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2005 Ultimate Street Car Challenge - USSC

It's Two Full Days Of Track And Street Driving To Prove Whose Car Is The Baddest In The Land.

Dec 1, 2005

Scoring: How It Works* All but one of the 15 USCC tests are scored on a 110-point scale, with the winner getting 110 points and the loser getting 10. Those who blow up so bad they can't cross the finish line get 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 car 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 Fuel Economy test is worth a total of 120 points since we offered an extra 10 bonus points to those willing to pour our 91-octane swill into their tank.

* A perfect score for the USCC would be 1,575 points. Last year's winner took the trophy with 76 percent of the total points. Kim Johnson's Skyline took 75 percent this year.

Thorough. Comprehensive. Punishing.Sport Compact Car's Ultimate Street Car Challenge can be described in many ways. Easy isn't one of them. For the fifth year in a row this contest has tested the speed, durability, comfort and utility of the country's best street cars. It's two full days of track and street driving to prove whose car is the baddest in the land.

This year's group includes 11 of the fastest, most thoroughly sorted and most heavily modified cars to ever compete. They came from across the country: California, Arizona, Connecticut and even Idaho. If you read last month's features on these cars, you know they're as diverse as any bunch we've ever gathered. Some are homebrew specials using do-it-yourself solutions and good old-fashioned know-how. Others are a product of the best tuners in the land-XS Engineering, Dynocomp, Autowave and Idaho Speed Center, to name a few.

Day one of the USCC was held at K&N Filters headquarters in Riverside, Calif., where we measured everything from how they rode to how well they were engineered and how many hydrocarbons they emitted. The second day was all about performance. We began on the dragstrip at Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale, Calif., where we tested acceleration and braking before moving on to Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, Calif., where we tested each car's road course merit, skidpad prowess and ability to grossly display horsepower.

Every year, contenders turn up with more serious equipment than those before them. The cars come thoroughly sorted, with more development, better engineering and improved strategy from their owners, drivers and tuners. The bottom line is USCC contenders are stepping it up. And we can say with confidence that this year's contest was the toughest yet. Eleven cars. Fifteen tests. Serious competition. - Josh Jacquot

01 USCC PriceThe Big PictureThe day started with Junko Hyodo leading; her Integra a mere two points ahead of David Vespremi's MR2, both well ahead of Kip Olsen's NSX in last place. As the first grog of morning evaporated, teams turned their final wrenches and the first of many diapers gingerly swabbed away last night's desert dust.

The price test scores are based entirely on the base price of the cars before modification, but don't think that meant the racing hadn't already started. David Vespremi, for instance, negotiated a lower base price (and higher score) because his MR2 turbo started life as a cheaper non-turbo model. After checking his VIN number and verifying his claim, we congratulated him for a well-planned attack.

In the Ultimate Street Car Challenge, no contest can be ignored.

Rank Car Base Price * Points
1 {{{Acura Integra}}} GS-R $19,{{{850}}} 110
2 {{{Toyota MR2}}} Turbo $20,838 108
3 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII $28,897 90
4 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII $29,999 88
5 {{{Subaru}}} WRX STi $31,120 85
6 {{{Honda S2000}}} $32,300 82
7 {{{Mazda RX-7}}} $32,{{{900}}} 81
8 {{{Audi TT}}} $39,{{{600}}} 66
9 {{{Toyota Supra}}} Turbo $44,{{{100}}} 56
10 {{{Nissan}}} Skyline {{{GT}}}-R ** $53,459 36
11 {{{Acura NSX}}} $65,000 10
* Base price is based on MSRP when new.
** Skyline price is domestic Japanese price converted to U.S. dollars.

02 USCC GrandmaGrandmaWhack! The sound of a leatherette bag full of Ensure, Tucks medicated pads, and $10 in nickels crushing into nerd skull is one we haven't forgotten. You see, Granny delivers "the purse" to anyone she catches trying to sneak a peek as she emerges from the senior care van for her annual trip to judge all that is (or isn't) comfortable in the world of ultimate street cars. Coleman never saw it coming.

Grandma's job is an important one. She's the best judge we know when it comes to cold A/C, soothing stereo sounds, soft seats and smooth rides. And putting up with her bowels, breath and blistering backhand is all in a day's work for everyone at the USCC.

The aging socialite first wormed her way into the APR EVO, demanding a ride to the dollar store for some Beano to settle her colon. Apparently, the lack of A/C and ride quality were a combination that didn't sit well, as it took Coleman 30 minutes to retrieve her from the ladies room. The APR EVO finished ninth.

Realizing she had forgotten her purse, she summoned the MR2 to fetch it from the dollar store. Unfortunately for the old bag, the MR2's race seats, granite suspension, lack of A/C and loud exhaust rattled more than her nerves-she returned cussing as if a wasps' nest had let loose under her house dress. Granny unleashed her full wrath, awarding the MR2 last place.

The old hag was really worked up after her ride in Junko Hyodo's Integra. Former USCC car show judge Elton Lo castrated the 'Teg's exhaust on one of Riverside County's many railroad crossings, leaving the mangled mess in the middle of the road.

"That crazy whippersnapper could learn a few things about how to treat a lady," Granny said, after searing her backside in the 90-degree heat waiting for rescue. Even so, she scored the Integra fourth.

A few hits from her trusty Mylanta bottle settled Granny down just enough to crawl into Tom Passalacqua's EVO for a run past the Fading Daze Retirement Center to see a few old friends. We're not sure if it was the near-stock interior or Passalacqua's East Coast chivalry, but the EVO finished third.

