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2007 Ultimate Street Car Challenge EXTENDED ONLINE ENTRY FORM

SCC Staff and Contributors
Dec 1, 2007
Photographers: Edward Loh, Henry Z. DeKuyper

USCC EXTENDED ONLINE ENTRY FORM
(click here for the exclusive online entry form - deadline is June 01, 2008)


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This is your guide through the semi-controlled chaos that made up the 2007 USCC. Remember, we don't just give away the title of the Ultimate Street Car-it has to be earned. Hard data and cold numbers can be found in the spec boxes for each event, but nothing is as simple as it sounds.

Even something as straightforward as base price can be controversial. To keep things fair (and look like we know what we're doing), we devised a thoroughly complicated points system to score the event. Here we attempt to decipher the results and hopefully explain how a car takes the USCC crown.

With 15 competitions being squeezed into just two days, we had to keep a tight schedule to even stand a chance of pulling this thing off. Similarly, there's a lot of info to pack into this story.

Base Price
It sounds simple enough. Based on what a car costs, it's awarded a certain number of points. Done. But there's no easy way to determine a vehicle's true cost. Is it based on what the car is worth today, or what it cost when new? Where does the pricing information come from? And what if the car was never released in the US?

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Last year, we developed a pretty good formula. Sure, it caused some bickering, but nobody was hospitalized. Based on that success, we've used the same formula this time around. That is, we got the base price of the car, when new, from MSN Autos.

And that's exactly why Groma Fabrication's BMW 2002 caused such a fuss. Last time this car was new, the year was 1969, and it went for $4286. The little BMW smashed the competition and earned a full 110 points. The price differential was so great between the old BMW and the modern cars that Dave Dunn's second-place Acura Integra was only able to mop up 68 of the 110 points possible, with a price of $19,850.

Dunn was lucky to make off with second place-his mid-engine, H22-powered Integra with the hand-made metal widebody is hardly stock and would be one of the more expensive contenders if we put a dollar amount to the time and labor he put in while modifying it.

The numbers fall into place predictably enough after the Integra. A trio of cars in the $32,000 to $33,000 range scored between 50 and 52 points and the rest filled the gap between Blacktrax's 300ZX and Steve Ruiz's Corvette Z06. Put that Chevy down for last place (10 points) with its $52,185 window sticker.

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As is always the case with JDM cars, pricing Jacko Luong's 1999 R34 Skyline GT-R V-Spec proved to be a hassle. Using the current yen-to-dollar conversion, the car was priced at $47,250 in 1999. Fair enough, but everyone in attendance knows you can't get one in America for less than $80,000. But that's the point, isn't it? You can't have any of these cars at the price we've reported.

Skyline controversy aside, the story is unquestionably Groma Fab's 2002, responsible for the biggest walkaway victory we've ever seen in this category.
-James Tate

The unveiling of the base price results kicked off the competition early on day one. Coffee and donut time was over in a hurry. Suddenly, conversations went from: "Hey, it's so great to be here with all these other car people" to: "Dude, the 'Vette is down 100 points to the Bimmer. Yank off the exhaust, we're up next on the dyno."

The better part of the first day was spent at K&N Engineering's massive R&D facility in Riverside, California. Several tests were going on simultaneously. But, with the possible exception of the Girlfriend test, nothing gets the blood churning like the Dyno challenge. With the calm-smashing noise, plumes of exhaust gas, and the possibility that something might blow up, the two K&N dynos provided the perfect ambiance for the day.

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Dyno Test
K&N has recently fitted a second all-wheel drive dyno from Superflow. With the twin side-by-side set-up, our testing moved quicker than ever. And to guard against complaints of inconsistency between the two models, K&N spent the entire previous day calibrating the Superflow in inertial mode to match the output of the Dynojet unit.

Not many competitors seemed to realize it, but, as with last year, our dyno challenge divides into two categories: Peak Power and Power Delivery. Anyone with a well-tuned street car can tell you the latter is much more important in practice. Nevertheless, we assign 110 possible points to each category, which means it's possible to find a full 220 points on these rollers.

