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Since 1993, many would-be national champions or perennial local competitors seeking autocross enlightenment have pasted through the hallowed halls of the Evolution Performance Driving School. Well, to be clear, the Evo School does not actually have walls. Instead, the various phases of the Evo School are hosted by local clubs all over the country. The curriculum is standardized and the student to instructor ratio is consistent no matter the location. The Evo instructors are often multi-time National champions, and can come from all across the county.
The Evo School is currently owned by Mike “Junior” Johnson, himself a multi-time National Champion. He first heard about the school after he had already won his first championship. Despite having early success without schooling, he took his first course in 2000 with an open mind and discovered concepts he hadn’t previously known and better understanding of the ones he had known. By 2007, he and some partners had acquired the school from the original founders, Jim McKamey and Jean Kinser, and as of 2012 he is the sole owner. While SCCA Solo is the source of most of his students, the growth of Optima Ultimate Street Car and Goodguy’s autocrosses has enabled Junior to expand the reach of the Evo School to a larger audience. Promoting autocross obviously has professional benefits but there is no question he would be an advocate for our sport no matter the situation.
In 2017 I attended both days of a mid-July school in Mineral Wells, Texas. This constituted my fifth and sixth class with Evo over my autocross career. I was taking Phase Two for the third time, but the real reason for the trip was to participate in my first Evo Challenge School, which is essentially Phase Three.
The primary phases have changed very little since the founding of the school. Some more specific classes have come and gone and come back again that dealt with data acquisition, car set-up, etc.; but the courses that most people have been exposed to in the last twenty-four years are largely unchanged. When you take the school, you can be sure your instructor was a former student and likely so was his instructor.
Phase One is the introductory course from the Evo catalogue. The SCCA has introduced their “Starting Line” course but it seems to be geared more towards beginning drivers just getting into the sport. Evo Phase 1 is designed for those brand-new drivers all the way to more seasoned drivers. I have witnessed drivers with zero autocrosses under their belt come away very satisfied with what they learned and have seen 4-year veterans just as fulfilled by Phase One.
The core focus is on the concepts you’ve probably overheard a million times around any autocross event you have ever attended – “Look Ahead”, “Backside the Cone”, “Slow in Fast Out”, etc. The difference being that after Phase One you know what those concepts mean and have most likely executed them successfully at least once. Ultimately, the focused instruction allows everyone to learn and make progress no matter what experience they bring into it.
Phase Two is a head game. The instructors try to simulate how you might mentally approach a real event. In most cases you won’t be able to walk the course multiple times or when you do you’ll be busy socializing. So, you are taught how to visualize a course and further the process of looking ahead. This class teaches you how to read and interpret a course the way most Nationals trophy winners do. Eventually you are driving courses you have only walked in your mind, and your ability to focus on key elements of the course are heightened.
During Phase One and Two, the instructors drive your car to show you the different techniques featured in each phase. They do not drive your car to the limit, instead opting for 8/10thsor so. The Challenge School takes place with less frequency, but the draw is the opportunity to run head to head with the instructor in your car driving 100% on a course featuring national level elements and size. The instructors continue to enforce the concepts you learned (or maybe didn’t learn enough) in Phase One and Two.
Before attending the Phase Two/Challenge weekend in Mineral Wells, my most recent class was Phase One and Two in early April in San Antonio, so a lot of the concepts were fresh in my mind. However, I had taken that class in my street car (a C7 Z06) and was looking forward trying the concepts on my dedicated autocross car (an XP RX7), which tends to kick my ass. For Saturday’s Phase Two Class the instructors were David Whitener and Gerry Terranova. Both have taken the school many times (Gerry has taken a course as a student every year since 1994). Both have multiple National Championships, and both had been instructors in my most recent school in San Antonio, although I had never been in the car with Whitener.
This class was unique because it wasn’t hosted by an autocross club. David and Gerry rented out Mineral Wells themselves for the purpose of the course (David has his own cones and timing system. Seriously, who does that?). It also had about half the attendance of the previous Phase Two courses I had taken. It turns out they liked to keep the class smaller so we could fit in a nice air-conditioned room at the terminal building during our “working” lunch. This was simply brilliant, as we were welcomed to Mineral Wells with the standard heat that comes to Texas in July. Temps topped out at 95F and the noticeable absence of a breeze didn’t help matters.
The class followed the standard Evo Phase Two curriculum, and the course design was consistent with the one I had been on in April in San Antonio. Only two of the students had taken Phase Two before, and we were asked not to reveal the surprises the instructors throw at you during the day, so I won’t here either.
Most of the class is spent on visualization, the practice of mentally driving the course before you even get in the car. I found this very helpful in the past and the refresher was welcome. Another technique they try to beat into you (especially Gerry), is verbalization. The idea is that you talk yourself thought the upcoming elements of the course as you are driving which forces you to look ahead. Many students loved this technique, and I can see the benefit but for some reason I just could not do it. I hope to practice this more in my local events.
We ran phase two completely without timing, which I am sure shocked a few of the new folks in attendance. During my previous Phase Two experiences the timer had been shutoff for portions of the class. I never once missed the timer. When you are working on certain techniques shooting for a better time can cloud what you are trying to achieve. We all can feel when we have blown an element, we don’t need the clock to remind us.
I find one of my favorite portions of the school are the driver’s meetings that occur between the various sessions. Generally, they go through the group and we all discuss what we learned during the portion of the class. Sometimes someone describes a technique or element in a way that causes it to suddenly click in your head, despite having heard the same thing multiple times in a different format.
All in all, we ran over 20 runs that day. After the class wrapped up on Saturday, most of the students went home. Only two of us had signed up for both Phase Two and Challenge. Dave Ogburn, another multi-time National Champion, arrived late afternoon to help with the course for the next day. He would be the third instructor for the Challenge, and had been one of the instructors I had in San Antonio earlier in the year.
Evo Challenge started the next day, and the concept is great. The instructors are driving your car as hard as you do, and as you ride along you can really feel how the car can be driven differently. You probably drive 4 times as many runs as they do but you have a target. Mineral Wells is huge, and the instructors designed a huge course. It took a little under 80 seconds to drive in an XP car, other cars were in the 90s. While it was an extremely fun course, I personally thought it was a little large to be a learning tool. There were a lot of technical elements and it was hard to focus on just one or too. The large course and the fact that we only had a single timing light meant we could not overlap and I think this cost a few runs at the end of the day (although 15+ runs was enough for me). A midday thunderstorm cost us a little time as well, but we moved up our lunch break and left for a “working” lunch at McDonald’s.
It was difficult to keep track of our times as well because Whitener’s timing system did not have a large display, so you would have to get out of the car to look at it or have someone yell it to you. This didn’t really damage the experience much but I tended to just skip trying to get my time. So, I don’t know exactly how bad Ogburn thrashed me in my own car, and maybe it is better that way. Ultimately, I am just happy that Whitener and Terranova decided to host the event, so any issues were trivial.
The instructors did attempt some helpful tweaks to the typical way things were run. Because of the course size and the stifling heat, we used a sweep car instead of course workers. When it was your time to work, you would follow the car that was running at a safe distance and pick up any cones that were hit. This worked extremely well and likely saved a few of us from heat exhaustion.
They also tried using SoloStorm in the cars as they instructed. This was an effort to counteract the small timing display and to get valuable data to compare the drivers. The idea was great but I think it became troublesome to move the equipment from car to car. In the future, it would probably be best to have anyone who has SoloStorm run their own systems and have a few spares for those who don’t have a set up. I could see a SoloStorm specific Evo course as being very beneficial or just as an augmentation to the Challenge school.
So, would I take another class offered by the Evo School?
Having now done six classes, it seems obvious that I believe in the process. I believe the value is extraordinary. The price of the course varies based on location (the main factor being the different site costs). Phase One & Two in San Antonio were $265 per day while Mineral Wells was only $210. That’s $400-$500 for a weekend, which is a big chunk to bite off for most of us. However, you are receiving personalized instruction from trained instructors and National Champions. Evolution has tried to keep the cost down over the years even as the expense for travel and hotels for the instructors has risen significantly. Junior tries to use some local instructors while mixing in some that you’re not going to see at every local event you attend.
The 20+ runs per day with a designed curriculum are vastly more valuable than getting that fast local driver to ride with you once at a regional event. Even in a full-fledged racing school, costing thousands of dollars, the concepts will not be explicitly tailored for autocross, as they are in the Evo School. An autocross specific school can allow you to drive the 10/10ths required of this sport, and get that seat-of-your-pants feeling you can’t experience in a road racing school. Simply put, the value of the Evo School can not be duplicated by anything else available to us as autocrossers.
Autoxpix — Purchase on Site
The pinnacle of autocross in the United States, and potentially the world, is the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championship. Who better to preview the action for this year’s championship then some of the competitors themselves. NAXN’s legion of volunteer contributors have delved deep into each class and the result is one of the most comprehensive previews of an autocross event ever complied.
Read all about your class, then take the time to read about other classes. Thank you again for everyone’s support, and let’s have a safe, fun, and competitive Nationals.
Super Street is pinnacle for the street category. The cars are usually the newest generation of sport cars; and except for some overly potent cars that get classed directly to SSP, they are the potentially the best autocross cars available from a dealer’s showroom (provided you have the cash). This year the class features SS stalwarts such as the Porsche GT3, the Corvette Z06s, and the Nissan GTR. New to the class will be the new Acura NSX, which has shown to be quite a capable autocross car, and the C7 Grand Sport Corvette, featuring all the grip of the C7 Z06 along with a more manageable naturally aspirated powerplant.
Scott Fraser returns to defend his title for 2017, driving a 991 GT3. He would appear to be the favorite since last year’s 2nd place finisher, Ken Motonishi, has moved on to STR. However, the drivers behind him haven’t sat idly by since last year. Perry Aidelbaum (3rd in 2016) and Keith Brown (5th in 2016) have had a full year with their beautiful Cayman GT4s, and have not doubt improved its performance. Bryan Carbon (7th in 2016) is giving up last year’s Lotus Elise for a C7 Z06. If he and his Bridgestones can get the 650hp and 650 ft/lbs of torque down to the course, he could move up a few spots this year. Also, be looking for the HART (Honda of America Racing Team) drivers to challenge for trophies in the beautiful and swift Acura NSX.
In SSL, the obvious choice to finish on top is Kristi Brown, who captured her 5th Championship last year with a 10 second win over the next competitor. Be sure to check out SS action this year, who knows you might win the lotto and want to buy an SS car.
Take Super Stock in 2013, lock it in a time capsule, and you will have the modern day SSR. No street tire intervention was going to keep these drivers off Hoosiers, a.k.a. “Purple Crack”; and even though most of the cars would now be classed in A Street, the SSR moniker has stuck. The class has traditionally been dominated by C5 and C6 Corvette Z06s, although a few Porsche GT3s are filing into the ranks.
