Ready for a Super Weekend at the Brickyard?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 by Tire Rack Motorsports

Continental Tire and GRAND-AM Road Racing join NASCAR for the inaugural Super Weekend at the Brickyard. For the first time ever on Friday, July 27, 2012, GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge cars will compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Continental Tire arranged for Tire Rack to get a ride around the 13-turn IMS road course with Brian Frisselle. An out lap, flying lap and in lap in the Michael Shank Racing Ford-powered Riley Daytona Prototype 2-seater was all it took to discover what the Rolex Series drivers will experience during their upcoming three-hour endurance race.

Exiting the pits going the opposite direction of IndyCar and NASCAR gives a totally unique perspective of the speedway. After taking a 90-degree, right-hand turn off the oval we were impressed with the tires’ responsiveness and cornering capabilities through the flat turn two through seven complex challenges. The limited reference points visible from the cockpit of the 43-inch tall Daytona Prototype were also a surprise to us. Accelerating down the back straight (Hulman Blvd.) gets you almost to the Hall of Fame Museum before Brian used the brakes hard to slow down enough to snake through turns 8, 9, 10 and 11. Then it’s back on the gas to rocket back onto the oval, through the sports car course’s final turn (Indy’s normal Turn 1) and over the yard of bricks to experience the vehicle’s top speed and incredible braking capability as you arrive back at sports car turn one. All too quickly this once-in-a-lifetime experience was over.

While riding in a single car was exciting, watching all of the Rolex Sports cars compete for three hours promises to be quite a show.

See you there!

What Really is "One Lap of America?"

Thursday, May 17, 2012 by Tire Rack Motorsports

When I agreed to co-drive with Tire Rack sales specialist Joe Woodward in the 2012 Tire Rack One Lap of America, I had at least a basic understanding of what I was getting into. I knew that it was NOT what you think of when recalling Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett in the famous “Cannonball Run” movie. While that movie was a hilarious retelling of some of the antics of Brock Yates Sr. and his buddies during the original “Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash,” it is not what the modern One Lap of America is about.

On the surface, the event seems more than a little absurd. Eight days on the road, starting each day with up to four time-trial events on a famous (or not-so-famous) racetrack somewhere in the USA. Follow that with a transit stage sometimes exceeding 600 miles in a single day. Find a hotel near the next track, sleep a bit, and repeat the whole thing the next day. A week later you’re back where you started, with upwards of 3,300 miles having passed by in the interim.  The lowest total elapsed time during the time trials wins. In a nutshell, that’s it. But it doesn’t begin to tell the story of what competing in One Lap is all about.

This is an event that is defined by the people who participate in it. There have been famous race drivers, television celebrities, autocross national champions and plenty of regular people who want to do something unique. There are drivers who have competed in over 20 One Lap events, and people like me who are there for their first.

The sights of the event cannot soon be forgotten. The cars themselves attract a lot of attention, as they are often exotic, and covered in sponsor stickers. So you can get into a conversation with curious onlookers just about any time you get out of your car. You also get a chance to see our beautiful nation up close, in a way that is rare these days. Driving on two-lane blacktop with the top down through the Kansas and Oklahoma countryside, or the high plains of Colorado, or the rolling hills and wind farms of Iowa… there was so much to see.  And of course I haven’t even mentioned the fact that you get to drive on some of the best and most unique racetracks in the United States. In past years, One Lap has visited Daytona, Road America, Sebring, Mid Ohio, Nelson Ledges, Talladega, and many more. The event has always been about covering the full breadth of motorsports. On the very first day, we went from the Tire Rack test facility to a paved, walled 1/4-mile oval track, to a country club road course. All within a span of about 5 hours.

It’s impossible to participate in an event like this and not come away with a few stories to tell your friends. On our own drive, Joe and I managed to get stuck for an hour at a small-town gas station when the car refused to start. The next day, we broke an alternator retaining bolt, stranding us on the highway 25 miles from the race track where we were scheduled to compete that day. We were rescued by one of the competitors in our own class, who found the needed parts, brought them to us, and even helped to install them on the car. On a dark, lonely road on the way to Road America, I had to swerve to avoid a bear that ran in front of our car. We were both wide awake after that encounter. We tried to pay our previous favor forward, by arranging to get a set of wheels hand-delivered to another team that had the misfortune of breaking three wheels on their car. Sadly, that effort ended when the car went onto the track at Road America with the brand new wheels, only to have the motor fail catastrophically, ruining their chance at a class win. Such is the nature of an event like this. It can be cruel.

There’s plenty of friendly rivalry that takes place as well. Lots of jokes between the competitors about helping each other with questionable tire pressures or car set-up, or giving out obviously bad advice about the best way to navigate a particular race track. And of course plenty of practical jokes away from the track. It’s all in good fun.

