Nerd’s Eye View: The Kern’s Pikes Peak Evo
By Khiem Dinh
Khiem Dinh is an engineer for Honeywell Turbo Technologies at the time of this writing. All statements and opinions expressed by Khiem Dinh are solely those of Khiem Dinh and not reflective of Honeywell Turbo Technologies.
The Kerns are no ordinary team and this is no ordinary Evo. It all started innocently enough with David dodging cones in a parking lot. He then started getting sideways in dirt at rally-x events. The joys of playing in the dirt were too strong to resist and he started to get serious about racing. Perhaps the biggest coup was convincing his wife to go play in the dirt too. Follow along to see what it takes to be successful at Pikes Peak.
Here is the story as David Kern tells it:
“I got my start racing back in 2001 sliding around on a frozen lake near Woodland Park, Colorado. After a couple years of doing auto-x and rally-x events I got the itch to go faster and had decided I liked sliding sideways. In late 2004 I got a roll cage installed in a 1988 Mazda 323GTX and convinced my wife to ride shotgun as my navvie. We raced with the Colorado Hill Climb Association (CHCA), a group that puts on 4-6 all dirt hillclimb events in Colorado every summer. Despite running an underpowered 17 year old car, we had a blast and posted up some decent times. Somewhere about the 3rd or 4th race Allison asked me what it would take to start running with the fast guys and my reply was “Evo.” It would take a few years to find the right candidate, a theft recovery salvage title car.
The Evo was selected because we knew that horsepower is more important when hillclimbing than it is at other types of races…and horsepower on a reasonable budget. For a rally car, the STi would’ve been the no-brainer choice, but since we figured we’d be racing mostly in Colorado for the first couple years, we decided to focus on hillclimbs since there’s a great local series which welcomes rally cars. We’ve been fortunate to have some support from a few great companies over the years, but as most privateer teams know all too well, sometimes you’ve got to make tough choices with your limited resources.
During the initial build phase we’d planned to have an engine built, but held off until the chassis prep and most of the ‘race’ bits were ordered. We ended up over budget and my prized track day toy, a supercharged Miata went up for sale. We ran the Evo the first season with basically a stock motor and standard bolt-ons (intake, exhaust, IC, E85 conversion) and even then, it was quite a potent package, and we managed to grab a few records.
The biggest challenge of hillclimbs is the change in elevation. Boost controllers can do a great job of keeping boost levels safe, but on a long climb (PP is over 4,000 feet) what’s safe at the bottom may not be safe at the top.
We were extremely lucky to run into a talented tuner named Mitch McKee at 4am and 12,000 feet back in 2008. Ever since, he’s been involved with the ECU mapping for our car. For the first few years we ran an AEM, but in 2010 we made the switch to Motec which allowed for more advanced boost control strategies.