Last year’s champion, Brian Peters, has moved on to CP, but there is no void in talent in the SSR field. Grant Reeve (2nd in 2016 and Champ in 2015) and his C5 Z06 will face stiff competition as he attempts to regain his title. Three out of Matthew Braun’s (3rd in 2016) five national championships came in the previous iteration of SSR, Super Stock. He is certainly qualified to top the class in his C5 Z06. Evan Schickel was too busy to write this preview, so hopefully he was busy prepping for his transition from B Street (3rd in 2016) to SSR. He will likely be a contender for a solid trophy spot.
2017 may be the year of Sam Strano. The last of his 7 national championships came in 2010 but he has been winning national events consistently this season. Last year in Lincoln he was dirty on all 6 of his runs, but it seems a little more brewing in the SSR time capsule has gotten him back in championship form.
After competing last year in the SS open class and finishing 13th, Jocelin Huang brings her GT3 and two national championships to SSR. She won’t have it easy because Stephanie Reeve, who won SML over a 10-person field in 2016, will be driving last year’s SSR open class 2nd place car. Will Strano end his slump? Which of the women will top the class? We only have to wait until Tues/Wed to find out.
A Street, the land of Corvettes, gold chains, and five former national champions fighting for the top spot. With 58 drivers there will be 16 trophy spots, of the 58 competitors there are 27 drivers that have shown the ability to go home with a trophy.
Mark Daddio is always a very strong competitor. With 12 national championships and 25 trophies, he has certainly shown us the ability to finish strongly at the national championships by putting two fast and clean days together. Also, always a very strong competitor is Michael “Junior” Johnson having four national championships himself he is definitely one to watch out for in the class. Jason Frank (3 championships) and David Corsaro (1 championship) both showing their ability to get it done at the national championships are both new to the class and likely to turn some heads.
Showing promise in the past has been John Laughlin who has trophied at 4 of the National Championships and has been showing a lot of results this year in the Pro Solo Series. Laurence Casey has demonstrated the ability to trophy twice at nationals and has had many successes in Pro Solo. It’s expected to see him up on the podium this year.
Never forgotten is Glenn Hernandez, he is always expected to take home hardware. He is carrying the second most career trophies in the class coming in with 18 trophies from Solo Nationals where he is always expected to have a strong finish.
Fast and expected to finish in the trophies would be Jason Ruggles coming in new to the class. Not counted out to finish well up in the standings are Chris Harvey, Marcus Merideth, Ryan Davies, Jacob Hunt, Stephen Hui and Matt Jones.
We’ll have to wait and find out as this battle unfolds starting Thursday fourth heat on the West course. Who is your money on?
ASL has 6 drivers and only two trophies. We expect to see a good battle between Kandy Johnson and Lana Tsurikova. Both of these ladies are fast and both have a national championship under their belt. We expect to see them fighting for the top spot.
Strong ladies not to be counted out though are Carla Russo and Melanie Pora. These two ladies have both demonstrated the ability to have strong finishes at the national championships — Melanie has four trophies herself and Carla Russo has one.
It should be a really interesting battle watching these four ladies battle for the two trophy spots available. Starting Thursday on the West course first heat.
By Hilary Frank
B-Street remains around the 50 competitor mark in Open class, but the Ladies class is much lighter this year – the combined numbers have dropped from 60 to 57 compared to 2016.
This year, there are only 6 (of 15) returning trophy winners – Dan Bullis, Brian Johns, Jerry Centanni, Justin Barbry, and Joey Green. The class winner Joseph Barbato is not competing this year, and Dan was a close second in 2016. Vivek Goel was the first non-Corvette trophy car in his S2000, but he has moved on to STR.
Expect BSL to be a good fight between Tara Johns and Kathy Grunenwald again, with no weather issues like the infamous Friday 5th heat. The Corvette popularity continues in grid this year with 24 C5s, but the field is more diverse.
There are 12 S2000s, 6 Focus RS, 4 BMWs, 4 Audi TTs, 3 Caymans, a few boost buggies, and a Solstice. The 1Ms of Matt Murray and Jeremy Foley (co-driving Kerry Emmert’s BMW) rounded out the last two trophy spots in 2016; and Foley is back to finish strong in 2017. Will the Corvettes dominate again, or will the Caymans and other newcomers steal the spotlight?
By Mat Peck
What C-Street lacks in car diversity for the 2017 Solo Nationals, it makes up for in driving talent and close competition. After the CS/DS re-shuffle last season, C-Street is basically Spec ND. While the setup choices vary wildly from car-to-car, the basic platform for almost every contender is the same. I would bet money on ND MX-5s filling every position in the Top 10, maybe even all 16 trophy spots.
For the 2017 showdown, C-Street features 53 drivers with 42 of them driving ND MX-5s. We have the top seven from 2016 returning with the only changes being Saini co-driving a different MX-5 and Ogburn making the jump from his FR-S to an ND MX-5. Daniel McCelvey continues his methodical approach to developing a car and kicking butt between the cones. Expect him to be at the front dicing it up with SportsCar pick, 2016 Mazda Autocross Scholarship winner, and college-student (we are all jealous….): Julian Garfield. Jason Saini will be co-driving with autocross legend and 5-time Champ Andy Hollis which gives their car a total of 7 jackets. You absolutely cannot sleep on setup-guru Hollis and former MX-5 Cup Champion and World Challenge driver Jason Saini. Even though Saini has been out of autocross for a while, he impressed last year in CS with super-quick times in the wet and a 5th place finish. 2015 C-Street Champion Dave Ogburn III will also join the C-Street fray again in 2017 but this time will be driving an ND MX-5 courtesy of Deana and Travis Kelley. Objectively, Ogburn is the man, and the dude who wrote this article is in no way biased at all. Brian Coulson, your 2014 ASR Champ, has been dominating on the left coast, taking three National event wins this year.
When previewing a class, it’s easy to just make a rundown of former jacket winners competing, but C-Street is far deeper than that. Several drivers, including Mark Shrivastava, Chris Harp, David Alessandrini, Rick Cone, and Kenny Baker have taken National event wins and/or regularly mixed it up with the Garfields and McCelvey throughout the 2017 season. I’ve been told Shrivastava has continued his trend of last-minute Solo Nats car builds after an unfortunate accident put his ND MX-5 out of commission. He has three National event wins this year in Devens, Toledo, and Oscoda and will be a contender in Lincoln. Chris Harp took wins at the Blytheville ProSolo and the Bristol Match Tour proving he can take it to Mr. McCelvey. Also, we can’t underestimate Tyler Kvetko. He finished 3rd in 2016, only a few tenths out of a win. He has proven that the pressure of Solo Nats doesn’t drop his performance level. Brian Garfield is very capable of being the quickest Garfield on race day and will certainly be towards the front in 2017.
Will this year feature a break-out, first time champ taking down the former jacket winners? Or will one of the perennial favorites add to their closet collection? Tune in on Thursday/Friday in Heat 4 to find out. It will be a shootout, no doubt.
CSL features 6 drivers all competing in Mazda equipment – we have 5 ND MX-5s and one of the NC variety. The odds-on favorite is 2016 Champ, former kart racer, and frequent bike crasher, Deana Kelley. However, Anne Robinson may have something to say about that. The 4-time DPL Champion has seven trips to Solo Nationals with her worst finish in Lincoln being a 3rd place in 2012. Former F125L Champion Lisa Garfield will also be looking to upset Kelley in the Garfield-family ND. Laurie McCelvey has a great mentor in husband Dan (yeah, that guy who won last year….) and has been steadily making progress in their ND MX-5. Along with Linda Duncan, and Lori Gill, she will be fighting for the podium in Lincoln on Thursday/Friday during Heat 1.
By Dave Ogburn
The reconstituted for 2017 D-Street class runs first heat Thurs/Fri, and with a new mix of cars no one can be sure what will be the best weapon of choice. In a class with at least four different cars capable of collecting a trophy, weather and course designs will factor into the winning combination.
Last year’s winner, Dennis Sparks, is back to defend his title in the WRX he shares with Jordan Towns. Both have been fast this year at various times with Jordan ‘skirting’ Dennis most recently. Also returning are last year’s trophy winners, Chris Dvorak and Michael Parker. Other WRX drivers who have been doing well this year are Tim Heaton, Alex Artayet and Chris Kavka. If the weather is wet the AWD WRXs will have a distinct advantage.
If the courses are wide open Marks Scroggs in his Camaro 2.0T could be the runaway winner as Mark has dominated the West Coast events. Des Toups is co-driving the Camaro at Nationals and could be a dark horse.
Then we come to the BRZ/FR-S twins. Any one of Brian Priebe, Richard “Max” Hayter, Sean Grogan, Steven Berrodin, Eric Jones, Ricardo Quinonez or Chris Levitz could grab the top spot but it will depend on them avoiding the dreaded “torque dip”.
Rounding out the field are some BMWs, an Audi TT and a Mini Cooper S. Will one of them surprise everyone and take the win?
For D Street Ladies, the fight will be between last year’s champion
Julie Heaton in the family WRX against a host of BRZ/FR-S Twins lead by Jody Bedell and Alex Webster. The winner is likely to be the driver who makes the fewest mistakes and stays off the cones.
By Eric Jones
The final showdown in E-Street is likely to be a tight battle with many lead changes. These drivers will be piloting Miatas and MR2s, with one of the Miatas being a bit of a dark horse — the Mazdaspeed. Course dependencies of 0.1 seconds could help to decide the winner in this class. In the end, there can be only one. Expect this spectacle to come down to the last run of day two— not only who can run the fastest times, but who can manage to stay off the cones.
In addition to the deep and large field (second largest class as of this writing) the backstory could be tires. There has been a great deal of discussion as to which tire will be the fastest at Lincoln, with no clear consensus. Several top drivers switched from the Bridgestone, last year’s clear favorite, to the BFG only due to Bridgestone not paying Pro Solo contingency, leading to even more confusion. Is the BFG the top tire now, or did most of the top drivers switch for this reason alone, skewing the results?
Based upon National event results, picks for the top 3 go to Eric Peterson in 3rd, John Roberts in 2nd, and Paul Brown taking the nod to win. However, there’s a long list of drivers that could, on a good weekend, spoil the party and pull off and upset win. Those include Preston Jordan, Chuck Mathews, Tony Rodriguez, Adam Norton, and Michael Ron.
E-Street ladies will be won by an MR2, as none of the top drivers are piloting a Miata. Chris Peterson and Jennifer Bedell will be co-driving the same car as Peterson’s husband Eric is driving in the open class. Meredith Brown will also be in the same car as her husband, Paul. Both cars are very fast and these ladies are sure to put on a show. We haven’t seen all three of these ladies together at one event this year, making predictions difficult. While Peterson and Bedell will likely be close, Meredith has been the fastest ES driver all year, so the nod goes to her for the win.
