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2004 Ultimate Street Car Challenge

Jan 1, 2005
0501_sccp_01_z+ultimate_street_car_challenge+mazda_rx7_drift Photo 1/1   |   2004 Ultimate Street Car Challenge

Keeping ScoreFourteen of the 15 USCC tests are scored on a 110-point scale with the winner getting 110 points, the loser getting 10. Those who blow up so bad they can't cross the finish line get a zero. The scores for everyone but the best, worst and most blown-up are based on how the competitor finished relative to the best and worst car. If, for example, the most powerful car made 800 hp and the least powerful made 300 hp, there would be a 500-hp spread between them. A car making 700 hp would be 80 percent of the way from the loser to the winner, so it would get 90 points (that's 80 points, plus 10 points for not blowing up.)

Now the exceptions: The Gross Display of Horsepower is worth only 25 points and is scored by a panel of judges well versed in the art of the burnout. The gas mileage test is worth a total of 120 points since we offered an extra 10 bonus points for anyone willing to pour our 91-octane swill into their tank.

A perfect score for the USCC is 1,575 points. - Dave Coleman

Welcome to the Ultimate Street Car Challenge 2004. Or, as we like to call it, the best car test the world has ever seen.

The USCC is fiercely competitive. It's an intensive 48-hour test of man and machine. To win, a car must be fast, durable, powerful, usable, nice on the eyes and easy on the environment. For the victor, the rewards are a big glass trophy and immense satisfaction, while the losers get smaller glass trophies.

Regardless of the risk, for the fourth year in a row 10 crazies* took up the challenge and agreed to meet us in Los Angeles for the two days of absolute automotive bliss and abuse that is the USCC.

The first day was spent at the headquarters of K&N Filters in Riverside, Calif., where the cars competed in a car show, were put on the chassis dyno and judged by a team of experts for their engineering. We sampled their driveability, measured their fuel economy, checked their emissions and gave gassy Grandma a ride in each.

The next day we hit Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale, Calif., where the cars battled it out on the dragstrip, and Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, Calif., where they competed on the 200-foot skidpad and the 1.5-mile road course.

Fifteen grueling tests in all.

If you tuned in last month, you already know about the cars. We covered all 10 in serious detail. Who won? Who has the ultimate street car? Turn the page to find out. Enjoy the action. - Scott Oldham

* This year the 10 crazies are:
Machine Man
{{{1994 Mitsubishi Eclipse}}} GSX Scot Gray, Agoura Hills, Calif.
1992 {{{Nissan}}} Skyline {{{GT}}}-R Nick Wong, Chicago, Ill.
{{{1997 Toyota Supra}}} Turbo Matt Andrews, Irvine, Calif.
{{{1995 Mazda Miata}}} Andrew Campbell, Garland, Texas
{{{1991 Toyota MR2}}} Brad Bedell, Plano, Texas
{{{1999 Subaru Impreza}}} 2.5RS William Knose, San Jose, Calif.
{{{2004 Volkswagen R32}}} Marcel Horn, Surrey, BC, Canada
{{{1994 Mazda RX-7}}} Jason Cameron, Irving, Texas
2003 {{{Mitsubishi}}} EVO VIII Robert Fuller, Apple Valley, Calif.
2003 Mitsubishi EVO VIII Scott Gladstone, Irvine, Calif.
We thank the sponsors of this year's USCC, Nitto Tires and Tokico. It couldn't go down without them.

Test 1 Price

BASE PRICE
Rank Car Base Price Points
1 Mazda Miata $16,450 110
2 Toyota MR2 $18,000 103
3 Mitsu Eclipse $19,029 99
4 Subaru 2.5RS $19,195 98
5 Buschur/RRE EVO $28,900 57
5 Sparco EVO $28,900 57
7 VW R32 $29,100 56
8 Mazda RX-7 $31,000 48
9 Nissan Skyline $31,800 45
10 Toyota Supra $39,000 10
Base price is based on year of manufacture.Skyline price is domestic Japanese price converted to U.S. dollars.

Of all the tests in the challenge, the car show is the least quantitative and most subjective. Scoring is driven by personal opinion and nothing more. Therefore, this test can also be the most unpredictable. In this venue the judges' word is law, and if they take a personal set against you or your car, you can consider yourself pretty much screwed.

That's not to say point allocation is completely baseless. This year's judges have seen it all. Elton Lo returns for the second year in a row. He's a regular at such heavily promoted events as Import Showoff and Import Xtreme, in addition to running a custom tuning shop, so he's about as close to a professional car show judge as you'll find. Ditto for his buddy Phillip Phong.

Last in our panel of three is the legendary James Chen, he who entered the USCC three years in a row and made it his bitch on two of those occasions. Incidentally, his yellow 350Z won the car show in 2003 and his other two entries never scored worse than fourth place, so the guy knows how to build a good-looking sled.

Each entry was judged not only on the fit and finish of its various modifications, but also on the quality of the parts used. Every aspect was considered: overall appearance (first impression), engine bay, interior, suspension, stereo or ICE, exterior mods and paint.

Each judge was also allowed to allocate bonus points to a car that appealed directly to him.

The hands-down winner was Scott Gladstone's Sparco EVO VIII. While the rest of the field was judged with a cold sort of clinical detachment, the Sparco EVO reduced our panel to something like a group of enthusiastic nine-year-olds crowding around a salvaged nudie mag. It was the last car to be judged, and had drawn quite a crowd by the time the judges got to it. They were most impressed by the incredible full graphics wrap carried out on the exterior. It's so good you'd swear it was paint, even with your nose pressed up against the vinyl's surface.

Other areas were just as nice, particularly the interior. Ferrari Enzo seats didn't hurt, and the color-matched Design Craft roll cage is an absolute masterpiece, both in construction and fitment.

Brad Bedell's MR2 came in second. It's obvious this car was assembled with great care and sports a load of subtle custom tricks, including a blown V6 swap executed with the owner's own two hands. Elton described it as "pretty crazy ... a total sleeper."

HPA's R32 Golf finished a hair behind the MR2. The car was clean, straight and largely stock looking as far as the interior and exterior, but the judges were taken by the gigantic Audi racing brakes fitted to all four hubs and by the overflowing engine bay with its two conspicuously mounted twin turbos and miles of custom plumbing.