At the center of all this since the beginning has been the mastermind of the event; Brock Yates, Sr. and more recently, his son Brock “Brocker” Yates, Jr.

Until this year.

Brock’s health has been declining, and this was the first time that he was unable to attend the event. Brocker gave a moving speech during the drivers’ meeting, which brought all in attendance to their feet in a lengthy standing ovation. Brock Yates’ contributions to this event, motorsports and motorsports journalism are legendary. He will be greatly missed, but these competitors know the true spirit of the event, and they will carry it forward.

In that spirit, many of the One Lap competitors use their competition to raise money and awareness for a wide variety of charities. Among those are organizations such as Make-a-Wish, Street Survival, Laps to Conquer MS, Zero-The Project to End Prostate Cancer, American Cancer Society, Fisher House Foundation, FasterCures, EvenStart for Children, KaleidoLinks and many more.

So in the end, One Lap of America is a driving and endurance competition. But it’s so much more. It’s getting to see our great nation, it’s meeting old friends, and making new ones. It’s getting to see people at their best, both in their driving, and in their desire to help their fellow competitors and others. It’s testing your own abilities in planning, car set-up, working under pressure and driving. It’s something that I’ll always be able to say that I was proud to be a part of.

Will I be back? I don’t know, life is tricky that way. But will I do it again if I have the chance? How could I not?

Tire Rack's Own Take on One Lap of America

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 by Tire Rack Motorsports

About two weeks ago, I (William Loring) had a conversation about the upcoming Tire Rack One Lap of America event with one of my co-workers, wholesale sales specialist, Joe Woodward. Joe has run in the event four times before in his Miata and I briefly asked if he was participating again this year. I let him know that if he needed a co-driver that I'd love the opportunity to participate in this great and grueling event. It just so happened that Joe was in need of a partner and the Street Survivalists team was formed. A few years back, Joe and I were on a four-day trip in Mexico to drive "Baja 100" buggies in an event sponsored by Yokohama Tires, so this wasn't our first time as driver and co-driver.

As a long-time employee of Tire Rack, I've helped run the One Lap Skidpad Challenge many times. While it was fun to help out, it was always a little frustrating to see the drivers head out on their journey and just have to wait for them to return a week later - tired, dirty, laughing and full of stories. It was always in the back of my mind that I'd like to take part in One Lap.

With me getting my chance to participate, our team quickly traveled the first 1,000 miles of the event. And while it went by quickly, there are still over 2,000 miles left to go. We've had some problems along the way that caused us to get to our hotel in Iowa at 2:30 in the morning. Joe's heavily modified 2001 Miata encountered some complications that caused us to avoid using anything in the car that might stress the electrical system. Which meant, no AC, no radio and our GPS is powered by an auxiliary battery. Our team also had a major mechanical issue that caused us to miss one of the track sessions and lose precious points to our competitors.

Even with the trouble, I'm having a great time. The people are fabulous and there are some great cars to watch out on the track: ranging from a Honda CRX HF (which is currently in 11th place overall) to Nissan GTRs, a Ferrari and the meanest looking Honda Odyssey that you've ever seen. There's a camaraderie that is hard to beat. We even had drivers in our own class rush out to meet us along the highway in Oklahoma this morning, bringing us essential parts to fix our broken alternator. These are guys who would stand to gain from our breakdown, but they offered their help instantly, without hesitation!

This event is truly special and I'm grateful to Joe and Tire Rack for giving me the opportunity to take part in it. My back hurts and I'm sleepy, but I'm looking forward to the next 2,000+ miles and the adventure that awaits.

Project STR Trophies in the Largest Class at the 2011 Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals

Friday, September 9, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
Whew, that was tough. The 2011 Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals, that is, where the STR class was the largest with 64 drivers going head-to-head; and man, oh man, was it a battle.

Chris Harvey sweeps through the showcase turn on the fast East courseWe drove on the faster East course on day one, designed by GRM’s Andy Hollis. His course featuring a mix of transitions and fast sections had us to the rev limiter in three places. The S2000s ruled the day holding down most of the top spots. Our project drivers John Rogers and Chris Harvey finished the day in 17th and 18th place, just 0.046 seconds apart, respectively. Day two moved over to the West course, which featured endless slaloms and narrow transitions. Once again the powerful S2000s lead the way, with Robert Thorne needing his final run to edge out class newcomer Nicholas Bargato by a scant 0.002 second. Rogers was able to use the nimble handling of our MX-5 to haul himself up to 13th spot and in the trophies, as the second fastest MX-5 at the event. Harvey was not quite in sync with the car on this day, and slipped to 22nd, just 0.7 seconds behind Rogers. The corner worker's hand up confirms it's plus one pylon penalty for Project STR

Amazingly, after more than 2 minutes of driving the first 30 drivers were separated by less than 3 seconds, just 2%. Autocross is a game of inches where every one counts, and the tight STR class finishing order really shows this. Complete results for the Street Touring Roadster class can be found here.