Which is just what the R34 of Jacko Luong did. Strapped down and with dyno fans blowing, the GT-R belted out 588 wheel-hp, at perfectly streetable rpm levels. But while it's never much of a surprise to see an R34 make tons of usable power, it came as quite a shock when Brent Mattraw's unassuming 2001 Audi S4 got within 16hp of the gnarly GT-R. Fact: the S4 has another tenth of a liter on the GT-R, and this particular car is loaded with modified turbochargers from the autobahn-pounding RS6, on top of a small squeeze of happy juice.

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More cars than ever made it into the 500hp club, loading the Peak Power category as well as the Power Delivery category with high earners. The top seven contenders sat in a narrow range of 22 points in Peak Power. No one blinked an eye when the LS6-powered Corvette span out 514hp, but jaws dropped when Ron Pippin's WRX STI edged out the big-cubed Chevy, with an honest 517hp run. Big power-that's rare in a WRX.

There's always one car whose trunk needs to be filled with five-gallon water jugs and groupies with a death wish. You'd think dyno owners would have invented separate hooks in the cement for suspension compression straps by now. This time, the need for extra trunk weight came in the form of Ryan Hawkins' Supra Turbo, which turned out 505 wheel-hp with four jugs of water and one reluctant K&N employee crammed in the hatch.

At the other end of the spectrum were the cars that didn't make 500hp. There was quite a contrast, because these cars really didn't. The next highest post after the Blacktrax 300ZX's run of 500hp was the Ariel Atom of Mike Kim, at 212hp. That's an almost 300hp gap between the two groups. Shamefully, the little guys didn't pick up many points for power delivery, either. The highest score for the back of the pack was once again the Atom, at 15 points.
-James Tate

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The Dyno test began to show the true character of the cars and their owners. The almighty Supra clearly had some serious power under the hood, but the rollers were unable to keep up with the engine speed. At the time, everyone thought it was a traction issue, but there were hints of larger problems lurking beneath the surface.

The first blast of the S4 caught everyone's ears. The team removed the exhaust, creating a menacing sound that seriously contradicted everyone's initial impressions of the German luxury sedan. When K&N's dyno operator called out a torque figure of 622lb-ft, a shiver ran through the group. Suddenly, it was a contender.

People gathered around the S4 as it rolled out of the dyno bay and up onto jack stands. Mattraw, the S4's owner, crawled under the car with wrench in hand. As per the rules, he had five closely scrutinized and timed minutes to reconnect the catalytic converters for the smog test. Mattraw got it done in just under two. Then, it was off to Emissions Test operator, Ryan McKay, for the sniffer test.

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Emissions Test
Let's face it, emissions testing is probably the least glamorous of our tests. That's not to say it's unimportant. Even if you don't give a hoot about how much these cars pollute our air, a clean-running engine is generally a well-tuned engine. It takes skill to tune a car for low emissions, but this test isn't just about low numbers. It's an indication of each tuner's attention to detail.

That said, the two cars with untouched OEM ECU and catalytic converters predictably took first and second place. OEM engineers spend thousands of hours tweaking their computers and emissions control equipment. Our competitors evidently spent a little less time on their emissions tunes. What's more interesting is how the 'tuned' machines stacked up against each other.

At idle, the Subaru WRX STI was pretty clean, ranking third, behind the Integra and the Atom. It's obvious PDX Tuning put some thought into its emissions tune, running extremely lean. Our exhaust probe showed an air/fuel ratio of around 17:1. As a result, extremely low levels of unburned fuel (hydrocarbons, or HC) and carbon (CO) were emitted. The downside to running really lean with low levels of HC and CO is that a lean mixture burns hotter and increases pressure in the combustion chamber. This increased pressure and temp increases the production of NOx during combustion. And that's just what happened here. The PDX Tuning machine had the second-highest NOx levels at idle. At 2500rpm, the car was so lean it suffered from a lean misfire, sending all the numbers through the roof. Maybe next time, guys.

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Groma Fab's 2002 was polluting like an early-60s car should. Billowing clouds of partially burned oil and fuel (that's a slight exaggeration), the BMW was coughing up blue smoke and virtually squirting unburnt fuel from the exhaust. Probably a result of the lumpy camshafts with lots of valve overlap. But who cares about its emissions? The car is smog-exempt, even in the Nazi state of California.