Fourth place went to Nick Wong's R32 Skyline. Despite the fact that it's been driven with a heavy foot for more than 13 years, assembled and reassembled countless times and is the oldest entry of the lot, it's still a Skyline. It still cleans up nice.

Fifth and sixth place fell to the Mazda camp, Andrew Campbell's Miata and Jason Cameron's RX-7, respectively. The judges gave big props to the Miata's engine bay and its nice original paint. The RX-7 was criticized on the jumbles of wires and haphazardly placed heat shrouding within the engine bay.

Matt Andrews' turbo Supra placed seventh. Though it's got more go-fast stuff this year, it doesn't look like much more than, well, a green Supra. Robert Fuller's Buschur/RRE EVO VIII came next. "Hacked-up vinyl," one of the judges noted disapprovingly, scribbling furiously on his notepad.

Bill Knose's Subaru Impreza, though brimming with a host of go-fast equipment and technical upgrades, was slammed for retaining too much of its factory aesthetics. "Stock doesn't win car shows," said Elton.

Scot Gray's black Eclipse was criticized in much the same way. Though the judges liked his paint and the car's pristine condition, the DSM was relegated to last place. - Karl Funke

Test 2 Car Show

CAR SHOW
Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 Sparco EVO 110 A true show car from every angle
2 Toyota MR2 79 Ultraclean DIY
3 VW R32 61 Big brakes, big turbos
4 Nissan Skyline 44 Getting older but still potent
5 Mazda Miata 36 Nice engine, original paint
6 Mazda RX-7 34 Messy engine, but hey ...
7 Toyota Supra 27 Bolt-ons don't win shows
8 Buschur/RRE EVO 24 Hacked-up vinyl
9 Subaru 2.5RS 11 Too much tech, no bling
10 Mitsu Eclipse 10 Too stock for comfort

They can be your best friends or your worst enemies. They're our geeks, and they know more than you do. The engineering judging is the hardest of our tests and it's the hardest to accept if you don't do well. Lose the quarter mile and it's because someone else's car is faster, but lose the engineering judging and it's because these geeks don't like your car. Harsh.

That's why we get really good geeks. John Concialdi has built more racecars than you've owned shirts and he founded this little company called Advanced Engine Management. Jay Kavanagh manages all the engineering stuff in Garrett's aftermarket division. James Yim runs K&N's R&D center. Mike Kent does stuff with lasers. And infrared stuff. You can't even see infrared!

Steve Ruiz started this little brake company called StopTech and knows as much about stopping as Concialdi knows about going. And then there's Jeff Cheechov. He founded Progress Suspension, so unless you founded AEM or StopTech, you should just bow down.

Of course, Marcel Horn also knows more than you. He started a little company called HPA, and his penchant for stuffing a VR6, two turbos and all-wheel drive in anything with a VW or Audi badge on it puts him pretty high on the geek scale himself. Somehow, though, his understated brute of an R32 Golf didn't get along well with our geek panel.

The drivetrain scored well on the elaborate system used by the panel (except where it was docked for details like a stock cooling system and an inline fuel pump with questionable crash-worthiness), but the rest of the car got shredded. The geeks were irate about the stock anti-roll bars and suspension bushings, the brake parts from other cars that had been transplanted without addressing brake proportioning, and the stock safety equipment matched with a decidedly unstock penchant for speed.

In short, it was docked for focusing more on comfort and Autobahn-style point-to-point earth gobbling than the all-around performance it would need in the rest of the contest. Still, even the geeks themselves were surprised to see this one end up dead last.

Pleasing the fickle panel is a skill best honed with experience, and experience apparently told Sean Morris that geeks like porn. The bottom of the R32 Skyline was littered with dirty pictures, but it's unclear whether the geeks were more excited by these or the hlins coil-overs, the trick bumpsteer-correcting trinkets, the Stack dash, the Accusump added to prevent a repeat of last year's catastrophic engine failure and the full complement of robust safety gear.

Even without naked chicks, the geeks were ecstatic about the Sparco EVO VIII. It wasn't just the meticulous construction, the trick custom fabrication or the cubic dollars spent on exotic hardware, it was the depth of knowledge the car's builders had. While our geeks can learn a lot looking at a car, they want to talk to the guys who built it. They don't just want to see what was done, they want to know why it was done.

Do the right thing for the wrong reason and your score will suffer. If the geeks ask how much weight you saved, for example, and you say "220 pounds total, 60 pounds of which was unsprung," they'll be really happy. If you can regurgitate alignment specs and describe the track testing that led you to them, they might even give you a hug.

That's how the Sparco EVO, which looked like it just rolled out of Dan Gurney's garage, and the Buschur/RRE EVO, which looked like it just got back from the National Association of Men Who Like Hammers Convention, nearly tied for the lead.Dave Coleman

Test 3Guru Panel

ENGINEERING
Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 Sparco EVO 110 Artistry, craftsmanship and
      engineering all coated in cash
2 Buschur/RRE EVO 106 No artistry, tolerable fabrication,
      very little cash, but buckets of
      go-fast know-how
3 Nissan Skyline 89 He taped porn to the bottom of
      the car. No, really
4 Mitsu Eclipse 80 Nothing there that isn't there for
      a reason. Geeks like that
5 Toyota MR2 69 Build your own titanium headers
      and you'll make geek friends
6 Toyota Supra 51 Maybe the geeks think Supras are
      too easy
7 Mazda RX-7 45 Lots of nice details, but lots to
      nitpick too
8 Mazda Miata 36 If they lived their lives a quarter
      mile at a time, the geeks would
      have given more points
9 Subaru 2.5RS 19 Unique 2.6-liter powerplant, but
      ultimately a knife in a gunfight
10 VW R32 10 Even the geeks themselves don't
      know how this happened

There was an unusual calm in the dyno room this year. Previous years were dominated by massive power claims, chest pounding and untouchable pushrods. None of that happened this year.

Like every year, there were two scores up for grabs in the dyno cell. The obvious one is peak power-the biggest number wins here. The subtle one, and the one that rewards the true street cars, is the power delivery score. Power delivery is effectively a measure of the area under the torque curve. The dyno queen tuned for giant numbers above all else will be crushed by the mild-mannered, flexible powerplant. So sad.

