Low-Buck Tech | Slow and Steady: Victory in Sight

By Staff Writer
Dec 28, 2020 | Honda, 24 Hours of Lemons, Low-Buck Tech, Insight | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Story by Nick Pon

Endurance racing, as the name suggests, is more about consistency than outright speed. This is especially true in the 24 Hours of Lemons, where the nature of low-buck machinery creates a higher probability of mid-race failures. If you can keep your car on the track, there’s a decent chance that several of your competitors won’t, at which point any speed differential between cars and drivers becomes moot. 

And if failures are more likely in Lemons in general, they’re all but guaranteed in Class C, Lemons’ slowest/most rickety/unquestionably best division. Lemons classes are assigned, arbitrarily, by the judges at the track:
Class A is for sporty stuff like BMWs and Miatas; Class B is for decent if not performance-oriented machines like four-door Accords; and Class C is for anything old, unreliable or tragically slow. Lemons prize money is awarded to winners by class (with Class C naturally receiving the most). 

So, if you’re trying to win Class C, perhaps the best strategy is to bring a reliable but slow vehicle. Normal slow won’t do, especially if you’re bringing something from a reputable manufacturer. Toyota? It better be a Tercel. Mercedes? Your only hope might be an automatic non-turbo diesel. 

And Honda? The choices are slim, but one California-based team found its Class C ticket in the form of an early Insight. 

Cleverly calling itself Victory In Sight, the team began with a 2000-model-year Insight. These first-gen models were Honda’s debut production hybrid, featuring a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder gas engine paired with a low-profile electric motor mounted to the crank. An aluminum chassis and ultra-slippery shape helped to increase efficiency even further. Two decades later, the early Insight’s technology has held up remarkably well, and it’s not unusual to see examples still running with odometers reading deep into six digits. 

Insights are not immune to time, however, and those years coupled with high mileage have made numerous Lemons-cheap examples appear on the used market. Probably the most common mechanical issue is a failed battery pack for the electric motor. Replacement packs run into the thousands, so while the cars can be operated just fine (if slowly) on the gas three-cylinder alone, a dead battery torpedoes the resale value. 

Victory In Sight scored its example on a typical dead-battery-pack discount, then partially made up for the lack of low-end electric boost by swapping the first three gears in the transmission with shorter-ratio cogs from a Fit. The high-mileage gas engine was surprisingly healthy, cranking out 60 dyno-verified horsepower at the wheels. (It was rated at 67 crank horsepower when new.) That combined with the Insight’s light weight and low-drag body was more than enough to send the team to the top of the Class C podium–and an impressive 13th overall in an 84-car field.

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View comments on the GRM forums
buzzboy Dork
12/28/20 9:16 a.m.

Automatic Turbo Diesel worked well enough for 3 C class wins for us. One of them buried in 42 penalty laps.

12/28/20 1:20 p.m.
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