Few racing partnerships have endured as long, or been as successful, as RealTime Racing and Acura/Honda. Through three decades, 18 drivers’ championships – 11 of those coming in three wildly different disciplines for RealTime owner Peter Cunningham – and 14 manufacturers’ titles for Honda and Acura, the union has been an impressive one. It’s all led to the Wisconsin-based team being tasked with turning the Acura NSX GT3 racer into a winner in Pirelli World Challenge, just as it has with so many different machines before.
“It all started with a cold call to American Honda in December of 1986,” recalls Cunningham of the team’s humble beginnings. “The first RealTime project was ice racing and we won the championship in ’87, which got me an invitation from Honda to come to Sebring to test for a Firehawk Endurance Championship race. I did enough that they put me in for the weekend. From there, there was no long-term plan; it was just because I didn’t screw up and I was doing a job they liked, they’d invite me to go to the next race and the next one.”
After three International Ice Racing Association championships with Hondas and several road racing titles for other Honda teams, Cunningham turned his attention to SCCA ProRally with an Acura Integra, winning the Production title in 1993.
That same year, RealTime launched its own effort in the series it’s called home ever since, World Challenge. That’s led – so far – to 14 titles spread among three drivers and multiple classes, plus four manufacturers’ titles for Honda and 10 for Acura, and numerous records for Cunningham himself, including 43 career wins. It’s a record many in motorsports would envy.
“I would say over the years, no matter the program or scope, we always tried to do our best,” Cunningham (pictured below) says of the reasons for that success. “The team has been a good partner to Acura over the years, and previous to the [2014-’16] TLX GT era, we were more independent from Honda Performance Development. Starting with the TLX program, it was more of a cooperative effort between RealTime and HPD. Now, with the NSX program, we continue to work hard with HPD to develop the NSX GT3 platform.”
The 2017 NSX program in PWC GT includes driver Ryan Eversley, who joined RealTime for its first full season of campaigning the TLX GT in 2015. In his relatively short time with the team, which includes three race wins – most notably a double win at the team’s home track of Road America, Wis., in ’16 – Eversley has come to realize some of the qualities that have made the team such a powerhouse.
“It stems from Peter’s leadership,” he says. “If you know anything about him, you know he likes things done in a certain way, and it’s generally the best, most effective way. He definitely pushes us to deliver the best results possible. I can’t think of anything we as a team ever shortchange or shortcut. Everything we do is the best with the resources available.”
Eversley also points to the longevity of key team members such as team manager Nathan Bonneau and crew chief Michael Bussalachi as inspiration for others. “They’ve seen the sport and the team evolve, and when you have two mainstays like that who’ve been there from the early days, it not only provides continuity for everything we do, but there’s a respect that comes with it, too.”
Michael Galati was the first driver other than Cunningham to earn a title for RealTime, winning World Challenge Touring Car in 1996, then ’98. After that he became a racing rival, in Touring Car in 1999, then GT in 2001-’02 while Cunningham was in his second go-around with the first-generation NSX. From both perspectives he learned what makes the team great, and how tough it is to beat.
“Peter has been doing it for a long time, and he knows all the little things that make a successful race team,” says Galati. “It’s a very professional approach to everything they do. I was fortunate he asked me to drive for him back in 1996. The deal was last minute, the first race was down at St. Pete, and I’d never even sat in the car. We only had 20 minutes of practice before qualifying, but I qualified second, The car never missed a beat because of the way it was prepared, the details.”
When Galati went on to form his own team, he says he realized the only way he could beat RealTime was to emulate it.
Such a history as RealTime’s is filled with highlights, but there are a few that stand out in Cunningham’s mind.
“When we won both championships in 1997 – T1 and T2 in that era – we had my NSX and Pierre Kleinubing’s Integra on the carpeted banquet floor of the Reno Hilton, and that was certainly a highlight of the first decade of RealTime Racing,” he says. “Also, winning Acura’s 10th manufacturers’ championship, as well as the team’s 14th and my seventh, in 2012 was a highlight. Most recently, I’d say the weekend at Road America in 2016; the one-two finish and the double victory in an unbelievably competitive field of 11 manufacturers.”
That race at Road America was also Cunningham’s last World Challenge event behind the wheel for a while, as he’s stepped back to a management role and to pursue some other motorsports opportunities. But RealTime Racing forges ahead, momentum and motivation as high as ever as it looks to start a new chapter of winning with the NSX GT3.