What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Driving 800 Miles For Gridlife
Gridlife Prep

It was coming up on noon, and I really wasn’t surprised that Brian Ma was running late.

It’s not because Brian isn’t punctual, but rather because he had only just started to Si-swap his Civic Sport two days prior, with a harness bar and other details still to button up the very morning we were to travel south some 400 miles. Perhaps equally daring, this all transpired mere months after receiving the car, and just weeks after chopping the fenders and fitting extensive aero.

With everything (probably) in order, it was finally time for a proper shakedown on a road course. But putting the car on a trailer for the 800-mile round trip for the Gridlife Streets Special seems far too sensible, don’t you think? This would also go against the grain of the BMSPEC ethos, so instead Brian tossed me the keys to ‘Circuit Heart’ and asked if I would drive it from the Bay Area to Willow Springs Raceway.

At the track, driver Jackie Ding would take over, hopefully returning the car in one piece for me to make the trek back on the same tires. Like any reasonable person, I jumped at the chance to drive the boosted Civic south. After all, what could possibly go wrong?


Brian showed up just before 1:00pm, a feat which is actually quite impressive considering that in the midst of all the work on the Honda he had found time to shop for and purchase a new-to-him support vehicle.

This wasn’t part of the plan, but rather a necessity after his other BMW 5 Series was totalled the day before by a driver who didn’t seem all too familiar with stop lights.


The pair of cars made it from Fremont over the Santa Cruz mountains to my home in Aptos without a hitch, but the first real test for the Civic would be the five-hour drive south to our hotel in Palmdale, California. Brian quickly showed me around the car I’d be driving and handed over the keys with one final piece of advice.


“Oh yeah, the speed sensor broke off inside the transmission, so the reverse lockout doesn’t work.” With the gearbox acting silly, a careless shift to fifth would mean I’d end up in seventh, essentially another neutral, and a sloppy move into sixth would result in a very, very bad time for everyone as reverse is right next door.

With the main goal of not destroying the aero and the secondary pressure of keeping the components in the transmission and engine where they belong, I was ready to roll. Ignition on, the check engine, tire pressure, and low fuel lights all greeted me; everything was as expected, then. So, just like Brian said, rev up to near 2,000rpm, clutch out quickly. And…



Once I realized Brian really was serious about his description of the clutch, we were off. Below 3,000rpm the car was expectedly gutless, due in part to the base-map tune as well as the larger-than-stock turbo feeding the tiny 1.5L engine. But once you get up past 4,000rpm, the car becomes properly quick and extremely responsive, making it an absolute pleasure to drive on my home turf with twisting back roads to the Pacific Coast Highway.

The Drive

Eventually we cut over to Highway 101 where we were greeted with an unholy amount of rain. Despite me being genuinely worried about the 200 treadwear track tires and the standing water, it was actually pretty cool to see a huge plume flying off the front and rear aero.


Just as I was thinking it might be best to pull over and wait it out, we shot out into the dry, something we’re much more accustomed to around here. But it’s only natural that it would be dumping rain in California’s desert this weekend; after all, a track day was coming up.


After a couple stops for gas and food we arrived at the hotel without any hiccups. From here, Brian had an extra three hours of driving to do to pick up Jackie Ding and Charles Zhao at Los Angeles airport, giving the jet-lagged driver and photographer a good four hours to sleep before the Gridlife time attack and track battle sessions began.


More importantly, the first hurdle was over with. Circuit Heart had made it.

Sunrise At Streets

After a quick but restful night, we stopped off for gas the following morning (maybe you’re noticing a trend here?). But down the road on the way to Streets of Willow Springs I noticed a new feature in sixth gear: absolutely no throttle response.

Hopping quickly into fourth seemed be an immediate cure, but a few miles down the road it happened again. The same solution worked, but perhaps it was purely coincidence. Either way, when I mentioned this to Brian he was obviously unexcited. Rainier Nguyen, a BMSPEC teammate who was along for the journey, quickly set about tearing apart the fresh harness under the hood to try to find the culprit.

A couple of test drives didn’t show a repeat in the issue, and the final prep for Gridlife commenced.


A good 60 cars, which is a really good showing for the smaller ‘Streets’ circuit at the Willow Springs compound, rolled in for tech and their groggy pilots went into the clubhouse for a drivers meeting.


As the Gridlife Streets Special was the group’s first foray into California, I was stoked to shoot at the event, which actually featured three sub-events I’ve already alluded to. First, the TrackBattle Time Attack, your good old fashioned time attack-style run group. Then, there were the TrackBattle Brackets where drivers face off in lead and follow laps, as well as standard open track time in another run group.