Ultimately, it was a Supra on top, just as it was in 2002, but for once it was an underdog story. Matt Andrews is no dyno junkie. He's a track hound. He carefully selected a Garrett GT35R turbo, planning to sacrifice peak power for flexibility on the track and a strong power delivery score. It was a wise strategy, and one no Supra owner had done before.

Blazing a trail has its risks, though. It would have been nice if some other Supra owner had figured out the subtleties of mounting ball-bearing turbos. Andrews mounted his at an angle, which caused oil to back up in the center housing and blow through the turbine seal. The last thing you want at a track shakedown the week before USCC is oil smoke billowing out the tailpipe.

In retrospect, a restrictor in the oil line would have solved the problem, but spooked by the cloud of blue, Andrews reverted to his old T67 P-trim dyno queen turbo, which mounted horizontally on a different exhaust manifold. Turns out that worked just fine. Andrews laid down 623 hp, 4 more hp than Mani Jayasinghe's winning pull two years ago, and still walked away with the power delivery score.

All eyes were on Sean Morris when he rolled Nick Wong's R32 Skyline into the dyno room for the second year in a row. It wasn't anticipation so much as suspicion that got him the attention.

Morris is a shrewd veteran competitor eager to exploit any advantage, and he managed to slip one by us last year. He'd added an exhaust cutout that dumped the exhaust before it had to squeeze through the catalytic converter. It was no secret that he used this on the dyno last year, and the fireballs shooting out from under the car revealed that he was doing the same this year. His sneakiness came when he "forgot" to redirect the exhaust to the rear for last year's emissions test. While he dumped noxious fumes out the front of the exhaust, our tailpipe probe saw nothing but rose water and belly dancers out the back.

We spotted nothing shifty this year, and he managed 552 hp under our watchful eye. The engine sounded off song, though, and the fourth-place power delivery score showed something wasn't quite right.

Taking that close second in power delivery was Brad Bedell's supercharged, nitrous-breathing V6-powered MR2. The "MR6" made it into the competition as a lark. We thought it would be cool to see, but didn't really expect a top-half performance. However, Bedell was confident, well prepared and very strong from the beginning.

Despite being a first-timer, he showed a veteran's wisdom in his preparation. In testing, he made substantially more than the 442 hp he delivered here, but shrewdly turned down the nitrous for better durability. As a result the car ran comfortably without misfires, hiccups, or any sags in the powerband, and despite being 181-hp down in peak power from Andrews' Supra, he was only 14 points behind in power delivery.

At the opposite end of the power delivery spectrum was Andrew Campbell's Miata. Squeezing 417 hp from what is essentially a warmed-over Mazda GLC engine takes some serious work. It also takes another dyno queen turbo. The lag monster was in a three-way tie for sixth place, but came in dead last on power delivery.

For the second year in a row, K&N let us take over its R&D center for this test, running its two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive Dynojets side by side so quickly and efficiently we almost forgot how chaotic and stressful this event is supposed to be. We paid back K&N's hospitality by not blowing up a single car on its dynos. - Dave Coleman

Test 4 Dyno Guru Panel

PEAK POWER
Rank Car Hp Points Peanut Gallery
1 Toyota Supra 623 110 Why did we think this Supra was an underdog?
2 Nissan Skyline 552 85 Watch him, he's probably cheating
3 VW R32 452 50 The most brutal sleeper since the 630-hp Hyundai
4 Toyota MR2 442 46 The first guy in USCC history to turn down the power for this test
5 Sparco EVO 430 42 How many Japanese engineers does it take to dyno an EVO?
6 Mazda Miata 417 37 Isn't that the same engine from my 1985 Mazda GLC?
7 Mitsu Eclipse 416 37 That's enough power to get you to work each day
8 Buschur/RRE EVO 416 37 At least he didn't pull the wastegate line this time
9 Mazda RX-7 397 30 This competition has never been kind to the rotary
10 Subaru 2.5RS 339 10 This is the hard way to build an STi

Test 5 Dyno Guru Panel

POWER DELIVERY
Rank Car Score Points Peanut Gallery
1 Toyota Supra 110 Who you callin' a dyno queen?
2 Toyota MR2 96 Hey, wouldn't it be funny if we let that MR2 in?
3 VW R32 94 Enough torque to wrinkle your driveway
4 Nissan Skyline 87 Every fireball out the exhaust is a fireball not making torque
5 Mitsu Eclipse 84 The master of flexible, daily-driven restraint
6 Sparco EVO 57 This sixth-place finisher has freight train thrust in the real world
7 Subaru 2.5RS 50 Displacement saves the day
8 Buschur/RRE EVO 43 Dude, you got beat by an Eclipse
9 Mazda RX-7 33 Maybe he spent too much time polishing the turbo
10 Mazda Miata 10 It takes a big, laggy turbo to make a GLC this fast

For the past three years, the USCC emissions test was based on hydrocarbon (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO) concentrations. Getting reasonable HC and CO levels was a simple matter of strapping on an el cheapo aftermarket catalytic converter, making sure that it gets good and hot, and idling the car in closed-loop operation. Any car with an oxygen sensor in the exhaust and a cat can score reasonably well on the emissions test.

This year we finally upped the ante on the emissions test to include nitrogen oxide (NOx) concentrations. This required new hardware, a MTS 1000 five-gas analyzer on loan from Vetronix Corporation. NOx emission is a real problem for high-output engines because its formation is highly dependent on elevated combustion temperatures and pressures. EGR is the convention for reducing NOx formation, but you won't find that on any of these cars. All they can rely on is good tuning and a good cat.

We made the USCC emissions rules easy on the big-power dyno junkies. We allowed the use of open-exhaust bypass valves on the dyno and gave them a few minutes to seal it before being sampled. This way they didn't have to deal with power loss caused by exhaust restrictions and also take advantage of a cat for emissions. The drawback was that by running on the dyno with the exhaust bypassed around the cat, the converter doesn't get lit off to its operating temperature.

The smart contestant got his cat really hot prior to getting strapped onto the dyno and only opened the exhaust bypass immediately before the pull. This kept the cat hot enough to still be useful on the emissions test. Tuning changes to the engine management were prohibited during the emissions sampling. We checked the entire exhaust system for leaks prior to hooking up the gas analyzer to take unloaded steady state emissions measurements at idle and 2500 rpm. To be sure no significant leaks were present, we made sure exhaust oxygen concentration was within reasonable limits.

