I spent considerable time and effort last year convincing a few of my autox buddies to come out for Time Trials and by mid-season each tried it and had a blast, so this year four of my friends decided to compete with me in the Texas Region SCCA Time Trials program. We’re all in the same class (STX autox which translates to Touring 1 in Time Trials) and 4 of us drive BRZ/FRS’s with the same level of prep (we’ve got one oddball with a Lexus IS300 but it’s in the same class and pretty close in performance). I haven’t had much competition the last couple of years at the TT (autox is another story, we’re brutally competitive there with an 11-13 strong class where the top 6 drivers are usually separated by 0.5s or less) and am the reigning class champion; however, with my fast friends joining me I’ll have my work cut out for me this year.
On January 26th&27th we had our first two events with Saturday and Sunday counting as separate races. One of the group didn’t make it into the race since the Time Trial was being held in conjunction with the SCCA Majors Race at Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, TX and entries were limited to the first 25 people to signup and every spot was filled in the first 30min the registration was open (most of our events are stand alone events with 75-100 participants but once or twice a season we run at a Club Race event and only get one run group). A second of my friends could only make the Saturday race, but the guys who weren’t going to make both the races were the slower guys on track and weren’t expected to be much of a threat anyway. I was left to compete with David in his Orange FRS, who people often mistake me for, and his roommate Miles in his Lexus IS300.
I’ve got more track experience than David and was confident that I could keep in front of him for now (that won’t last), but Miles in his Lexus was a bit of an unknown. Miles works as crew on a race team and has plenty of laps at MSR Cresson. His car is sorted and he drives it to its full potential. I knew I had to be on my game to keep my top spot.
STX is “Street Touring Extreme” and allows suspension modifications and some basic bolt-ons. Coilovers, swaybars, brakes, wheels (up to 9" wide with tires up to 265mm with a minimum 200tw rating), intakes and exhaust. These are street cars and most are daily drivers (mine’s my only car and I use it for the track, autox, and daily driving). We all run a second set of wheels and tires to minimize wear and keep costs down, but swapping wheels and brake pads and taking off the magnets are all it takes to go from street mode to track mode.
We were the first cars out on both days and Saturday morning was cold. Temperatures were in the mid 30F’s and the track was a bit slick. We were on track at 8am and the first few laps were spent just feeling out the conditions and trying desperately to get some heat into the tires. Time Trials take your best lap, you get 4 twenty minute sessions to set a time and you can take as many or few laps as you need, within the time limit, to set your best time. Passing is restricted to the straights after a “point-by” from the lead car (they point out the window which side they want you to pass on and then lift off throttle to make the pass easier). If you don’t give a point-by and a faster car catches you, you get the “passing flag” a blue flag with a diagonal yellow stripe (this flag is mandatory at Time Trials and if you ignore it you can get a “black flag” which means you have to pit and get a talking to). There were 25 cars on the 1.7 mile track and they varied greatly in speed (the slowest cars were doing 1:33 a lap while the fastest were doing 1:20, which translates to 10-20mph speed differences through corners and on the straights). My 178whp BRZ on street tires (255/40-17 Hankook RS4's) was on track with 400+ whp Corvettes on slicks (well, 100tw Nitto NT01's).
I’m fast enough to be either the fastest of the slow cars or slowest of the fast cars and generally hangout right in the middle of the lap times, I make it a point of pride to make sure that the only guys in front of me have significant power advantages. Getting point-bys from Corvettes and Mustangs feels great, but in the early sessions they are hesitant to acknowledge that a lowly 4 cylinder street car is faster than they are (the later sessions are organized based on lap times, so you earn your spot in grid based on your best lap from the previous session so when I grid in front of them they know I’m faster). It can be tough to get a clean lap since catching a fast car with a slower driver in the corners or under braking ruins not only your current lap but could take an extra lap to get back up to speed depending where exactly you’re impeded.