"That McGaha boy sure does like them big and black," Granny said as she dumped herself into the Idahoan's Darth Vader-themed Supra. But Granny's report card came back positive, with the Supra scoring high for being low, long, cool and comfy. Good enough for second.

The old bird returned from her ride in Brett Mayes' S2000 clucking like a school girl. The roadster's stock seat, quiet exhaust and cold A/C whipped her into a diaper-changing frenzy, which must be good since she scored it highest. - Tom Paule

Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 {{{Honda}}} S2000 110 Comfy, quiet and cool
2 {{{Toyota}}} Supra Turbo 104 Long and low, just how Grandma likes it
3 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 88 Gave Grandma's backside a break
4 Nissan Skyline {{{GT-R}}} 76 Thought she was a mail truck passenger
5 {{{Acura}}} Integra GS-R 72 Low exhaust had granny thinking her
      hemorrhoids were dragging
6 {{{Audi}}} {{{TT}}} 56 Monkey bars hurt granny's hind quarters
7 Acura NSX 55 Grandma loves exotics. ... Asian men are nice
8 Subaru WRX STi 51 Gave Grandma the burps but not the squirts
9 {{{Mazda}}} {{{RX-7}}} 42 I could find a better ride on a bulldozer
10 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 26 Rough, loud, fast-like most of Grandma's men
11 Toyota MR2 Turbo 10 Louder than Grandpa on the shitter

03 USCC Car ShowCar ShowCar show judging at USCC has always made the least sense to us editors. As true enthusiasts, we've always been more concerned with going sideways, making power and having fun-looks always come second. The same is true of this year's lot of USCC contenders; they, like us, simply want to go fast. Some of them just happen to look good doing it.

This year, judging in this test was divided into 10 categories: underhood, wheels and tires, paint and body, stereo, brakes, suspension, interior, judge's choice, cleanliness and overall appearance. Each category was scored on a scale from one to 10, with three points being equivalent to a stock vehicle.

We might not be appearance experts, but we do know where to find them. Dennis Halloway from Mothers, Phillip Phong from Mackin Industries, two-time USCC champion James Chen from Axis wheels and Yuji Nagata from Import Showoff comprised our four-judge panel.

In the car show world, cleanliness is nice, but it's the details that matter most-at least that's what they tell us. In the end, only three points separated Tom Passalacqua's winning EVO and HPA's Audi TT. Both oozed excruciating, functional detail. In fact, the decision to give the EVO the win came down to its fuel cell preparation-evidence that even car show judges can appreciate racecar functionality on occasion. The big-dollar Japanese exotics netted top points even if they were only mild in bling. On presence alone, the Supra, NSX and GT-R scored 90 percent of the car show points available.

Even APR's widebody EVO, a show car by any definition, faltered relative to the winners. The fiberglass and carbon bodywork earned points, but weren't enough to make up for the relatively Spartan interior.

But the judges showed their true colors as fickle appearance weenies as well. Both the Integra with its JDM fascia and headlights and the carbon-overload MR2 with a Champ car-sized rear wing were penalized for their lack of style. The RX-7 rounded out the field with its chop-shop interior, misaligned hood and factory red paint seeping out from underneath a fresh coat of silver. - Jay Chen

Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 110 Clean, simple and beautiful, with spectacular parts
2 Audi TT 107 Endless immaculate detail
3 Acura NSX 99 Sexiest sleeper ever
4 Nissan Skyline GT-R 98 Not the meanest-looking GT-R
5 Toyota Supra Turbo 90 Great engine and gauge work
6 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 84 Widebody, duh
7 Honda S2000 82 Show-worthy suspension and brakes
8 Subaru WRX STi 58 We liked the underhood piping too
9 Toyota MR2 Turbo 51 Apparently, it is possible to have too much carbon
10 Acura Integra GS-R 48 JDM inside out
11 Mazda RX-7 10 Even Coleman's cars are cleaner

04 USCC Guru PanelGuru PanelTo the uninitiated, our guru panel looks like any other assemblage of car dorks. But this is an elite geek squad. Here, clipboards, greasy fingernails and enough undiluted car knowledge combine to break down any contender's arsenal of bullshit. Any one of these guys has enough geek clout to make Einstein bow down. Together, their collective automotive know-how is enough to make even the purest enthusiast hemorrhage data from a single download.

Having these guys poke through the engine bay and undercarriage is more intimidating than having R. Lee Ermey go through your college dorm room. Nothing has to be immaculately fabricated or pretty, but there better be a damn good reason for its existence and it better be done right. Their verdict may place a car among the automotive elite or label it as an overbudgeted parts whore.

It takes more than a collection of the best parts in the world to impress this panel. Integration is key. It doesn't hurt to be a good salesman either, because convincing these judges won't be easy.

This year's judges are seasoned USCC gurus. Heading up the group is Mike Welch, the man behind Road/Race Engineering and an expert on anything that involves the words Mitsubishi and turbo. Jeff Cheechov of Progress Group and Steve Ruiz of StopTech are the suspension and brake pros while Mike Kent, all-around engineer and consultant, has built more homebrew turbo cars than every contestant to ever enter this event combined.

In their geek eyes, HPA's twin-turbo Audi TT was the shit. Using both proven components from the Audi, VW and Porsche parts bin and meticulously fabricated parts, the TT was the perfect compromise between streetability and ultimate performance. The seamless integration of the stand-alone fuel cell and full roll cage into the completely finished interior earned big points. But it was the sheer man-hours sunk into this car that pushed it over the top. Incidentally, when it comes to salesmanship, few can top the skills of HPA's Marcel Horn.