Since gas concentrations are measured on different scales; (parts per million (ppm) for NOx and HCs, and in percentage for CO), each individual measurement was assigned an equivalent numeric value and totaled for each species. These were then totaled and converted into the appropriate point value on the overall points scale.

HPA's bi-turbo R32 Golf came out the cleanest of the bunch while, as expected, the highly tuned rotary was a gross polluter. No surprise there, but we were surprised by the cleanliness of the dyno king Supra and the Skyline, which could have easily passed California smog. - Jay Chen

Test 6 Emissions

EMISSIONS
Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 VW R32 110 More turbos do clean the car up
2 Toyota Supra 103 Gobs of power, and clean too
3 Nissan Skyline 101 There's a reason why O.E.
      cats cost $700
4 Mitsu Eclipse 100 Not bad for a decade-old car
5 Toyota MR2 96 Which pipe is the real one?
6 Subaru 2.5RS 82 Hope that cat wasn't new
7 Buschur/RRE EVO 74 Cleaner at idle than at 2500
8 Mazda Miata 52 How does something so small
      make such a big mess?
9 Mazda RX-7 13 Idle? What's that?
10 Sparco EVO 10 But it looked clean on the outside

We were warned not to invite Grannie to the USCC again. It seems she was so excited after the last one it took her hemorrhoids three months to settle down. We called her anyway.

Who better to test the true civility of these street cars? The rest of us want big go-fast, but not grandma. The old girl likes cold A/C, comfy seats, quiet interiors and a smooth ride. Grandma needed to be back at the Fading Daze Retirement Home and Bowling Center by dark, so one ride in each is all she got.

Grandma got into the Supra first and the old bird settled right in. She returned from the dollar store with her wig askew and her teeth in hand but she slid out looking none too worse for the trip.

Next was the Subaru 2.5RS. At nearly stock ride height, ingress/egress was easy for the old wench. She asked to be driven to the scooter store, as Mike Kojima had made a list of things to make Grandma's Lil' Rascal go faster. "I don't want to suck, dear!" On the way back, Grandma fell right to sleep in what turned out to be the second most comfortable car in the field.

Next was the RX-7. It has no radio or A/C and, as most rotaries are, it's loud. "That thing makes more noise out the rear end than your grandfather!" she said.

As soon as Grandma climbed into Marcel Horn's VW, her eyes lit up. "My hoo-hoo dilly is a little hot, dear. Can you turn up the A/C?" she asked as she settled into the comfy seat and began to fondle the fine mouse fur in the glove box. Grandma quickly settled into a nap. Grandma likey. - Tom Paule

Test 7 Grandma

GRANDMA
Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 VW R32 80 Knocked out Grandma for the
      best afternoon nap ever!
2 Subaru 2.5RS 79 A/C kept Granny's balls cold
3 Toyota Supra 74 Who knew dyno queens could
      be comfortable?
4 Toyota MR2 71 Next time tell Grandma it's on
      the bottle
5 Mitsu Eclipse 69 Seat belt cleavage a plus
6 Mazda Miata 65 Lost her dentures due to wind?
7 Nissan Skyline 66 Remembered this car from last year
8 Buschur/RRE EVO 68 Seat belt flared up arthritis
9 Sparco EVO 67.5 A/C made Grandma think she
      was having hot flashes
10 Mazda RX-7 53 No A/C, stiff diff slapped
      Grandma's bowels-hard

Tuning for wide-open throttle is dang easy. After all, it's just a single throttle position. But tuning for all possible throttle positions, well, that's tough. Throw in the fact that it's more pleasant to have a car that's not spitting, farting and heaving every time it pulls up to a stoplight. Or shedding tread every time it encounters a pothole. Or creaking during a freeway cruise like an asthmatic iron lung.

Nick Wong's Skyline was hurting throughout the competition and that showed up on our 15-mile driveability course, which included freeway and city driving and two railroad crossings. The Skyline responded to most attempts at forward motion with sneering contempt. Beyond that it whacked up against bumps with harshness evocative of Barry Bonds swinging a 40-ounce Louisville Slugger at a petrified ham. And though it didn't overheat, it was rising toward that.

Jason Cameron's RX-7 needed a sledgehammer's touch to pound into gear and offered virtually no low-end torque-the turbo system added virtually no thrust at less than wide-open throttle. And when the boost arrived, it came on like it dropped out the back of a C-130. But the tough part was dealing with the heat sink the driver's feet were shoved into.

For a car with more than 112,000 beat-to-death miles on its clock, Scot Gray's Eclipse wasn't bad at all. But it loaded up at idle and surged annoyingly, the shift quality was Mitsu-lousy, torque was MIA until the turbo whacked in at about 2500 rpm, and there was some irritating wind noise from the rear hatch. There's no sliding scale for the odometer reading in this test.

Sparco's EVO VIII was a racecar cleverly disguised as a racecar and it behaved as such. The throttle doesn't need to move more than a few millimeters before the sudden onset of boost shoots the car forward. There are basically two throttle settings: off and kamikaze-on-meth. There's also an agonizing exhaust drone at freeway speed and the car bucks when attempting a cruise at lower velocities. Still, it rode surprisingly well.

The Buschur/RRE EVO VIII wasn't quite as hard-edged as the Sparco car and the engine was much more linear in its response to throttle inputs. But there was still a little sputtering at times.

Matt Andrews wisely didn't screw up most of his Supra. There was some turbo lag apparent but the shifter's action actually seemed better with nearly 80,000 miles worth of seasoning. Accelerating the exhaust sounded spectacular, but at freeway speeds it set into a mesmerizing drone.

Somehow Andrew Campbell's Miata had an engine that was sweet even before the turbo cut in. Then the turbo would hit like a virus and the car mutated into a ravenous rodent. Beyond that, the driver's foot roasted mercilessly near the clutch. But, hey, roast foot is a delicacy in Nepal.

The most remarkable aspect of Brad Bedell's MR2 was how unremarkably it performed. Driving this car you'd swear Toyota built it with a blown V6 in the first place right down to the slightly sloppy action of the shifter. Particularly impressive was the engine's seamless midrange power and particularly irritating was the strange three-into-two exhaust note. (Install a crossover!)

It was almost impossible to distinguish Marcel Horn's dang-near brand-new R32 from a stock version of the car. In fact, except for the extra power, which was sweet and manageable, it was a new R32 with few additional modifications. Yeah, it was sweet, but they didn't really take any chances either.

