What point in your life do you decide that you’re going to have an F1 car? When you’re a millionaire? Retired? After you’ve had kids? I guess now is as good of a time as any if you’re Wesley Kagan. Not only did he want his own F1 car, but he built it himself in his garage. Anyone mention yet that he’s 22?
I’ve been friends with Wesley for years, going way back to elementary school and can tell you that he’s no stranger to ridiculous feats of fabrication. Thanks to the interwebs you may already be familiar with his last project, when he decided that his Jeep didn’t have enough wheels. What’s better than a 6x6 Jeep? One that’s Lamborghini green. Obviously.
That said, I was not surprised when he rang me up a few weeks ago saying that he’d built a open wheel race car car out of a 200,000 mile 986 Boxster and asked if I’d like to drive it. Fearing for my life in such a contraption, I immediately said yes. But before I get into driving impressions you need to see just how much work went into this start to finish.
Sure he started with an old Boxter but that doesn’t mean he just stripped the body off and called it a “race car” – Looking at you Cleetus. No this isn’t you’re standard fair death-cart Miata either. Virtually every piece of the Boxter was scrapped save for the engine, transmission, and rear subframe. Which he then built his very own tube chassis and suspension around. He also elected to keep a few key components like the radiators, brakes, and hubs.
What had started as a handful of designs Wesley modeled in SolidWorks slowly began to take shape as 4130 chromoly tube steel was cut, bent, and welded. The recent purchase of a plasma table helped speed along some of the smaller components that made up the pushrod suspension and the pedal assembly. Yes you read that one right, home built pushrod suspension.
Every so often he’d shoot me a text with photos of the build progress. What was nothing more than a pile of Porsche parts and tube steel very quickly began to resemble a 1960s era Grand Prix car. It wasn’t too long before the car was on four wheels and talks of suspension shifted to engine management and tuning. Wesley decided that installing individual throttle bodies on the Porsche powerplant was the way to go and that the whole thing would be managed by MS3 Pro. Don’t think anybody can argue with that decision, because ya know… ITBs and such.
Sure, I’m paraphrasing somewhat for the sake of brevity. Realistically it was a massive undertaking that required hundreds of hours of labor and research on Wesley’s behalf. Not to mention he ran into plenty of issues that required creative solutions. Just one example of that was when the new frame required him to trim down the OEM steering rack and source tie rod ends from of all things, a 2000 E320 Mercedes. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of his build I highly suggest watching his video on YouTube. Additionally you can find the build breakdown here.
So now that the car was running, how does one go about testing their freshly minted racecar? Given it’s homebuilt nature the only way to do so properly was on track, and as it turns out not many tracks are willing to let you drive your home built
deathtrap racecar because of -uh- safety or something. Ultimately the track of choice was La Jaunta Raceway in Colorado where the officials were more than happy to have the car, provided Wesley rented the whole track to himself. Again, safety or something. Probably for the better as well.
Right, you’ve been patient long enough, how’s it to drive? Unless you’re exactly the same height and build as Wesley good luck fitting in the car. Much like F1 cars of the past and present this open wheel racer is tailored to the driver. Especially in this case as the driver is the one who built it. The seating position puts you leaning far back and as low as possible. For a car tipping the scale at just over 1,000lbs, driver position is even more crucial to the car’s center of gravity. The dash board is simplistic and beautifully laid out, with the bright yellow tach dancing eagerly to the tune of the naturally aspirated 3.2L flat six. And speaking of the Porsche derived powerplant, you can’t help noticing it’s presence with the individual throttles and throaty induction noise just inches behind your head.
Earlier in the day I acquainted myself with the track with a few hot laps in my trusty S2000, but now I had to remind myself that I was no longer in the safety of my own car which had been on track countless times. Rather I was piloting a machine that hours earlier was entirely untested. Need I remind you that it was built in a garage by a college student? Needless to say -and because I didn’t have a fire suit like Wesley- I managed to resist the temptation and keep the car at reasonable test speeds. That gave me time to notice the car’s direct turn in feel and having line of sight to the wheels made simple work of positioning the car on track. Really, if you’ve never driven an open wheel car you’re missing out. Speaking of line of sight, directly in your forward vision are the QA1 coils that are the backbone of the pushrod suspension. Watching the suspension work is hands down one of the coolest things to see while driving. No only was it fascinating to the point of being distracting, the suspension functioned beautifully, supporting the car and soaking up bumps on the somewhat rough track surface. Sure saying the ride was firm is an understatement, but what race car isn’t?
If I dare criticize one thing, it’d be the weight distribution. At lower speeds the car demands precision with your weight transfer. Having most of the mass to the rear means getting on throttle just a little too early shifts weight rearward making the front somewhat light. If I had been sending it a bit harder that front end lightness could’ve easily turned into understeer. Equally the rear weight bias concerns me in terms of off throttle oversteer. Regardless, this was the car’s first time out and I can’t fault it at all. It’s likely to see numerous revisions to sway bars, spring rates, and maybe, just maybe big aero (please Wesley, if anything it’ll look cool as hell).
At the risk of using cliché, the car was like an overgrown 260 horsepower go-cart. Here’s the thing, when you hear highbrow journalists say a car drives like a go-cart they’re completely full of it. Clearly they have never driven a car like this -or an actual go cart for that matter. It is on an entirely different level. The track rushes past you just inches from your feet, the wind directly buffets your helmet, and mere inches from your head is the clack of the valvetrain and the whine of the gears. It’s an experience like no other and it brings you to the early days of motorsport when cars were driven by guys named Collin, Graham, and Jackie. Coincidentally those were some of the most dangerous years of racing. But hey, who’s counting right now? I’m not.