A battle of muscle cars and BMWs is what you’ll see when you watch FS. A good mix of Camaros, Mustangs and M3s. FS has 46 entries and 13 trophies, of those 46 drivers 18 of those drivers have demonstrated the ability to trophy at the National Championships.
Locally Jeff Cashmore has been on fire and he’s spilled that fire over to Pro Solos and tours. Having 10 National Championships and 17 trophies in total thats a lot of hardware from the Solo National Championships. He handily is the favorite to win this year. But you can’t count out Mike Leeder who has been chipping away at that delta and won his first National Tour this year may be giving Jeff a run for his money.
Courtney Cormier being a national champion himself and the holder of another 8 awards from nationals is definitely one to watch for. He’s fast and will be certainly up in the trophies this year. Always fast and never counted out is Kevin Youngers. Having 16 pieces of hardware on his shelf its almost guaranteed that he will be pushing to make that 17.
As always FS will be a great show. Make sure you’re there on Tuesday, East course, second heat. This battle will be tight, this battle will be heated and it will be entertaining.
By Hilary Frank
East Coast vs. West Coast. Focus ST vs. GTI. These are the battles that will be taking place in G Street during 5th heat on Thursday and Friday.
With last year’s champion Andrew Pallotta moving on to another class, and the multi time national champion Mark Scroggs out of the class, the door is open for a new champion in 2017. The class returns four of last year’s seven trophy winners, including runner-up Josh McDonough and day one leader Kenneth Tsang. The class also gets some new blood in multi-time national champion Doug Rowse, David Howdyshell, and Phil Osborne.
The class has seen the Focus ST taking home the championship for the last three years since the move to street tires. Last year the GTI had the lead on day one. Could 2017 be the year the GTI brings home the championship? Trying to make that happen will be Kenneth Tsang leading the pack of GTI’s, followed closely by car owner Jen Wong, past national champion Jack Burns, and sleeper out of the group, John Azevedo. Leading the pack of Focus ST’s will be Doug Rowse, Josh McDonough, Neil Britton, William Keese, David Howdyshell, and Phil Osborne. The interesting part is that the top drivers from the west coast including Doug Rowse, David Howdyshell, and Phil Osborne have not gone up against the top drivers from the east coast including Kenneth Tsang, Neil Britton, and Josh McDonough at any point during the season. Based on performance at national events this year, it will likely come down to a battle between Doug Rowse, Kenneth Tsang, Neil Britton, and Josh McDonough.
In G Street Ladies, there are three drivers with two of the three returning from last year’s national championship. This will also be a battle between East Coast and West Coast as Barbara Seeger and Lin Cox will battle with Melanie Dorsey. All three drivers will be in the Focus ST. If last year’s national championships are any indication, Barbara Seeger will be looking to take the two second finish over Melanie Dorsey and take the class win in 2017.
By Joe Blaha
By Tim Sholar
For HS this year there have been a lot of top level competitors dip into the class to shake things up. Mike King is still the front runner for the championship but there are a lot of strong drivers to show him it won’t be easy. Scott McHugh, Todd Freeman, Greg Reno, and Brandon Hagaman should look to round out the top 5, but who knows in what order or if the next 10 drivers will bump them out. The next ten trophy spots will be hard fought battles. With plenty of trophy winners at national events this year in HS. Some of the drivers that could shake things up are Steve Brolliar, Russell Blume, Ted Descovich, Alex Piehl, Chang Ho Kim, Roy Handoko, and Tim Sholar. There have been other drivers with top times this year to give the podium spots a scare but they have disappeared from the HS class for the championships. This class may have the slowest cars but it definitely won’t have the slowest drivers. HS looks to be one big Fiesta!!!
Much like star trek STF was sent on an apparent 5 year mission which is coming to a close in 2017. Starting in 2012 it was created as a class for the redheaded stepchildren of the scca FWD world. A place where people could take a slow HS car and modify it to not destroy tires, be more fun on the street, faster than a lot of street class cars, carry all the equipment and tires to events and drive home all while getting over 25mpg.
So in this final year of the class look for a 5 way fight between Daniel Gross (Mazda3 hatch), Crissy Weaver (RSX), Raymond Wise (Mazda3), David Hedderick (RSX) and Adam Deffenbaugh (Mazda3). David is the current favorite to win and is so far undefeated in national competition this year. However, Raymond and Adam have been quite quick and really put the pressure on David at spring nationals this year (both were faster on the practice course we found out). And Daniel and Crissy have both shown bouts of speed in the class and in years past as well. So while the Acura is the favorite to win, don’t count the mighty Mazdas out of it. And don’t forget the wildcard Joe Austin. Depending on what car setup and tire choice he goes with, he could be a threat as well. We will see what the final standings are after the dust settles.
If you’ve ever seen a cluster of $#!t boxes that are ranging from the late 80’s to the early 90s that have shocks that cost more than their car. Then you’ve probably seen STS or an equivalent. It’s hard to say whether a Miata, CRX or a Civic will win but one thing is for certain is that it will be a good show and I think a lot of people will be surprised by the newcomer second generation MR2 piloted by Andy Canak with 4 national championships and a national win we cannot count out his potential. Car owner Chris Bailey is always quick, having 3 trophies from the national championships he has shown us that he can throw down some really great times.
Often overlooked but never forgotten by his competitors is Shane Jensen. Having finished at the national championships on the podium twice and trophying three times he certainly has demonstrated the ability to get it done. Ron Williams having five national championships, and 18 trophies he is likely to finish really strong in the class this year. David Whitener having four national championships and seven trophies from the national championships he has shown a strong ability to build a new car and then finish on top. Definitely someone to watch for.
Sean Greer and Mark McKnight have shown some real promise this year with their strong finishes at Pro Solos and Ian Baker has returned with some vengeance and has often shown the ability to finish strongly with 9 trophies and five of which were podium finishes.
There are several really fast competitors that haven’t been mentioned yet in this article, this doesn’t mean they have been counted out. Kinch Reindl, Kyle Klein, Adam Barber, Jimmy Crawford and Gerry Terronova are all strong competitors that have shown the ability to either trophy or win in either this class or other classes. One thing is certain, it will be a great show to watch STS run first heat on Tuesday starting on the West Course
STSL is always a very competitive ladies class usually having a decent amount of entries. This year is a little light on entries having only 6 but it’s expected that Kim Whitener will be able to finish on top. With three national championships and six national trophies she has demonstrated the ability to put two good fast days together. Angela Carlascio will be making her return to the class in Steven Yeoh’s car that she is sharing with Neelu. This will be Neelu’s first time competing at solo nationals in the CRX. She may surprise some people.
Katie (Renteria) Crawford completing only just one Nationals she now has the first time nerves out of the way and will be piloting her new car this year. It could be an interesting battle between her and Angela. Kate McGregor driving the Whitener Miata and and Lexie Murray driving her own Miata can’t be counted out. They’ve never competed in the national championships and could end up being wild cards.
By Hilary Frank
Some say it’s a battle of the twins, others say it’s a place for BMWs. Some wonder why more people haven’t built a Mini Cooper. Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re talking about STX. A total of 58 drivers, 15 trophies and 21 drivers who have gone home with an award from Solo Nationals. A total of 5 previous national champions in the class. That means it’s likely going to be a hard-fought battle.
Craig Wilcox your reigning STX national champion showed he could win handily last year. Chances are, he’s looking to back it up again this year. Although, watch out Jeff Wong has built a car for the class and we doubt he’s looking to go home without finishing on the podium. Mack Tsang always a strong competitor will also be looking to fight for a podium spot with these drivers.
This year Kyle Herbst has his hands on a new car looking to move up on the results. He’s always shown the ability to be a strong competitor we expect to see him in the trophies this year. Annie Gill always shows up with fire and will likely skirt several of these boys in STX. This class is always exciting with so many notable entrants it is hard to name them all. Guy Ankeny has the most trophies in the class from Solo Nationals a total of 19 trophies and 3 of them were national championships so we cannot forget to mention him. Not counted out or forgotten is Johnathan Lugod. This six-time trophy finisher isn’t planning to go home empty handed.
STX will be running 5th heat starting Thursday on the East course. Should be an exciting show!
STXL usually is another one of those classes that are full of ladies and is low on entries this year. Only five entries this year, two trophies. Two National Champions and three trophy finishers means this could be an interesting battle. Nicole Wong has been strong all year and has been showing her ability to get it done in a new car. We think she is likely to go home with her seventh national championship. Mindi Cross isn’t a slouch though and will likely want to make this the year of her third national championship. Jen Fox though, having trophied before, won’t be looking to go home empty handed this year.
STXL leaves the line on Thursday, second heat on the East course. None of these ladies will go home empty handed easily.
By Hilary Frank
STU numbers are down a bit from last year, but still managing 28 drivers representing five different manufacturers. According to the preliminary forecast, it appears as though weather will not be a factor this year ensuring a level playing field for that top spot.
Obviously, stats cannot be ignored and Bryan Heitkotter (350Z) is impressive, but I see several drivers who are very capable of snagging the top spot. Most notably, John Hale wheeling Josh Luster’s former STi, Andrew Ramos (FRC), Ryan Finch (FRC) and Wojtek Hajduczek (350Z). All have had top showings in national events this season.
With last year’s winner jumping ship, the door is wide open for Teddie Alexandrova (350Z) to step up and claim a victory. Lauren DiRuzzo, who may be new to the class, but been very quick in her STi and will give Teddie a run for the title.
STR has reclaimed its usual position as the largest class at nationals, currently sitting at almost 80 drivers in the open class, and 17 in ladies. The entry list is a veritable who’s who of perennial trophy winners, podium finishers, and national champions.
In the early years of STR, the NC Miata and Honda S2000 enjoyed a healthy rivalry. But as car setups evolved, outside of one visit by an alien in a 350Z, the S2000 stamped its authority in the class. Now, with the inclusion of the ND Miata in STR, as car setups are being honed, we once again have a genuine good old fashioned 2-manufacturer brawl.
It is going to be impossible to name every single contender without this preview turning into a 1000 word behemoth. In the S2000 camp we have the defending champion James Yom, along with Jed Peterson, Kevin Dietz, Kerry Coughlin, Nicholas Chu, Matt Ales, Vivek Goel, and Ricky Crow. In the other corner, Brian Karwan, Mark Dudek, Ken Motonishi, Ian Stewart, Tom Reynolds, Ron Bauer, and David Marcus lead a pack of drivers out to show that the ND is the new king of the class. Somewhere in the middle of this war, Shane Chinonn-Rhoden is out to show the the NC Miata has not been rendered obsolete just yet.