I finished some prep of my own as cars were buttoned up and turned over, engines roaring and humming in the background as drivers started to make their way to the grid.


With Jackie ready to take Circuit Heart out on track for qualifying the first leg was of the trip was in the books as a success. But as with any shakedown, it was anyone’s guess what would come next.

I’ll give you a closer look at the Civic — as well as a rundown on the Gridlife Streets Special and a handful of spotlights — soon.

But for now, I need sleep.

Trevor Yale Ryan
Instagram: tyrphoto



Comments are closed.


by Oldest
by Best by Newest by Oldest

I did something similar for Gridlife south 2016 with a bit less extreme of a car. I popped the motor in my Miata about 2 weeks before Gridlife, I'd already got tickets and an air bnb and was thinking I was going to just have to write it off. Sourcing a full motor and getting it to my house just did not seem like it was going to happen in time, let alone having the time to put it in. Luckily, right in the eleventh hour a brand new BP6d crate motor popped up on Craigslist about 5 miles from my house. It was like the racecar gods took pity on me that day.

I got the motor and brought it all up to my friends shop in WV about a 4 hr drive in the wrong direction, but I didn't have the tools nor the space to do it at my house. Spent 2 days nonstop swaping the car starting around 11am on Wednesday and at 2am on the Friday Gridlife started the car moved under the power of its new motor for the first time. Shower and hit the road, drove the 4 hours back to my house to pack, and left for Atlanta. Changed the oil in parking lots on the way down to break the motor in. It was all worth it.

Needless to say by the time Fridays nights concert was playing I was fast asleep.


Nice man! I once replaced my 1.8L with a friend in my Miata in one day, too, with the following day to button up little odds and ends. But then I went to bed immediately after lol.

Lucky for me, I got the easy job on this trip since everyone else did all the heavy lifting beforehand.


That's one hell of a proper adventure, Ben!


What an adventure man! Love the Civic!


Forget the Civic, that E34 is a beauty! <3


Haha yeah I think Civic in particular is the only one I've been interested in since the 90s ones.


Road trip on Advan A052's! Brave and awesome at the same time


Surprisingly wasn't bad at all, I thought the rain would be sketch but never had an issue so we kept on plowing. And we did have the BMW in case disaster struck at the track lol...


Where's the center of pressure on this car? All that aero you can almost certainly has data behind it, right?


There you have it.

We'll dive into more technical bits in the full feature, too. I did a spotlight on a BMSPEC car once before (http://www.speedhunters.com/2018/09/never-good-enough-adding-aero-to-the-focus-rs/) and included a peak at some of BMSPEC's data, but didn't dive into it too heavy there.

Aero always sparks some good discussion, so a proper look at what works and what doesn't as well as how these parts are designed/made might be in order...


We didn't CFD this car, just sent it. The center of pressure hasn't moved much from OEM, as downforce is balanced and you can see the front splitter and rear wing are about the same distance from center. That said, CP is not the priority: the goal is simply to optimize agility vs. stability, and CP is just one part of that equation. We'll be bumping up rear downforce and rear spring rates later, which will stabilize the car at speed, while making it more agile in slow corners. This incidentally moves the CP towards the rear, but the important part is being able to get more drive out of Skidpad and more stability in the fast esses. That's what actually matters towards breaking into the 1:23's and 1:22's (along with more seat time).


Can anyone tell me anything else about the car with the red Camo livery? My brain wants me to say that it's a Toyota Celica but the front doesn't look quite right!


It's a Starion! Such a cool build, I have a short feature on the way...


Gah! Of course it is. Look forward to it, looks badass!


Absolutely enjoyed seeing that Civic tear it up! Had no idea it made this kind of journey over!

Tryon Lippincott

Forget the Civic, what's up with that E34?


Glad to see you guys made it! Hate to toot my own horn, but this was a 2,000 mile journey for me TOOT TOOT! Haha Spent last season driving coast to coast for GTA in the S2000, sleeping at truck stops or setting up a tent.
I've since upgraded to a more traditional truck & trailer. Just sleep in the truck and pack sandwiches to make it all affordable. Theres a whole special aspect to it when you're roughing it to make it to these events. The journey to and from the track is more of a battle than what's in store at the track most the time. Love it, wouldn't trade it for anything! Besides maybe a fancy RV and a gas card.


Awesome man, you definitely have me beat there! I can't tell you how many peanut butter and honey sandwiches I've consumed this last year on my quest for taking photos of cars haha I totally know where you're coming from. Maybe we can go halves on a nice motorhome lol


I've never seen a Civic drift so hard, till last sunday. lol. this car was all over the place!


I find it very amusing that an old BMW is the support car for a new Honda


The irony is not lost on me