Bill Knose's 2.5RS ruled the driveability roost thanks to its absolutely spotless manners despite being an assembly of disparate Suby parts. Everything worked with slick precision, and it just doesn't get any better.John Pearley Huffman

Test 8 Drive

DRIVEABILITY
Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 Subaru 2.5RS 110 Seemingly seamless and better
      than most new cars
2 VW R32 102 A brand-new car no one has
      bothered to screw up
3 Toyota MR2 93 How Toyota would have done it, if
      it had done it
4 Mazda Miata 92 A sweet engine even before the
      turbo hits
5 Toyota Supra 74 Slightly harsh ride and a turbo
      that hits hard
6 Buschur/RRE EVO 73 Throttle response keeps it ahead
      of the other EVO
7 Sparco EVO 71 For a racecar, a pretty good street car
8 Mitsu Eclipse 66 Solid, hard and not always precise
9 Mazda RX-7 46 Built to be nasty and it shows
10 Nissan Skyline 10 It's not nice to pick on the sick

These cars were built to turn as much fuel as possible into as much thrust as possible as quickly as possible. The dinosaurs are already dead, so let's have some fun.

Still, the "street" part of this challenge does bring with it some concern for hydrocarbon consumption. To assess the fuel economy we stuffed almost every vehicle full of 91 octane at a station just outside the gates of K&N Filters in Riverside and drove them over a 70.7-mile course roughly paralleling California's State Route 138 to the cruddy Mobil station at the corner of the Sierra and Pearblossom highways in Palmdale. How much fuel each car swallowed at that second stop determined our numbers. Competitors could use race fuel, but forfeited 10 points for doing so. With more than 5,000 feet of elevation changes, constant corners, our route was perfect for such an evaluation-though some of the results were otherworldly.

Nick Wong's Skyline slurped at a rate of 17.02 mpg and that put it at the bottom of this group, even though that was better mileage than what the stock Toyota Tundra we had along as a support vehicle achieved. Jason Cameron's RX-7 came in next worst, with a not-bad 18.56 mpg that was bettered by the Sparco EVO (ingesting race fuel) at 20.17 mpg and Matt Andrews' Supra at 21.19 mpg. Those were all "real-world plausible" numbers for the course. But a lot of gliding and strategic drafting became apparent in the cars that did better.

Knose's Suby sucked down at a 25.12-mpg rate, which was good, but not as good as Gray's Eclipse or Horn's R32. But the Buschur/RRE EVO's big 30.71-mpg performance was absolutely startling. By virtue of staying out of the boost and having the smallest engine , Andrew Campbell's Miata returned a big 34.41 mpg.

The stunner was Brad Bedell's MR2, which turned in an absolutely ludicrous 43.89 mpg gallon on the loop, despite being fender bounced by a truck midway through the test. "I accelerated down the hills," explains Bedell. That's right-he accelerated when gravity was on his side and let the car's momentum carry him up the fuel sucking inclines. Smart. - John Pearley Huffman

Test 9 Fuel Economy

FUEL ECONOMY
Rank Car MPG Points Peanut Gallery
1 Toyota MR2 43.8 120 Scully and Mulder are
        investigating
2 Mazda Miata 34.4 85 Tiny engine
3 Buschur/RRE EVO 30.7 71 Every EVO should be so stingy
4 VW R32 28.7 64 The cushiest ride isn't too thirsty
5 Mitsu Eclipse 26.3 55 No surprise here
6 Subaru 2.5RS 25.1 50 AWD may inhibit effective gliding
7 Toyota Supra 21.1 36 Solid performance for its size
8 Mazda RX-7 18.5 26 Rotaries are notorious fuel hogs
9 Sparco EVO 20.2 22 Race gas meant forfeiting 10 points
10 Nissan Skyline 17.0 20 Big car, big appetite  

Aside from the dyno, acceleration is the biggest pissing contest in the entire competition. It's also very important in the overall scheme of USCC scoring because, as with the dyno, it's really two tests in one. Each car scored points for its overall elapsed time as well as its performance from 20 to 100 mph.

For this test we made the drive to Los Angeles County Raceway in sunny Palmdale, Calif., known to some as the outer circle of Hell. As the sun crested the eastern horizon on the morning of day two, the ambient temperature was already cresting the 100-degree mark. We spotted more than one intercooler packed snugly with ice, and considering not a single naturally aspirated car was present in this year's field, each entrant would have to find ways to deal with LACR's 2,710-foot elevation and searing heat.

Not many did, this year's e.t.s aren't that impressive. Not a single car made it into the 11s. Still, eight out of the 10 ran in the 12s, and to no one's surprise, six out of the top eight spots belonged to all-wheel-drive cars, which better dealt with the dusty track. Surprisely, however, nobody suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure at the dragstrip.

First place in the quarter mile fell to Scot Gray's Eclipse, which posted an even 12.40 seconds at 119 mph on his second run. He also had the second fastest time from 20-100 mph. With everyone else running at least .2 seconds off his pace, Gray elected to sit out his third run to save his car for the upcoming road course.

Second place went to Bill Knose's Impreza. Despite making the smallest peak power number the day before, the 2.5RS had the fastest hookup and cleanest exits of the day, speaking well for Subaru's AWD and Knose's drag racing skills. Scott Gladstone's Sparco EVO came next, just .03 seconds off the second-place time, running a 12.64.

Brad Bedell's hybrid MR2 was the fastest two-wheel-drive car, running a 12.69 at 122 mph in the quarter mile. The car was hellishly loud, and Bedell wasn't afraid of doing a couple of burnouts as he staged, smoking the tires before each run. Bedell also came away with 110 points for the quickest 20-100-mph time, further adding to his already considerable points lead in the overall competition.

Nick Wong's R32 Skyline, driven by the fearless Sean Morris, was easily the greatest spectacle on the 1320, roaring and snorting as Morris executed burnout after disgusting burnout before each run. His 8000-rpm launches were equally disconcerting. The Skyline was dropping ice out of its nose and belching fire from below as it ripped down the strip, but in the end the impressive show was only good for a 12.7-second run at 119 mph.