The ladies class is filled with various speedy competitors as well, but we expect it to be another S2000 vs ND battle between Kate Fisher piloting the former, and Laura Campbell in the latter.
By Vivek Goel
Street Touring Pony is a new class, created last year to give drivers of modified ponycars on 200 treadwear street tires a place to compete other than the wide open, no holds barred brawl that is Classic American Muscle. This year’s field features 17 drivers, which more than doubles the size of the inaugural field, and most of the class is new blood, as only Eric Yee and Jay Cryderman, last year’s third and fourth place finishers, decided to return.
Robert Gosda, a previous trophy winner in F Street and someone whom I’ve had close battles with in the past, has traded his Shelby GT for a Coyote Mustang and should be near the top of the standings, as should Scott Steider, who won a very competitive Texas tour with his 2017 Mustang. Scott Mullens, a trophy winner in D Street last year, will also be looking to put another piece on the mantle in his 2012 Boss 302. But everyone’s eyes will be on Ryan Otis, as the reigning F Street champion has decided to modify his sixth generation Camaro into the first of its kind to compete in STP nationally. When the dust settles, look for him to be first at Lincoln as well.
By Eric Yee
With Corvettes seemingly uncompetitive in SSM, Super Street Prepared becomes the top class for the prepped versions of GMs iconic brand. Joe Tharpe leads the Corvette pack with his C5 Z06. He is the defending champ and has four SSP titles in all. Andy Hohl (2nd in 2016) returns as his co-driver and could put some pressure on Tharpe. In the last 5 years, only Ryan Johnson (3rd in 2016) has come between Tharpe and first place. Johnson returns this year in his Lotus Elise to keep the pressure on Tharpe and Hohl.
Also, looking to trophy are Alek Tziortzis (4th in 2016) piloting a C5 Z06 and Eric Stemler (6th in 2016) in a C6 Z06. Steve Lau (5th in 2016) and Stan Whitney (7th in 2016) bring a little European muscle to the trophy fight in a Porsche GT3 and 911 Turbo respectively. It’s hard to imagine Tharpe not repeating again this year, but Johnson looks to have the best chance to upset him of anyone.
By Mike Brausen
BSP has a pretty good mix of different manufactures, but one thing they all have in common is the layout, front engine rear wheel drive. Some of the cars include Honda S2000, Mazdaspeed Miata, Chevrolet Corvettes, BMW M3, Nissan 350z and 240z. With a class this diverse it will be interesting to see where horsepower, size and tire width will play as a factor in time.
Leading off Bsp will be Kirk Boston of Severn, Maryland. Kirk will be drive the oldest car in the class a 1973 Datsun 240z. Arguably the best-looking car in the class Kirk will be flying solo in the number 13 Datsun.
Brittany “Nikki” Edwards will be drive the number 20 Nissan 350z, codriving with Mike Bright who will be number 120. Nikki has been driving with Mike since the end of last year placing very well in local competition and in the tours, they have attended this year. Look for her to be shaking up the trophies. Mike is the original owner of the blue 2003 Gran Turismo themed 350z. He has won national events in this car this year and will be a threat Labor Day week.
Next, we have Jim Kritzler in the 1990 Chevrolet Corvette codriving with Casey Weiss. Both coming out of Texas, they will be the only domestic in the class and will be relying on the V8 power. Jim was just outside the trophies last year and will be looking to jump into the mix this year.
The first Mazda of a few we have Frank Likert codriving with Chris Edens, both coming out of Arkansas driving the 26 and 126 Mazdaspeed. Chis has been second in BSP to three different drivers, will this be his year? Frank was just one second out of the trophies last year and with some late season upgrades on the car is looking to bust into the trophies this year.
Now we have the big story of BSP with Steve Seguis wrangling in the infamous Tom O’Gorman. They will be driving the 29 and 129 Honda S2000. The car has been very competitive in the past with Steve winning national events, now equipped with the secret weapon of Tom O, who will be one of the favored drivers to win.
Next we have Heath and Timothy “Buckie” Maxey, brothers coming out of Lynchburg, VA. They will be driving the number 52and 152 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata. Heath drove with Mike bright just outside the trophies last year and will be looking to leap into the trophy position this year. Tim being the owner of the car purchased the complete stock Mazdaspeed from Frank Likert. Several months later the car is far from stock and has taken trophy positions at several national events. Often competing with Nikki Edwards and Mike Bright locally has been very beneficial to all involved, with the drivers often swaping positions.
We have our second S2000 owned by Sacha Tauber and being codriven by Greg Hahn. Sacha had cone troubles last year but would have been just outside the trophies. He will be looking to break into the trophies this year. Greg placing third last year and winning several national events this year will be one of the top contenders in the class. Greg will be very easy to spot often wearing the coolest helmets in grid, stop by and talk to him as he is a deal of these comic book themed helmets.
Lee Piccione out of Severn Maryland with be piloting the number 92 1995 BMW M3. Being the only European car in the class he is looking to harness the power of the straight 6. Being a single driver he will have more time to focus on the course in-between runs. Last year he was the first person outside the trophies, fast forward to this year he is looking to take home a trophy spot.
Finally, we have Noah Feldstein codriving with Anthony Porta in the number 99 and 199 2005 Mazdaspeed. Noah is no stranger to Mazdaspeeds often driving his in E street, we will see how he handles the power increase of a BSP car. Now onto last year’s Solo National Champion, Anthony Porta. He is the Sccaforum top pick to win the class of BSP with good reason. He has won several national events this year and will be defending his title this year.
By Buckie Maxey
C-Street Prepared is the land of lightweight cars and massive grip. A semi-spec class of NA and NB chassis Miatas sporting VVT 1.8L motors and large 275mm tires, the builds are often similar, but the drivers are not.
The class has thinned a bit from what it was in the previous years. Some have moved on to new cars, others are unable to make the trip this year. Returning after a second place finish last year is Neal Tovsen striving for his first Nationals Jacket. Neal has been a stand out on the National event circuit this year with ProSolo wins in Blytheville, Lincoln and Mineral Wells, as well as Tour win in Lincoln.
Looking to extend his win streak will be returning National Champion Billy Davis. Due to work commitments, Davis hasn’t seen as many National events as he has in the past, but he has been a regular fly-in to New England Region events. Showing his strength there with a string of top index finishes among many champions, he is anything but rusty in his driving. After having mechanical issues last year running on just 3 cylinders Day 1, Davis came back to take a sizeable win Day 2. Look for Davis to possibly show his true speed and put down times that will challenge for top index of the event. This is a show that you really won’t want to miss.
By Mike Brausen
One class that doesn’t seem to have changed much is DSP. Ever since a few people figured out their potential, this class has been dominated by BMWs. So dominated that a BMW has not been victorious all of two times since 2003. However it seems there might be one more make to add to this class lineup.
Your typical front-running BMWs are John Vitamvas and Eric Campbell. Eric finally broke out if bridesmaid position to win next year, and he is naturally a top pick. 2015 saw nothing put BMWs in the field. 2016 added a Mini, Audi, and Mazda to the mix. 2017 is going to be half BMW and half Mazda RX-8, with a Honda thrown in. The past two years, Mike Kuhn has shown an incredible day one by leading. However, day two seems to elude him. So far this year, that does not appear to be the case. Tamara Hunt could be an interesting wild card to watch. Kevin Henry has taken the final trophy spot the past two years. This year he is now in the PF Tuning car of Peter Florence.
By AJ Snyder
Just as FS and CP are the grounds for American muscle in their respective categories, ESP is mostly run rampant with them. Occasionally you have an import thrown into the mix with interesting results. This year will not disappoint in that mix up of manufactures and driver line up coming to the class.
A few drivers and cars that have been a staple in the class have moved on. Last year’s champion, James Darden, returns from a solid performance. Surely many have that afternoon monsoon in mind, but James was the driver to beat. I want to keep watch of the Infiniti of PJ Corrales. Knowing what the G-Fab crew could do in SM has me awaiting the results. The Shelby GT500 of Jeff Cox has been well sorted this season. The car has shown to be as reliable as it is quick, including six drivers running the four day National at Bristol Motor Speedway. The real threat is guest driver Andrew Pallotta, even though his four National Championships have come on street tires. Welcome to Hoosiers!
A few cars will be pulling double duty in ESP Ladies. I will go out on a shaky limb to see 2016 Driver of the Year, Cindy Duncan, at the pointy end of the field. Hopefully the fish bowl kill count has been removed this year.
By AJ Snyder
The lowest of the street prepared categories, FSP, is seen as the Land of Misfit Toys. These machines were born from someone’s brilliant idea of chopping up economy, low power vehicles, and seeing how much they could feed the gerbils under the hood.
The class has seen some good cars and talented drivers come and go through the decades. However, a couple still remain. One of which is the 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit owned by Geoff Zimmer, a car that has now won twice in a row in the hands of Steven Duckworth. People are raising the question of a three-peat, which has never been done before in the class. Kevin Wenzel, the most winningest of FSP, and Allen Kugler were both only able to string two together. Another car to keep close eye on is the 1985 CRX driven by Matt McCabe and Dan Costello. In 2016, Costello made for a very tight battle on top of the sheets by two tenths of a second. At Spring Nationals, McCabe brought Duckworth’s first class loss in national competition. Some very good battles have come about through the years. Even this year has seen some very tight competition between co-drivers and others. The final results could be a toss-up.
The true testament of reliability to these cars will come as they double duty in FSP Ladies. Two cars, the top two in class, are tackling this feat. Andrea Albin, a lady with a true love of everything VW, would love nothing more than to pilot her “spirit car” to an FSPL victory, so she will be one to watch.
By AJ Snyder
This year we get to enjoy 26 drivers of fire breathing, all wheel drive machines and a Panda. This class is not for the weak stomached. Open your checkbooks and drain the college funds, or just sell your house and live in your tow rig. Tremendous amounts of money and labor hours go into these machines, and they never disappoint the eyes and ears. They do occasionally disappoint the owners with the extensive maintenance programs required. This class is also home to blenders to make fine after hours adult beverages.
The car with the bullseye has been Panda, a Nissan 240SX that is the only non AWD in the field. David White has won two of three years with Todd Kean, and those three of the last four years. Last year’s winner, Christopher Mayfield, is not returning to defend. In fact, only three of eight trophy winners from last 2016 are returning. The third is Eric Hyman. Godzilla went into a full over haul and through sorting bolts has not been reassembled. He will be co driving another GTR of Erik Strelniks. The two of them have been having great battles against each other in their respective machines. McCance will try again with the Subaru this year along with Aaron Shoe returning in his Evo. Tim White will be competing in his own Whitebaru this year. We have seen the Cherry Blossom shenanigans posted on other national solo media and can only imagine what pranks will come to Lincoln.