Project STR races in C Street Prepared at the Solo Nationals

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
 Following the fun of our R-compound tire test, we thought it would be an interesting experiment to run the car in the C Street Prepared class at the Tire Rack SCCA Solo Championship event in Lincoln, Nebraska. Since our regular drivers can’t compete in more than one class we drafted GRM’s newest editor and long-time Miata owner Alan Cesar to make his first trip to Nationals and drive in CSP. We also twisted the arm of SCCA’s VP of Rally/Solo Howard Duncan to take a turn at the wheel, too. Just to keep things interesting neither driver had an opportunity to practice in the car prior to their first run. To make matters even more challenging, the morning dawned with pouring rain soaking the course.

Alan Cesar runs through a soaked courseThe rain stopped as runs got underway, with plenty of water still on the course. All the competitors had bolted on their racing rain tires, so we rolled up our STR “wet” tires of choice, the Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec. Conditions continued to dry out so we installed the Hoosier A6 radials for the 2nd and 3rd runs, figuring it was going to all come down to the final run, anyway.

Alan was the first driver, and had to live with lingering damp and puddles, which made driving at the limit on the virtually-slick Hoosiers a real challenge. A spin and several big slides on his first two runs left Alan playing it safe to get a clean run in the bank heading into day 2. Duncan took maximum advantage of a rerun and the continually improving conditions to lay down the 6th fastest time of the class!

Day two was a different story, with warm, humid and most importantly dry conditions. Alan adapted to the sticky Hoosiers, showing no fear as he attacked the course. Cone trouble on his first two runs again forced Alan into safe mode to get a good one in the books. Howard is no stranger to R-compound tires, also driving hard right out of the gate. His scratch times were solid, but cone trouble penalties on all three runs pushed Howard down to 11th spot, just out of the trophies.

The car showed good speed in CSP, despite the relatively mild prep level (for the STR class). It would be an interesting experiment to d a little more development and try the car in CSP. Hmmm. Back to the matters at hand, the next stop for Project STR during Nationals week in Lincoln is in the Street Tire Roadster class with project drivers Chris Harvey and John Rogers at the wheel. 

Victory at the 2011 Great Lakes Divisional Championship

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
Fresh off installing the new OS Giken limited slip differential it was time to return to where our wheelspin issues first surfaced – Grissom Aeroplex in Peru, Indiana for the 2011 Great Lakes Divisional Championship. It was at this event last year that we discovered wheelspin with the OEM limited slip differential. So we thought it only fitting to head back to the grippy concrete to test out the new LSD.

Chris Harvey puts the power downWith the new differential in place we noticed an immediate change in the feel of the car, with improved stability and traction from the Hankook Ventus R-S3 tires at the rear of the car. Slaloms felt more stable, and we were able to get back to the throttle sooner and harder than before. The change did bring with it moderate understeer during initial turn in and high-speed power-on sweepers. Team drivers Chris Harvey and John Rogers didn’t let this get in the way as they held down the class lead after day one, with just 0.050 seconds separating the two drivers with Rogers out in front.

Swapping the rear springs took about an hour, but was worth the effort.We tried changing the rear anti-roll bar setting, but found it unsettled the rear of the car during corner exit acceleration. So to help get the rear of the car more involved in turning the car during initial turn in and power-on sweepers we decided to install stiffer rear springs. A Sunday morning swap of the rear springs on our KW Clubsport coil-overs in the paddock took about an hour, which turned out to be time well-spent. Both drivers felt the change, noting better initial turn in as the higher rear spring rates moved some work from the front to the rear of the car. Power-on understeer was virtually eliminated, with transitional balance still very stable. With both drivers adapting to the change, day two runs came down to fractions of a second to decide the winner. Harvey took advantage of a rerun to pass Rogers for the day, but it wasn’t enough to erase the deficit from day one. When the dust settled only 0.012 seconds separated the two drivers with Rogers taking the win.

Our next stop will be the Tire Rack SCCA Pro Solo Finale and Solo National Championship events in Lincoln, Nebraska just three short weeks from now. There we will put all of our work on the Mazda MX-5 project car to the test.

We tackle installing an aftermarket limited slip differential to help solve our wheelspin issues.

