Meet Peter Cunningham: Early Acura Adopter


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RealTime Racing is synonymous with Acura in motorsports here in the U.S., and the relationship goes back to even before the American debut of the NSX. As team owner Peter Cunningham recounts, “I was involved in the original shakedown and development of the NSX in the fall of 1990, before the car had even hit showrooms.”

American Honda Special Projects allowed Cunningham to race the car exactly once with the World Challenge series during its debut year. “They let us run the first race of the year in 1991 at Sears Point,” he says. “We finished third, but for a number of reasons they opted not to pursue a race program with the car at that time. That first chassis, No. 0008, just hung out at Special Projects for the next five years.” Fortunately, they were able to reopen the project for the 1996 GT season, and RealTime secured the 1997 World Challenge championship with the NSX.

In that 1991 one-off race, the NSX made a good impression. “The car, right out of the box, was very competitive compared to the cars that were running at the time,” Cunningham says, “including the Corvette and Lotus Esprit Turbo.” Modifications were minimal, he says, “just a light build with different camshafts on the engine, headers and an open exhaust. As far as the chassis was concerned, we improved the spring and shock package, and used bigger sway bars.

“Like many of the Hondas we’ve raced,” he continues, “it was good in the corners. It wasn’t the fastest down the straightaway, but because of good braking and cornering it all worked out pretty well. By the time 1998 rolled around, it was apparent some of the other cars were going to be too fast in a straight line to compete.”

They retired the car–they thought for good–until 2001, when the rules allowed the addition of a Vortech supercharger. The boosted NSX was a beast out of the box, scoring a majority of wins in the opening races–until series officials took away more than a third of the car’s boost. “We won one race the rest of the year,” Cunningham adds. The supercharged NSX carried Cunningham to second-place championship finishes in 2001 and 2002.

As the earliest NSX models are nearing the 30-year mark, and used examples can be found in states ranging from pristine to decrepit, Cunningham has the following advice for anyone looking to take one on track. “Make sure that each area is at least as good as it was in stock form before trying to go beyond that,” he urges. “Tires would be first on the list. I would certainly beef up the springs, shocks and sway bars. At that point, if you want to add some horsepower, that never hurt anybody.”

RealTime has of course moved on with the times to stay competitive, but the release of a new Acura NSX model has allowed them to reincorporate the nameplate in their stable. “It certainly is a worthy successor,” says Cunningham of the latest NSX, “but it is quite a bit different [from the old NSX] because of what a GT3 car is compared to what a World Challenge GT car was 15 or 20 years earlier.” He cites ABS, traction control and modern downforce as the primary differentiating factors.

“If there’s anything we’re lacking, it’s maybe downforce compared to what others have,” he says, “but that helps us down the straightaway. We may be at a slight disadvantage in braking and cornering, but the cars are all so equal that we’re all just splitting hairs.”

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