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article details
Author Gerald Irish
Categories Motorsports, Speed World Challenge
Create Date August 29, 2007 13:53
Last Update August 29, 2007 13:55
Interview with Peter Cunningham

Following is a telephone interview conducted by the TOV's motorsports editor, Gerald Irish. This interview took place several months ago and portions have been edited for brevity.

The TSX is kind of what you'd call a mature platform at this point, you've been developing it [and] racing it for years and I guess I'm a little bit interested in how the development curve of the car played out. Did you reach the limits of the engine quickly or did you find a lot of potential in the engine package that maybe you didn't think would be there? How did the chassis and suspension play out, did you start and say 'Okay its works pretty well now but maybe we can start playing with the suspension [mounting] points'. I guess what I am asking is how did the potential of the car get realized over its lifetime as you guys have raced it?

Well I would say that since it's debut in the 2004 season the TSX had its biggest developmental stage throughout the 2004 season would be one big chunk, and then after...I'm trying to think...did we have a TSX in '03? I've lost track now. No I don't think we did because 02 was the last year of the Type-R, and then we had RSX's in '03 and then we didn't debut the TSX until '04.

So that first chunk during the '04 season, [and] leading up to in preparation for the '04 season and throughout that season but after not winning the championship in '04 we just really went to work to try to dig deeper to try to find something more and found it through stuff with testing between the '04 and '05 seasons. Which [then] paid dividends then with the '05 championship and on through the '06 championship.

The engine development is ongoing but it is a diminishing return because of how strict the rules are. The cylinder head must remain stock which is probably the biggest thing that holds us back from getting over the next barrier of 300 horsepower. Officially we admit to 275-plus horsepower.

Suffice [it] to say with the intake manifold and the stock cylinder head there's only so much there and we have been [developing] quite a bit over the last few years. We've found 1 or 2 horsepower here, 1 or 2 horsepower there but you can't feel it. Sometimes you think, 'ok, we've found 3 horsepower' and its like ok [but] there's no way you can feel that kind of gain.

So throughout the last two years there have been a tick here a tick there in horsepower gain but the next thing that happens coming into the 07 season, because we were granted and took advantage of the allowable X-trac sequential gearbox upgrade. The sanctioning body in their interest to keep us two-time defending champions in check, didn't want us to have an unfair advantage so they put a restrictor on us. A 25 percent restrictor that we're required to run so far this year.

We, in practice, feel that maybe they over-reacted but nobody's running around over there feeling too sorry for us so it is what it is. Actually we're making less horsepower in '07 than how we finished up in 06 because of this restrictor on the intake and on the throttle body.

So, ongoing development on the suspension side to answer that part of your question, that happened throughout it's life. Now that we continue to try to tweak the chassis to find more and more speed through the corners we find things here and there but again we can't quite feel the difference. You do your best and make the car handle as good as it can at a given venue and you go from there.

During the time of our ongoing development we used to have a pretty significant advantage in the corners but our competitors have not sat on it either and they've made their cars handle a lot closer to where our cars handle. Now where we used to have 3, 4, 5, 6 miles an hour advantage in the corners, in some of the corners, particularly the high-speed corners.

The most important ones of course.

Now the differences are not quite so measurable. So its great for the fans because its a close, the competition is closer than ever but we'd like to keep the advantages that we've unlocked but that's not always how racing works.

Indeed. So now that the new model coming soon, what would you like to see in the next TSX. If you had a wish list and you got to sit down with the Large Project Leader for the next TSX what would be on Peter Cunningham's 'must-haves'?

That's a good question. Certainly we'd like the see the base weight of the car, the curb weight of the car, not go up. We'd like the frontal area to not be bigger. We'd like it to be more aerodynamic. We'd like more power *laughs*. So, you know, certainly all those things are what we would look for in our next TSX racecar if that's what we were gonna pursue. Real life dictates that the content of this car is ever improving which adds weight and the size of the car potentially could be larger which would make it a more comfortable road-going car. That's certainly job 1 for Acura and its an-all important model for them. So you know those two things [are related], having a better race car and building a better road car aren't necessarily always in agreement.

But we're not sure what the future holds for that. That's certainly a likely option that we would get our hands on the next-generation TSX and develop it and race it at some point in the future. But we just don't know if that's what we're gonna do at this date and time.