Oh you know it. Let’s put some Ladies in these insane monsters and watch the white knuckles hold on. With Laurie Hyman and Stephanie Reeves out this year, we will have a first time champion in the class no matter the results.
By AJ Snyder
SSM has had smaller attendance at Nationals the last couple years, with 17 competitors in both 2016 and 2017. Perhaps, this is due do to the incredible amount of time and expense it takes to keep one of these “street” cars running at the limit. Although the class is smaller it is stacked with national champions.
2016 Champion Robert Thorne is not returning this year, but two former SSM champs are back in the class. Jake Namer (the 2015 SSM Champion) has returned in his FD RX7, after trying his hand in SM last year. While no one can be considered a favorite in Thorne’s absence, Namer is one of a handful of drivers capable of taking home first place, when he is not shamelessly plugging his sponsor (www.hgunyc.com).
Also returning to the SSM fold is Carter Thompson (2012 & 2013 SSM National Champion). His FD RX7 is in too many pieces to compete but Thompson has accepted a generous co-drive opportunity from Matthew Glagola. Driving his Lotus Elise, Glagola took home the championship in 2014 and finished a close 2nd to Thorne in 2016. He may have let the fox into the hen house by bringing on Thompson to co-drive, but obviously has what it takes to come out on top.
If autocross and Miatas are synonymous, then SSM is nothing without Eric Anderson’s bad ass supercharged version of every 1990’s hairdresser’s favorite car. Anderson is the builder (and often during the event, rebuilder) but his co-driver, Randal Wilcox, will be the one competing for the top spot.
Attrition could be a factor, but expect one of the previous champions to come out on top.
If you are a Honda fan boy or girl, SMF is definitely the class for you. The class has been a showcase for big Honda builds since its inception in 2013. You want that fancy K swap out of a 2008 Acura TSX, you got it. If you want to add on a turbo that’s a size of two of those pistons combined, see if your tires will hold that power. All of the VTECs will be had.
Going into year five of this class, there has yet to be a repeat winner; two past champions will try to change that. Last year’s winner, Jinx Jordan, is yet to stop developing his old SP car to the SMF ruleset, with rumors of yet another engine, dialing in more electronics, some NASCAR inspired aero, and improved suspension. Wait, that sounds like a new car from last year. Chris Haydu is back, the inaugural champion. Do not expect him to do anything less than trophy. The car known as Snot Rocket returns! Andy Bower has revamped the entire car and brings his MVP driver of Adam Koback. Could we see a fifth champion in the class? One impressive machine is driven by Brock Clayton, a vehicle was originally built for drag racing. Over the past two years, they have been working to keep the car reliable and make it turn. Their efforts are working.
Just when you thought you couldn’t get enough of these crazy Hondas, the Ladies get their go at them. Look to SCCA Hall of Famer Kathleen Barnes and 11 time National Champion Ginette Jordan to be at the top of your scorecards.
By AJ Synder
Predicting the winner of XP each year would seem to be an easy task. If Fred Zust shows up, give him the trophy. After all, he’s driven his 2005 Lotus Elise to the XP championship in seven out of the 10 years he’s attended. However, the top of XP is full of talented drivers and “extremely prepared” cars, so perhaps it is not that simple.
Last year, in Zust’s absence, Andy McKee notched his 2nd XP championship and 8th overall (CS, AS, BS, SSM (3x)). In 2012 McKee moved up from SSM and stopped a Zust championship run of four consecutive years, but Zust won the next three years. McKee has been 1st or 2nd four of the past five years (the lone outlier being 2014 when he was plagued with car and cone trouble). Even without a Zust stumble he can take the win if he performs at his best.
Zach Sober led after Day 1 runs in 2016 but ended up in 2nd behind McKee after losing a fuel pump during second day runs. He has the raw speed (in 2014 he was just 0.104 behind Zust in raw time), but both Zust and McKee are kings of vehicle setup and tweaking for varying conditions. If all cars were equal, Sober would likely take the win, but the 1993 RX-7 he drives hasn’t proven to be quite as potent as McKee’s.
Vitek Bourka will be bringing a new car to nationals this year, sort of. In the offseason, he swapped the LS motor and suspension from his NC MX-5 onto a stripped RX-8 body. The 3rd place he secured last year might be difficult to repeat considering the amount of redevelopment to be done and the return of Fred and Alexandra Zust, but he should be up in the trophies for sure.
Mark Mauro has also played second fiddle to Zust more than once. He was the bridesmaid in 2009 and 2010. Fatherhood slowed development of his second XP RX-7, but he grabbed the last trophy spot last year and hopes to have a solid performance to honor the memory of his former co-driver, Darren Kidd, who passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. He will have a hard time getting through the other top drivers, but could be in line for a trophy.
Also shooting for the trophies will be Alexandra Zust and Teresa Neidel-McKee. There hasn’t been a XPL champion since 2011 because everyone chooses to run open in XP. Being fast drivers in fast cars, look for these women to compete for as high as fourth place in the class.
The deciding factor in the final XP standings may come down to tire choice. For multiple seasons, the go-to tire for the class was the Hoosier R75A Radial Slick. This year most of the front runners will be switching to either a newly available Goodyear slick or to the Hoosier A7.
Some of the drivers in CP have been active in the class for decades. Many were national champions in the previous millennium. The class has some of the highest participation and comradery of the prepared classes. But when picking a champion, frankly, CP comes down primarily to three drivers, Mike Maier, Mark Madarash and Brian Peters. In the “Heavy Metal” class, these three have a lot of hardware.
Maier took the championship in 2016 to bring his total to nine (all in CP), and he will be the obvious favorite this year. Madarash (an 8x ESP Champion) continues to make the transition from ESP to CP, driving the same 1988 Trans Am. In his 3 years of CP competition Madarash has finished right behind Maier twice, including last year. If Maier stumbles at all, Madarash will no doubt be in position to take advantage. Brian Peters is a dark horse in the class, he has 7 national championships in a variety of classes. Now he’s built his 2011 Mustang for CP and enters the class for the first time at Nationals. He beat Madarash on this same surface during Spring Nationals, thought Mark will no doubt have made adjustments in the months since.
Darrel Padberg may have a difficult repeating his 3rd place from last year considering the arrival of Peters. Robert Lewis (4th in 2016) and Tommy Pulliam (5th in 2016) will also be in the hunt for trophies in their Mustang, but may have to share with Chris Cargill and Wayne Adkins, who have made strides in Adkins’ 1985 Camaro.
Donna Bartling, a 3-time CPL champion, is choosing to run open this year. That leaves the door wide open for Tracy Lewis, last year’s champion, to capture her 3rd national title.
After 2016, the only certainties are that this is D-Prepared is gambler’s class and Danny Kao isn’t at the table.
While Lincoln’s weather forecast is resolving to clear, warm, and dry for the championships, two of the three favorites in D-Prepared have stuck with a low number and no codriver. Anecdotally, both have the same Toyota powerplant: multi-time and defending champion Chris Dorsey (Toyota Corolla GTS – “AE86”) runs after last year’s runner-up and past DP Champion Steve Hoelscher (Toyota MR2). In what is alleged to be his last year in the class, Dorsey will be running Avons, Hoelscher, Hoosiers, weaving a tire war into this story. Given the low numbers, if conditions degrade over the course of competition, the two are holding strong hands. Meanwhile, Todd Roberts is running as the second driver in a Mazda Miata, also on Hoosiers. Roberts’ high number factored with weather and cone penalties have left him out of the hunt. The car is capable of winning, but it’s up to Roberts to run clean, especially in any improving conditions.
Buuut, if weather, gremlins, poor driving, or cones befall these three there’s an equal number of dark horses at the table. In no particular order, Ted Lewis paddled – errr pedaled into 3rd last year in his beautiful ’66 Lotus Elan. Sean Green’s Mazda Miata has hoisted a Championship high atop its roll bar previously, just not in his hands. The Baker and Simonds family teams shouldn’t be discarded either as they hold the last runs in the class.
Pretending the weather doesn’t play the Joker, we expect Dorsey to slide clear by a half a second for another Championship, we’ll roll our fuzzy dice and pick Roberts narrowly over Hoelscher on the strength of the warmer tires.
By Zach Barnes
The land of the front wheel drive $#!t boxes on big wide sticky tires. Much like STS; EP are cars likely have shocks on them that are worth more than the car itself. Sixteen drivers are entered in this class and 11 of them have shown the ability to leave nationals with hardware in their hands. However, there are only five trophy spots. Of those 11 that have gone home with trophies in their hands only two of them have gone home on the top spot. Brian Kuehl and Allen Kugler. Allen Kugler has been in his car for a long time. He has 6 national championships and we expect to see him have a really strong finish this year.
After Brian Kuehl won SMF if his CRX he set out to build an EP car. Building a sedan this time he has shown great promise in the class. Chris DeLay and Patrick Washburn built a really fast car, with fast comes some attrition problems. We think that they will surprise people. Patrick Washburn is always fast, having 15 trophies from nationals, we expect he has some hidden steam saved up for this year if the car stays together to put together two days to put the car on top.
Chris DeLay and Andrew Blasiman had strong finishes this year should be able to find their way to one of the trophy spots. Don Kuehl always having strong finishes, is expected to find his way into the battle for a trophy spot. It should be a really entertaining show and we’re looking forward to seeing how everything pans out. The battle will begin Tuesday fifth heat on the West Course.
By Hilary Frank
Here we are, two weeks away from SCCA Solo Nationals and all of the competitors are getting their cars ready for the main event. Fine tuning, part replacement and reliability mods all happen in the final weeks when you’re running a Prepared car. For these F-Prepared competitors, the time is ticking down for the big show.
F-Prepared will be hitting the concrete for 1st heat starting on Roger Johnson’s West course. A cone minimalist course with open corners will provide lots of optional lines for this diverse class. 1st heat provides some interesting challenges for cars with large tires that prefer some heat to really work well. A co-driver may be an important factor to get tires up to temperature depending on the kind of day it turns out to be.
Returning from hiatus, Jay Storm and Joel Higginbotham will be hoping the cool morning weather will aid them as the lone AWD car in the class. Troy “God of Speed” Acosta has secured a number of National event wins this year in the Strelnieks Boxster at both ProSolo and National Tours and could make a serious push for a jacket this year. Car owner Erik Strelnieks spent most of the year tuning his GTR at ProSolos, but will return for another shot at the F-Prepared title after losing out last year by 8/10 to Tom O’Gorman. With O’Gorman moving on to BSP this year, Dave Montgomery will bring the 914 back for a shot at his 3rd title in the class. Don’t count out those Cooper boys. Alex Jones and Chris Raglin have been doing extremely well over the last couple years on the East coast as they continue to dial in their Solstice. With the right mix of courses and power sections, the year of the Turbo cars could be coming.