The two EVOs scored on opposite ends of the spectrum. Tom Passalacqua wowed the ff,ff,,fff,,f,,fff,ff,,,ff,,f,,fff,ff,,fff,,f,,,ff,ff,,,ff,,f,,fff,ff,,fff,,f,,fff,ff,,,ff,,f,,,ff,ff,,fff,,f,,,ff,ff,,,ff,,f,,fff,ff,,fff,,f,,fff,ff,,,ff,,f,,fff,ff,,fff,,f,,,ff,ff,,,ff,,f,,,ff,ff,,fff,,f,,fff,ff,,,ff,,f,,,ff,ff,,fff,,f,,,ff,ff,,,ff,,f,,ber-geeks with his EVO VIII, a car that left no stone unturned in the engine and driveline. It had everything but a 2.4-liter 4G64 block. APR's widebody EVO with mild engine work, meanwhile, scored only cosmetic points.

Neither the Skyline nor the Supra earned big engineering kudos in the engine bay because both stayed mild and retained their stock bottom-ends. The Skyline did shine with the extensive and expensive suspension work, while oddly enough, the Supra scored well for its interior details and gauge installation.

For its ingenuity, the LS1-powered RX-7 had the potential to score well, but the last-minute assembly and racecar interior hurt what would have been a monumental performance, given more time to prepare.

It took more ingenuity, originality and resourcefulness than ever to survive the guru's salvo of automotive scrutiny. The USCC's demand for ever-increasing levels of preparation raises that bar every year. Show up with unique, well-executed solutions and you'll walk away on top-exactly like HPA's Audi TT did.- Jay Chen

Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 Audi TT 110 Lots of custom fabrication, and with a price to match
2 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 93 Everything but the 2.4-liter block
3 Toyota MR2 Turbo 78 Racecar aerodynamics
4 Acura NSX 74 All the parts and lots of proving
5 Mazda RX-7 75 Homegrown hero
6 Toyota Supra Turbo {{{62}}} Two extra points for gauge integration
7 Honda S2000 58 Not bad for a motor built overnight
8 Subaru WRX STi 58 Nice plumbing
9 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 56 Big fenders, big tires, no air filter
10 Nissan Skyline GT-R 54 Oil pump big enough for a semi
11 Acura Integra GS-R 10 Exhaust removal didn't help with the gurus either

The Big PictureThe first few contests were for softies. After checking wallets, we let Grandma, the Q-tip crew and the geeks all render their opinions. The test of civility, the test of prettiness and the doctoral defense before the tech tribunal were all, ultimately, tests of opinion; other than the ride around the block that Granny got, the cars didn't even have to run for the first four contests.In spite of this, front-wheel drive already seemed to be a disadvantage. After its early lead, the Integra got a lukewarm reception from Grandma, failed to impress the car show crew, and apparently pissed off the engineering judges. Hero to zero in three contests. Tough crowd.

Tom Passalacqua's spotless EVO, on the other hand, made nothing but friends, pulling it 16 points ahead of HPA's Audi TT. In a tight battle for third were the GT-R and S2000.

05 + 06 USCC DynoThe Big PictureGentlemen, start your damn cars. With the popularity contest over, it was time to make some noise. Apparently, our gurus knew how to pick winners, as the three leaders ended up with the three best scores on the dyno. The order didn't change, but the battle for third was decided decisively. No surprise, it was the Skyline pulling ahead of the S2000.

DynoFour things you never expect to see: an EVO at 9000 rpm; an Audi spinning its tires in sixth gear; a Supra tied for sixth place on the dyno; an EVO owner disappointed with 567 hp at the wheels.

USCC is full of the unexpected.

Given the Supra's finishing position, the next thing you do expect is an R34 Skyline taking home the peak power trophy, and XS Engineering delivered, to the tune of 572 hp at the wheels. That victory was anything but decisive, though, with the 2.6-liter Nissan making only 5 hp more than the amazingly high-strung 2.0-liter four in Tom Passalacqua's EVO.

Even more shocking than the power figure was the explanation for it: the dyno pull stretched to 9004 rpm. But while everyone else in earshot stared slack-jawed at the dyno screen, Passalacqua's reaction was stoic. He'd heard the sound plenty of times and saw the stunning output for what it was-second place.

Establishing third place was a challenge, not because we can't count, but because we couldn't keep Marcel Horn's twin-turbo Audi TT from smoking its hides. There are only two rules in the USCC dyno room: you only get two pulls, and you have to use third gear. The TT was pardoned for breaking both of them.

The first attempts on the dyno were met with sputtering and bucking as the computerized all-wheel-drive system tried to figure out why the tires weren't going the same speed. Dynojet rollers aren't connected like the ground between a driving car's wheels, so the only thing keeping them going the same speed is the car's all-wheel-drive system. When the Audi's Haldex clutch proved incapable of synchronizing two rollers, the digital ninny squad shut down the fun.

We finally disconnected the Haldex, running 100 percent of the car's prodigious fury to the front tires, which spun in both fourth and fifth gear. Finally, with its torque output divided by the tallest gear in the box (sixth), the TT still managed to spin its tires just a little.

Even using a portion of its output vaporizing rubber, the TT laid down 533 hp, and more importantly, a vast plateau of torque that started at 429 lb-ft way down at 2800 rpm and peaked somewhere in the 520s. That was just enough to snatch the power delivery score away from the Skyline.

Both the STi and the LS1-motivated RX-7 doled out impressive midpack performances, making 448 and 439 hp, respectively. Bringing up the back of the pack was Hyodo's real-world Integra, which whacked out a righteous 288 hp-impressive anywhere except in this contest.