Monday, August 1, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
As we look through our comments in the log book, one that stands out is rear wheel spin as we try to accelerate to the next corner. We’ve worked on the KW coil-over suspension to try and increase rear end grip, and even tried different tires, settling on the Hankook Ventus R-S3. And while this has helped, at most event sites we can still slide the rear exiting medium to high speed corners, resulting in sideways motion without forward progress. A look at the data stream from our onboard Race Technology data logger shows the OE Mazda diff still allows some single wheel spin, and we’re getting inside wheelspin and not just sliding both rears.

So we turned to the guys at OS Giken, makers of some tricky driveline parts and the OS Super Lock LSD. This tunable limited slip diff allows the rear end to lock smoothly with power application, and can be tuned to have different lock rates during acceleration and deceleration.

To simplify our installation and allow us the opportunity to try some back to back testing, we sourced a separate diff carrier to install the Giken unit in. This allowed us to simply swap out the pre-loaded diff housing in about 2.5 hours, with the help of a co-worker’s lift. Some things shouldn’t be done on the garage floor.
Ring gear removed from the spare OEM diff awaits the new OS Giken LSDOEM ring gear is a precise fit on the new OS Giken diff

OS Giken diff installed int he spare diff housing

Project STR waits for another turn at the Windy City Miata Club eventAfter a few break in miles, Project STR driver Chris Harvey joined the fun with the Windy City Miata Club to get an initial read on how the freshly installed OS Giken limited slip differential works. The competitors enjoyed great courses and lots of runs as they battled to reduce time throughout the day. Chris piloted the Project STR MX5 to the quickest time of the day for all Mazda's entered and 2nd overall for the event, just a few tenths behind a well prepped and driven BMW M3 running on ultra-grippy Hoosier autocross tires.

Next up for Project STR will be the SCCA Great Lakes Division Championship event held at Grissom AFB in Peru, IN, August 6th and 7th.  

Hoosier A6 versus Goodyear Eagle RS AC Autocross Tire Test

Thursday, July 14, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
Project STR enjoys the extra grip of autocross R-Compound tiresNow that we’ve tried all of the fastest ST-class tires, we thought it was time to really step up the grip. So we decided to test some super-grippy 245/40R17 Hoosier A6 and Goodyear Eagle RS AC autocross compound tires. And as fast as our vehicle has been able to go on the Hankook Ventus R-S3 ST tires, the fastest of the R-Compound tires is still a full two seconds faster. Talk about spoiling us. All this grip makes us feel invincible.

The unmounted stack of Goodyear tires is nearly a half tire taller than the Hoosiers. But once both sets are mounted on wheels, the tire stack height becomes equivalent. Interestingly, the Hoosier stack didn’t really change when we put them on the 17x9.0 TRMotorsports C3 wheels, but the Goodyears experienced some shrinkage.

Mounted on 17x9.0 Wheels
Full results will appear in the October issue of Grassroots Motorsports magazine, which hits newsstands in mid-August.

Project STR Faces Some Tough Competition

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
Chris Harvey drives flat outOur lead project drivers Chris Harvey and John Rogers pointed the red Mazda MX-5 towards Toledo, Ohio for last weekend’s Tire Rack SCCA Northern States Championship. With lots of room, smooth concrete and high grip, this is one of the best venues east of the Mississippi. The two-day combined time event featured 50-second courses that were fast and relatively wide open – proven by our onboard Race Technology data logger that showed nearly 40% of each run was spent at full throttle, about double what we find at most events.

Until this past weekend, our car had displayed a tendency towards power-on oversteer at nearly every site we’ve raced at over the past year and a half. However, massive understeer was the story for us on day one. No matter how much we provoked it, the rear end would not slide and would lock down in transitions. This ultimately limited how early we could get back to the throttle exiting every corner, killing our speed at the end of each straight. The fast rev-happy Honda S2000 CR of Geoff Walker showed everyone in the 23-car STR field just how fast the class could go, leaving Chris and John in 5th and 8th place respectively.

Cornering improved on day 2 thanks to adjustments to the KW Clubsport suspensionAfter making some adjustments to our prototype KW Clubsport coil-overs, as well as our driving style, day two saw our car balance improve with the now rubbered in course. Rogers was able to post the third fastest STR class time of the day, with Harvey just a tenth of a second behind.

While sorting out the mystery understeer issue was somewhat frustrating, we learned and realized two things. One, we now have some tuning tools in our toolbox to solve future handling issues. And two, this is not Lincoln, Nebraska where the National Championship event will be held in just eight weeks. We’ll be sure to read through our logbook from prior trips out to Lincoln to better understand how to tune the car to optimize for Project STR's final 2011 event.

Comparing All of the ST Class Contenders

Friday, June 17, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports

Trying to figure out what tire to run for the rest of the summer?