Jason Cameron's RX-7, driven by aptly nicknamed Steve "Genghis" Khan, was the winner of the day's unofficial Heart Attack Award. On its last run the Seven's ass end got a little squirrelly at the far side and the car lurched sideways at 100-plus mph. Khan was able to pull it straight, but not before several onlookers soiled their pants in horror. Besides managing not to crash, Khan secured sixth place in the quarter mile with a 12.8-second run at 120 mph, and third in the 20-to-100-mph jaunt.

HPA's twin-turbo Golf and Robert Fuller's Buschur/RRE EVO rounded out the all-wheel-drive entries, finishing .02 seconds apart. Despite furiously quick launches, these two cars had the two longest 20-to-100-mph times in the field.

Despite ruling the dyno the day before, Matt Andrews' late-model Supra wasn't a contender on the dragstrip. With more than 600 hp at the wheels, Andrews had considerable traction trouble on the dusty track. He decided to ease the Supra out of the hole and rely on the car's considerable boost to pull him through. The strategy wasn't enough to make him competitive in the quarter mile, but pulled the Supra to fourth in the 20-to-100 acceleration contest.

Though no car broke down outright, Andrew Campbell's Miata had a slipping clutch that softened the car's launches to the point of impotence. The little two-seater finished at the back of the pack.Karl Funke

10 Test And 11 Acceleration

ACCELERATION
Rank Car Time and Speed Points Peanut Gallery
1 Mitsu Eclipse 12.40 @ 120.11 110 Traction, speed and technique
2 Subaru 2.5RS 12.61 @ 113.19 97 oeber launches
3 Sparco EVO 12.64 @ 115.20 95 Nearly as ber  
4 Toyota MR2 12.69 @ 122.20 92 Loud as hell
5 Nissan Skyline 12.70 @ 119.00 91 Big smokies, belching fire
6 Mazda RX-7 12.80 @ 119.96 85 Had a close call
7 VW R32 12.81 @ 112.81 84 Good launch, petered out
8 Buschur/RRE EVO 12.83 @ 115.26 83 See above
9 Toyota Supra 13.87 @ 121.70 17 No traction, crappy launches
10 Mazda Miata 13.98 @ 124.17 10 Slipping clutch
20-100 MPH
1 Toyota MR2 7.28 sec. 110 We see a pattern here
2 Mitsu Eclipse 7.84 sec. 77 At home on the strip
3 Mazda RX-7 7.87 sec. 75 Got boost
4 Toyota Supra 8.37 sec. 45 Also got boost
5 Sparco EVO 8.42 sec. 42 Solid overall performance
6 Nissan Skyline 8.61 sec. 31 Launches were much scarier
7 Subaru 2.5RS 8.68 sec. 27 A tad disappointing
8 Mazda Miata 8.72 sec. 24 Better than its launch
9 VW R32 8.88 sec. 15 A portly German
10 Buschur/RRE EVO 8.96 sec. 10 Must've hit the brakes early

Big cross-drilled rotors and multi-piston Brembo calipers were pervasive in this year's field, but in the end it came down to a mostly stock brake system that walked away with maximum points in the 60-to-Zero Braking test. As in the acceleration tests, each entrant got three chances to get its stop on.

Employing original factory equipment along with braided lines, a slightly larger master cylinder and EBC pads, Brad Bedell's MR2 came to a halt in less than 100 feet, scoring the maximum 110 points. Incidentally, Bedell's 99.23-foot score is the shortest stopping distance we've recorded in the USCC. When prepping the car for this test, Bedell's mantra was simple. "Anyone who puts aftermarket brakes on this car doesn't stop as well," he said.

Bill Knose's Impreza placed second. The Subaru used an amalgam of brake equipment: Prodrive rotors and four-piston calipers in front, Wilwood assemblies in the back. The system's balance was undeniable, however, enabling the Subaru to stop in 106.74 feet, enough to grab 95 points in the second-place slot.

HPA's R32 Golf was wearing some of the most intimidating equipment in the field-Brembo hardware pieced together from various Porsche and Audi sources including 14-inch front rotors from an RS4 application, six-piston Cayenne Turbo calipers, 12.1-inch rear rotors with relocated R32 calipers and PBR metallic pads. It was enough for a 108.22-foot stop and third place.

Jason Cameron's RX-7 was next. It runs Brembo Gran Turismo binders at all corners, with 13.5-inch rotors and six-piston calipers in front and 11-inch discs in the rear. The heavy equipment hauled the Seven down from 60 mph in 109 feet even for fourth place.

Despite using radically different brake configurations, the two EVO VIIIs stopped within a single foot of each other. Like the Golf and the RX-7, Scott Gladstone's entry wore some serious-looking brakes at all corners that we later learned they were WRC tarmac assemblies. Fuller's Evolution only used StopTech big brakes up front and retained its O.E. equipment in the rear. Despite the huge wad of cash tied up in Gladstone's binders, the Sparco EVO stopped only about 4 inches shorter than Fuller's entry. While these competition Brembos are impressive as hell to the naked eye, we suspect their forte is more suited to repeated heavy use and that they were more beneficial on the road course than in this braking test.

Matt Andrews' Supra came up about a foot short of Fuller's EVO, and the final three contenders placed far behind the rest of the pack. Nick Wong's Skyline, which relied on big Brembos, stopped 18 feet behind the Supra and Andrew Campbell's Miata, which was the only car that relied on a completely O.E. brake setup, proved that ABS isn't everything. Scot Gray's black Eclipse placed dead last. - Karl Funke

Test 12 Braking

BRAKING
Rank Car Distance(ft.) Pts
1 Toyota MR2 99.29 110
2 Subaru Impreza 106.74 95
3 VW Golf R32 108.22 93
4 Mazda RX-7 109.00 91
5 Sparco EVO 110.55 88
6 Buschur/RRE EVO 111.22 87
7 Toyota Supra 112.31 85
8 Nissan Skyline 130.85 48
9 Mazda Miata 145.42 20
10 Mitsu Eclipse 150.41 10

Until this year, the USCC skidpad test was a 200-foot testimonial to the unrelenting stick of Hoosier tires. Just like the dyno numbers, the lateral grip generated during this contest is wildly out of step with the cars we test the rest of the year. In last year's contest, only one car-the one with three video screens-pulled less than 1.0g. In most cases, it wasn't stellar suspension setup that made these big numbers, but gooey Indiana rubber.

We're tired of Indiana.