Tune in Thursday morning bright and early for the action in one of the most entertaining classes around. You won’t be disappointed with these awesome cars.
By Mike Brausen
Jennifer Parker (a 4-time national champion) returns to defend her 2016 FPL title driving Tom Holt’s iconic 280Z, but her defense may be at risk in 2017.
Holly Schwedler skipped 2016 after winning consecutive Championships in HSL. In FSL she will be at the helm of Jay Storm’s Subaru Impreza. Reliability is always an issue with the AWD cars at this level of prep, but FPL running before the open class should allow her to keep the car together. We know she’ll be praying for rain.
Hilary Anderson Frank has taken a page from Troy “Raw Time” Acosta’s book Hold My Beer: How to Bum a Nationals Co-Drive in a Championship Car . . . and Other Life Lessons. She will be piloting Erik Strelnieks 1999 Boxster, a car that can only be matched in FP by Dave Montgomery’s spectacular 914. Without a ladies class competitor in Montgomery’s car, look for Frank to close the door on Parker’s repeat attempt, and take home the jacket.
A-Mod, home of the 1.000 PAX index, lays down the fastest times during nationals. These “cars” have insane power to weight ratios that are only eclipsed by the insane number of wing elements on the car. Last year there were only 6 competitors, now the pool has increased to 10 drivers. This year 6-time champion, Dan Wasdal (2nd in 2016), is not competing. So either Marshall Grice, 2016 AM Champion, or KJ Christopher (3rd in 2016 – 1st in 2015) will likely come out on top this year. The fact that they share a vehicle could make it an interesting battle.
The trophies in BM this year will look drastically different than last year. The number of drivers has decreased from 16 to 12 with 3 out 5 trophy winners from 2016 AWOL. Matt Ellam (2nd in 2016), Zachary Moore (3rd in 2016), and Dan Cyr (4th in 2016) will not be present to attempt to top Tom Ellam. The elder Ellam is an 8-time National Champion but 2016 was his first in BM.
With most of last year’s contenders on the sideline, Clemens Burger will be tasked with keeping the pressure on Ellam. He has finished on top of BM four times, but ultimately Ellam is the favorite this year.
Will 2017 be the year that a Honda Fit powered chassis wins the CM National Championship? When it debuted at 2012 Solo Nationals, observers expected, that going forward, a Honda power would be needed in order to win the CM National Championship. This has not proven to be the case as the Ford Kent has continued to win the open class.
In 2016, the Ford powered 1985 Van Diemen RF85 of Brandon Lavender won the Championship over the Honda powered 1994 Van Diemen RF-94 of Jonathan Clements by a scant two day total of 0.167 seconds. As his focus is on the Run Offs at Indy, Lavender will not defend his 2016 CM Championship.
For 2017, against 14 Ford Kent and 3 Volkswagen Beetle powered competitors, 6 drivers will utilize the Honda Fit engine; Eric Clements / Jonathan Clements (1994 Van Diemen RF-94), David Fauth / Barry Ott (1995 Van Diemen RF-95), and Matt Boian / John Conder (1996 Piper DF-2C).
Among the Ford powered drivers will be CM rookies Greg Maloy and John Ryan in the same 1974 Dulon MP15 that Lavender utilized to win his 2012 CM Championship. Greg and John have both had considerable success this year although this will be the first National level event which they have faced Honda powered chassis.
At the 2017 Spring Nationals, CML rookie Sue Eckles (1983 Reynard FF1600) came within 0.145 of taking the open class victory. This bodes well for a close battle with 2016 CML Champion (1994 Van Diemen RF-94) and 2015 CML Champion Krystal Lavender (1985 Van Diemen RF85).
By Chris Pruett
Jeff Ellerby (Sprinto 7), Peter Raymond (Lotus 7), Mark Huffman (Elan), Jeremy Ellerby (Sprinto 7), Craig Carr (Elan). Quite a few big names and fast drivers. In what seems to be the last 7+ years the winner has been either Mark Huffman or Jeff Cashmore. So with Jeff moving on to FS it looks like Mark’s year to win again. But DM can be a cruel mistress like all modified classes. Mark has had his share of mechanical woes over the years as any 1250lb 220whp car would.
The Ellerbys have been developing their 1.4L turbo Chevy Lotus & clone for more than a few years now and are very fast in it. Jeff appears to be the faster driver these days with his youthful reflexes. Peter however is a multi time national champion and is always quick and could contend with Mark for the win if his car is running like a top. Craig is no stranger to 1st place finishes in his Elan either and should be quite fast as well. Look for everyone to be chasing a little yellow Elan with the number 99 on the side for two days this year. But watch out, there could be a certain green sprite in the future for DM. Time will tell.
E-Modified has been the Jeff Kiesel Show since he joined the class in 2007 and won the championship in his famous green turbo rotary-powered Sprite. He’s racked up a total of 10 consecutive championships in EM. Including the ‘06 victory in B Prepared, he’s going for an SCCA record of 12 straight championships. He’s had some last minute engine issues this year but looks to have it together in time for Nationals and will be the favorite to win the class.
The competition has been catching up over the past couple of years with Jason Minehart applying pressure in his LS-powered Stalker. Jason is hoping this year’s upgrades to his car will give him just enough edge to beat Jeff and end the streak. An E-mod car is never “done” and other top E-mod builds have also been refined and upgraded this year. Looking to mix it up in the trophies will be Mark Sawatsky in the MG, Steve Brueck in the Jeep (representing the turbo 4 cylinder cars) and Scott Minehart in his LS-powered Stalker. Ron Ver Mulm in the Camaro, and Bob Tunnell in the BMW will be leading the charge in the “XL” class V8 powered cars with their very capable co-drivers. With lots of variety in the cars, big power, big tires, and Kiesel’s championship record on the line, E-Modified will be one to watch on Thursday/Friday Heat 4 competition.
By Jason Minehart
Typically, people tend to mostly care about F-Mod when they end up next to them in grid. The eardrum piercing noise from the two-stroke motor is unmatched among autocross cars. But FM is more than a reason to stick your fingers in your ears.
If your aspiration is speed, F-Mod falls behind only the blistering speeds of AM and BM. The driver talent is there as well. Jason Hobbs has taken home the championship each of the last two years. He narrowly edged out Scott Nardin (2nd in 2016), who was attempting to when his third consecutive championship during a year with a Republican Presidential election year. He previously won F-Mod in 2000 and 2004 when George Bush won the White House. Matt Muphy (3rd in 2016) could also be in contention for a podium.
Ultimately the driver to watch is Zak Kiesel. Pedigree can only take you so far but when your parents have 18 national championships between them hopefully the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. 2016 was Zak’s first year in an “adult” class after winning FJA in 2015 (honestly, are any of us adults?). Zak had the day one lead last year but fell victim to mechanical issues on day 2. Look for him to bounce back and claim his first jacket (and be allowed on the family Christmas card again).
In 2016, Michelle Quinn won FML by over 12 seconds to take her 6th championship. We’ll go out on a limb and predict a 7th.
The only thing we can say for sure is that Junior A and Junior B will both crown a new winner this year; both of last year’s winners have moved out of their classes from 2016. But if you think that means there won’t be any excitement or hard-fought battles, you’d be very mistaken.
In Junior B, there are 11 drivers coming to the Lincoln concrete, with almost half of them coming for the first time. This means that there may be some unexpected dark horses, so we’ll have to wait to find out about that. One look at the last names of most of the drivers will tell you that there is a lot of speed in the genes of these kids. Returning from last year are Abigail Dorsey, Zane Hyman, Zach Minehart, Carter Heaton, and Ethan Fudge. Heaton finished 2nd last year, and with the 2016 winner out of the class, he’ll be hoping to improve. Ethan Fudge will have something to say about that, as he’ll be looking to make up for his disappointing finish last year on the rain-soaked second day. This class could belong to several drivers, so they will all have to push hard to get to the top.
Even if you’re not into the Junior Karts, the Junior A class could be one to watch. Of the 10 drivers, almost all are previous national trophy winners. Half of the class just moved up from Junior B this year, and 3 of the 4 trophy winners from JB at last year’s Nationals are in this group. Ronnie Maunz and Jared Hyman will try to find another trophy spot after moving up to this class. Conner Herrick and Erika McKee have both shown huge improvements in speed this year, so they should be in the hunt. Mason Herrick, the winner of JB the last two years, will try to continue his streak in the faster JA class, but he’ll have to get past Tyler Cormier, Kimsoo Gopnik, and Robert Ekstrand, who have all been very quick all year at other national events. It will take the combination of proper gearing, driver focus, and course conditions to win, and it should be a must-see close battle no matter who comes out on top.
By Mike Herrick
Classic American Muscle is a class whose rulebook is a single page, designed to attract builders of all out Optima Ultimate Street Car and Goodguys rides to the ranks of the SCCA. CAM Contemporary is for cars designed after 1988, and if the 52 entries are any indication, the formula is working. JG Pasterjak will be returning with the Grassroots Motorsports Magazine project S197 Mustang, and regulars Rusty Henderson and Keith Lamming, in Lamming’s fifth generation Camaro, should be in the trophy hunt. Look for David Feighner, who has since made some upgrades to his F Street Mustang, to be near the top as well. Last year’s STP National Champion, Chris Cox, traded his regular GT for a new GT350R in an effort to have the best sounding car to ever win a nationals trophy, and Jeffery Pilson is returning with his Mustang to try to add to his trophy count. Conspicuous in its absence is a certain green Roush, which leads me to believe the jacket will go back to Oregon with Dennis Healy and his S550 Mustang.
By Eric Yee
Classic American Muscle Sport is the all out class for two seat American sports cars on 200 treadwear tires. A wide variety of chassis are competitive, from classic Corvettes and Shelby Cobras to late model Z06s. 14 drivers will take to the Lincoln concrete in search of top honors, and it should come down to the Lousteaus in their 1965 Shelby Cobra and Eric Brown and Stephen Lee in a C5 Corvette Z06. If past results are anything to go by, expect the Corvette in first, though don’t be surprised if SCCA Pro driver Brandon Davis manages to sneak in there as well.
By Eric Yee
This year, there are only eight entries into the Classic American Muscle Traditional class for cars on 200 treadwear street tires designed before 1988. Without any Unsers in the field, it should be a battle between Chris Carmenini and Steve Farkas in their Fox-body Mustang and Andy Weigel in his 1968 version. They were all very close last year, but I give the edge to the newer car.
By Eric Yee
Everyone travels to Lincoln for the intense autocross competition, but there is also usually something going on in the paddock during the entire week of Nationals. Some competitors choose to stay in Lincoln for a few days and leave when their runs are through, but if you can manage to get the vacation time, hanging out on site for the entire week is definitely worth it.