So right now the rumors flying around with the car are that there's possibly going to be a 2.3 liter turbo powering some version of it. Whether or not there's going to be different trim levels and engine packages in the United States we don't know. The SH-AWD has been brought into the picture so there's possibly going to be a turbo all-wheel-drive version and maybe a naturally-aspirated front wheel drive or naturally aspirated all-wheel-drive and possibly a small V6. Of those drive train choices what would you prefer?

Well, I would say that option 1 or option 2 both of which being the four-cylinder option. I don't know that the V6 would make a better racecar based on the location of that engine over the front axle, I'd stick with the four-cylincer. Two-wheel drive versus four-wheel-drive? The Audi A4 that we race against is an all-wheel-drive car and it certainly does very well off the line and that could be something that could be beneficial in some applications. But there is a weight penalty there as well and that would take another type of development above and beyond a front-wheel drive package.

Turbo versus non-turbo? There's no shortage of power in the normally-aspirated for the racing version in the trim that we run. You know we could unlock more power if they would just let us. If we said 'okay this new car is a turbo so we're gonna want a turbo' they [the sanctioning body] may overcompensate again and try to hold us back, because 'oh brother they were this fast with a normally-aspirated car now they're gonna have a turbo. We'd better add weight or make a smaller hole to breath through,' and stuff like that.

So who knows. We certainly had fun with forced-induction in the past so we could certainly meet that challenge without a problem. Now whether the sanctioning body helps or not is another question.

Ah so another future product question, we talked a little bit about this at Sebring but what are your thoughts on the Acura Sports Car Concept. Right now the rumor is, and a pretty well-confirmed rumor, is that the sheetmetal that was shown at Detroit is not going to be on the car. We've talked a little bit about the details and the layout of the car before, what are your thoughts on it?

I would like to make sure that this point is clear about the previous question about the new TSX or the potential for a new NSX. I don't know what they're doing, they don't tell me anything but I'm happy to receive what they build and do our best to develop it into a racing package. So that's all hypothetical stuff on whether its going to be turbo or not or whether its gonna be four-wheel-drive or whatever.

In the case of the Advanced Sports Car Concept or whatever, the next-generation NSX, we'd very much look forward to whatever it is to promote the Acura nameplate. What they present, I'm sure it will be an amazing car whatever it is. If I could offer my input on what it needs to be, to be a good racecar I'd like it to be a rear-wheel drive car with the rumored V10 engine. In a mid-engined format, whether its front mid-engined or rear mid-engined I don't have a have a huge opinion on. I wouldn't mind a front mid-engined package.

Four-wheel-drive would be good in some ways and bad in other ways and again its the weight penalty. And now I'm kinda crossing the fence to talking about the road-going aspect versus what we'd like for a racecar. Certainly the original NSX was a car that was incredible in every aspect but as time went on it's horsepower-to-weight-ratio...the reality of the situation was that the power-to-weight-ratio was not [up to] what the competition had to offer. The competition did a better job in the horsepower department because they had packages with higher displacements, forced-induction or whatever. So hopefully the rumor of this V10 for the next-generation NSX will be the reality and if that is I don't think we have to worry about it. The powerplant will be fantastic and world-class.

From there they need to look at the content to make sure it doesn't get too fat for the road-going aspect, content-wise for the racecar we can deal with that because we can take out the 27 airbags and some of the stuff that modern day road cars have, not just from Acura but from all the other manufacturers Some of that content helps to make it a more user-friendly product if they're road-going but the price that you pay is higher weight. And when it comes to racing of course we need to get rid of all the extraneous stuff and just keep the steering wheel and the gas pedal.

Ok, I guess I'll close up with one last question. Who's your pick for the 2007 Formula 1 championship?

Ummm, I like Lewis Hamilton... but I don't know that his string of unbelievable success will at the end of the season be what the cool veteran Alonso will have. And who knows about team orders and no team orders. I don't know what's going on there but I watch every practice session and every qualifying session and the race and read the funny papers. The prediction is that Ferrari will be strong during this next North American swing but I don't know that they have the strength of McLaren this year.

And along to BMW they seem to be doing pretty well. And the Williams guys seem to be doing better than the Cologne-based effort with Toyota power. And it looks like the Honda guys have a brighter future than what some of the results have shown with the '07 car doesn't seem to have all the bits that it needed to be competitive out of the box but as it develops it looks like some brighter days are ahead there and I look forward to see that.

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  seems like a nice guy
wrussi 1
  Perfect! exactly the questions I wish I could have asked!
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