I’ve come to a decision in my life. I want to go racing. Though, like many others, I don’t have the wherewithal to run the Speed Challenge series. I can’t even afford to run a privateer rally car, for that matter. I’ve recently found one form of racing that not only can I afford, but I also really enjoy: Time Attack.
What other motor sport allows you to show up and compete — not at the local WalMart parking lot, mind you, but at real race courses. Legendary tracks like Laguna Seca and Virginia International Raceway. No race car? No problem, If you drive a Yugo and can pass tech, you can race. Motor swaps, aftermarket turbos and lots of bizarre configurations are allowed, giving those that are really into the sport lots of room for creative solutions to the never-ending quest for power. That’s one thing that frustrates me about many other forms of amateur racing: no creativity in the cars.
Even if you don’t win, in Time Attack you may still come away with stories worth telling. Such as, how you almost lost it on the infamous corkscrew, or your brakes wore out with four more laps to go. Apologies to all the autocrossers out there, but three hours of waiting for 2 minute sprints around a bunch of cones on a level parking lot doesn’t provide enough for me to chew on. Give me drop-offs, banked turns and open passing and I’ll be grinning for weeks.
After running in a couple trackdays, I finally competed in my first real Time Attack in the fall of 2007. It was a last-minute decision, and the event was 1200 miles away. No bother. I tossed everything into my modified 2007 Legacy GT (including a ‘spare’ set of Nitto NT01 track slicks), checked fluids and drove from Seattle to Las Vegas. I raced for two days and returned home by Tuesday. Tired as I was, I knew I had to do it again, and again and again.
Though I did race my daily driver for that first event, I can see that the Legacy GT isn’t the best choice for such excursions. For one, I had an ‘off’ at 80mph that knocked up the underside quite a bit. I came very close to cracking my control arms and other expensive parts in that debacle, something I simply can’t afford to do on a regular basis. Just changing the plugs required 30 minutes of removing miscellaneous pipes and parts under the hood — complexity is the hallmark of a modern car. If I wanted to be competitive, I’d have to push my limits, that means occasionally breaking things. For this I’d need a dedicated car. One that’s smaller, faster, just as reliable, but a lot cheaper to run and fix. Preferably, I could even drive it to-and-from each event.
Anything built after the year 2000 would have to be ruled out. That eliminates many Time Attack favorites, such as the ever-popular Honda S2000, Nissan 350Z, Subaru STI and Mitsubishi EVO. They’re all too expensive to buy (just for racing, mind you) and too expensive to maintain under grueling track conditions. A Toyota MR-2 would make a great car, but I’ve always found them too twitchy for high-speed cornering. An RX-7 would be massive fun around a racetrack, but I’d only want a third-gen twin turbo (FD) if I was to have one at all, and even used, those are simply too expensive in today’s market. No, the answer was clear, the ultimate Time Attack project car is a first or second generation (1990s) Mazda MX-5 Miata. Cheap, fun and rear-wheel drive. Perfect.
Over a pint, I shared my enthusiasm for this project with the editor of Subiesport Magazine, Travis Geny. Seems that he, too, wants to go Time Attack racing. But he doesn’t agree that a Miata is the way to go about it. He was already planning to build his personal 1993 Impreza 1.8T into a Time Attack racer and insists turbo-charged all-wheel drive is the best choice–even if it is an old one. As much as I like Subarus, and I even have a ‘spare’ 2005 2.5 RS that Travis encouraged me to use instead, I just don’t think a car like that is right tool for the job here.
I lobbied for the Miatas bulletproof simplicity, piles of readily available (and cheap) replacement parts and the featherweight chassis. Even more, adding a turbo to the Miata’s little 1.6-liter mill would be able to wipe the smiles of cars with twice the horsepower–let alone his grocery getter. We argued for quite a bit about the details, but by the end of a pitcher’s worth of Terminator Stout, we came to one conclusion: we can’t both be right. The only way to prove which is best is to build our cars and go racing. One car or the other would prove to be cheaper to run, faster to drive and easier to live with in race conditions.
So here it is: Travis will cover his build in Subiesport Magazine. Jeff Zurschmeide, editor of Forever MX-5 magazine, agreed to cover my Miata build in his titles. Here at Driving Sports, Travis and I will bicker, discuss and generally berate each other as the process unfolds. We’ll be following the Redline Time Attack Series rules for Street class cars, and will keep track of what it costs to run each event and what we break in the process.
Game on, Travis. You and your little red wagon don’t stand a chance.
Who are you rooting for? Post a comment below!