Tire choice for the Ridgeline was a challenge, Skilton admitted. He liked the truck's big brakes-12-inch rotors with dual-piston calipers in front, 13s with single pots in back-but keeping them meant also keeping the stock 17-inch wheels for clearance. And that meant a narrower selection of tires from sponsor BFGoodrich. Compounding the problem was the fact that the rule book was strict about body modifications. No fiberglass fenders or even flares were allowed to clear big tires; only 2 inches could be removed from the fender opening.
Skilton was concerned, too, that even if he could fit 33s under the truck, the driveshafts, differentials, and wheel hub assemblies might not be up to the extra weight. So he went conservative with the tires, choosing 265/70R17 All-Terrain T/As that measured 31.8 inches tall. The tires were mounted on American Racing ATX wheels.
CaRR was also conservative when it came to modifying the Ridgeline's 3.5L V-6. "We didn't attack the full potential of this engine due to the number of stock components on board," explained Skilton. "We were worried that with an untested car, we'd just break it quicker. But it will be piped up."
With the cage and other reinforcements done, the Ridgeline moved out of the Temper Mental
Another change obvious in the photo is this Sol teK roof-mounted lightbar. These bars come
Paint makes a big difference in the appearance of the under-bed area. Note the placement o
"Piped up" meant improving how the engine breathes. Advance Flow Engineering fabricated a custom intake system that featured a massive, seven-layer air filter and a straight shot of tubing into the intake plenum. Skilton figured that modification alone was worth 15 to 20 hp. At the other side of the engine, Honda contributed a custom-fabbed, free-flowing header that lead to a straight-through exhaust system.
Aftermarket computer tuner Hondata thoroughly reworked the stock engine and driveline computers. All the OBD II "check engine" codes were removed, as was anything having to do with the emissions equipment that had been taken off. The shift points for the automatic transmission were modified so that it wouldn't upshift until the engine hit its 6,300rpm redline. We were surprised to learn that Skilton planned to keep the truck's column shifter. "I don't want to manually shift it," he said before the race. "I want to put it in Drive, lock it in Third and go. Third at 6,500 rpm should see between 100 and 105 mph. You don't want to go much faster than that in a stock vehicle."
One computer-controlled function that didn't change was the truck's complex VTM-4 four-wheel-drive system. "You've got four wheelspeed sensors and a speed sensor at the transmission, all talking to each other and balancing the torque between the front and rear wheels," said Skilton. "Since all the components are talking to each other, we're afraid if you remove one, you'll have trouble with the others." So while he would have liked direct control of the fore-aft torque split, Skilton opted to let the Honda's system do the work for him.
To hold the driver and co-driver securely within Temper Mental's chromoly cage, Skilton used Beard racing seats and five-point Crow Enterprises harnesses. A Fire Bottle on-board fire suppression system was installed in case of emergency, while for emergencies of a more mechanical nature, Skilton equipped the Ridgeline with a PowerTank CO2 tank and an assortment of air tools.
Though the CaRR team re-installed the stock instrument panel, it was augmented with auxiliary Auto Meter gauges (where the HVAC controls used to be) to monitor voltage, oil pressure, and transmission temperature. A drag-race-style Pro Comp Ultra Lite tach was hooked to the driver-side A-pillar. To help Skilton and his crew keep track of the course, they installed a Lowrance GPS system in the center of the dash. The GPS would help keep them out of trouble in another way, too: Race rules enforce a 60mph speed limit on highway stretches of the race course, and the data logger in the Lowrance system would monitor their ground speed.
At this stage the underbed area is basically done: The shock reservoirs are mounted, the f
One of the truck's two spare tires will be stowed in the bed well; the second one rides on
While Skilton and Rivera worked on the suspension, Noel Ojerio installed the Beard racing
Since so much of the 1000 is run at night-if you're in a stock truck, anyway-throwing a lot of light on the Mexican desert is crucial. Skilton's light source of choice was a Baja Designs Sol teK multiple HID light system and a roof-mounted bar that contained two spotlights and three floods. Powering the HIDs-as well as the rest of the truck's electrical systems-were two Optima batteries that had been relocated under the bed floor for better weight distribution.
The CaRR Ridgeline made its debut a few weeks prior to the 1000 by going on display at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Once the show ended, Clive and Gavin Skilton, La Fortune, and fabricator Jason Rivera took the truck into the desert near Barstow, California, for a shake-down run. There, we had a chance to ride in the shotgun seat and sample what the team would experience down in Baja.