Considering the ungodly amount of power Mattraw's Audi S4 made, it's nothing short of miraculous it was so clean. Using the stock engine management, retuned by GIAC, and a set of new, high-quality cats probably had a lot to do with it. When we saw them installing a set of cats just after rolling off of the dyno, we were worried the converters might not get up to operating temperature in time to make a big difference. But one look at those numbers and it's clear they were hot enough to get the job done. As clean as it was, it still couldn't hold a candle to the OEM tuning of the Integra or Atom.

Low emission levels didn't seem to be on the GT-R team's to-do list. The thing ran so rich at idle, our eyes started watering as it pulled up. It had no cats, not like they'd help anyway. With HC levels that high, a catalytic converter would melt and plug itself up in no time.

If it weren't for the high HC levels at idle, Blacktrax's V8-powered Nissan would have been respectably clean. We suspect the aftermarket cats just weren't up to the job. Most high-performance cats aren't nearly as efficient as OEM items, simply because they don't use as much of the active ingredients platinum and palladium, because of the cost. These cats probably had even less precious metals than most high-flow converters.
-Ryan McKay

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Car Show
Later in the morning, everything stopped as the Car Show judges made their grand entrance. First up was a white Pontiac Fiero with a Countach conversion that was so clean, most people believed it was a real Lamborghini. The Red Bull girls ran up thinking it was Kanye West, but it turned out to be none other than James Chen of Axis Wheels. Next was Dennis Holloway of Mothers car care products, driving a blazing orange 997 GT3 RS. Finally, Troy Sumitomo of Five Axis Models just sort of appeared out of thin air. These guys take their bling seriously.

From the get-go, each competitor was prepared for the objective performance testing of the USCC. However, some came up short in the onslaught of subjective tests they would face on day one. The Car Show judges were the first to pick out the weak and take them down.

Mike Kim's Ariel Atom had nowhere to hide. It stood out from the pack and the judges pounced on it. Sumitomo's notes simply read: "Couldn't judge fairly because it is so stock, but still unique and badass out of the box." This was followed by a total score of 10 out of 110. The other judges did their best, but Kim basically showed up in a near-stock ride. And it showed. The Atom's last-place finish was so low it seriously expanded the scale, allowing the rest of the competitors to gather big points.

The door was wide open, but no one really did that well. Chen dinged the STI for having trash in the rear seat, but the car still came away with the win. The BMW was detailed to a tee, but the age of the paint and interior held it back. Curiously, the vintage 2002 with its Axis OG wheels was the only car to receive full wheel points from Chen.

As you can see from the photos, the cars all looked sharp. They just weren't loaded down with monitors and Bondo, like any good show car should be. Besides, in the overall scheme of things, most would rather come up short on the show side than on the go side.
-Andy Hope

The big balla show car guys were just the beginning of the subjective tests. The next pair of tests evaluated the cars' practicality on the street. After all, this is not the Ultimate Race Car Challenge. This competition is for street cars-and street cars like to be driven normally.

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Driveability
Well, I didn't lose any weight from last year. Which once again left me uniquely qualified to manage the Driveability portion. No one else is bound to be as humiliated squeezing into cars with bizarre roll cages and seats built for the narrow asses of bulimic teenage girls.

My job was to assess the competitors under the stressful condition of moving my wallowing mass from A to B without overheating, scraping off a few dozen vital components, shattering my ear drums, stalling at every light, or baking my blubber. It's easy to tune a car for wide open throttle, but making sure a car that's awesome at WOT is civil just off idle is something else altogether.

Keeping the Audi S4 out of boost saw it function essentially as a new Audi should: smooth-riding, quiet and comfortable. About the only things to be said against it was that the shifter was slightly vague (like many Audis) and the A/C didn't function.

An eyelash behind the S4 was Ed Reeser's G35 coupe. Like the S4, the trick with this Infiniti was staying out of boost-do that and it pokes along and glides like a Buick with a radar lock on the early bird special at Denny's. And the A/C blew cold. The only problems were chatter from the LSD on corners and compromised rear vision.

Jacko Luong's Skyline GT-R was the nicest driving Skyline I've ever driven. However, the clutch take-up was somewhat inconsistent and the exhaust would set into a roaring thunder at part-throttle, sure to drive anyone nuts during a long trip.