The ProSolo Finale happens the Saturday and Sunday before Solo Nationals competition, so if you arrive during the first weekend, you can check out the final battles for the ProSolo championship. The CAM invitational happens on Sunday, and the hopped up muscle cars are exciting to watch.
The Spokes Biergarten (towards the back of paddock on the Goodyear building side) is usually set up on Saturday night or Sunday, weather permitting. There is a lighted marquee pointing to it, so it’s easy to locate. The Road Trip Racing Team (RTRT) is housed there for the week, and they welcome any fellow racers, regardless of your hometown. Bring a beverage and a chair and meet some of the Austin, Texas based RTRT crew. During Solo competition, there is usually a group at the Biergarten listening to the incoming times on the radio.
Monday (Labor Day) is usually laid back, and if you run Tuesday/Wednesday, you’ll probably be doing a practice session or two. The Welcome Banquet starts around 5:30. The National staff feeds us grilled food and there is a kiddie pool full of ‘reasonably priced’ beer. It is located at the Big Fun Tent (BFT) near the site entrance on the corn side of the airport. Afterwards, there is a Talent Show hosted by Grassroots Motorsports on a stage set up near the BFT. There has even been talk of a live feed for the people that can’t make it to Nationals.
After the banquet and talent show, you have a few options. Some go downtown to check out the Lincoln bars, but there are a few things happening in paddock Monday night. Spokes hosts a Big Wheel Pro Solo near the Biergarten, and anyone is welcome to take a turn.
Since 2014, team Canada has been hosting the (international) ‘Nats Beer Exchange.’ If you’d like to participate, head over to the Canadian section on the corn side of paddock a few rows in front of the Texas regions. There will be many large coolers filled with local craft brews. If you’d like to contribute something from your region, try to find a local beer that isn’t widely distributed – this lets other people try a beer they might never have the chance to see otherwise.
Tuesday through Thursday are competition days, but there are still mid-week paddock activities. If you drive a Mazda, you can get some free food at the Mazda dinner Tuesday night in the BFT.
Tim White’s Trasharita parties (tentatively Tuesday and Thursday) at the Carolinas region is a big hit. There is a crowd at the Spokes Biergarten most nights, and if enough people are interested, the Big Wheels will be rolling.
Wednesday and Friday nights are the awards banquets, and they last for several hours. Some head back to paddock for general social time while others head downtown. Saturday we all pack up and head home to think about 2018!
Check out the #SoloNatsHasStarted hashtag to see what other people are posting about their Nationals prep or trip to Lincoln.
This article is a few years old but still relevant for a newcomer, check it out for some additional information about attending Nationals: https://www.scca.com/articles/1997604-dont-panic-the-first-timer-s-guide-to-solo-nationals
This map shows the general location of things in the paddock, and you can view it on your smartphone:
It was a last-minute decision to attend the CAM Challenge in Mineral Wells, Texas. I went from excitement to “What in the heck did I get myself into?”. To give you a little background, I own a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro 2LT/RS. She is my drag racing car (with nitrous), my autocross car, and my grocery getter. Her suspension work has been upgraded to a 1LE Track Pack, as well as, Brembo Brakes and stainless-steel brake lines (all work was done by J-Rod’s Speed Shop in Richmond, Texas). She turned 118,000 miles on the way to the Mineral Wells!
Going in I knew I was an underdog, being 2 cylinders short with my V6, but the experience I gained was well worth the trip! As I arrived on site, I saw most of the vehicles were trailered in. At this point I knew I was playing with the big boys and girls. I headed straight to registration. Being my first event, I wasn’t sure exactly how everything worked and they were very helpful. I received my stickers for my helmet and my car and I went to get my car ready for tech. I headed to tech, and this was the most involved tech I had ever been in. My car got weighed! She weighed 3,706 pounds without me in it. The tech crew was also very helpful. After my tech, she was good to go!
Fast forward to the first morning of competition, this is where my butterflies started kicking in. Luckily, my group CAM-C, had to work first. This would give me time to calm down and watch the other drivers on the course. The first group staged in the grid, and for our group we did a pre-grid. This allowed the transitions to run smoother. Then it was off to work. Let me tell you it was so awesome watching these cars run on the course! Then it was our turn to run.
We get staged in the grid, and you have spots already assigned where you were supposed to park. I was lucky enough to be staged next to the VETMotorsports SCCA sponsored 2017 Chevrolet Camaro. This is where I meet Pete Cline from VETMotorsports. VETMotorsports is an award-winning, non-clinical outreach program that honors and empowers veterans with service-related injuries through active participation in motorsports. He was there with 2 veterans. Let me tell you it was a pleasure to hear about their program and be able to race alongside these veterans.
My first day of racing went well. I found that I wasn’t running the right type of tires, so the course felt very slippery to me. After the competition that day, we were fortunate enough to have time for some fun runs, so I took advantage of them. Everyone during the day was very nice and helpful. It was really hot that day, so after the awards and the sponsored dinner I went to the hotel to pass out.
Sunday morning comes around, and I’m exhausted. You don’t realize how much the heat can affect you. This is the day we are racing to get qualified for the runoffs. My times were better than Saturday’s but I was only 1 short of making the runoffs after a few people dropped out. I was slightly bummed, but I knew I wouldn’t make it far in the competition.
I definitely learned a lot, and I met so many nice people! I look forward to competing again in the national events. With my car being a daily driver and with 99% of the cars being dedicated race cars; I was extremely happy with how I placed in this event. My fastest time was 76.301 and it was done with my traction control on and Continental tires! For some reason having my traction control off my times were worse. This may have had something to do with not having the right tires, but I still had a blast racing! I had a lot of support from my family and friends over the weekend, and I again want to thank J-Rod’s Speed Shop for my awesome setup, and well as keeping her in tip top shape for racing.
This weekend in Mineral Wells, the heat from the sun almost matched the heat of mega-powered American V8s at the second stop of the 2017 SCCA CAM Challenge. Blistering temperatures couldn’t keep the drivers away, as 74 hardy souls took to the course for two days of competition.
The event was scheduled for three days, with the first day, Friday, allotted for practice. Unfortunately, especially for those of us driving cars we weren’t familiar with, practice never happened, and I got the impression it was because of a miscommunication between the host region and the national office. Many drivers showed up early on Friday to try to get in some extra runs, and we were left twiddling our thumbs. Texas Region did a great job with the event, and my hat’s off to everyone who helped set it up, but hopefully next time they’ll be able to do so without omitting anything.
For those who aren’t aware, the CAM Challenge is made up of two different events, with a six-run “Tour in a Day” on Saturday, followed by three runs of qualifying before a single run, single elimination Challenge style bracket on Sunday.
Trophies are awarded to the top five in each class for the Tour portion, and the first class to finish were the two-seaters of CAM-Sport. With a very open rules format, a wide variety of cars were at the top of the order, and finishing first was David Lousteau in a monstrous 1965 Shelby Cobra. His lead after the morning session was .9 seconds over David Whitener driving the radical Dusold Designs Camaro, and he added another .8 seconds to his lead in the afternoon. Camaro owner Mike Dusold finished third, three tenths behind Whitener. Brian Matteucci and his C5 Z06, in fourth, was the fastest modern CAM-S car, while Lousteau’s co-driver Eric Davis rounded out the trophies.
Some of you may be asking, why is there a Camaro in the CAM-S class? In short, because of its traction control systems. CAM-T doesn’t allow electronics, forcing the car to bump up. I spoke to David Whitener about driving said Camaro, and he summed it up in one sentence: “It’s like driving a jet.” The system is so effective, all the driver has to do is put their foot down, and the computer maximizes the application of power based on available grip. And with a twin turbo V8, this Camaro jet has plenty of “thrust.”
In CAM-Traditional, for vintage musclecars, multi-time national champion Mark Madarash put on a clinic with his 1988 Firebird, gapping his closest rival, Mark Tucker in a gorgeous blue 1970 Camaro, by more than three seconds. The rest of the trophies were a lot closer, with Derrick Torres, Wayne Atkins and Mike McShane, all driving Camaros, finishing within a second of Tucker.
By far the closest battle was between the modern ponycars of CAM-Contemporary. Scott Steider in his 2017 Mustang took the morning session by less than .3 seconds over Keith Lamming’s 2011 Camaro, but Lamming was fastest in the afternoon by a little over three tenths, putting him in first by .056. Rusty Henderson, Lamming’s co-driver, was third, while Corey Pettett and WB Sephus, both in Mustangs, rounded out the trophy positions.
All of those results are thrown out for Sunday’s Challenge, which gives competitors a fresh start, enabling them to overcome any difficulties they may have had the previous day. In an effort to reduce worker fatigue in the blistering conditions, as well as reduce the overall number of workers required to maintain the course, a new idea was tested. Cone shaggers would ride in a chase car behind the competing cars and pick up anything moved or knocked over. With the exception of a delay due to massive cone carnage caused by a certain C6 Z06 driver, possibly my car owner though reports are vague, the system worked very well, and I could see it instituted in the future.
To no one’s surprise, Mark Madarash qualified first in CAM-T and cruised through to a final round showdown against second qualifier Kyle Tucker, despite a failed starter that meant the Firebird had to be push-started before each run. Tucker’s road was a lot rockier, as he survived the semi-finals against Derrick Torres’s 1968 Camaro by less than a tenth of a second. With temperatures rising and the course seemingly slower, Madarash didn’t quite put on the dominating performance he did the previous day, but .8 seconds was still a convincing margin of victory.
In CAM-C, Scott Steider elected not to run the Challenge, leaving Keith Lamming and Rusty Henderson, Lamming’s codriver, as the top two qualifiers. However, Chad Langley, driving a sparkling new 2017 Camaro 1LE, defeated Henderson in the semi-final round by .6, leading to a fifth vs. sixth generation Camaro showdown in the finals. In the end, Langley prevailed as Lamming coned away a faster raw time.
CAM-S was the final Challenge bracket to run, and in the final round, it was David Lousteau’s monster over Brian Matteucci’s C5 Z06 by a half second. Considering Matteucci’s Corvette has mostly bolt-on modifications with a lot of factory pieces still in place, it acquitted itself quite well against the killer Cobra. Of note was Chris Ramey, who made it all the way to the semi-finals with his 1984 Corvette. It was great to see the older C4 platform still competitive against the other cars in CAM-S (although the LS7 under the hood may have helped), and I hope to see more of it in the future.
To determine an overall victor, all three Challenge winners were pitted against each other in a PAX handicap shootout. Each would have two runs, giving everyone an equal opportunity to warm their tires, with their best counting towards the results. Madarash and Lousteau both had strong first runs, with the former’s 68.476 giving him the lead on index by about three tenths over the Cobra’s 67.110. Langley spun his first run, and though he’d clean it up with a 69.830, he’d finish third. Madarash’s second run was only slightly faster at 68.450, but Lousteau was last, and all eyes were on him as he flew through the course. And fly he did, tripping the lights with a 66.694, enough for the win by just .034 seconds.
