within fractions of a second of one another, braking and turning in exactly the same spot each lap. Not bad at all for a first-timer. The other first-time racer, Alex Goy, also did well, although it was clear that the concentration took it’s toll on his ability to see the pit board. Over to Team Manager Dave Boulder:
“We received a drive through penalty on Saturday evening for leaving the engine running during refuelling before Alex started his stint. Up the notice went on the LED panel on the start finish straight/pit wall to call our journalist-racer in. One lap...missed it...two laps….you can see where this is going! The safety car then came out, so they all drove at half pace. He still missed it. In the end 8, 9 or 10 laps later we had about 10 people on the wall, a pit board, waved torches, his producer with camera on constant flash, waved fluo jacket AND A WAVED UPSIDE DOWN ARTIFICIAL LEG. He finally saw it. Alex had an expensive round at the bar 10 minutes later...”
That slight hiccup aside, it was all going very well for the team, and Sunday’s 6 hours of racing (with a pause for the Remembrance Service) passed without incident. I’ll pass over to Dave again to fill us in on the closing stages and aftermath:
“The pit wall became crowded and the chequered flag came out. Here comes Lionel. He’d brought it home. In 33rd Place overall, but we were 3rd in Class. A diesel SUV put together in no time at all and driven by a team with 2 first time racers. I was ‘stoked’.
The wind was strong and that caused the odd tear, nothing to do with emotion, pride, pleasure.
Cars into Park Ferme and we all go round. I was privileged to be allowed in to make sure Lionel was OK getting out and was the first to shake his hand.
We had the awards and speeches now and a special team award went to the CRV. There was no 3rd in class prize for our class...until now. There needed to be. They had deserved it. So, the drivers, pit crew, Dave G and Aston Dimmock (MM workshop manager) went centre stage for an award and champagne.
Well done chaps. Utterly amazing effort.”
So, there you have it. If you have an unlikely racing car, and you need some resourceful folk to prepare it and push it to it’s limits in an endurance race, Mission Motorsport are ready and willing to make a success of it. They’ll also make it into not just into a racing car, but a tool for the continued recovery of men and women who’ve been to war and returned with scars, visible and invisible. The Mission continues, and Anglesey next November will be another key part of it. Will you be there to see it, or take part? Volunteers are always most welcome, and most appreciated.