The Hoosiers were stifling creativity, masking bad setup and costing a lot of money. This year we decided we'd had enough. Sure, they're technically street legal, but we once managed to cord a set in just three days of freeway commuting.

With Hoosiers banned, this year's competitors actually had to choose their tires carefully, dial in the suspension and fight for the big number. And that big number came from the only car that managed a good number last year without Hoosiers. Matt Andrews held his Supra off the ground with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires for two years in a row. Both times (on different skidpads) they were worth a little more than 1.07g. Last year that was good for third place. This year it was a decisive victory.

A distant second on the skidpad, circling at 1.035g, was Nick Wong's Skyline GT-R. Surprisingly, the Skyline's caretaker, Sean Morris, and driver, Steve Mitchell, both insisted that we circle the pad with the car's sophisticated, computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system disabled. In rear-wheel drive, the GT-R felt strange.

As cornering loads increased, the car seemed to steer itself into the turn, making it hard to follow the line. During the engineering judging, we noticed this car was loaded with bumpsteer spacers, adjustable control arms and tie-rod relocating thingies. There's little doubt the roll centers, toe curves and all the geometric subtlety Nissan designed into the chassis were thoroughly whacked out by now. This setup probably worked brilliantly with all-wheel drive and the quicker corners on the track, but it felt unsettling going in rear-drive circles.

Before he even got to the pad, Brad Bedell's lead was so commanding he could have skipped the last three contests and we'd still have had to mail him a box of trophies. Instead, his mid-engine steamroller flattened yet another competition. MR2s are known for having an evil side on the pad, and with the extra weight of a supercharged V6 over the rear axle, we expected it to be even worse. The big engine's smooth, flexible power delivery, though, helped more than the weight hurt. Balancing a car on the edge of adhesion takes delicate throttle work, and the thoroughly sorted V6 did just what our right foot asked.

It's surprising that two EVOs can feel as different as the Buschur/RRE and Sparco cars. The Buschur/RRE EVO was eager to jump sideways at every opportunity, and willing to stay that way as its three limited-slip diffs put power to the ground. This plays well in tight corners like our skidpad. Sparco's car was dialed more toward high-speed stability, but that translates to "poosh" on the pad. As different as they felt, Buschur/RRE's 1.021g and Sparco's 1.018 g were nearly identical.- Dave Coleman

Test 13 Skidpad

SKIDPAD
Rank Car Score (g) Points Peanut Gallery
1 Toyota Supra 1.071 110 He don't need no stinking Hoosiers
2 Nissan Skyline 1.035 84 The beauty of two-wheel drive
3 (tie) Toyota MR2 1.021 74 And he didn't even need to show up
3 (tie) Buschur/RRE EVO 1.021 74 Mr. Grumpy Shorts knows how to make Mitsubishis turn
5 (tie) Mazda Miata 1.018 72 As a drag car, this is the first Miata to feel out of place on a skidpad
5 (tie) Sparco EVO 1.018 72 What feels comforting entering a 120-mph sweeper feels like
        understeer on the pad
7 Mitsu Eclipse 0.993 54 It was 1.018g when Hoosiers were allowed
8 Mazda RX-7 0.971 38 The stock diff didn't like drag racing, but this tight clutch diff
        doesn't like skidpads
9 Subaru 2.5RS 0.946 20 Yeah, but that stock Subaru suspension is really comfy
10 VW R32 0.932 10 Volkswagens are nose heavy

They call it the Streets of Willow for a reason. It's for street cars. The USCC Road Course competition returned to this 1.5-mile road course for the first time in three years for exactly that reason-racing street cars on a street course. The Streets' 120-foot elevation gain makes it a real test for any car. Combine that with a 1,000-foot straight, off-camber corners and every competitor's need to win the most prestigious test in the USCC, and this is one hotly contested race. Let the chest pounding commence.

And there was plenty of chest pounding. Even though, at this point, the contest was all but over. With only 125 points remaining between the Road Course and the Gross Display of Horsepower, there was little those who were behind could do but sit back and wait for the inevitable. Some, though, didn't see it that way. Those few were the guys who entered the contest for the road course. They didn't come here to see how well their car did on the emissions test or how happy it made Grandma Pauley. They came here to swing their metal around in mad fits of lateral acceleration.

It's no surprise then that Brad Bedell didn't drive the tires off his MR2 on the road course. Knowing he had the lead by almost 200 points he cruised around the track in air-conditioned comfort on his first session. The second outing was equally leisurely. Final time? A tie for ninth at 78.42 seconds.

Bill Knose, try as he might, wheeled his mighty STi-powered Impreza around the track in exactly the same time as Bedell's MR2. Perhaps it was the Impreza's relatively tame road manners and street-tuned P1 suspension, or maybe Bill wasn't really trying, we'll never know. Either way, it takes a group of cars this capable to make a machine as bad-ass as this Impreza look slow.

Marcel Horn in the HPA-enhanced R32 found himself in eighth place when the dust settled. To his credit, Horn didn't get as many chances at a clean track as some of the other competitors, thanks to a serious end-of-the-day time crunch. Even so, the VW probably is not as well suited to the road course as some of the more focused cars in the group. Horn ended with a 77.65-second run.

In the day's most spectacular demonstration of car control, Steve "Genghis" Khan drove Jason Cameron's '94 RX-7 to a seventh-place finish on the road course. Overcooking the Turn Eight bend slightly, Khan slid the Seven halfway to Turn Nine before reeling it in and keeping all four tires on the road. Determined to have the first rotary-powered car to finish the USCC with all its apex seals intact, the crew from Texas turned the FD's boost way down before the road course. They survived and ran a 75.66 to prove it.

Everyone was nervous when Nick Wong's Skyline rolled onto the track. Until its untimely expiration it was easily the car to beat on the road course at last year's USCC. The crowd was surprised when the Skyline could only manage a 75.38-second run. Driver Steve Mitchell wasn't thrilled with the car's tuning as he went out for his second session. "This isn't the same car I drove last year," he mumbled before the final few laps of the day.

It's a rare day in road racing when a Miata beats up on a Skyline. The USCC has lots of rare days. That's exactly what happened when Moti Almagor took the wheel of Andrew Campbell's boosted MX-5. Almagor used massive restraint in harnessing the Miata's 400-plus hp as he steered and stomped his way to a run .30-seconds quicker than the big Nissan. A smaller turbo and more usable power delivery would have made his job easier. Still, bringing a Miata home fifth in this field requires a serious combination of car and driver.

