Honda Performance Development Engineer from Northern Maine Part 2

Episode 33

December 7, 2014 Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Honda Ridgeline Chassis Group Design Manager Philip LaPointe with the 2006 Motor Trend Magazine Truck of the Year. LaPointe is dressed in the traditional Honda white that appears to date back to Honda's involvement in Formula One racing in the 1960's.

Honda Ridgeline Chassis Group Design Manager Philip LaPointe with the 2006 Motor Trend Magazine Truck of the Year. LaPointe is dressed in the traditional Honda white worn by Research and Development (R & D)  workers and engineers. Current Honda Research & Development personnel at Honda’s Ohio R & D continue that tradition.

Philip LaPointe of Van Buren never was one to be satisfied with making a career engineering a cigarette lighter or trim on a street version of a car. Those jobs are essential in making an automobile, however, the December 1990 graduate of Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston always had his mind on making cars go fast.

When we left off after Episode 31 LaPointe was moving to Honda Performance Development (HPD) headquarters in Santa Clarita, California in 2009 after working in Bicester, England. The English assignment was based primarily on Honda’s LeMans Prototype (LMP1 & LMP2) components.

HPD is fast paced and results driven company. In racing success is based upon preparation, parts, money, and cutting edge components in addition to great teams and drivers. Teams are constantly looking for the fraction of a second that may make the difference between pole position and the back of the pack.

Once LaPointe hit the ground he began working on a myriad range of projects that challenge his talents and keep him fresh and very eager to go to work every day. In a later blog I will talk about some ways young men and women can direct their efforts to careers in motorsports. For now, however, I will use LaPointe’s contagious enthusiasm as one secret for success.

From 2009 to 2010 while at HPD he worked with “Honda Racing Line” including process and products. He designed and developed the 2006-2013 Honda Civic Si Grand AM and Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) World Challenge racing components. This included brakes with a racing ABS modulator. He also worked on suspension, engine mounts, and transmission gears.

He worked on the manufacture of two complete Civic Si race cars that went on to win the 2011 & 2012 SCCA WC TC class championships. This was followed by the preliminary design and development of the 2011 Honda CR-Z turbocharged hybrid race car which won the pole position at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California. The CR-Z finished second in class.

1401_CRZ_HPD_F34_Reflection

The street version of Honda HPD CR-Z that was born from the racing involvement led by Van Buren’s Philip LaPointe.

LaPointe was featured in the February 2014 Motor Trend Magazine in the “They Say” column on page 31. He was quoted by Motor Trend author Scott Evans. LaPointe as Manager of Street Performance at HPD said, “With the launch of the CR-Z, we received a lot of requests from the press and our dealers that they wanted to have a sport version, an Si version, if you would. That became an opportunity to say let’s make this the first project for HPD.

“This product was fortunate-it had a request from our president of American Honda saying, ‘Hey, can HPD make a kit to improve the performance of the CR-Z?'”

Another project dear to LaPointe’s heart in the 2009-10 era was the modernization of the Formula Ford racing class. Formula Ford begin in the mid 1960’s with ideas from Jim Russell at Jim Russell Racing School in California and Geoff Clarke of Motor Racing Stables in England. Clarke approached several race car manufacturers and was turned down by all but one, Colin Chapman the Formula 1 and Indy Car manufacturer.

This is a vintage 1968 Lotus Formula Ford owned by Mark Daniele of Pownal. Daniele purchased the car in 2012 and was a Loring racing it as part of the Cumberland Motor Club's huge autocross held annually for the past five years at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine. This Formula Ford featured the up-graded Hewland racing transmission.

This is a vintage 1968 Lotus Formula Ford owned by Mark Daniele of Pownal. Daniele purchased the car in 2012 and was a Loring racing it as part of the Cumberland Motor Club’s huge autocross held annually for the past five years at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine. This Formula Ford featured the up-graded Hewland racing transmission.

Several Formula One drivers got their start in Formula Ford including England’s Jensen Button,  Scotsman David Coulthard, Australian Tin Schenken, Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi, and Jody Schecter of South Africa. Danika Patrick finished second in the British Formula Ford early in her career.

One of LaPointe’s earliest race cars was a 1988 Van Diemen RF 88 Formula Ford 1600. His experience with the Formula Ford series came in handy as HPD convinced SCCA to allow the Formula Ford to know include Formula Fit utilizing the Honda Fit 1.5 engine as an alternative to the Ford engines such as the Kent, Zetec, Duratec, and now Eco Boost 1600 engines,

LaPointe designed engine installation kits for the Swift DB-1, DB-6, Van Diemen, and Crossle chassis. This process was not simple. It involved mounts, input shafts, fuel, exhaust, and engine cooling components to allow the Honda to “Fit”.

LaPointe certainly did not rest on his laurels as he and his group designed racing suspension, brakes, and exhaust to allow the Honda Fit to be competitive in the SCCA’s popular “B-Spec” class.

In 2011-12 LaPointe was named HPD’s Street Performance Division Manager and Large Project Leader as noted in the Motor Trend article. He created the requirements for performance, strength, durability, rigidity, and corrosion necessary to make a performance street car. He implemented Honda’s Engineering Standards into HPD.

