JONATHAN SALAZAR’S DAIHATSU HIJET

WHAT ARE THESE AWE­SOME TURN-KEY RACE CARS, AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Super Street - - CONTENTS - WORDS & PHO­TOS Luke Mun­nell

The world is be­gin­ning to take no­tice of some­thing sport-com­pact tuners have known for a long time: that de­spite their physics-de­fy­ing driv­e­train lay­out, front-wheel-drive cars make great race ma­chines. For proof of this, one need look no far­ther than North Amer­ica’s new fastest over­all Time At­tack record holder (Toronto’s Wil­liam Au-ye­ung and his PZ Tun­ing 9th-gen Civic coupe), or the stock-bod­ied Civics clock­ing 7-sec­ond quar­ter-mile times at more than 200 mph. To­day, af­ter decades of our prov­ing their worth, it seems that FWDS might truly be headed for a golden age in rac­ing. In re­sponse to global de­mand for fuel ef­fi­ciency, re­duced emis­sions, and ur­ban ac­ces­si­bil­ity, as well as con­sumers’ de­sires to go fast in style, com­pact cars and hot hatches are in huge global de­mand, and their mak­ers are find­ing them­selves more and more in heated com­pe­ti­tion to one-up each other. It’s par­tially to this ex­tent that OEM in­volve­ment in TCR rac­ing is ex­plod­ing around the world to­day, bring­ing to life some of the best-per­form­ing and most re­li­able (and coolest-look­ing!) mod­i­fied sport com­pacts in pro­fes­sional road rac­ing to­day.

BRIEF HIS­TORY

An­nounced in ’14, what was orig­i­nally called the TC3 In­ter­na­tional Se­ries was de­vel­oped as a low-cost rac­ing class for driv­ers of spec SEAT Leon Cup cars, run­ning in tan­dem with var­i­ous larger/ faster cars of the TC1 and TC2 classes of the World Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship (WTCC) in Eu­rope. Af­ter news of the se­ries sparked in­ter­est among Oem­part­nered race teams, the one-make re­stric­tion was lifted and teams and OEMS alike rushed to en­ter their most ca­pa­ble C-seg­ment pro­duc­tion-based mod­els in com­pe­ti­tion.

An Ital­ian team called Tar­get Com­pe­ti­tion was first to of­fi­cially reg­is­ter with a SEAT Leon, but were fol­lowed quickly by Onyx Race En­gi­neer­ing in Great Bri­tain with a Ford Fo­cus pro­gram, Swedish team West­coast Rac­ing cam­paign­ing three Honda Civics (sadly, not with Spoon en­gines), and oth­ers field­ing Volk­swa­gens, Audis, and more. Once it be­came clear the se­ries would be of­fi­cially rec­og­nized by the FIA as the “TCR In­ter­na­tional Se­ries” later in ’15, the flood­gates broke open. The TCR Asia se­ries was of­fi­cially es­tab­lished, fol­lowed by re­gional and na­tional se­ries in Bel­gium, China, Italy, Por­tu­gal, Thai­land, Ger­many (un­der the ADAC blan­ket), the Mid­dle East, U.K., Aus­tralia, and even­tu­ally here in the States, rac­ing within Pirelli World Chal­lenge (PWC) and (soon to be) In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Sports As­so­ci­a­tion (IMSA) com­pe­ti­tion.

WHAT MAKES A TCR CAR

Whereas the top GT cars of most pro­fes­sional sportscar rac­ing se­ries in the world are tube-frame, car­bon-fiber­bod­ied race ma­chines made in the im­age of pro­duc­tion cars, all TCR cars start life as “bod­ies in white” plucked right off their man­u­fac­tur­ers’ assem­bly lines. Un­der their hoods are 330hp-lim­ited 2.0L tur­bocharged en­gines, usu­ally built ver­sions of en­gines they’re avail­able with in deal­er­ships—in the case of FK8 Honda Civic Type R TCR cars, that means tuned ver­sions of their fac­tory-tur­bocharged K20C1 en­gines.

Fac­tory uni­body sheet­metal and sus­pen­sion lo­ca­tions must re­main; all cars must em­ploy largely faith­ful OEM wet sump oil­ing sys­tems (as op­posed to race-bred dry-sump sys­tems); wheels are lim­ited to 18x10”; brakes to six-pis­ton front calipers and 380mm ro­tors, and twopis­ton rear calipers; and all cars must use a spec front split­ter, chas­sis-mounted rear wing, and Pirelli P-zero Rac­ing Slicks and Rac­ing Rain tires. TCR cars in other se­ries may re­tain their OEM trans­mis­sions, but in the Pirelli World Chal­lenge, they uti­lize awe­some pad­dle-shifted, se­quen­tial do­gen­gage­ment gear­boxes. That all might seem like a lot of re­stric­tion, but it ac­tu­ally leaves lots of room for af­ter­mar­ket parts choice and tun­ing.

The modus operandi for most TCR rac­ing ef­forts is this: OEMS get in­volved, au­tho­rize a tun­ing shop to build the com­pe­ti­tion cars from fac­tory-supplied en­gines and bod­ies, cer­tify one even­tual “TCR” for­mula for sale, and then rac­ing teams (and pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als!) can buy those cars turn-key from the au­tho­rized builders.

In the case of Honda and its Civic Type R, all com­pet­ing TCR cars are built and tuned by J.A.S. Mo­tor­sport in Italy, and in this year’s Pirelli World Chal­lenge, com­pe­ti­tion is cam­paigned by Real­time Rac­ing. In the case of Hyundai, its com­pet­ing i30 N TCR cars are built di­rectly by Hyundai Mo­tor­sport and are cam­paigned here by Bryan Herta Au­tosport, for­merly of Red Bull GRC fame.

