Andy Hope, owner of this aggressive, purpose-built track car, is what you might refer to as a fanatic. His love for the iconic ’88–’91 Civic/CRX chassis was sparked a few decades ago and hasn’t faltered one bit. For those outside the realm of competitive road racing, on paper, the 175 peak horsepower produced by a mildly modified B16 shouldn’t produce such impressive lap times. The car is battered and abused with countless hours of competition and remains incredibly basic. No excessive, high-dollar upgrades are used, in fact, Hope’s CRX doesn’t bother with an aftermarket front camber kit, and even the shocks are of the nonadjustable variety. Nevertheless, he’s managed to muscle his way to a best of 1.59.1 at Buttonwillow’s CW13 and his résumé includes taking first place in over 50 percent of races entered since putting the car on track for the first time over 14 years ago.
In late ’93, after tracking down and driving three different black ’91 CRXs, Hope eventually found what he was looking for. He adds, “The girl who owned it had broken her leg and needed an automatic. Her trusting mom handed me the keys and let me take it out alone. I drove a few blocks away, did a monster full-throttle clutch dump burnout, came back and bought it.”
As with many enthusiasts in SoCal during the mid-’90s, Hope took part in weekend street racing events and even experienced a setback after spinning out on the freeway while chasing down a GS-R. However, just a few years later, all of that changed, and the illegal activities became a thing of the past. “My first track day was at Buttonwillow in February of ’98, and my first wheel-to-wheel road race was just two events later at Laguna Seca. I won against a field of mostly AE86 Corollas—you know, those cleaning lady cars. Also, I took first in my bracket at Battle of the Imports that summer, with over 200 cars in my bracket.”
Officially hooked on legitimate racing rather than impromptu street events, the CRX was registered “non-op” and dedicated to track duty. “The B16 swap happened mid-season in ’02. My good friend Tom Liang and I hooked the engine to the cherry-picker, raised an XSi clip in the air, then ritualistically chopped the body off of it with a Sawzall.” Shortly after, the car was painted gold and fitted with an aero kit to match Liang’s CRX, and the cars competed as the Hybrids.jp Racing Team.
Years later, now wrapped in vinyl livery, the car’s performance spec list isn’t very deep at all when compared to many other track cars, and that’s no accident. A carefully selected list of parts was enlisted, and Hope has no problem sharing any info surrounding the car’s setup:
“The current setup was basically copied from what Bernardo Martinez developed for his ITA class CRX in the late ’90s. He worked closely with The Progress Group on custom valved shocks and figured out where to replace bushings with spherical bearings. My spring rates are bumped up to deal with the aero and B16 swap, but other than that, it’s identical, all the way down to the toe settings (1⁄16th out in the front/zero in the rear). I’d guess that close to half the CRXs that road race in America have nearly the same settings. The other half has never fought their way into a corner against one. Really, the only things I ever change at the track are tire pressure and wing settings. Even then, I’m just trying to get the Toyos to come off the track at 34 psi. The entire car becomes an extension of myself, and I never blame the car for poor performance—it’s set. It’s entirely up to me as a driver to go faster, and that means wiping out in it, a lot! This CRX has taught me everything I know about driving, and it’s the only car I trust enough to go 100 percent in. I know exactly what the car is going to do, and it drives the same every time. It never overheats, the brakes never get soft, and I’ve got the perfect pitch, so I don’t even need to look down at the tach.”
While some rely heavily on driving schools, hands-on experience and trial and error have served Hope well as he has progressed over the years. “I did one day at Fast Lane Racing School right before my first race in ’98. Other than that, I haven’t really had any instruction. I have a few friends who mercilessly critique my in-car footage after each race. That helps keep me humble, relatively. I go sort of Bushido Code when it comes to driving. On a racetrack, it’s a constant series of mistakes and corrections. There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect lap.’ All you can do is try to minimize your mistakes with the slightest possible corrections. That’s what driving at the limit is all about. I’m still trying to get better at it.”
After working with Sport Compact Car, Modified magazine, and even serving as the editor of Honda Tuning magazine for a short time, Hope seems to have found his calling, doing contract work with Ford. “I’m often on the road for three to four months at a time. One tour might involve training car salesmen on the basics of turbochargers, direct injection, or variable cam timing, while the next I’m out building autocross courses in mall parking lots. It’s about as exhausting as being the editor of HT, but without the constantly looming deadlines—which was a cross between finals week and that movie Groundhog Day!”