We love race cars. Well ... we love all clean cars, but there's a special place in our hearts for race cars. They go fast, look cool, and sound awesome, which are all reasons most of us took a liking to race cars even before we could write our own names. They're also three of the reasons race cars can look great on a show floor, while applying show cars to the race track usually ain't so easy.
Need proof? Take the SEMA show. It's the one place where the world's cleanest custom cars compete for the honor and attention of the world's most discerning custom car builders. Lots of absolutely flawless paint and bodywork, and the latest trends in vehicle styling, all on cars that will live out their lives in near-perfect condition, show after show after show. And amidst all that are a bunch of hard-driven race cars, stealing their thunder.
Since we also love racing, we've gotten the chance to see many of these performance machines in action throughout the year. And how better to convey their real-world performance than by showing them doing what they do best—looking good and going fast.
1. ACURA TEAM PENSKE ARX-05 DPI PROTOTYPE
Honda and Acura have really stepped up their racing game over the past few years, and one look at their SEMA display showed just how evident that is. Comprised almost entirely of current competition machines, the brands' joint effort display was probably the most race-focused we've seen from an OEM. Front and center: the no.86 Acura ARX-05 IMSA DPi race car.
We watched this machine and its twin—and the legendary Team Penske who brought them to life—debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona by at one point setting the fastest lap and leading the race for hours on end. Since then they finished first and second at the Mid-Ohio round of IMSA competition, took second and third the following round at Detroit, earned two more third-place finishes, and generally wreaked havoc on the traditionally domestic competition.
No, the racing prototype chassis isn't something made by Acura themselves. It's based on a WEC LMP2-spec Oreca 07, but it's been given plenty of bespoke accents, aerodynamics and other geat developed by Acura and Team Penske, and it's powered by a fully rebuilt, twin-turbocharged, 600-hp version of Acura's 3.5L V-6, code-named AR35TT. And having successfully completed its first year, it's just getting started.
2. ACURA NSX GT3 EVO
Acura's NSX GT3 program has been around for two seasons now, and in the hands of Meyer Shank Racing w/Curb-Agajanian in the GTD class of IMSA competition, it too has lead its class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and scored victories at the Grand Prix of Detroit and Six Hours at Watkins Glen.
Underneath its dry carbon-fiber skin, the NSX GT3's "multi material space frame" and chrome-moly roll cage chassis is built right alongside production versions of the NSX at Acura's Marysville, OH plant. And powering it is a 500-hp Acura 3.5L twin-turbo V-6 that is mechanically nearly stock, retaining its production block, heads, pistons, cams, turbochargers, but given race necessities like a dry sump oiling system, sequential dogbox, and the like.
This year's SEMA show brought attendees their first look at the revised NSX GT3 EVO, which will bring refined aero and cooling gear, upgraded turbochargers (which will be retrofitted to all existing competition NSX GT3s), and a host of other important racing nuances.
3. HONDA CIVIC TCR
TCR-class sportscar racing for 2.0L turbo-four FWDs has been taking off in Europe and Asia for the past several years, and in 2018 American racing teams finally got their chance to grab a piece of the action. Beginning as a "body in white" plucked straight off the production assembly line (as all TCR cars are), Honda Civic TCR cars are then modified for race duty by J.A.S. Motorsports in Italy, and then offered to race teams as turn-key packages at surprisingly affordable prices.
Realtime Racing campaigned two Civic TCRs in Pirelli World Challenge competition this year. Powered by 330-hp Honda 2.0L turbo fours, the two cars scored a deluge of wins and podium finishes and ultimately finished second in team championship points by a very close margin to rivals Bryan Herta Racing (who we'll get to in a moment). We're expecting them to improve on that next season.
4. HYUNDAI I30 N TCR
Hyundai came out swinging to the inaugural season of TCR competition in the Pirelli World Challenge, and after too many races and close finishes (mainly with their Civic TCR rivals), had locked up championship honors by the end of the season. We had a feeling they would do this, after watching them make quick work of the series' very first two races at COTA. The performance of their two cars, built directly by Hyundai Motorsports and campaigned by Bryan Herta Autosport, far outpacing their rivals at the time.
And if that's not enough, in the days leading up to SEMA they entered competition at the second-annual Intercontinental GT Challenge at Laguna Seca, as the only Asian manufacturer to do so, amidst a huge field of far more powerful domestic and European GT machines. Two of their World Challenge TCR cars entered, one survived, and it was then wheeled across the desert and onto the black carpet as you see it here.
5. EKANOO RACING LEXUS RC-F
If you need evidence of the global presence door-slammer drag racing is enjoying in the modern day, look no farther than this car. It's based on a Japanese car, was built completely in Bahrain, became the Middle East's first sub-four-second car in eighth-mile performance, and even went on to clock a world-record 5.379-sec @ 278.79 mph quarter-mile pass, with 3.615-sec eighth-mile performance. And now, it lives in America and competes almost exclusively against big-muscle domestics.