MEET THE CHAL­LENGERS

If you want to know which parts will work best and de­liver the fewest prob­lems on your own car, or if you’re look­ing for fab­ri­ca­tion or en­gi­neer­ing in­spi­ra­tion, look to­ward pro­fes­sional rac­ing. When an OEM’S rep­u­ta­tion, a shop’s brand, and all part­ners’ liveli­hood are on the line, they tend to go with the best parts and crafts­man­ship avail­able.

We were lucky enough to be in­vited out to Cir­cuit of the Amer­i­cas (COTA) last March to wit­ness the de­but of TCR rac­ing on our shores dur­ing the sec­ond round of Pirelli World Chal­lenge com­pe­ti­tion. Upon set­ting foot at the famed cir­cuit, we im­me­di­ately ran over to the TCR pits for a closer look at these new ma­chines, be­gin­ning with—you guessed it—the Hon­das.

J.A.S. Mo­tor­sport has han­dled com­pe­ti­tion builds for Honda in mul­ti­ple tour­ing car se­ries around the world for many years since ’96, and its FK2 Honda Civics Type Rs have won 17 re­gional and na­tional TCR cham­pi­onships around the world. Real­time has been rac­ing and win­ning in Hon­das on our shores for even longer, and has amassed a whop­ping 89 World Chal­lenge wins and 14 cham­pi­onships. And let’s not for­get which of the world’s FWDS owns the Nür­bur­gring lap record. That’s right—the Honda Civic Type R. With such a rich rac­ing his­tory in place, we felt the safe bet to take the first two wins in the week­end’s dou­ble-header were these guys.

But one look at the Hyundai chal­lengers proved they shouldn’t be dis­missed. Hyundai has been mak­ing big in­vest­ments in its rac­ing pro­grams in re­cent years, and it shows. While its i30 N doesn’t yet have the rac­ing her­itage of Honda and its Type R mod­els (with the i30 long sold here as the Elantra), the N is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal and, in terms of per­for­mance, is a down­right beast. Oh, and Bryan Herta Au­tosport’s two Hyundai i30 Ns qual­i­fied first and sec­ond by an im­pres­sive mar­gin for the first race of the week­end here at COTA. So there’s that.

Seven other teams field­ing 10 ad­di­tional cars, in­clud­ing the Alfa Romeo Guili­etta TCR, Audi Sport RS2 LMS TCR, and Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI TCR, all looked ea­ger and ca­pa­ble to turn the tides. And if there’s one thing that could be said of any brand-new rac­ing ini­tia­tive, it’s that any­thing can hap­pen.

THE IN­AU­GU­RAL RACE

Hold­ing true to the Texas mantra, at 3.427 miles and wide all around, COTA is big. It’s big enough to host the cars of the TCR class and the even larger TCA class in the same run group, as well as al­low­ing sev­eral of PWC’S many other classes to run to­gether. It’s also fast and fea­tures an up­hill climb into a bru­tal Turn 1 where pile­ups are the norm.

Such a range of emotions washed over us come the rolling start to the first-ever TCR race here in Amer­ica. The cars are awe­some and we shut­tered to think of them all gar­bled on top of each other head­ing into Turn 1, but we also rec­og­nized the names of sev­eral of their driv­ers who would rather risk that fate than give their com­peti­tor the ad­van­tage in such a hall­mark race.

As the race wore on, the two Hyundais pulled an ever in­creas­ing gap on the rest of the pack, their com­peti­tors’ only hope ly­ing in an ex­tended full-course cau­tion and a chance to catch up that never came. It was an easy first vic­tory for camp Hyundai, with driv­ers Michael Lewis and Mark Wilkins claim­ing first and sec­ond, and as a con­so­la­tion, Ryan Ever­s­ley took third from be­hind the wheel of the No. 43 Honda Civic Type R.

Race #2 the fol­low­ing day would be much the same, with the two Hyundais start­ing on the pole from their vic­tory the day be­fore, and pretty much coast­ing to an­other 1-2 fin­ish, this time with Wilkins ahead of Lewis … and Ever­s­ley claim­ing third, once again.

WHAT’S NEXT

In only its fourth year of com­pe­ti­tion, and first in the U.S., Tcr-class rac­ing is still very much on the ramp-up. A quick look over the el­i­gi­ble plat­forms list shows no fewer than 17 makes/ mod­els that can be adapted for com­pe­ti­tion. While most of them are for­eign cars that will likely never make it to our shores, in that list are the Audi TT, Ford Fo­cus, Subaru WRX, Mercedes CLA/GLA, a cer­tain ru­mored Volvo model, pos­si­bly the Kia Forte, and likely sev­eral new 2.0L turbo cars to come.

With this be­ing only the first two races of the Pirelli World Chal­lenge sea­son, and an­other de­but yet to come from IMSA, we ex­pect TCR par­tic­i­pa­tion to only grow in size and in­ten­sity. And who knows—with FWDS get­ting bet­ter, faster, and stronger ev­ery day, maybe we’ll yet see that all-out, FWD GT se­ries we’ve been wait­ing decades for the rest of the world to re­al­ize it needs.

››Pirelli P Zero rac­ing slicks are the con­trol tire for the TCR class.

››The Civic Type R's aero de­vel­oped by J.A.S. Mo­tor­sport fea­tures an in­te­grated front split­ter and ex­tended fend­ers to ac­com­mo­date 18x10" wheels.

››THE driv­e­train of the i30 N TCR car is the same 2.0-liter four-cylin­der based off the road car.

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