Despite the extreme heat, with temperatures pushing triple digits, it’s safe to say that the competition was the hottest part of the weekend. CAM is always a great time, and for sure it’s one of the best sounding autocross events, with a cacophony of thumping V8s resonating through the site. The next SCCA CAM Challenge will be August 11-13 in Peru, IN, and I’d suggest checking it out if you can.
This article first appeared in Ed Fisher’s “Saving Time – An Autocrosser’s Blog”
I’ve been thinking lately on what’s most basic and important to Saving Time on the autocross course.
First of all, we have to learn to drive at the limit. Let’s call this Skill #1.
We have to learn to be so sensitive that we can drive right at the maximum capability of the tires and hold it there, or a little below or somewhat above, depending on the need.
Want to be sensitive? You gotta relax. Nothing will impair sensitively like being stiff. Of course, being relaxed while competing is tough. There are some simple signs, like do you have your hands together near the top of the steering wheel? This all but guarantees your shoulders are bunched up, with the bones out of the sockets and you have little sensitivity in your hands. Shoulders need to be relaxed down into the sockets for good connections to the torso to allow the most sensitive control of what happens at the hands.
To hold a car right on the limit, getting every last 1/4 mph out of a sweeper, we’ve got to be sensitive and fast. By fast, I mean we must react fast and early, because a car on the limit is a high-wire balancing act, ready to do something bad (that will slow us down, usually by taking us off our line) at any second. The steering wheel may not move much, but it moves with high-frequency, if relatively small amplitude, motions. As I’ve noted elsewhere, this will produce a smoothly driven car to the outside observer but the driver may feel furiously busy on the inside.
Couple the sensitive, fast hands to steering with the right foot, in order to shift weight forward and back to adjust the line with slight understeer and oversteer and you have basic skill #1 necessary to get the most out of your tires. Right foot steering only works near the limit of tire adhesion. Below the limit the car goes where the tires point. What’s the fun in that?
Skill #1 also includes becoming comfortable with exceeding the tire’s peak capability when needed. For instance, if we need to rotate the car in a corner to exit on the power earlier, then somehow we have to induce the rear tires to take a normally inefficient, excessive slip angle. For a moment. This is why many really good drivers dislike cars that are difficult to rotate. It makes it harder for them to employ a strategy that Saves Time.
Here’s the opposite situation. I rode with a guy this weekend who had an interesting cornering technique. He would take a much too straight and tight line toward a corner, turn late and sharply around the cone, and then mash the throttle. Just past the cone the tires would break loose, the back end would step out, the rear tires would slip with acceleration and then the car would be off toward the next corner. This sort of worked, but he’s still usually last in class.
Why did it work? He runs a late-model, modern sports car with the very capable traction control and stability management on at all times. The car would oversteer a little and the rear tires would spin a little, all under the control of the computer and the car is never going to spin. He had learned to let the computer do about 50% of the turning control and all of the stability and wheel-spin management. I’d never seen anyone use the nannies to such obvious and intentional effect. Do you think he will ever become a fast driver? I don’t either. Not in this lifetime. But, he is relatively safe on a site that has a ditch on one side and poles that can be reached if you are sufficiently crazy/stupid and he’s quite certain his wife would kill him if he damaged the car.
I just tried to get him to open his line up so he didn’t have to brake so much into every turn.
Another aspect of Skill #1: I’ve heard Sam Strano teach a concept called turning at the cones. (No, he doesn’t mean wait ’till we get to the cone to start the turn!) Once I figured out what this meant and was able to do it regularly, I got faster.
I think turning at the cones means, say, when approaching and turning toward an offset gate, we aim the car at the inside cone so that the car’s path, if projected forward and around the arc at that moment, will clearly intersect with and hit the cone.
That sounds kinda stupid, I know. But, here’s the trick: We gotta speed up.
If you speed up then the slip angle of all four tires increases while cornering. The car drifts on a new, larger arc than it would have, an arc that magically passes the car just outside the cone. Without a specific steering input.
In the old days of road racing, when even race tires had huge slip angles, all the corners at race tracks were clearly taken this way. You’ve seen those old movies of races in the 1920’s up through the 1950’s with the car pointing one way but the actual path determined as much by the amount of 4-wheel drift as which way the axis of the car or the front wheels were pointing. We see this a little now in modern-day Drifting competitions, though that type of “drift” used to be more accurately termed a power slide. (They also make it very easy to observe that power sliding from corner to corner, while dramatic, creates a slow way to get around a course.) Modern day Formula 1 cars exhibit slip angles of about 0.0001 degree. They don’t appear to drift at all. This is why mere mortals can’t drive one worth a flip.
I think this drift effect accounts for the common occurrence among the moderately skilled (I include myself in this category) that it requires a slightly out of control run to be fast. It’s easier to carve an arc with a slip angle that is just below or perhaps right up to the most efficient angle for the tire, the angle of maximum lateral G. When you do that you can predict with assurance from the moment of turn-in that you will make the gate. Turning at the cones requires playing on the other side of the peak slip angle. It can be hairy out there. We have to turn-in such that, without a significant amount of 4-wheel drift, we won’t make the gate without hitting the inside cone.
When we say a particular tire is easy to drive, this is what we mean. We can play with the grip on the other side of slip more easily, more controllably. I expect this is why I find the Rival-S easier, and perhaps for me faster, than the RE71R I drove last year, even if it doesn’t produce the better lateral-G number in a skid-pad test.
Skill #2: Driving the momentum-maintenance line
I’ve heard it said that all autocross cars, even super high power-to-weight cars, are momentum cars. I think this is a key insight and mostly true.
I’m not saying there is no difference in driving high-power vs. low-power. If you’re a regular reader you know that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how different the line should be based upon acceleration capability.
I started autocrossing in a relatively high-power, heavy car (400hp CTS-V) then went to medium weight, relatively high-power car (345hp Corvette) but have now bought a old Porsche 944 with all of 162hp (once upon a time) to drive in E-street. (No, I don’t think it’s the car the have in E-Street.) One of the reasons I did this was because I came to believe that I was never going to master momentum maintenance (in the time available) unless I was forced to by driving a low-power car in a “momentum-maintenance” class. I’m taking advantage of the fact that, for me at least, losing is a great motivator.
To my advantage I have at hand locally one of the greatest masters of momentum-maintenance that ever came down the pike. He headed up Twickenham Automobile Club’s autocross school in Huntspatch last Saturday. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend in the role of an instructor. I think I learned as much as the students I was coaching. I just didn’t get to actually practice the concepts until the autocross the next day.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in the techniques of momentum-maintenance. I’m going to do my best to give you the gist. The school this past weekend showed me how inept at this I am. Give me a couple more years, please. I’m just saying that no matter what class you’re in, you won’t be really fast unless you master the techniques of this skill. Then you can layer other skills, knowledge and techniques on top.
The basic concepts of momentum maintenance, as I understand them, are:
Followed with complete rigor, this method of determining the line through a course will produce nothing but arcs, with no straights at all, if the course is tight and busy. Of course, this is not 100% correct 100% of the time, but this is the basic idea. If there’s a long distance between the features then probably the arcs will not intersect. Consider those instances your chance to drive in a straight line, or nearly straight line, remembering that most cars can accelerate fully in 2nd gear and still be turning.
Anywhere the largest possible arcs through the slowest features do not intersect is a distinct advantage to the higher power car or class. Course designers please take note. In fact, it occurs to me that the ratio of total course distance to distance between non-intersecting arcs (or arcs above a certain radius) might be a scientific measure of how much a course favors high-power vs. low-power.
Braking, including trail-braking, and accelerating is generally required only to transition from one radius arc to another, which may include increasing and decreasing radius turns, either explicit in the course design, or implicit in order to connect arcs.
As a real-world example, here’s the starting section of last Sunday’s course, as designed by Charles Krampert:
I felt the most important thing in this first section was to enter the increasing slalom at high speed. The slalom cones were offset the easy way and with increasing spacing so it was full throttle for me end to end, equivalent to a road-race corner leading to a long straight. We will be faster everywhere along that straight the faster we exit the preceding corner. The faster we enter the slalom, the more time is saved.
So, the first thing I do is draw the biggest feasible circle that properly leads into the slalom:
Now we know that if we get onto this circle we can enter the slalom at the fastest possible speed, with the limitation of coming from another corner. If the circle were drawn much larger, no way to get onto it from the previous corner.
Next, we work back to the previous corner and draw another circle, as big as possible that connects to the first circle, but that we know will connect to a circle coming before it and meeting about half-way between. This second circle is necessarily a little smaller than the first one, because of the shorter distance to the previous feature. Just like in a slalom, the shorter the distance between cones the smaller the radius of the arcs and the slower the speed for a given lateral-G capability.
Here I’ve worked back one more circle:
From the start to the third circle there are only two turns, so two more circles. These two are necessarily smaller because the distance between the features is shorter.
Now, we draw the momentum-maintenance line, using the tangentially connected sectors of the circles. This is the line I drove and the line that won the class that day. There wasn’t a straight section anywhere. I lined up to start turning immediately from the staging location.
We normally have to do this circle drawing in our head at the event and “see” the resulting path in front of us while driving.
Now you know everything I think I know about momentum-maintenance. Please don’t get too excited and tell me, well, you haven’t even mentioned looking ahead, you fool! My instructor told me that’s the most important thing in autocross.
Of course your instructor is correct. You can’t properly drive the line I show above without looking ahead and a lot of other things as well. I just can’t put everything in one post. For now, I want to answer the question, “What am I supposed to be looking ahead at?” The answer is not only the cones in front of you, but the path you want to follow through those cones. That path you have to imagine and project onto the pavement.
Which brings up an interesting point. What if someone invented a heads up display that projected the path in front of the car as an assist to the driver. Would it be legal?
Skill #3 is car setup. Even in Street, the lowest preparation class, this is vitally important.
Not many production cars come off the assembly line optimized for autocross. They don’t even have autocross tires as an option! What are the manufacturers thinking? This is annoying, but just the way it is. So, we have to pick up the slack and optimize the car for autocross as God intended.
I’ve never been in anything but the lowest preparation class, so forget about me writing a book on car setup. Not gonna happen. I started this sport late in life. I don’t have time to learn everything.
But, for the raw beginner, I’ll just list the major things that in general need to be done to a Street class car to produce maximum competitiveness.
For most of us, our only opportunity to test is at the events themselves. This is the big bummer of autocross. We must be willing to give up the near (beating someone today) to seek the far (beating many later.)
The higher preparation classes involve exponentially more knowledge and money to be nationally competitive. Of course, you can be fast, have a fast car and have a lot of fun without being totally committed to getting to the pointy end of the spear at any preparation level.