The grand total of 4,849 hp from 11 cars, 10 of which displaced less than 3.2 liters, is also something you never expect to see. - Dave Coleman

Peak Power

Rank Car Peak Power Points Peanut gallery
1 Nissan Skyline GT-R 572 hp 110 This is what we keep saying
        about Skylines
2 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 567 hp 108 Unusual, unnatural, unexpected,
        unholy, unbelievable
3 Audi TT 533 hp 96 Good thing it isn't always
        front-wheel drive
4 Subaru WRX STi 489 hp 66 Remember when gay farmers were
        the only Subaru owners?
5 Mazda RX-7 439 hp 63 So wrong, and yet so right
6 Toyota Supra Turbo 436 hp 62 Don't tell the boys at the dyno
        queen club
6 Acura NSX 435 hp 62 Grown-up power. Maybe you do want
        to grow up
8 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 395 hp 48 Fenders don't make horsepower
9 Honda S2000 376 hp 41 12 a.m. - hone cylinders; 2 a.m. -
        assemble engine; 4 a.m. - break-in;
        10 a.m. - 9500 rpm
10 Toyota MR2 Turbo 360 hp 35 Coughed and sputtered
11 Acura Integra GS-R 288 hp 10 The only way to keep a front-driver
        from spinning tires is to make
        less power

Power Delivery

Rank Car Points Peanut gallery
1 Audi TT 110 Second largest engine, broadest powerband
2 Nissan Skyline GT-R 108 No Big Johnson jokes. Promise
3 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 91 Something about replacement for displacement
4 Mazda RX-7 59 Oh yeah, no replacement for displacement. That's right
5 Subaru WRX STi 58 Gay farmers still need to pull stumps
6 Toyota Supra Turbo 51 Still the laggiest no-lag turbo we've ever seen
6 Acura NSX 49 Exotic, refined, torquey and still sixth
8 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 31 If only the powerband were as wide as the fenders
9 Toyota MR2 Turbo 23 Cough, sputter, choke, whine
10 Honda S2000 15 Maybe there is something to that displacement thing
11 Acura Integra GS-R 10 I'll second that

07 USCC DriveabilityDriveabilityFor most of the competitors in the Ultimate Street Car Challenge, the first day at USCC presented no challenge at all. The Dyno test? A breeze. Emissions, Fuel Economy, Grandma ... all those tests were a total non-event. But getting up the not-so-steep driveway at K&N Engineering without scraping off the car's nose? Now that was a challenge.

The essence of the Ultimate Street Car is that it combines an aptitude for track heroics with an ability to accomplish the mundane things cars need to do. Things like idling at a crossing until the train passes and then crossing the tracks without cracking off suspension bits; like accelerating from 0-to-30 mph at eighth throttle without burning a valve; like being quiet enough that you don't have a ringing in your ears by the time you get to work; and like having windshield wipers for when it rains and a driver's seat with some reasonable comfort for awkwardly shaped men who write for car magazines.

In other words, while the rest of USCC is obsessed with the heroic (or in Grandma's case, the gastrointestinal), in driveability, we want to get up K&N's driveway.

Once again, Jacquot assigned me to this segment of the competition mostly because I'm old and fat and he wanted to get pictures of me trying to get into and out of the car. It's all just so hilarious.

Kip Olsen's NSX had the significant advantage of being, well, an NSX. That means its structure is as dense and stiff as a beryllium atom and the suspension doesn't have to be brutal to be effective. The long-proven Comptech supercharger system results in an engine that's probably even more easygoing in traffic than the standard VTEC V6 and feels so strong we could have added a hitch and a 24-foot Airstream to the car and headed to the Grand Canyon for some R and R. It wasn't just the most driveable car in this competition, it was also one of the sweetest-driving NSXs we've experienced.

Despite being right-hand drive, Kim Johnson's Skyline finished second. As with the NSX, starting off as such a solid production car helped immensely. And after driving many Skylines with radical meth-snorting engines, this one's was composed and even capable of puttering around Riverside. And the interior was plush, comfy and pretty quiet. Brett Mayes' S2000 was third best mostly because, as good as the S2000 is, it isn't an NSX or a Skyline.

Tom Passalacqua's EVO was pretty good for a car that really looked like it should be more vicious. Brian McGaha's Supra was accommodating but the power delivery was a bit ragged, while Junko Hyodo's Integra felt ragged in most every conceivable way. Mark Corbett's RX-7 drove surprisingly well, but wasn't finished and the seat couldn't be adjusted to accommodate anyone but Mark Corbett. The APR EVO was a bit hyperactive on the road and dang near impossible to get in and out of.

Finally, I just couldn't wedge myself into either Marcel Horn's Audi TT or David Vespremi's MR2. And Jacquot was really happy about that. - John Pearley Huffman

Rank Car Points Peanut gallery
1 Acura NSX 100 Start with an NSX then add well-proven components
2 Nissan Skyline GT-R 97 As easy to live with as a new {{{Altima}}}
3 Honda S2000 84 A little louder, a little stiffer than stock
4 Subaru WRX STi 81 Well behaved and civil
5 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 50 Capable, but tender
6 Toyota Supra Turbo 44 Well aged
7 Acura Integra GS-R 41 Band-Aids and bailing wire
7 Mazda RX-7 41 Raw, wacky and uncomfortable
7 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 0 Denied by physics
10 Toyota MR2 Turbo 0 Tiny car, tiny interior, fat tester wouldn't fit

08 USCC EmissionsEmissionsIt was the job of our emissions police to keep the USCC power junkies in check. And doing so required a comprehensive three-gas test like the one we created. While not a perfect reflection of transient-throttle emissions, our steady-state test was a fair and accurate comparison between the contenders, laying bare their true intentions.

Each car was measured at idle and 2500 rpm for hydrocarbon (HC), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions. We used an Emissions Systems five-gas analyzer with wireless capabilities to record the data. As always, the results were wildly inconsistent.

Both EVOs showed up with no cats and were easily the biggest polluters-we could tell just by looking at the soot on their bumpers. The Skyline and LS1-powered RX-7 did have cats, but ran so much valve overlap at idle that they were virtually useless.

True to their green heritage, all three Hondas ran reasonably clean even though the S2000 had misfire issues with its brand-new engine. Most surprising was the Integra, which with an open exhaust, was nearly as clean as some of the cars running cats. The STi, with its cat, factory exhaust manifolds and precise tuning was by far the cleanest car of the day. - Jay Chen

Rank Car Points Peanut gallery
1 Subaru WRX STi 110 The only car of the bunch that will pass
      California smog
2 Toyota MR2 Turbo 90 A distant second
3 Mazda RX-7 79 Detroit iron and a lumpy cam-a sure
      way to overwhelm your cat
4 Honda S2000 75 They blamed the misfire on the new engine
5 Nissan Skyline GT-R 69 If it would only idle with these cams
6 Acura NSX 58 The world's cleanest 435-hp, 14 year-old car
7 Audi TT 46 Canadians don't need no stinking cats, eh?
8 Acura Integra GS-R 44 Cops can't see the soot on a black bumper
9 Toyota Supra Turbo 38 Why bother using an exhaust bypass valve if
      it's going to be this dirty anyway?
10 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 21 SEMA cars don't need cats
11 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 10 Lead-coated exhaust tips give away the
      race gas in its tank

The Big PictureNobody expected the emissions test to be the one that catapulted a 572-hp Skyline into the overall lead, but that's how it happened. The same big cams that made a 4G63 breathe at S2000 revs made it stinky at idle. Too bad Mitsubishi invented balance shafts instead of VTEC.

09 USCC Fuel EconomyFuel EconomyAs this is written, 91-octane fuel is running just under three bucks per gallon here in sunny California. This magazine is not built around maximizing your miles out of every gallon, but it doesn't advocate wasting money, either. And a street car shouldn't be sucking through your wallet the way a blue whale gulps the Pacific to filter for tasty krill.

USCC's fuel economy numbers are calculated by filling each vehicle at a Shell station just outside the gilded gates of K&N Filters in Riverside, Calif., and then having the owners pilot them over a rather hilly 70.7-mile course-more or less along State Route 138-to an agonizingly dumpy Mobil station just outside Palmdale, Calif. How much fuel each car slurped up by that second stop determined the winner. Any car could use race fuel if so desired, but forfeited 10 points in the process.

Of course, each driver did his best to save fuel-gliding, snail-like acceleration and drafting were all standard operating procedure-but it was no surprise that this test was bracketed by David Vespremi's dinky MR2 that turned in a sterling 34.52 mpg and Mark Corbett's V8 RX-7 that downed go-juice at a 19.10-mpg rate.

"We did the standard stuff-bumped up the tire pressure, kept the headlights down, drafted our VW Golf support vehicle and stayed out of the boost," explains Vespremi. "But we also had the hand-held A'PEXi Power FC Commander monitoring injector duty cycle and kept that number as low as possible. We knew exactly how much fuel we were using."

Physics-they're laws we can live with.- John Pearley Huffman

Rank Car MPG Points Peanut gallery
1 Toyota MR2 Turbo 34.521 120 Tiny car, tiny engine
2 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 31.255 99 Avoid boost, boost fuel economy
3 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 29.471 87 See above
4 Audi TT 26.079 65 Not bad for 3.2 liters and two turbos
5 Subaru WRX STi 24.557 55 Could have been worse, could have been better
6 Honda S2000 23.638 49 That supercharger has to be spun
7 Acura Integra GS-R 23.567 49 Just ragged
8 Acura NSX 23.426 48 Surprisingly stingy
9 Nissan Skyline GT-R 20.386 28 Amazing it was this good
10 Toyota Supra Turbo 19.353 22 The bruiserweight champion
11 Mazda RX-7 19.103 20 V8 power, {{{V10}}} appetite

The Big PictureNone of the leaders were particularly impressive in the cross-country crawl that was the fuel economy test, but the Skyline was so thoroughly unimpressive that its momentary lead vanished as quickly and unceremoniously as it began. Further down in the pack, the mileage-winning MR2 (every MR2 ever in USCC has won this test) lept from 10th to eighth place-within striking distance of the top half of the field.

10+11 USCC AccelerationThe Big PictureDay two opened with the real performance tests-taking all that power and actually putting it to the ground. With a trio of all-wheel-drive cars in the lead, it was no surprise to see them pull away from the pack in the quarter-mile and 20-100 mph tests. The surprise was Richard Garcia's STi, which, unlike the HPA Audi TT, used all its power for accelerating and none at all for making smoke. Welcome to third, Mr. Garcia.

AccelerationLet's be honest-Los Angeles County Raceway might be the worst place in California to drag race. The track sits at 2,710 feet and looks like it was drawn through the desert by a nearsighted hamster with a bucket of white paint and a nervous twitch. "Track prep" is even more comical. It consists of a pickup truck dragging tires up and down the lanes, which moves dust around a lot before the whole mess is shellacked with a thick veneer of VHT.

Acceleration points are scored in two categories: elapsed time and 20-100 mph acceleration. Each competitor has just three attempts to pull out a good run.

The instant-on nature of the turbo in Brian McGaha's 436-hp Supra meant that he could either launch before building boost and bog down to a slow e.t., or launch while on boost and spin the wheels to, well, a slow e.t. Opting for the latter, the Supra saw a 13.22-second timeslip.

The Integra squealed away from the line and ran without complication to a ninth place finish (13.06 sec.), which isn't too shabby, while the MR2 had no traction problems and pulled strongly until the end of the strip to a 12.99-second run. In the end though, both cars were a bit out of their league in this company.

The APR EVO was the first to demonstrate the clear advantage that the all-wheel-drive cars had on the dusty track by hooking up and slingshotting out of the lights to post a 12.57.

As much as we hate to admit it, there's always a directly proportional relationship between high horsepower and broken parts. The first time this correlation reared its head on day two was when the RX-7 of Mark Corbett broke the custom tubular powerplant frame that connects the car's transmission and rear differential. After jamming to remove and reweld the powerplant frame, Corbett laid down an impressive 12.39-second run.

The Audi TT looked like a bull rearing to charge before each run as nitrous blasted off its side-mounted intercoolers, creating huge white clouds before the car launched. Marcel Horn pedaled the car to a 12.12-second pass.

And then things got outright ridiculous. Eric Hsu disabled the front-wheel drive of the R34 Skyline and, following a massive burnout, reconnected it so that Kim Johnson could hook up and pilot the car down the track to a strong second-place finish with a 11.34-second run.

Determined to win the acceleration tests, Tom Passalacqua began his day with an insane high-rpm clutch drop that broke the front differential in his EVO on its first pass. Demonstrating the ever-increasing level of preparedness in the USCC, the team swapped in a new front differential and, in under an hour, the EVO set the fastest time of the group-a smoking 11.20-second pass. Passalacqua's EVO was also fastest in rolling acceleration, blasting from 20-100 mph in a scant 6.05 seconds, more than half a second quicker than the second-place Skyline. - James Tate

1/4 Mile

Rank Car TIME Points Peanut gallery
1 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 11.20 110 Preparation, professionalism and speed
2 Nissan Skyline GT-R 11.34 104 Perfect every time
3 Subaru WRX STi 11.57 93 Nearly as perfect
4 Audi TT 12.12 68 Rip snortin'
5 Mazda RX-7 12.39 55 Wheelspin, wheelspin everywhere
6 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 12.57 47 Fast, but not fast enough
7 Acura NSX 12.78 37 Not as fast as we thought
8 Toyota MR2 Turbo 12.99 28 If only noise were speed
9 Acura Integra GS-R 13.06 24 Consider the company
10 Toyota Supra Turbo 13.22 17 Integra beats Supra!
11 Honda S2000 13.37 10 Not a drag car

20-100 mph

Rank Car TIME Points Peanut gallery
1 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 6.05 110 Sound familiar?
2 Nissan Skyline GT-R 6.67 94 Second, but still fast
3 Audi TT 7.32 78 Heavy as hell. Even more powerful
4 Mazda RX-7 7.54 72 Light as hell. No grip
5 Subaru WRX STi 7.60 71 Would have been second last year
6 Acura NSX 8.61 45 Mid-pack power equals mid-pack acceleration
7 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 9.00 35 Show car, go car
8 Acura Integra GS-R 9.26 28 Still ahead of the Supra
9 Toyota Supra Turbo 9.59 20 Don't tell MKIV.com
10 Toyota MR2 Turbo 9.80 15 Needs more power
11 Honda S2000 9.98 10 Still not a drag car

12 USCC BrakingBrakingIt's hard to say why enthusiasts tend to feel braking is less important than acceleration. Braking is every bit as critical to getting a car around a circuit quickly, and on the road it, more likely than acceleration, saves us from Newton's wrath when the red mist takes over.

The best way to win USCC is to have all bases covered, and that means being able to stop. Hard. The ForcedFed EVO, which had 13.9-inch rotors and Alcon calipers, recorded among the shortest stopping distances we've ever measured (SCC, June 2005). So we weren't too surprised when Tom Passalacqua's EVO trumped all comers with an essentially identical setup that stopped his EVO from 60 mph in 108.53 feet. The Skyline's Brembo Gran Turismo setup reined it in just one foot longer than the EVO.

Even so, the braking contest isn't necessarily won with huge brakes. Our competitors had three tries to stop from 60 mph. And because the brakes are allowed ample time to cool between runs, many of the characteristics that make big brakes important (high heat capacity, fade resistance) don't factor into this test. Last year, an MR2 with essentially stock brakes set the shortest stopping distance ever recorded at USCC.

What is worth having is ABS. Or, as evidenced by Mark Corbett's RX-7, ABS that works. Being one of the lighter contenders and having some of the fattest tires, the car should have stopped with the best of them. Instead, it finished last, at 135.3 feet.

Beyond that surprise, the only real drama in the test happened when the APR EVO returned from a braking run with a river of green coolant steaming out from under the car. It managed to nearly remove itself from the competition by ramming its oversized wastegate dump tube into the fatter-than-stock PWR radiator core under braking, all thanks to a soft engine mount. The resulting damage caused the team members to effect repairs over the next few hours, nearly forcing them to miss the skidpad and road course tests. - James Tate

60-0 mph

Rank Car DISTANCE Points
1 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 108.53 110
2 Nissan Skyline GT-R 109.51 106
3 Toyota Supra Turbo 114.79 87
4 Toyota MR2 Turbo 115.71 83
5 Audi TT 115.88 83
6 Subaru WRX STi 116.13 82
7 Honda S2000 116.88 79
8 Acura Integra GS-R 119.75 68
9 Acura NSX 127.29 40
10 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 129.78 31
11 Mazda RX-7 135.30 10

The Big PictureMR2s are just as good at stopping as they are at sipping fuel, so after falling to 10th again, Vespremi's mid-engine monster leaped back to eighth place. With such inconsistent performance, though, we stopped thinking it was a sign of a comeback. All the top four cars had strong scores in braking and the status stayed as quo as ever, but the STi vs. TT battle was down to two points.

13 USCC SkidpadSkidpadMy most bitter regret about this year's USCC is that Mark Corbett is short. The seat in Corbett's LS1-powered RX-7 is hard-mounted to the floor in the perfect position for his stubby legs, making it physically impossible to fold my lanky frame into it.

After years of circling the skidpad in almost every car this magazine has tested, my skills in this arena are virtually second to none. At least this is the line I've used to dupe my way into sampling how all the USCC competitors handle at the limit. This year, however, two cars slipped from my grasp.

Shorty's RX-7 was driven by our ringleader, Jacquot, who did his best to disprove my claim to skipad supremacy by recording the winning performance of 1.095g. It was probably a great car to drive.

David Vespremi also denied me my stint at the wheel, having his hired gun for the day, autocrosser Mike Maier, do the skidpad duties. During his laps, he confessed he had never driven a mid-engine car before, but managed the delicate balancing act with the reflexes of a veteran. Any other day, 1.004g would be a strong showing. But this was no normal day.

Back at the top of the scoreboard, the APR EVO finally showed what those fat fenders are for, with a stunning 1.072g. That kind of grip feels completely unnatural in a car like the EVO, with the wildly oversized tires rearranging the steering geometry. The steering may not have felt EVO-like any more, but it was far more communicative than expected.

Junko Hyodo's Integra felt like it was about to deliver a strong performance. It had the tail-wagging balance of a dialed-in front-driver, in which every lift off the throttle felt like it moved the tail offline by a foot. Three and a half laps into the test, though, one of the axles popped out, rendering it a no-wheel driver. The skidpad score was based on the average of the best two laps in each direction, and without four laps, there was no score. - Dave Coleman

The big pictureGoing around corners seemed to utterly baffle the leaders. The mid-packers owned this contest, with Mark Corbett's RX-7 leaping from 10th to sixth (tied with McGaha's Supra) in one dominant performance. At the top, there was a barely perceptible change in position as the Audi squeaked into third with a not-quite-last performance on the pad.

Even with less-than-amazing skidpad numbers, victory was the undeniable destiny of either Passalacqua's EVO or Kim Johnson's GT-R; their lead over the rest of the pack was, by now, insurmountable.

Rank Car Score Points Peanut Gallery
1 {{{Mazda}}} RX-7 1.095g 110 Even with pushrods, nothing handles like an RX-7
2 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 1.072g 89 Wider IS better!
3 {{{Honda}}} {{{S2000}}} 1.062g {{{80}}} It took brilliant setup to make an S2000
        this easy to drive in circles
4 {{{Toyota}}} Supra Turbo 1.047g 65 Nobody knows how Toyota made the
        enormous Supra so sticky
5 Nissan Skyline GT-R 1.043g 61 Everybody knows Nissan did it with its own
        breed of all-wheel drive
6 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 1.017g 37 The leader faltered
7 {{{Acura}}} {{{NSX}}} 1.012g 32 Bump the skinny pedal and you'll be backward
8 Toyota {{{MR2}}} Turbo 1.004g 25 Seemed sticky from the passenger's seat
9 Audi TT 0.991g 13 Best-handling TT ever isn't saying much
10 Subaru WRX STi 0.988g 10 Simply too soft
11 Acura Integra GS-R DNF 0 It made three laps before the axle popped
        out; it takes four to get a score

14 USCC Road CourseThe Big PictureIt would take a catastrophic mistake on the track for Passalacqua's EVO not to win. Turning your engine inside-out qualified as catastrophic. With a sharp bang and the soul-crushing tink-tink-tink of pistons and rods reciprocating one last time off the oily floorpan of the leading EVO, victory was handed over.

Road CourseThe Streets of Willow threads its way up and down the Southern California desert foothills for 1.5 miles, with 120 feet of elevation change in a challenging mishmash of tight, technical corners. It's the perfect measure for street cars-combining both high- and low-speed bends and off-camber crests with the tough-love reality of sand, rock and sagebrush should you venture off course. There's plenty of opportunity for high-speed exits, but almost none of them end your day, so many drivers gave it everything on their first lap-a strategy some would regret.

This was clearer than ever when James Hickerson, driving the HPA Audi TT, made the most spectacular use of Haldex all-wheel-drive we've ever seen by overcooking Turn One and spackling the Audi's underside with gravel at more than 100 mph. Hickerson hauled the beast back onto the track at Turn Two, with just one flat tire as restitution. Later he would muscle the Audi to a 63.57-second time stamp, good for seventh place.

The massive ball of flame that exploded through the hood vent on Tom Passalacqua's EVO suggested that driver John Mueller wouldn't be as lucky. Adding grave irony to the "Muellerized" decals emblazoned on its flanks, the EVO cratered the track with superheated chunks of connecting rod and smoldering engine block fragments exiting Turn Three during its first hot lap. We're told the stock oil pump disagreed with the 9300 rpm Mueller was requesting. Like a bloodied warrior limping back to town, the crippled EVO coasted around Turn Four, hobbled down to the finish line and collapsed.

The early retirement of Passalacqua's EVO increased the opportunity for others to take valuable road course points. And as the show went on, it was clear that's exactly what they planned to do.