Well deciding should get a little easier.

Project STR drivers Chris Harvey and John Rogers headed out to the Tire Rack test track to put our MX-5 through its paces, comparing six different 245/40R17 Extreme Performance Summer tires (five options are listed below while the sixth was the Toyo Proxes R1R) in dry and wet conditions.

Bridgestone Potenza RE-11
Bridgestone Potenza RE-11
Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec
Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec
Hankook Ventus R-S3
Hankook Ventus R-S3

Kumho Ecsta XS
Kumho Ecsta XS
Yokohama ADVAN Neova AD08
Yokohama ADVAN Neova AD08

Results from the dry test will appear in the August issue of Grassroots Motorsports magazine, which hits newsstands in just a few days. Wet test details will be published in the following issue. And like many things we’ve discovered during this project, the results may not be quite what you expect.

AEM Cold Air Intake Installation

Monday, June 13, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports

To help our little MX-5 breathe a little easier, we’ve installed an AEM Cold Air Intake.

There is some debate about how to legally install an intake, which according to the rules cannot modify the structure of the car to route the intake pipe. Most off-the shelf CAI’s require modifying or removing a splash shield behind the bumper cover to get the “coldest” air to the intake. This isn’t an issue for a street-driven car, but within the SCCA rules for the autocross class we compete in, making the minor modification isn’t allowed. So with a little investigation we took what turned out to be a very simple route to get our intake installed—and keep us legal.

We used an AEM Cold Air Intake for the 2006-07 Mazda MX-5, and simply deleted one small part and removed one mounting bracket from one of the aluminum pipes supplied with the kit. The CAI’s air filter now sits just behind and above the front bumper structure, and still gets a steady stream of cold air from an opening in the front fascia of the MX-5. The supplied polished aluminum tubing provides a smooth and straight path back to the engine, eliminating the bulky airbox and serpentine path of the OE intake. 

The engine is a pump after all, and now we can get more air in to help pump more power out.
Modifying the AEM intake pipe to follow the same path as the OEM pipe and airbox.Trim the AEM pipe to position the filter above the splash shield.

Project STR Competes in 4 Events in 3 Weeks

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
It's been a busy few weeks for Project STR as the summer race season has finally made its way to the Midwest with three back-to-back weekends of competition.

First up was an outing to the Tri-State Sports Car Club event at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL for a shake down on the installation of our new KW Clubsport suspension. Coil Spring rubs against the shock body creating a bind in the suspensio ntravel.Installation went well, but during the event driver Chris Harvey noticed some unusual handling characteristics. Investigation revealed that machining on one of the prototype rear shock mounts allowed the spring coils to come in contact with the shock body, creating a significant bind. Once back home, shimming the angle of the top mount canted the spring enough to clear the shock body, and solved the problem. We’re using the first prototype, so the final production piece will be corrected to prevent this from happening.

The KW Clubsport suspension was put to the ultimate test over the Memorial Day weekend as Harvey and co-driver John Rogers drove the car 600 miles to Lincoln, NE for the Tire Rack SCCA Spring Double Nationals with back-to-back Pro Solo and National Tour events. At the Pro, Rogers was quick early on, but faded on day two, slipping back to 7th, one out of the trophies. Harvey was able to capitalize on his day-two runs, jumping up to the 3rd spot, right behind the S2000s of Robert Thorne and James Yom.

Here’s a video look at the right side course on day two.     

Chris Harvey makes a rear shock adjustment on our new KW Clubsport Coil-Over suspensionAt the National Tour event, rain was the story on day one, as the first two heats were run in soaked to just wet conditions. A drying course for our heat meant it would come down to the third and final run to get it done. Adding to the challenge was the sheer size of the course, lasting 75 seconds per run and covering the entire area normally devoted to two courses. Rogers struggled to find his rhythm in several of the four long slaloms on the course, slotting into the 16th spot out of 26 drivers. Harvey fared better, posting the 7th fastest time in the class, and the quickest for a 3rd gen Mazda MX-5 as the field tried to chase down the gaggle of Honda S2000s that lead the pack. Hot temperatures and high winds greeted our drivers on day two. In the end, our team wasn’t able to find enough speed to catch the leaders, with Harvey taking the 8th and final trophy spot and Rogers moving up one to 15th overall.

Back home in Indiana, Chris Harvey took some time to compete in the 19th annual Yokohama/Tire Rack/Windy City BMW Club Charity Challenge held at the Tire Rack test track. All non-BMWs are lumped together in the “everything else” class competing heads up with no index factor. Harvey put his local track knowledge to good use as he drove his way through the tight and tricky course set-up by the Windy City crew. When the dust settled Chris had the 3rd fastest non-BMW and the 4th fastest time of the event. Not too bad considering the cars ahead of him were rolling on sticky Hoosier R-compound tires, versus the Hankook Ventus R-S3 street tires currently on our MX-5.
Project STR takes a moments rest during a busy race weekend
Next up will be the Tire Rack SCCA National Tour in Toledo, OH over the July 4th weekend.

Project STR Revs up for the SCCA Solo Spring Nationals

Friday, May 27, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
Memorial Day weekend 2011 will go down as the first time the SCCA has held a ProSolo and National Tour event over the same holiday weekend. We can’t think of a better place to host the event than the awesome Lincoln Airpark, home of the Tire Rack SCCA ProSolo Finale and National Championships. It appears many of our fellow Solo competitors agree, as the ProSolo entries capped out at 250 and the National Tour count has topped 300 competitors. It is an incredible turnout and testament to the enthusiasm within the Solo community despite high fuel prices and the still recovering economic conditions. 

With the big event just around the corner, the Tire Rack/Grassroots Motorsports Project DEI Gold FoilSTR team of John Rogers and Chris Harvey have continued the development of the 2010 Mazda MX5. First up, was the addition of Design Engineering, Inc. (DEI) Reflect-A-GOLD heat reflective material. We wrapped out a cold air intake tube, O2 sensor wires and plastic exhaust outlet hole with this state of the art polymer to help ward off heat from the engine compartment. Its self adhesive backing makes it easy to install just about anywhere.

Next up was some fine tuning to our exhaust system. In 2010 we installed a STR class legal, PPE header, mid-pipe and resonator and capped it off with a Goodwin Race muffler. 12,000 miles and lots of hard use had taken a toll on the resonator, so we decide to explore other options. We tried the simple solution first, just replacing the resonator with a straight pipe, but the resulting resonance in the cabin was too much for our eardrums to handle on the long drives to and from events. A call to Burns Stainless was made and an Ultra-Light muffler was quickly on its way. We replaced our old piece with this unit and noticed an immediate drop in the exhaust tone and weight. It's quiet enough we can bolt on a lightweight turndown in place of the Goodwin muffler and leave a few more pounds behind in the paddock.

To take care of our suspension needs in 2010, we installed an off the shelf, KW Variant 3 coil-over system with Hotchkis anti-roll bars. This set-up carried us to ProSolo and National event wins as well as bringing home hardware from the ProSolo Finale and National Championships. The street oriented spring rates coupled with KW’s wide range of valving adjustments performed better than expected on the Solo course and gave us a comfortable ride home.  prototype KW Clubsport Coiover Suspensions For 2011, we decided to turn up the volume a bit and assist KW with the development of a more aggressive system for Solo and track use. Stay tuned for driver impressions and track results as we get some seat time on this newly installed, prototype set-up.

ProSolo event competition will take place on May 27-28th with the National Tour running on May 29th-30th. You can find live results and a link to streaming audio at .

Project STR launches into the 2011 Pro Solo season

Friday, May 6, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
Tire Rack driver Chris Harvey pointed the Project STR Mazda MX5 550 miles south to Blytheville, Arkansas for our first SCCA ProSolo event of 2011. Co-driver John Rogers was tending to One Lap of America event duties so Chris was on his own to dial in the car and take on the solid, 12 car STR class field.

The Friday test and tune course was put to good use as adjustments were made for the unique and tricky concrete surface. Using our tried and true Dunlop Direzza Z1 Star Spec tires, KW Variant 3 coil-overs and Hotchkis anti-roll bars, the set-up was tweaked to remove some persistent oversteer we encountered. Nice gains were made on the clock and confidence was high going into Saturday’s first heat competition.

Long time SCCA National level Solo driver Darrin Disimo put down the fastest right side time while Chris followed-up with the quickest left side time during first heat competition runs on Saturday morning. Darrin’s co-driver and car owner, Dave Marcus showed flashes of speed on par with the front runners, but cone troubles pushed him back in the running order.

An announcement was made by event officials after the first heat that all three heats would be run on Saturday due to the strong possibility of rain during the normal Sunday morning final heat. That’s all the inspiration the STR drivers needed to push extra hard in the second heat in search of every bit of time they could find on course. Darrin came out swinging, putting down the quickest clean right side run but ran into cone troubles on the left. Chris answered with a half second improvement on the right side but then ran into red light troubles on his final two runs of the heat to nix any further gains. Once the math was done, Darrin held onto a solid .658 second lead, as the drivers headed into the third and final heat of the event. Dave Marcus cleaned up his first heat cone troubles to move into third, just four-tenths off Chris’ pace.

Tensions were high and some class leading competitors were observed doing rain dances as the final heat runs began late Saturday afternoon. Lots of bandwidth was being used as competitors kept one eye on the sky and another on the weather radar as rain clouds were building to the west. The course remained dry and fast until the STR competitors were directed to the starting line. The skies were dark as the ProSolo starting lights came down on the class leaders. With the wipers coming on and lightning in the distance as they rounded the half way point, Chris and Darrin charged through the finish each finding time on course and Chris closing the overall gap by two-tenths. The drivers then switched sides only to find the lightning closing in and the sprinkles turning into a steady drizzle. Once the drivers launched onto the course, it was clear the concrete had lost some grip and no additional gains would be found. As Darrin and Chris crossed the finish line for a second time, Darrin claimed the event win as the skies fully opened and soaked the course to prevent hope of improvement for the remaining two runs. 

The weather at the Tire Rack headquarters in South Bend, Indiana is finally turning as we head into May, this will allow for additional tire testing and suspension work as our search for additional speed continues. Our sights are set on the next major event for Project MX5, the 2011 Tire Rack SCCA ProSolo and National Tour in Lincoln, Nebraska over Memorial Day weekend. Chris and John can’t wait to have another crack at the ProSolo Finale and National Championship event site.
8-wheel fire truck is not built for speed.

Project STR Roars Back To Life

Monday, March 14, 2011 by Tire Rack Motorsports
After a long winter hibernating in Florida at the Grassroots Motorsports headquarters, Project STR finally saw some action this weekend at the Tire Rack SCCA Dixie National Tour in Cecil, Georgia. Project STR waits its turn during the Tire Rack SCCA Dixie National TourTire Rack drivers Chris Harvey and John Rogers packed their bags and headed for Georgia to compete against 27 other drivers in the burgeoning STR class, which was twice the size of the next largest class this weekend.

Despite a challenge from Darren DiSimo and his '99 Mazda Miata, Harvey came out of the gate swinging, laying down a flyer on his third run to secure the lead heading into day two. Rogers managed to hit cones on his first two runs, however landed a clean and safe third run to put himself in seventh place after the first day. As a combined time event, the best run from each day counts toward the total time, so it’s important to do well both days. Sunday’s round wouldn’t be an easy task for the drivers, as the rest of the class was eager to chase down Chris Harvey's lead. In typical event fashion, the course was driven in the opposite direction from Saturday, Chris Harvey charges to his first win of the 2011 seasonadding to the challenge. The Honda S2000s used their high revs and extra power to their advantage, with Geoff Walker and his S2000 CR posting a faster time than our MX-5. But Harvey’s lead from day one was enough for him to hold onto the top spot, scoring our first win of the year. Rogers cleaned up his act and avoided hitting any cones, posting the fourth fastest time of the day, which placed him fifth overall for the weekend.

As you may remember, we also kicked off the project last year at the Dixie National Tour event, but with a car that was bone-stock with no performance modifications. Our guys were just over 8 seconds behind the winner, but still managed an 8th place finish. Fast forward to today, if we had performed the same, our car would have landed way back in 27th place. This just shows how much the class as a whole has improved, as more drivers with better-prepared cars come out to play. It’s an exciting class, and one we’re glad to be a part of.
Who says you can't take it with you? Sure, there's plenty of room in the MX-5 for two drivers and all of their gear.
Now, if only the rest of the season can go as well as our first event. We have some additional improvements and tuning planned in an effort to keep our car out in front.

Project STR Heads to the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Orlando, FL

Monday, December 6, 2010 by Tire Rack Motorsports

Project STR braves the winter weatherAfter taking a few months off to rest up after the 2010 Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals, it’s time for Project STR Mazda MX-5 to head south for the winter. Leaving behind the snow and cold temperatures of Northern Indiana, we’re headed to Florida for the 2010 Performance Racing Industry trade show in Orlando later this week. This car isn't a trailer queen, so we're driving it all the way.

Today we have five inches of lake effect snow already on the ground, with more on the way. The Extreme Performance Summer tires we’ve been driving and racing on aren’t designed to work in the snow (and may even crack from below-freezing temperatures), so we opted to fit a set of Continental ExtremeWinterContact Studless Ice and Snow winter tires for the 20-hour drive. Proper Winter Tires get us moving in the snow

Look for our MX-5 on display at the show. And be sure to stop by the Grassroots Motorsports display in booth No. 1314.

Project STR looks a little dirty during a late night fuel stop on the way to Orlando

*Travel Update*
750 miles miles from Tire Rack HQ has the car looking a little rough. We'll have to get the MX-5 detailed with car care products before we roll it onto the show floor.

