B Spec ready to rally
By Colin Bane
HOOD RIVER, Ore. (April 26, 2015) -- Reigning B-Spec production class champion James Robinson says the small but growing Rally America class is, by design, the perfect entryway for drivers looking to prove themselves.
Robinson, who doubles as a Powertrain Development Engineer for Honda R&D in his day job, is piloting a 2015 Honda Fit this season with co-driver Brian Penza. The duo is undefeated in the B-Spec class so far in 2015, and the team has also been holding its own in the 2WD class: Robinson and Penza made the podium in second at Sno*Drift Rally and third at 100 Acre Wood, then got second again this weekend at the Oregon Trail Rally.
"The intention originally was just to focus on B-Spec, but honestly this class, and the Honda Fit particularly, has really shown that at specific rallies we can also be competitors in the overall 2WD class, so we really want to see what we can do," Robinson says. "Today's stages were fantastic. We didn't have any issues at all. This car is really biased towards very tight, technical stages, and that was the majority of today's driving."
The best thing about the B-Spec class, as far as Robinson is considered, is that anybody could jump into the game and join him on a level playing field. B-Spec class vehicles are built to production category rules, using normally aspirated vehicle models that are street-licensed and available for retail sale in the United States.
"The preparation level is literally a suspension kit and a roll cage, and then you're allowed to put a cat-back exhaust on it," Robinson says. Affordable cars eligible for the class include the Chevy Sonic, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, Fiat 500, Kia Rio, MINI Copper, and Ford Fiesta. For the Honda Fit, Team Honda Research and Honda Performance Development are selling rally kits that make the class even more accessible.
"It's really a testament to the car's durability from the manufacturer, but it's also incredibly low cost," Robinson says. "The amount of upkeep that goes into these vehicles is next to nothing. If you take away the entry fees and the logistics to get the car to each rally, we spent less than $5,000 to win a national championship. You have to make the initial money outlay to build the car, but that represents nearly all of it: you're not constantly rebuilding it. It's very simple and, I think, should be very appealing to a lot of drivers for that reason alone."
For Robinson, there's an even stronger appeal: "It's fun."
"It's pure racing and it's a great feeder for getting into the higher powered cars," he explains. “If you start in the open class cars with the Super Production class, you can go very quickly right away, but you'll also develop a lot of bad habits, drunk with the power. You learn a lot of really good techniques driving these lower power cars. We've been trying to grow the class now for the past three years, and I think it should be an easy sell: it's cheap racing and it's a great way to get your name out as a starting driver."