As last year, John Mueller was put behind the wheel of Scot Gray's daily-driven 1994 Eclipse to do what he does best-eke every last millisecond from the potent DSM. It paid off with a fourth fastest overall time in a decade old car.

Slowly but surely the big dogs worked their way to the line. With everyone thinking the win would come down to a serious battle between the two EVOs, it was refreshing to find Matt Andrews' Supra duking it out with the all-wheel-drive crowd. The Sparco EVO, driven by Emile Bouret, suffered a cracked intake manifold that kept it out of the hunt for the lead. In fact, its third overall performance is a testament to Bouret's talent and the car's spectacular chassis.

Andrews' Supra was also in the hunt with Erik Messley behind the wheel. When the glory laps were done, however, Messley turned in a 73.39-second lap time good for second place.

For the second year in a row, John Mueller found himself king of the USCC Road Course in a car that brought together the least likely group of sponsors from Road/Race Engineering and Buschur Racing. Mueller bested second place by almost 1.6 seconds with a 71.80 lap. EVO wins. - Josh Jacquot

Test 14 Road Course

ROAD COURSE
Rank Car Lap Time Points Peanut Gallery
1 Buschur/RRE EVO 71.80 110 Best car, best driver. Again
2 Toyota Supra 73.39 86 Pretty good for a dyno-dipshit turbo
3 Sparco EVO 73.55 84 Misfire costs dearly
4 Mitsu Eclipse 73.70 81 The little Eclipse that could
5 Mazda Miata 75.08 60 Begging for a smaller turbo
6 Nissan Skyline 75.38 56 Not quite right
7 Mazda RX-7 75.66 52 Stop sliding!
8 VW R32 77.65 22 Lots of show, not as much go
9 (tie) Subaru 2.5RS 78.42 10 Simply outgunned
9 (tie) Toyota MR2 78.42 10 Who cares? It's already in the bag

Long, liquid, smoky burnouts, the kind of tire-frying goodness that leaves girls gooey and tires corded, while nice, just aren't enough to win this competition. Because this is a judged event, displaying horsepower at its grossest takes more than a heavy right foot and mega amounts of tire smoke. Our judges have seen it all, including all three Indiana Jones movies, so it takes style, creativity and a flair for the dramatic to win their hearts. Each contestant was given exactly 70 seconds to get the judges in a tizzy, and each was scored on a scale of zero to 25.

This year the top six cars, all of which scored more than 20 points, understood what the judges were looking for and they delivered. Things were so close, the judges, who must have been dazed by the inhalation of thick white smoke, scored the cars in a tie for all three top spots.

The MR2 gained points during its 70-second smoke show for the amount of smoke beautifully billowing from its engine compartment. It looked like a yellow smoke stack. The all-wheel-drive R32 scored high for its long, continuous big-radius drifts with all four of its sticky Michelins ablaze and the RX-7 actually spit flaming chunks of black rubber at the crowd, which was cool. The judges also like the way the Buschur/RRE EVO, after a slow start, spun for 30 seconds within its own wheelbase.

Tied for third are the stupidly powerful Sparco EVO, which lit up its four Michelins like it was driving on ice, and the stupidly powerful Miata, which executed one of the more graceful tire-blazing doughnuts in recorded history. In the final tally, the EVO lost a point or two for starting sluggishly until Emile Bouret, in the Sparco EVO, figured out how to manipulate the Mitsu's all-wheel-drive system, and the Miata gained a point when its driver flicked its headlights on and off as the little Mazda spun. Now that's style. Both tied for third with 21 points.

Matt Andrews' Supra finished fourth in this competition last year with 18 points. This year Matt scored a 20 and finished seventh. His performance was strong, but a barrage of ordinary big, long smokies, high-speed powerslides and tire-tearing doughnuts just don't cut it anymore. - Scott Oldham

Test 15Gross Display of Horsepower

GROSS DISPLAY OF HORSEPOWER
Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 Toyota MR2 24 Burnout as art
1 VW R32 24 Drift king
2 Mazda RX-7 23 Spit flaming chunks of rubber
2 Buschur/RRE EVO 23 Spun like a top
3 Sparco EVO 21 Big, long doughnuts
3 Mazda Miata 21 Extra point for style
7 Toyota Supra 20 Big, but ordinary smokies
8 Nissan Skyline 16 Never really got going
9 Mitsu Eclipse 14 Gross display of understeer
10 Subaru 2.5RS 13 Grosser display of understeer

OVERALL
Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 {{{Toyota}}} MR2 1200 Domination
2 Toyota Supra 971 Valiant effort
3 Mitsu Eclipse 947 Well rounded, still not enough
4 Sparco EVO 943 Details bite back
5 Buschur/RRE EVO 936 One-track mind
6 Nissan Skyline 956 Another year, another miss
7 VW R32 904 Fast, powerful, comfortable and heavy
8 Subaru 2.5RS 798 Too streetable? Too tame?
9 Mazda Miata 721 Ultimate Miata. Not Ultimate Street Car
10 Mazda RX-7 648 Didn't blow up. Didn't win

The Winner"Dominant" is a word we've never used to describe the winning car in USCC. This year, there's none more appropriate. Brad Bedell's hybrid MR2 literally kicked the hell out of its competition. The final margin of victory was 229 points. In other words, Bedell could have stopped with two contests left and still had enough points to win.

Consistent performances in every contest put the MR2 on top of the podium, but it also won its share of contests on its way to victory. Bedell's MR2 racked up four first-place finishes in 20-to-100 Acceleration, 60-to-Zero Braking, Fuel Economy and by destroying the field in the Gross Display of Horsepower. It earned three second-place finishes in Power Delivery, the Car Show and Base Price and took home three thirds in Peak Power, the Skidpad and Driveability. There's little question why Bedell's MR2 is 2004's Ultimate Street Car. It combines performance with comfort and style without compromise better than any other car in this contest.

Matt Andrews' Supra and Scot Gray's Eclipse both deserve mention for impressive second- and third-place performances, respectively. They earned their podium spots by preparing spectacular cars and knowing how to play the game, thanks to previous USCC experience. But no one expected the little mid-engine hybrid from Texas to dominate the way it did.

Congratulations, Brad. - Josh Jacquot

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