We got to see this gem, and meet its new owner, Daniel Pharris, in action just a couple months ago at South Georgia Motorsports Park for No Mercy 9, where the two were cleaning house in Limited Drag Radial competition, where it was belting out pole-winning 4.135 @ 188.07 eighth-miles in slightly "detuned" trim.
Oh your buddy's GT-R makes 2,000 hp? That's cute. This RC-F makes about 4,000 hp from its massively twin-turbo'd, billet Pro Line Racing 481X V-8 engine (which are good for another 1,000 hp or so). And considering that this has only been Pharris' first year with the car, with a lot of changes from how it once was, we can't wait to see how much faster it'll go next year.
6. WESLEY MOTORSPORTS DODGE CHALLENGER HELLCAT
OK, OK ... we know. It's a Dodge. But it's also a Hellcat (kind of cool) and it's built with some serious backing from Bilstein for hillclimb and time-attack duty—very cool. This thing first caught our eye at Gridlife South, throwing its flat, 4,000-lb flanks around the twisties of Road Atlanta very quickly, and in style. If you ever wanted to know why people think Corey Hosford's Boss S14 is something Mopar, look at it next to this thing.
With 797 hp in stock form, not much has been modified under the hood or along the drivetrain, but the whole system has been re-tuned for 850 hp on E85 fuel. We suspect some cooling system upgrades were deployed, but the real magic took place under the car, beginning with a set of Bilstein MDS double-adjustable dampers, Viper ACR front brakes, sticky 355-series Kumho V720 ACR tires, and lots of bespoke aero.
No word yet on any changes to the car or what its 2019 schedule might be, but whenever we can catch a straight-line performer retuned to conquer the curves, count us there.
7. LAMBORGHINI HURACAN SUPER TROFEO EVO
Spending $295,000 on a new car is a big decision. Unless, of course, it's a business expense, your business is professional racing, and you want something that will deliver breathtaking performance and reliability to match. And in that case maybe you can't afford not to get a Lambo Huracan Super Trofeo EVO.
This "no. 63" car was the one used to introduce the newly revised Super Trofeo race car to the world, and it's been a rare treat for us to see dozens like it compete alongside IMSA in Lamborghini Squadra Corse Super Trofeo competition throughout the year, at races like Watkins Glen.
Powered by a 610-hp (roughly) V10 engine mated to a six-speed sequential dogbox, covered by a carbon-fiber body and aero, and with all the necessary racecar trimmings, these are rock-solid performers that love to be driven at their limit over and over again.
8. PORSCHE 911 RSR
Without a doubt the best sounding car on the IMSA grid, this 911 and its sister car (no. 911) not only sound like raw power, they perform like it too. Having won in GTLM-class competition at the 12 Hours of Sebring, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and the 10-hour Petit Le Mans.
The RSR breaks from 911 convention significantly. The suspension, body structure, aerodynamics, and driveline have all been designed from scratch, and its engine (also all-new) resides entirely in front of the rear axle. That's right—this is a midship Porsche. Blasphemy! As for that engine, it's a 991-based, naturally aspirated, 4.0L inline-six churning out 510 hp at what sounds (thanks to generous head porting) like a million RPM. And those six-speed sequential dogbox flat shifts ... we can't even.
We caught these two cars at IMSA races in Long Beach, Road America and Petit Le Mans this year, the latter of which is where it collected all the debris it went directly to the SEMA show with, proving another valuable rule: even dirty race cars can steal attention from clean show cars.
9. AUDI RS3 LMS
Audi have been endurance racing and 2.0L turbo kings for decades, so it makes sense that their foray into the world of TCR-class racing would be a slam-dunk. Enter the RS3 LMS, Audi's response to the FWD Hyundai and Honda heavy hitters profiles above.
Like the other two cars, the Audi RS3 LMS is reserved for factory-backed racing efforts and available for purchase by independent race teams. We saw a mix of that during competition both in IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge this year, and the platform has proven a hit the world over, with RS3 LMS teams amassing a staggering 58 race victories and 149 podium finishes, including a season-long clean sweep of TCR-class IMSA racing here at home.
While the Audi RS3 LMS didn't fare nearly as well in World Challenge racing, with some of the series' peculiarities ironed out for next year, we're betting it will give the "big two" a run for their money.
10. BONUS: APR VOLKSWAGEN GOLF RLMS
Ever wonder just what a TCR car could be capable of, if not for the series' 350-hp restriction? Look no farther than APR's Golf RLMS, which made its debut at SEMA. No, sadly this isn't something that's going to hit the track in any official racing capacity, anytime soon. But its 2.0L turbo engine has been given a large, twin-scroll Borg Warner turbo, a host of APR bits, and tuning to yield 536 hp and 474 lb-ft of torque. The body appears to be based on a Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR "body in white," but with some creature comforts added (remember, TCR bodies come straight off manufacturer assembly lines), and possibly an AWD drivetrain.
While we haven't actually seen this one take to the track (no one has), APR claims that it will, in demos and shows around the county in 2019. For an idea of what that might look like, just add a little motion blur to these photos.