July 6, 2011

Number 9 . . . Number 9 . . .

Five years ago, 2006, was the high point of my autocross career. At the time, I was driving a car that, while not prepped to the limits of the rules, was as close as I’m likely to come for a while. I was committed enough to schlep a set of “sticky” R-compound tires to every event, swapping them on the car in the morning, off in the evening. The effort paid off. I swept my region’s trophies – class, PAX index, and both “driver of the year” style cups – which I’m unlikely to do again. I also went to my first SCCA National Tour event in Peru, Indiana.

I. Got. My. Ass. Kicked. Seriously. I wasn’t DFL overall, but I came dead last in my class by quite a margin. It was a humbling experience. So why would I do it again?

Good question! For whatever reason, I decided that five years had been enough time between exposure to the real hard core autocross experience. So, this past weekend, I loaded up the WRX and headed to suburban Toledo, Ohio, for another Tour event, which doubles as the Northern States Championship. How did I do?

I. Got. My. Ass. Kicked. Again. But that’s OK. I expected it this time and knew I was, literally, bringing a dull knife to a gun fight. See, when I got the WRX last year I decided I wanted to tune it a little bit. But it’s my daily driver and needs to handle a half-hour commute twice a day, plus 3.5-hour trips to K’s every other weekend. Given that my car is driven on the street every day of the year, but only autocrossed a dozen or so times during the same span, real race-prep was out of the question.

So, I’ve stiffened the WRX up a little bit with a set of springs and matched Bilstein dampers from GTWorx. I went with this setup based on a review from a fellow WRXer who noted its livability on the street while making the car a more enjoyable autocross platform. That’s certainly true. It looks damn good, too:

Photo by K.

Photo by Martin Valent.

That mod alone kicked me into STU ("Street Touring Ultra," for those not familiar with the SCCA's alphabet soup of autocross classification). However, aside from the springs/dampers, the only other mods I had heading to Toledo were fresh brake pads and tires. My competition, for the most part, took full advantage of the STU rules, which allow for more serious, if less streetable, modifications. As an example, one co-driven STi in the class needed to repeatedly slam on the brakes on the way to the starting line, presumably because the pads it had were of the type that only work well once heated. Such pads aren't really workable on the street, unless you live in an area where it’s summer all year ‘round.

If you want to get a feel for what a "real" STU car looks and sounds like, check out this video of one of the Sunday runs of the class winner at Toledo:

UPDATE: Per the driver in the comments, that car is actually his daily driver - he even has snow tires for it!  Makes me feel even slower.

Given all that, I’m happy with how the event turned out. I beat the other guy in STU who was in the non-top-of-the-line car (another 2.5 liter WRX – we’re really stuck between classes right now), which is about all I could hope for. I was ninth out of ten – not DFL! A step up from 2006, a least. I had fun, in spite of the oppressive heat over two days. Met some good people, saw some killer cars, and took part in some awesome competition, if only from a distance -the top 5 in my class were covered by less than 1/2 a second after two days of competition.  The guy above won out by 0.007 of a second.  That's close, no matter what you're doing.

Along the way I got a reminder of how different and intense national-level competition is. To be honest, I simply don't have the stomach for it. Autocross will always be a fun diversion for me, not the kind of thing I can get seriously worked up about.  I lack the drive (so to speak) that the drivers around me had to push themselves and their equipment to the limit. That means I won’t cover myself in glory very often. But I’ll have fun. I’m OK with that.


  1. Great writeup, and I commend you for the effort of coming in for a National Tour!! The only request I have, as the driver of the 2004 Mitsu Evo SSL (that won the National Tour/Northern States Championship in STU)... is realize my car is a daily driver year round (yes I even have snow tires)... I simply have coilovers, sway bars, and a turbo back exhaust (came with car).. I have under $2500 in the entire build! I agree our competitors had some SERIOUS money in their machines, including one that was trailered in and out from the event.. I am just a local driver (Mansfield) with an overweight car for the class, and have put very few dollars into it. Congrats for the non-DFL showing, and it was a pleasure meeting you there.
    A daily-driven-budget-friendly-STU-car-driver.....
    Brian [at] crxmotorsports.com

  2. Thanks for the info, Brian. Of course, it makes me feel even slower, if that's possible. :)