During this same time period he had a hand in designing the single turbo bellhousing with Dallara, the Italian race car manufacturer who has exclusive right to  build all the chassis for the Indy Car Series the DW12. He did the Finite Element Analysis (FEA) for the system rigidity as well as the Computational Fluid Analysis (CFD) for the cooling.

He also created a plan for the design and manufacture of aerodynamic kits for the Dallara DW12. Those kits were not allowed by the Indy Car Series rulemakers until the up-coming 2015 season. Teams were told those kits were going to be available upon the release of the DW12 chassis but that plan was scrapped for a variety of reasons.

In 2013 LaPointe and his team were called in to work on the Acura TLX-GT World Challenge (WC) race car after the builders realized they were in over their heads. His Large Project Group designed suspension, brakes, roll cage, body fuel cell, steering, gearbox, engine mounts, radiators, controls, axles, and wheels. They worked on the aerodynamics including scale model and full-scale testing.

After its debut at Mid Ohio in late July 2014 LaPointe stated, “It was too heavy. It was a good lesson in how not to design a car”.

Philip LaPointe of Van Buren, Maine with seven years experience at Honda Performance Development and 16 years at Honda Research & Development. Now a Chief Engineer and Manager II at HPD

Philip LaPointe of Van Buren, Maine with seven years experience at Honda Performance Development and 16 years at Honda Research & Development. Now a Chief Engineer and Manager II at HPD

In addition to creating the chassis design and development department at HPD, LaPointe also created the equally important process for design and development necessary to allow sharing of information. He did hiring, scheduling, associate development plans and performance reviews of HPD personnel. A Co-operative/ student intern program was developed no doubt relating some what to his earliest days at Wentworth Institute of Technology where that was required.

The latest project that LaPointe is involved with is the super secret Honda IndyCar aerokit for the 2015 racing season. He is involved with the design, development, and manufacturing of the kit. Honda’s other competitor in IndyCar, Chevrolet,  has already had the secrecy of their kit compromised when one of its early versions was being tested at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas in mid-October. I am sure there were multiple revisions made to their kit since then, however, it was fascinating to see the great extent that these two companies are going through to keep their project under wraps before the January 18, 2015 homologation deadline.

I offered to be the release spot for any Honda photos but did not as of yet get any heads up that was going to happen. There is still hope.

In addition to all the listed projects that this “County Man” is involved with he has also worked with one of my heroes in the race car constructors business, Riley Engineering. HPD is working with Riley on the installation of a Honda engine in the Daytona Prototype (DP) race cars that contest such events as the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

I first met Bill Riley and his dad Bob Riley when the company was Riley-Scott Engineering on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana. My students visited them many times before they moved the business to North Carolina to be closer to the NASCAR teams. I was thrilled to see that Philip was getting to work alongside such a famous team.

I am pleased as can be to let you see some of the accomplishments of this man from Northern Maine who despite all the notoriety of the projects he is or has been involved with still is humble and soft-spoken without a spirit of bragging. I hope to report to you again about some of his accomplishments as we move through the 2015 season.

Austin Does Not Make the Snowball Derby

Many Austin Theriault fans groaned with disappointment when they heard that the Fort Kent native came so close to making the 47th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida yet did not make the field of 34 for the feature.

In qualifying on Friday the top 30 times would make the Sunday show and four more would be added after a “Last Chance” 50 lap qualifying race on Saturday. I assume three more were added by promoter’s choice for a field of 37. Sixty two cars showed up for the race meaning that 25 cars would not make the race.

Hunter Robbins took the pole position with a time of 16.212. The 30th place qualifier turned a lap of 16.436 while Theriault lapped the 1/2 mile track in 16.473. He missed qualifying by.037 seconds. From the pole position to the 30th spot there was only .224 spread to show how close the racers were.

AT Racing had to start eighth in the last chance race and was in the transfer position with four laps to go when… I let them tell you in their own words.

. There was hard racing with only 4 laps to go and Austin was in the final transfer spot,working the inside position when the outside car came down on him for some aggressive racing in the laps prior bringing out another caution. The officials decided to send AT to the rear of the field. The announcers replayed it and agreed…the other car looked to have turned down into Austin putting AT with no where to go.”

Somedays racing is like that. The young man from Northern Maine deserves a financial backer who is looking for an articulate company representative as well as a proven winner who will not tarnish that company with an immature attitude or image.

A “Me ” Update

If you look closely you will notice a bright red cast on my lower right leg. I had surgery on the Achilles tendon which had ripped off the muscle when I caught a guy falling over backward on some staging in Bogota, Colombia. He was only about five feet off the ground when he fell. I caught him in the air and when his weight and mine combined my right leg slipped until the toe stopped on another staging and the heel kept going. I am confined to the first floor of my house under the wonderful car of my wife Donna for the next eight weeks.

If you look closely you will notice a bright red cast on my lower right leg. I had surgery on the Achilles tendon which had ripped off the muscle when I caught a guy falling over backward on some staging in Bogota, Colombia. He was only about five feet off the ground when he fell. I caught him in the air and when his weight and mine combined my right leg slipped until the toe stopped on another staging and the heel kept going. I am confined to the first floor of my house under the wonderful car of my wife Donna for the next eight weeks.

 

Let’s Go Racing (Sort of)

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing.