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Ultimate Street Car Challenge - 8 Emissions

Edward Loh
Dec 1, 2006
0612_sccp_05_z+lotus_elise_and_mazda_rx7+at_mobil_gas_station Photo 1/1   |   Ultimate Street Car Challenge - 8 Emissions

We'd all like to build killer street/track machines without sweating draconian smog laws, but that's a pipe dream. To legally run the highways of California, we've all got to somehow circumvent the biannual nightmare of smogging our 'street cars'. To spread the joy, we make the USCC competitors do the same. If we can't get away with showing Johnny Law the middle digit, why should they?

In California, a smog test consists of two parts: a visual inspection and actual emissions testing on a loaded dyno. The dyno simulates the load of the car driving down the road at 15 and 25mph. This provides an accurate reading of the level of pollutants each car emits during normal driving.

Thankfully for the competitors, we don't have the equipment or the time to do this, so we're reverting to the old-school way of measuring emissions-at idle and at 2500rpm. While this is in no way a precise indication of actual emissions during driving, it's a level playing field. That said, not a single competitor would have passed California's real emissions test.

To ensure consistent results, each car was tested just after its last dyno pull. We measured three gasses, hydrocarbon (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen oxides (NOx). The results should be taken with a grain of salt, however. While we did our best to make it fair, we're only as good as the equipment we use. If we can trust the sticker on top, our emissions analyzer was last calibrated about 10 years ago, making it about 9 years overdue for a service.

With a gas analyzer that would spontaneously (and infuriatingly) shut down mid-test with increasing frequency throughout the day, we were lucky to even finish. But we did, and the results were enlightening.

The biggest pig of the bunch was the RX-7. Sporting a spankin' new engine and gnarly camshafts with loads of valve overlap, the Mazvy/Chevda bastard virtually spit raw fuel from the exhaust. At idle, the FD maxed out the HC meter, measuring an indicated 4600 parts per million (PPM) at idle (which makes it as dirty as about 500 Toyota Corollas).

The next highest idle HC was recorded by the R32, which saw 900ppm. So the next time visibility is reduced to 30 feet because of smog, look for these guys.

At the opposite end of the spectrum were the NSX and 350Z. At idle, the 350Z emitted a paltry 20ppm HC. Both the 350 and NSX had emissions levels that were nearly low enough to pass a smog check, but neither would pass the visual inspection. The key to their low emissions was a lot of tuning. While both cars were surprisingly clean, their tuning methods were a little different. The 350Z recorded the lowest HC levels at idle (20ppm), and the lowest CO (0.1) at idle and 2500rpm. The low CO levels tells us the car was running lean and helps explain why it had slightly higher NOx levels, which ultimately cost it the top spot.

Future USCC competitors take note: given the lackluster results of most the cars, this portion seems like an easy place to pick up a few points. Seems like only a few people are really trying.-Ryan McKay

The Big PictureIt's almost 2pm. Many of the contestants are nearly done and still no Joe, still no Prototype Racing Elise. Some of the contestants are grumbling for us to cut them from the competition, but we can't do that, not only because we can't get hold of him, but because he had less than a week to prepare. We decide to give him until the hour, then, with 15 minutes to spare, he pulls up, having driven around for an hour completely lost. Joe-it's time to get a cellphone.

RANK CAR POINTS PEANUT GALLERY
1 Danny Young's NSX 110 The cleanest car of the bunch. How is that possible?
2 XS Engineering/{{{M}}}-Works 350Z 99 A close second. A little too lean?
3 HPA {{{Beetle}}} RSI 93 Wild HC fluctuation at idle (between 150-400ppm) Much cleaner at 2500rpm
4 Robispec {{{Lancer}}} Evolution 92 Pig rich, but not even close to the RX-7. Ultra-low NOx levels
5 Crawford Performance WRX STI 85 One of the cleaner cars at 2500rpm
6 APR WRX STI 58 The Switzerland of emissions
7 HASport {{{CRX}}} Si 52 Highest NOx emitter-dirty little {{{Honda}}}
8 Prototype Racing Elise 42 Greenpeace is calling
9 Paul Dentice's Skyline {{{GT}}}-R 16 A factor in global warming
10 Mike Schaezler's RX-7 10 Clubs baby seals too

9 Fuel EconomyThe Shell station off Iowa Street should be ready for us by now. Each year, our thirsty competitors fund in-ground swimming pools or wall-to-wall carpeting for the homes of each and every swill-pumping employee in the place. With gas at about $3.50 a gallon this year, they were set to make another killing.

But they didn't. After we filled up the first car (Robert Fuller's Evo), the pump refused to work. Then all the pumps decided to stop pumping 91-octane. With nine tuner cars clogging the small station, chaos immediately ensued. Other customers wanted gas, and it was our fault they weren't getting it.

Finally, an attendant emerged and found the problem was underground, and not a result of our incompetence. While said attendant dug around under the pumps, Marcel Horn of HPA happily filled his Beetle with 87-octane and sputtered off. The other competitors held out for the good stuff-many had already topped off with race gas, needing less than a gallon of California's finest. A little over an hour off schedule, the fueling problem was fixed and the remaining cars finally hit the road.

Our 70.7-mile test consists of a grueling uphill stretch, a highway jaunt, and what is essentially a downhill luge. Most of the entrants cut their cars off completely during the long downhill section, keeping buttcheeks tightly clenched for some of the tighter corners and allowing gravity to hurtle them to the bottom. Almost every car sported over-inflated tires and drafted whoever was unfortunate enough to be the vehicle in front. A few of the tuners, like Crawford Performance, actually had an entirely different ECU tune to run extra-lean during this test.

The extra-lean tune was largely responsible for Crawford's walk-away victory in the end, the STI posting an unbelievable 42.5mpg average and sporting the whitest exhaust tip we have ever seen.

At the other end of the spectrum, APR wasn't so lucky with the same make and model car, netting 16.5mpg.

Almost as soon as the combatants started to trickle into the tiny Mobil station at the end of our route, drama erupted. A few had taken wrong turns and amassed a greater number of miles. Others were sure everyone else had cheated, offering incredible theories of electronic trickery and gas station manipulation. In the end, we laid down the law: the course was 70.7 miles-if people had gotten lost, their mileage would suffer as a result.-James Tate

The Big PictureOh, the strange things we do in the name of competition. And we're not talking about just the wacky gas-saving driving techniques, either. What about descending upon random gas stations in the middle of nowhere with ten loud and obnoxious cars all wanting to use the same pump on the same credit card?

And it just gets weirder. Crawford's highly suspect mileage catapults him within striking distance of the leaders, who have only grown closer due to relatively poor finishes. As Day One draws to a close, we're looking at a tight three-horse race.

RANK CAR
MPG POINTS PEANUT GALLERY
1 Crawford Performance WRX STI 42.5 {{{100}}} 42mpg? We don't believe it, either
2 Prototype Racing {{{Elise}}} 34.1 78 Lowest hp, lightest weight, believable mpg
3 Robispec {{{Lancer}}} Evolution 27.8 54 No brakes for the downhill section
4 XS Engineering/{{{M}}}-Works {{{350Z}}} 27.0 51 Nothing surprising here...
5 HASport {{{CRX}}} Si 26.7 49 Should have won, but got lost instead
6 HPA Beetle RSI 25.8 46 Not bad for two turbos and all-wheel drive
7 Mike Schaezler's {{{RX-7}}} 23.4 37 This kind of mpg makes this engine swap attractive
8 Danny Young's {{{NSX}}} 22.6 34 Anything over 5mpg is amazing
9 Paul Dentice's Skyline {{{GT}}}-R 20.2 24 This took willpower
10 APR WRX STI 16.5 10 16mpg? We don't believe it, either

10 + 11 AccelerationCracking off a rapid quarter-mile run at Los Angeles County Raceway really is a one-in-a-million chance. Not a year has gone by without complaint about the Martian track surface or the scalding heat. This year we've added yet another aspect for everyone to complain about: no VHT. We've forgone the traction-enhancing coating because it wears off throughout the day, which means those who run earlier would have stickier runs. With or without the VHT, though, the biggest challenge of the event is pulling off an acceptable run in just three tries.

The good news, particularly for those without the luxury of all-wheel drive, is that we're also clocking the 20-100mph time of each car, which is less dependent on traction. I say less dependent because we all watched, jaws agape, as Mike Schaezler's LS7-powered RX-7 lost traction at about 90mph and nearly spun into the wall, before a miraculous recovery saw the car aimed toward the left side of the track. After painting the inside of his pants brown (we imagine), Mike babied the car to a very traction-limited 15.02-second run at 95.75mph. Only at LACR can 510 wheel-hp equal that kind of ET.

Prototype Racing's Elise was another car that became squirrely about halfway down the track, despite its relative lack of torque. The little Lotus still managed to finish in 13.55 seconds, with a 20-100mph time of just over 11 seconds.

Predictably, it was a nightmare for the guys at HASport to get a clean run out of their front-wheel-drive CRX, but in the end they saw a respectable 14.28-second run at 108mph and nobody feared for their lives.

The giant T51 KAI turbo on Paul Dentice's Skyline was all but made for the quarter-mile, and when the car dug in and rocketed off, it didn't let go until the run was over... in just over 11 seconds and just under 130mph. The car also blitzed the 20-100mph test in six seconds. Dentice was so confident he'd won, he simply cruised through the two remaining runs, like a batter walking casually to first.-James Tate

The Big PictureDay Two started off with Dentice banging out an 11-second run on his first pass. It ended with Marcel Horn's head in the Beetle's left front wheel well. On their second pass, HPA sheared off the flange on their left front driveshaft, and the damage was serious. Not only was the replacement part not easily sourced (even in remote Palmdale, CA, go figure), repairing it required special tools. But we didn't know how bad things were until Horn called information for the local Home Depot.

While HPA struggles to hold on, Dentice takes the bragging rights and Crawford and Young stay in the hunt.

QUARTER-MILE
RANK CAR TIME POINTS PEANUT GALLERY
1 Paul Dentice's Skyline {{{GT}}}-R 11.13 110 Still the boss
2 Crawford Performance WRX STI 11.81 93 Third time's a charm
3 Danny Young's {{{NSX}}} 12.09 85 Short shifted to third
4 HPA Beetle RSI 12.19 83 Lightning-fast shifts
5 Robispec {{{Lancer}}} Evolution 12.55 73 Wingless wonder
6 Prototype Racing Elise 13.55 48 290hp and still sideways
7 APR WRX STI 13.97 37 Too much aero, not enough power
8 HASport CRX Si 14.28 29 Good old import drag racing
9 XS Engineering/{{{M}}}-Works {{{350Z}}} 14.69 18 Got schooled by a Beetle and CRX
10 Mike Schaezler's RX-7 15.02 10 10 points is better than a K wall
20-{{{100}}} MPH
RANK CAR TIME POINTS PEANUT GALLERY
1 Paul Dentice's Skyline {{{GT-R}}} 6.09 110 May not win, but takes all the nice hardware
2 Danny Young's NSX 7.35 93 More power than traction
3 Crawford Performance WRX STI 7.59 {{{90}}} The beauty of all-wheel drive
4 HPA Beetle RSI 8.74 75 When it still had four axles
5 Robispec {{{Lancer Evolution}}} 8.96 72 Decent for a track car
6 Prototype Racing Elise 11.16 43 Half the GT-R's weight-twice as slow
7 HASport CRX Si 11.28 42 Nitrous on!
8 XS Engineering/M-Works 350Z 11.94 33 Still behind the CRX
9 APR WRX STI 12.30 28 All that drag
10 Mike Schaezler's RX-7 13.67 10 Still can't hook up

12 BrakingThe hardest part of stopping a car at Los Angeles County Raceway is finding the traction necessary to actually pull it off. The track is in the desert, which means it's ice cold at night and burning hot during the day, and it's always covered in sand. A pickup truck dragging tractor tires up and down the lanes at the beginning of the day represents LACR's track preparation. Within a few hours, high winds have transported the few grains of sand the tires were able to dispel right back onto the surface.

What's more, this surface seems to get worse each year. To give you an idea of how much, last year's victor, Tom Passalacqua's Evo, hauled to a stop from 60mph in just over 108 feet. This year, HPA's Beetle RSI took the honors, with an 80mph-0 braking distance of 193 feet. Last year, the track was coated with VHT at the beginning of the day, which further helped traction during the braking runs.

All but the Prototype Racing Elise sported aftermarket big brakes, which were a boon on the racetrack generally but, because there was plenty of downtime between each attempt, unnecessary during the braking runs. So fade wasn't an issue. Unlike previous years, this round of USCC showed no favoritism towards the lighter cars; the CRX and Lotus both posting mid-pack numbers and bested by heavier entrants like APR's STI.

There wasn't a single team that failed to mention the crummy conditions, but every car managed to put in three runs-we took the best. We were surprised to find the very car that could make it down the quarter-mile strip fastest was the same one that used the most asphalt to stop. Paul Dentice's R32 Skyline GT-R, equipped with R33 Brembo brakes, took a full 287 feet to squeal to a halt. ABS anchors were considerably less advanced in the R32's heyday, and the addition of larger wheels and tires probably confused the system.

After three hours of shuffling each of the ten cars from one end of the dragstrip to the other, competitors were antsy to leave LACR and make their way up to the Streets at Willow for the rest of the testing. So were we.-James Tate

The Big PictureOne thing is now crystal clear: most tuners can't set up brakes worth a damn. Even with a broken front left corner, HPA is the only team under 200 feet. And dust and dirt is no complaint, because, rumor has it, real streets have that stuff too.

More shocking is how close this is turning out to be. With the win, the HPA Beetle just cracks the 1000-point mark and Danny Young's NSX is only a few points behind. Though more than 100 points back, Crawford STI still has a chance as we head for the Streets of Willow.

RANK CAR BRAKING DISTANCE POINTS
1 HPA Beetle RSI 193 110
2 Danny Young's NSX 209 93
3 APR WRX STI 210 92
4 HASport CRX Si 217 84
5 XS Engineering/{{{M}}}-Works {{{350Z}}} 257 42
6 Prototype Racing Elise 258 41
7 Robispec {{{Lancer}}} Evolution 259 40
8 Crawford Performance WRX STI 262 37
9 Mike Schaezler's {{{RX-7}}} 277 21
10 Paul Dentice's Skyline {{{GT-R}}} 287 10

13 Lap TimesEveryone seems to forget that the road course portion of the USCC is only worth 110 points. Bragging rights aside, it's far easier to beat everyone else's pants off with a really clean-running car in the emissions test, so that you walk away with at least a 70-point lead. But the fixation remains on who's fastest around a track.

Our road course this time is different from years past. We've kept the full-tread R-compound tire limitation, but decided to run the Streets of Willow at Willow Springs Raceway in its full configuration, instead of the shortest. It's a winding, low-speed, 1.8-mile course, now with three sections for our big-power contenders to stretch their legs. Traditionally, all-wheel-drive or light compacts have excelled here.

As it happens, the fastest car was neither light nor all-wheel-drive. We were skeptical that the 650hp racer would stay on the track, since it barely stayed on the dyno, but Danny Young's no-expense-spared NSX hung a whopping three-second lead on the rest of the pack as the last runner of the day. For a track this short and twisty, such a margin is ridiculous. Set up and driven by Grand Am/Daytona driver Eric Messley of EMI Racing Suspension, the NSX once again shows that a 20-year-old mid-engine supercar isn't something to be taken lightly, even if it's sideways at mid-point down the front straight.

At a distant but still impressive second was Steve Mitchell in the XS Engineering/M-Works Nissan 350Z, running a 1:30.72. Although it lost points in other areas for its racing nature, the track/drift machine nailed the handling tests as intended. But it had to share this spot with Crawford Performance's WRX STI. Only two hundredths of a second separated Mitchell and Crawford's NASA hot-shoe, Russ Warr. The fact the WRX has a full interior and no cage is still no excuse.

Robert Fuller of Robispec was at the helm of both third and fourth place finishers, the Robispec Evo IX RS and APR's WRX STI respectively. He also set them up. Neither car finished all five laps, though. The APR car experienced continuous boost leaks and was finally taken out by a bad e-throttle. The Evo's headgasket blew, ending Fuller's day before the Skidpad or Gross Display Of Horsepower trials.

The rest of the pack were plagued by typical track abuse issues. HASport's time attack CRX made big power, but had all the predictability of a bi-polar five-year-old. Mike Schaezler's RX-7 burned enough oil to put a James Bond smoke screen to shame. Too bad, since driver Andy Hope said it easily had another three seconds in it. Our underdog favorite Lotus Elise suffered from tired heat-cycled tires and HPA's Beetle was down to three axles and a really confused Haldex all-wheel-drive system. But by this point, the winner of our 2006 USCC had pretty much locked in its victory.-Jay Chen

The Big PictureAll the NSX had to do to win was finish better than dead last. And with HPA's Beetle hurting so bad, that would not have been a problem. Instead, Young's driver, Eric Messley put on a racing clinic and demolished the field to take an insurmountable lead.

Fourth place and 95 points are just enough for Crawford to squeak past HPA into second overall, but it's not rock solid. If HPA pulls off a miracle on the Skipad and decides to sacrifice the car in the Gross Display of Horsepower, they could finish first runner-up.

RANK CAR LAP TIME POINTS PEANUT GALLERY
1 XS Engineering/M-Works {{{350Z}}} 1:27.74 sec. 110 Who says AWD is faster?
2 Danny Young's NSX 1:30.72 sec. 92 Purpose-built for the track
3 Crawford Performance WRX STI 1:30.75 sec. 92 This is the best NASA's time trial champ can do?
4 Robispec {{{Lancer}}} Evolution 1:31.19 sec. 89 Looked like a winner 'til the engine let go.
5 APR WRX STI 1:32.41 sec. 82 Turbos work better if the intercooler pipes stay on
6 HASport CRX Si 1:32.50 sec. 82 Time-attack deathtrap
7 Mike Schaezler's RX-7 1:32.54 sec. 81 Enough blue smoke to enlist for an aerobatics team
8 Paul Dentice's Skyline {{{GT}}}-R 1:34.67 sec. 69 Owner-built, owner-driven
9 Prototype Racing {{{Elise}}} 1:36.35 sec. 59 Say what?
10 HPA Beetle RSI 1:44.56 sec. 10 Ten points is better than none

14 SkidpadOf all the tests in the USCC, the skidpad is the most boring. Imagine a NASCAR race with one car and no beer. Sure, the engineers (mostly Jay) love the raw data of how many gs a car will pull, but it took an act of God this time to make things relatively interesting.

Prior to our test, some sort of seismic event shattered the normally smooth skidpad, leaving six-inch-wide, tire-debeading, wheel-destroying cracks across the surface. It would have been great for kids playing with GI Joes, but it was really bad for kids playing with ultimate street cars. We considered canceling the test, since the inner area containing our normal 200-foot line was completely toast. The outer 300-foot line was in decent shape, with the exception of a 60-foot segment. Fortunately, there was a straight 10-foot by 60-foot 'bridge' that cut through the cracks to complete the circle. This gave us a 300-foot diameter, flat, tire-shaped track that not only tested ultimate cornering grip, but each car's ability to transition from straight to corner. Not the best conditions, but it would have to do.

Each car did four laps in both directions, with the timing beacon placed opposite the straight. The fastest lap each way was averaged for the g figure-higher gs being better. The results from this test are as accurate as we could get, but should not be compared to other skidpad tests due to the unusual circumstances.

The Ultimate Street Car needs to be versatile and some of the contenders really excelled here. The WRXs of APR and Crawford performed flawlessly. They had good grip around the circle and their all-wheel-drive systems let them tuck in and out of the tight spots with a quick lift and stab of the throttle. The RX-7 would have been right there with them with its amazing balance and power delivery, but it lacked high-speed grip around the circle.

A couple of the cars were really hurt by the transitions and bridge. The NSX had awesome grip but the whole car really needed to rotate in order to cut on and off the straight. There was just not enough room on the narrow bridge for this car to do its thing. The GT-R also suffered from the narrow track, with a peaky powerband that made it difficult to accelerate back onto the circle without launching right off the pavement.

This test was one of the last of the competition and there was no way to hide the flaws of the ailing cars. The blown suspension of the CRX, roasted tires of the Elise, and missing axle of the Beetle all but took them out of a test they might otherwise have dominated.

The clear winner of this competition was the XS Engineering/M-Works 350Z. It handled like the race car it basically is and beat the other cars on its very first lap. By far, this was the easiest car to drive fast around the course.-Andy Hope

The Big PictureAnd then there was one. Crawford Performance did all they could, finishing in second place behind the XS/M-Works Z, but simply ran out of events. All that remained was Gross Display of Horsepower, and even if they managed to score all 25 points, it wouldn't be enough to beat the NSX.

HPA's crippled mechanicals put them just behind Robispec's DNF and solidly in third place overall. There would be no miracle for the Beetle that came so close to winning it all.

RANK CAR G POINTS PEANUT GALLERY
1 XS Engineering/M-Works 350Z 1.08 110 Could have gone faster, didn't need to
2 (tie) APR WRX STI 1.05 95 The wings work
2 (tie) Crawford Performance WRX STI 1.05 95 AWD is your friend
4 (tie) Mike Schaezler's RX-7 0.98 60 Great driver's car, needs aero to win
4 (tie) Danny Young's NSX 0.98 60 Big monster likes big track
6 HASport CRX Si 0.96 50 Fast broken car makes hands busy
7 Paul Dentice's Skyline {{{GT-R}}} 0.95 45 Too much power, that's a first
8 Prototype Racing Elise 0.93 35 Old narrow tires don't grip
9 HPA Beetle RSI 0.88 10 Broken axle makes interesting sounds
10 Robispec {{{Lancer}}} Evolution DNF 0 Died on the track, never made it to the 'pad

15 Gross Display of HorsepowerThe Ultimate Street Car Challenge is a series of objective tests that are judged against empirical norms or against the performance of the other competitors. Everyone competing knows what they have to do in order to win, whether it's a certain number they're striving toward or a carefully planned strategy determined months ahead of time.

Except in this test. We don't tell competitors what to do or how to do it. We simply open the fence to a secret, empty parking lot at the top of Willow Springs raceway and throw away the rulebooks for 30 seconds. What each team chooses to do with the blank canvas of asphalt stretched out before them is entirely up to them, though judges Neil Chirico of Motor Trend, Mark Han (SCC's publisher), and yours truly were there to watch.

It's the absolute last test of the USCC, and whether or not they're up here to win, there's a really good likelihood that each driver is ready to let loose about 47 hours of stress and competition. Sometimes what comes out naturally is better than anything that could have been pre-planned.

In proper form for a British sports car, the Lotus of Prototype Racing declined to compete in such American debauchery. The Beetle RSI was one axle short of running, and Robispec's Evo was missing a functional engine, so it was down to seven cars.

HASport must be commended for their effort with the front-drive CRX. None of us asked if reverse gear was gone for good after the backwards, gear-grinding burnout attempt ended in what sounded like a an empty oil drum tumbling down a rocky pass, and there wasn't much comment when the only remaining option was a front-wheel-drive burnout.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Crawford STI, which, as soon as it entered the parking lot, erupted into a series of all-wheel-drive pirouettes, landing the car just inches from the metal fence. The crowd went crazy.

The LS7-powered RX-7 had no problem turning its NT-01 meats into smoke-it's something the LS engine has been doing since the idea of a Japanese tuner car was a funny joke. Paul Dentice put his Skyline GT-R inches from the crowd during a drift, and Steve Mitchell made his drifting experience obvious, with flashing lights and highbeams glaring while he executed perfect dorifto slides.

We're happy to report that for the second year running, this subjective-but-fun competition had no bearing on the finishing order of the combatants.-James Tate

The Big PictureAt this point, none of us know the USCC 2006 is already over. Jay is still in the garage, tallying up points, punching in totals and calculating final scores. So like sullen, war-weary gladiators, the remaining able-bodied competitors file into our makeshift arena for the final battle. Like the days of old, it is an utterly meaningless, disturbingly perverse exercise in tire destruction and engine abuse. And yet we can't stop clapping, especially when Crawford narrowly avoids adding bumper, trunk and door panels to his list of replacement parts.

RANK CAR POINTS PEANUT GALLERY
1 Crawford Performance WRX STI 24 Danger is his middle name
2 XS Engineering/{{{M}}}-Works {{{350Z}}} 23 Drifting perfection
3 Mike Schaezler's RX-7 22 Too much smoke to breathe
4 Danny Young's {{{NSX}}} 19 The rev limiter means it's time to shift
5 Paul Dentice Skyline {{{GT-R}}} 19 RWD with the pull of a fuse
6 APR WRX STI 16 Too much downforce?
7 HASport CRX Si 5 Oh the carnage
8 HPA Beetle RSI 0 Gross display of axle destruction
9 Prototype Racing {{{Elise}}} 0 Respectfully declined
10 Robispec {{{Lancer}}} Evolution 0 Only displays smoke from the engine bay

When was it really over?It's hard to pin down, and impossible to say for sure, but most of us agree that the turning point for this year's USCC happened on Day Two, during HPA's second acceleration run.

Until then, Danny Young and HPA had separated themselves from the field using different strategies. On the first day, Young's NSX managed impressive wins on the dyno, at the guru panel and in the car show. HPA kept pace with a solid string of high finishes, and owner Marcel Horn casually intimated that the Beetle's true potential would be unleashed at the track.

But that was not to be. After ripping off an impressive 12.19-second ET on their first cautionary quarter-mile pass, HPA's all-wheel-drive, 429 wheel-hp Beetle sheared the flange off the front left driveshaft, something Horn had never seen before in all his years of high performance competition. Despite last-minute MacGuyver-type heroics, the competition was essentially done for HPA. All they could do was limp through the rest of the tests on three wheels and take a pass on Gross Display of Horsepower. And yet they managed to take third place, beating out Paul Dentice's Skyline GT-R by a mere 20 points. That's right, a Beetle beat a GT-R; a fact made more shocking when you realize that while Dentice took home all the impressive hardware (four wins in horsepower, power delivery, quarter-mile, and 20-100mph), HPA won only two.

HPA's woes left the door wide open for Quirt Crawford's silver bullet. Like HPA, Crawford Performance's STI had been quietly stalking the NSX since the competition began. With a top-five finish in every category on Day One, including a win in Fuel Economy, Crawford took advantage of HPA's trouble and stepped the game up to finish in the top three in nearly every category on Day Two, including a win in Gross Display of Horsepower.

The problem is, they were often finishing behind Young's NSX, which took first on the track and second in 20-100mph and braking. Were it not for relatively poor finishes in the Skidpad and Gross Display, Young might have walked away with the largest winning margin in USCC history. Instead, it was a classic battle to the end.

Sure, it's easy to think about what might have been. What if VW had decided on a less exotic way to attach wheel to driveshaft? What if Crawford Performance hadn't grenaded their 2.7-liter engine the night before the competition? What if we had given Joe McCarthy of Prototype Racing more than six days to get his Elise together?

What if nothing. The USCC is true to its name, it is the ultimate challenge. To win, you have to finish. And to do that you need a bulletproof car, a well-thought-out game plan, and contingencies for every eventuality. Even then there's no guarantee you'll win. This year, the title, trophy, and bragging rights go to Danny Young and his turbocharged NSX.-Edward Loh

By Edward Loh
17 Articles

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