Project STR to Continue Development in 2011

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 by Tire Rack Motorsports
Tire Rack and Grassroots Motorsports are excited to announce our drivers/test team will be returning in the 2010 Mazda MX-5 for another season of SCCA Solo competition and STR vehicle development. 2010’s competition success exceeded our expectations as the car and drivers scored: Project STR turns toward victory at the CENDIV Divisional Championship
  • Three divisional championships
  • Two ProSolo class wins
  • Second place overall in the year-end ProSolo class standings
  • Two Tire Rack SCCA National Championship trophy positions (6th and 9th of 51)
  • STRL Tire Rack SCCA National Championship
The results were accomplished by resisting the temptation to throw all the go-fast parts at the car at the beginning of the season. Instead, we followed a systematic approach of installing and testing the major component changes so we could share the real world gains with readers along the way.

Plans are already in place for more car development and product testing -- a wet and dry extreme performance tire shootout, a brake pad comparison, further suspension changes and by popular demand, a heavy versus light weight wheel track test.

Do you have additional SCCA Solo-related comparisons you would like to see tested? Myths to bust or confirm? Give us your ideas below.

Project STR Scores Big at the Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals

Saturday, September 11, 2010 by Tire Rack Motorsports
This is what we’ve worked all season for –- to compete in the Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals on the wide open concrete of the Lincoln Air Park in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our lead drivers Chris Harvey and John Rogers were joined by former G Stock Ladies champ and Tire Rack team member Angie Rogers in the quest for glory in our bright red Mazda MX-5. Our team found both courses to be longer than anything they’ve driven on so far this year, with several spots on each course to really stretch the legs of the MX-5. There were also plenty of technical elements, and a mix of slow and fast corners. Nine ladies and 51 open class drivers would fight it out for top honors in the new STR class.

Angie started things off on the west course running in first heat, laying down a solid time on her second run. Both Angie and her closest challenger, Meredith Najewic, coned away quicker times on their third and final run, leaving Angie in front by less than 0.4 seconds heading into day two. Chris was fast right out of the gate, but could not improve on his first run time leaving him in 11th place after day one. John had trouble staying off the cones, with penalties on his first two runs. His third run was safe, but only 14th quick. Both drivers had some work to do the following day.

Day two dawned overcast and cool which worried some drivers hoping for extra tire traction from higher temps. But that didn’t bother our team as our Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec tires have proven to work well even in cool race conditions. The east course featured a mix of transitions, long sweeping corners and a hairpin turn leading to the fastest section of the course. Angie started off strong and kept her momentum going as she posted the quick time on all three of her runs to clinch the inaugural win in STR Ladies by nearly a full second.

John and Chris were ready to drive flat out when their turn finally came. Our MX-5 was in its element through the quick slalom transitions and sweeping corners. But it was evident that third gear was needed in two places to post a quick time. John ripped off a second run that would prove to be the third fastest time of the day. Chris’s second run was slightly faster than John’s but was pushed back two seconds with a cone penalty, so he had to settle for his first run time which was sixth fastest for the day. Neither driver improved on their third runs, but the gains on day two moved Rogers all the way up to sixth overall, with Harvey close behind in ninth place overall.

Pro Solo Finale Event Results

Tuesday, September 7, 2010 by Tire Rack Motorsports
Minimal cone usage on the wide open expanse of concrete provided a pair of deceptively challenging courses. Posing as simple elements, a variety of technical sections kept the field of 11 STR class drivers working overtime during the weekend. Eventual winner Ken Montonishi jumped out to a large lead right off the bat, and never looked back. Tire Rack and Grassroots Motorsports drivers John Rogers and Chris Harvey drove flat out in an effort to catch Montonishi, but could only be the best of the rest finishing second and third overall. 

Harvey scored enough points in the finale to finish the year-end points championship in second place overall, behind Montonishi who went undefeated in Pro Solo competition all year to score the overall win in STR.

Next stop is the practice course on Monday, followed by the Tire Rack SCCA National Championship event beginning on Tuesday.

Project STR Gets Ready to Roll

Friday, September 3, 2010 by Tire Rack Motorsports
Our team gets ready to leave Tire Rack headquarters for the drive to Lincoln, Nebraska.It all comes down to this. We've tested, we've tuned, we've tweaked. We've done our homework and think we’re ready for the big dance.

This is what we've been working for all year -- to see if our project can prove itself in autocross competition at the Tire Rack SCCA Pro Solo Finale and National Championship being held in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Yes, we're towing the car to the event, only because we think we need to bring along pit bikes, coolers, tools, helmets for three drivers and clothes for a week. There is a limit to how much we can pack into the little MX-5. So this time we're bringing a support vehicle.

Stay tuned for our results as they happen.