I spent most of the first session in traffic and never really got an open, clean lap. I still managed a respectable time (1:26.0) and established a comfortable lead over my STX friends (my closest competitor was David at 1:29.1), in fact, my lead was suspiciously large so I went to investigate. In paddock I found out the Miles broke a spindle on his IS300 and spent nearly the entire session stuck in the grass waiting for the tow truck and David had a CEL that turned out to be a bad coilpack (a known issue on early FRS/BRZ’s). Miles was done for the day and David was out for the next session, he had a replacement but broke the cam position sensor bracket while replacing the coilpack. Luckily for David, one of the Club Racers who had a house and garage at the track was campaigning a BRZ and offered to help (he gave David the part off his spare motor and had his mechanic help with the install, Club Racers live in a different world from us lowly Time Trial enthusiasts).
None of my competition was within spitting distance and I could breathe a bit. Conditions were great the rest of the day and I was having a blast so I kept pushing even though I had the competition part of the day wrapped up. I managed to knock a tenth off my personal best (PB from here on out) and was the fastest 4-cylinder car at the time trial, I beat out a couple of Corvettes and Mustang GT’s too which is always nice. David finished more than 2s behind me and actually lost out to an SSC (spec 86) by almost half a second (the SSC cars were in our class last year but have their own TT class this year). My only disappointment was that during the last lap of the day I was on pace for an even faster lap until I caught a Spec Miata and had to lift on the final straight (I would have picked up more than a quarter second). I had to settle for my 1:23.8, but that gave me something to shoot for on Sunday.
The first session Sunday started out cold (conditions were a little better than Saturday though since the Club Racers had laid down some rubber and the track was pretty clean). Towards the end of the session I found some open track and my tires had some heat, so I went ahead and started pushing. I set a new PB and put down my fastest lap of the weekend (1:23.6). Miles was back, this time driving a loaner FRS from one of our fellow STX guys who drove Saturday but worked a corner on Sunday (flagging the race, get your mind out of the gutter). I had more than a 2s lead after the first session and had set a fast enough time that there was no worry of any of the other STX guys catching me, but the data indicate there was time to find so I had no plans of taking the rest of the day easy.
The second session didn’t start well. In the first hot lap I pushed too hard on cold tires and ended up spinning off into the grass. No harm to the car but I’d have to go to the hot pits for a once over and this was going to cost me time. Once I was back out on track it took a couple of laps to get the tires up to temperature, which put me in traffic. I followed one of the Vette’s through traffic for a bit until we got into some shenanigans.
We caught my friend Skip in his Miata just as Joe in his Mustang GT was about to let Skip by (Joe was taking a cool-down lap and was either about to pit or just take an easy lap to let his tires cool back down for one last crack at a fast lap). The Vette thought he was getting a double point-by and took both, I passed Skip and tucked in behind Joe who was right on the tail of the Corvette. The Vette had entered the corner too hot and off line, which put him in the grass on corner exit. I was scooting through the corner at a very high pace and when Joe saw the Vette go off he hit the brakes and started to come back to mid-track to give the Vette some space; unfortunately, I was just behind and towards the inside of Joe. I had nowhere to go with Joe shooting inside and the Vette already in the grass on the outside, so I hit the brakes mid-corner knowing that it would end up causing me to spin (which it did). I ended up on the inside of the track facing oncoming traffic. Luckily the guys behind us saw the Vette throw up a dust cloud and had slowed enough to make it through the melee without any contact. I waved.
I took a couple of laps before control black flagged me for not coming in after the spin, I came into the pits and left since there wasn’t anything wrong with the car and the grid/pit guys didn’t have any issue with me (control was a little excited but not enough to make me sit in the pits too long in timeout as a punishment). Once I was back on track I tried to set a fast enough lap to keep from the back of grid and avoid having to pass too many slower cars to get some open track. Just a C6 Zo6 and a Mustang GT that I had passed previously snuck in front, but that was a better outcome than if I’d had any contact.
The third session would be the last timed session, Miles had managed to get just over a second behind me in his borrowed FRS but he swapped cars with David who thought he might have a blown shock (turns out he had two that needed some work, which explained why he was so far off pace), so there wasn’t any risk of him closing the gap. I managed to keep from doing anything exciting in the 3rd session but also couldn’t get down to the 1:23's again. I ended Sunday in about the same position as Saturday, in first place in my class with a new PB. It was a good weekend.
David, Miles, and I headed out for Tacos and met up with Joe and a couple of other of the American V8 guys. We talked trash over tacos, which is about the perfect ending to a race weekend.