The ultratorquey RX-7 looked like it took some getting used to as Corbett tried to find a line around The Streets, but he still managed fourth quickest, making us believe that it was capable of more.

Erik Messley pedaled Brett Mayes' S2000 to a third-place finish far beyond the sum of its parts. When Messley climbed out, the S2000 was only .005 seconds behind the APR EVO's time of 62.065 seconds. The APR boys replaced the radiator damaged in the braking test just in time to squeeze onto the track at the last minute, for a well-earned second place.

Mueller's shortsighted strategy in Passalacqua's EVO and the gaping hole in its block meant that winning suddenly looked a heck of a lot easier for Kim Johnson's Skyline GT-R, which was the only car to lap in less than a minute-thanks to the picture-perfect driving of Samuel Hubinette. The 2.3-second gap to second place was a landslide victory in this otherwise close-knit pack.

Winning the road course adds prestige to any entrant's repertoire and is the perfect feather in the overall winner's cap. The Skyline easily won this battle. And the war was almost over. - James Tate

Rank Car Lap Time Points Peanut Gallery
1 Nissan Skyline GT-R 59.72 110 Only car under a minute
2 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 62.065 65 Effective repairs, effective driver
3 Honda S2000 62.07 65 Mumford would be proud of
        this performance
4 Mazda RX-7 62.78 51 Could have been faster
5 Acura NSX 63.04 46 Confidence in motion
6 Subaru WRX STi 63.09 45 Fast car, fast driver, fast company
7 Audi TT 63.57 36 Not bad when not off-roading
8 Toyota MR2 Turbo 64.23 24 Sideways and slow
9 Acura Integra GS-R 64.{{{90}}} 11 Just outclassed
10 Toyota Supra Turbo 64.94 10 No comment
11 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII DNF 0 Muellerized indeed

15 USCC Gross Display Of HorsepowerGross Display Of HorsepowerThis is the most difficult contest to watch. It's not the wanton destruction of high-dollar race rubber or watching the inevitable damage befall the large portion of cars unable to cool their steroid-addled engines that makes this true. It's the fact that we have to score it.

Every other contest here is judged either by empirical measurement or by a detached panel of judges unaware of the overall standings. This is by design, allowing us to point the finger elsewhere when the whining starts. Nobody knows burnouts and powerslides like we do, though, so we fall back on our own home-grown expertise when the stupidity begins.

Here's our challenge: Which is worth more points-a Skyline doing a Rockford followed by a series of pirouettes and powerslides, or getting an EVO to do a double-digit number of doughnuts within its own wheelbase?

Which is better: a V8-powered RX-7 laying tracks for 90 seconds straight or an MR2 doing one well-controlled slide followed by a bunch of uncontrolled, mid-engine snap spins?

The driver gets extra points for making the crowd gasp, cheer, or go silent in disbelief, but does laughing because the photographers had to run count? How about the gasps of honest fear when the stupidity obviously exceeds the driver's level of control?

These are the answers we have to come up with in a matter of seconds, and we do so with completely arbitrary finality. What we say goes, and occasionally even decides the overall contest.

This year, to the relief of all, our legally binding and completely unscientific scores had no effect on the overall standings. - Dave Coleman

Rank Car Points Peanut Gallery
1 Nissan Skyline GT-R 25 Start with a Rockford, end with the title
2 APR Mitsu. EVO VIII 23 Cookies are for chumps, but cookies within your own wheelbase are for heros
3 Mazda RX-7 21 No waiting for turbos to spool up, just smoke from the first touch of the pushrods
4 Audi TT 17 Absolutely brilliant four-wheel smoking powerslide interrupted by power steering failure
5 Subaru WRX STi 16 Whoever thought of making the STi's handbrake disconnect the center diff was a genius
6 Acura NSX 15 By the sound of it, this may have been a very expensive 15 points
7 Toyota Supra Turbo 15 Score big if you make the photographers run, but goose egg if you actually hit them
8 Toyota MR2 Turbo 11 One beautiful, well-controlled slide across the pad, then a bunch of cookies
9 Passalacqua Mitsu. EVO VIII 0 No power to display
10 Honda S2000 0 The only competitor to bow out of the Gross Display on sheer intelligence alone
11 Acura Integra GS-R 0 Still made power, but couldn't display it with only one axle

The WinnerSince this contest's inception, we've known a Skyline would eventually win. And every year of near-misses, fragged crankcases and stupid goofs since, we've lamented in print the fact that one hasn't. Kim Johnson must have heard destiny in those statements, because this year his R34 came, saw and conquered. As with past winners, the Skyline proved that USCC victory is earned through a well-rounded performance in every test. Using a pro driver to crush the competition on the road course doesn't hurt, either.

Whatever the event, beating a GT-R is a tall order. After all, it's designed to be good at everything and that's the point here. In reality, Johnson's Skyline only won three contests outright-it rocked the road course by posting the only lap time of less than a minute, put down 572 hp at the wheels on the dyno, and smoked the competition in the Gross Display of Horsepower with the front-wheel drive disengaged. But the real key to victory was the GT-R's consistency, which put it no lower than fourth in 10 other contests.

It wouldn't be fair to ignore the spectacular performance put forth by Tom Passalacqua's EVO. If it hadn't expired on the road course, this page would without question have a Mitsubishi on it. In third place, Richard Garcia's fast, powerful and well-rounded WRX STi was more than 200 points in the Skyline's wake, proving that winning this contest indeed requires some serious hardware. There's something to be said for any machine that puts 572 hp to the ground, runs an 11.3-second quarter mile and doesn't get Grandma's panties in a wad.

Congratulations, Kim. - James Tate

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