The first thing we noticed was the Honda's engine sound-not a V-8's throaty rumble, but something sharper. The truck moved out quickly, and since it'll reach 65 mph in First gear, there wasn't a lot of shifting for Clive Skilton to do in the rough terrain where our ride started.
The King suspension worked perfectly. The Ridgeline isn't a Trophy Truck by any means, but it soaks up bumps and whoops without a trace of harsh jarring. When Skilton did get the chance to open it up on a straight stretch of wash, the truck tracked straight and true. He and Gavin were both pleased with the result, though they did wind up stiffening the springs and firming the shock valving prior to race day.
Both Skiltons and La Fortune traded driving stints during the race. When we talked with Gavin afterwards, he couldn't say enough good things about the Ridgeline's VTM-4 system. "I was skeptical, frankly, but it was unbelievable. What a pleasure to drive. At one point, after Jason climbed over the Summit, he dropped into a silt bed. But he powered right through, past something like six race cars and 20 chase trucks. When we got into the Matomi Wash, there are parts of it that are as technical as the Rubicon Trail. But the truck never spun a tire, never dug a hole in the sand. It was fantastic."
Among the last components to arrive at the shop were the King prototype struts. Skilton de
Because the King strut is longer than stock, its top was relocated to a mount point in the
Here's how the finished engine compartment looked. Note the massive Advanced Flow Engineer
Skilton was also very happy with the driveline responsiveness Hondata programmed into the engine and trans. "When I came out of a corner hard, the transmission didn't downshift, so when I came back on the throttle, I was right back into the meat of the torque curve." He admitted that it took him a few miles to get used to the truck's front-wheel-drive-based driveline, as he's used to driving rear-wheel-drive-oriented Jeeps. "This truck isn't like rear-wheel-drive, where you can slide it through corners. It's more like a street motorcycle; it carves through the turns. You just point it where you want to go and stay on the gas. It's a different, more confident feeling. You never feel like you're chasing the car."
So, was Honda able to prove its truck had the guts to beat the Baja? Well, yes and no. The Ridgeline held up just fine. "Every stock component that started the race performed flawlessly," Skilton said, except for a rear driveshaft that fell victim to a locally made booby trap that caught the truck early in the race. Even so, Clive was able to drive it to the next pit for repairs, some 35 miles from the trap, running on front-wheel-drive alone.
Yet, despite the fact that it was still running strong, the truck didn't make it to the checkered flag within the time SCORE allotted to finish the race. Why? A combination of limited suspension travel and tires intended more for recreational use than Baja punishment. Skilton said they suffered seven flat tires in 350 miles. "Pinch flats," he explained. "When you're running out of travel and you're using a C-load-rated street tire on a 17-inch rim, the tire gets pinched between the rocks and the rim."
On shakedown day, we brought a stock Ridgeline to the desert to compare it with the race-r
And every one of those flats was on the right front corner. "You never get a flat on the driver side," Skilton said, and we could hear the sheepish grin coming through the phone. "This truck is really wide; we could never get our minds around how wide it was. So we'd get in a situation where we thought we missed that rock on the right, but ...." Then again, Skilton said, "I'd rather take a flat tire than a crushed oil pan or a ruined transmission. You take 18 wheels and tires to a race, but only one engine."
Both Skiltons take full responsibility for the mistaken tire choice, saying they should have figured out a way to mount BFG's Mud-Terrain tires, which carry a D load rating (3,195 pounds) that's 25 percent stronger than the C rating (2,740) on the All-Terrains. "It was a bad choice of tires on our part," Clive said. "We knew it was a street tire, not a race tire." Added Gavin, "We know now that the truck will pull a big tire, but we didn't originally think it would."
Not ones to give up easily, the CaRR team took the Ridgeline back to the shop and made some changes. Using a hammer and torch, Skilton pounded on the wheelwells so they'd accept the 33-inch MTs. He also tweaked the suspension again-taking out the bumpstops and lengthening the limiting straps to give it more travel, and stiffening the spring rate one more time, to 500 pounds. "That will slow everything down, so we can keep the rocks away from the rims."
Just a week after the 1000 they were back in the desert: Nevada this time, for the Best in the Desert Henderson 400 and a happy ending to this story. Not only did the Ridgeline finish the race, 46th out of 137 starters, it won its class. The Skiltons say Honda was ecstatic about the truck's performance in both races, and the factory will continue the race program into 2006. After all, there is still the Baja to be tamed-on four wheels.