Narrow seats, a relatively harsh ride and a nose that would scrape going over a dime kept Steve Ruiz's Corvette Z06 from doing better. But otherwise, this car had a great shifter, neat clutch and brakes that, once used to them, could stop Congressional pork barrel spending.

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Considering the 110,000 miles on its odometer, that Ryan Hawkin's Supra felt as solid as a beryllium ingot counts as a minor miracle. The A/C worked, but the ride was rugged and the wide tires tramlined on the grooves cut into California's concrete freeways. Plus, the steering was relatively heavy and visibility was a challenge.

Put an engine where the back seat of a car once was and, no surprise, the result is noise. Dave Dunn's mid-engine Integra is a marvel of backyard engineering, but a bit rough in how it rides (in particular, some impact harshness in the rear suspension). By the way, there was room for another whole engine in the front of this car... wouldn't that have been wicked?

There was no way my butt was getting into the driver's seat of the Blacktrax LS1 V8-powered 300ZX. And from where I sat (uncomfortably), there wasn't much in the way of rearward visibility either. It tied with PDX Tuning's WRX STI, which was raspy, rorty and pretty much uncivilized.

As one of the few judges at the USCC older than the 1969 BMW 2002, I was probably one of the few who fully appreciated the ancient styling and yesteryear driving dynamics. But while the engine transplant was delicious, the cams kept the car from idling peacefully, the manual steering was a chore at low speeds (but perfect at speed), the wind noise was horrific, and clutch take-up was too sudden.

Finally, there's Mike Kim's Ariel Atom. Forget for a moment the lack of any concessions towards practicality and consider the nightmare of getting along without things like self-canceling turn signals or a windshield. Any car that requires wearing a helmet to keep out the bugs isn't a real street car.
-John Pearley Huffman

If you thought Huffman was picky, just wait until you see what came after. The cars were then judged on comfort, image, and whatever else she decided to pick at. Yes, it's time for everyone's favorite Girlfriend contest. By day, our Girlfriend, Jackie Liu, is a respected and knowledgeable automotive journalist. But, once a year, she hoochies up for us. And when she does, watch out.

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Girlfriend Test
Life is good when you're assigned to judge the comfort level and ride quality of street-legal race cars. No one can kick my ass if I bitch about uncomfortable seats, annoying seatbelt harnesses, neck-jolting suspension parts or deafening exhaust noise. In Leisure 101, many of the cars passed with flying colors. Six of the 10 entrants had air conditioning-usually the first thing to get dumped out of a proper sports car. I could request my own music from an iTunes playlist in one car; I listened to Sting in another.

Predictably, the Ariel Atom finished dead last in this category. Engineering Editor Chen balks that I just don't get it, but I do. I get the fact that this car requires passengers to wear goggles (for fear of bugs flying into your cornea, which occurred while the driver tried to impress me with a blistering zero-to-60mph acceleration run) and a helmet (for fear of long hair flying into the air intake located behind your head). And the photographers definitely got the pictures of me while I crawled in and out. But I give him credit for the rear-view back-up camera he installed, because safety comes first, kids.

I was enamored with the V8-powered 300ZX, but this one was far from perfect. Improperly set up coilovers provided a bumpy, unpleasant ride. I could have forgiven the owner for the lack of air conditioning had this competition been conducted in winter, but August? And with the furnace-like heat roasting my thigh from the revised transmission regress? Not so good.

Loved, loved, loved the BMW 2002, though. It's one of those cars that I still stop and stare at when I see one on the street. But, for the sake of this competition, it finished in the bottom three. It lacked proper cooling, the seatbelt got trapped in the roll cage and it had basic wear and tear typical for a 30-year-old car. This simply didn't cut it in this particular test. Which broke my heart, trust me.-Jackie Liu

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The final judgment to be passed on the cars themselves would come from our Engineering Guru panel. As usual, we gathered a small group of respected know-it-alls, gave them a four-post lift and left them alone to dissect and criticize. To those in a hurry, this was a big mistake. Anyone who has ever hung around car guys knows what it's like. They bicker and try to one-up each other constantly. They rarely agree on anything and generally are the last people to consult when pressed for time. But these guys will catch every single detail and modification, and are generally accepted as experts in their fields. They are well beyond being car guys-they're gurus.

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Engineering Guru Panel
The Gurus' job is to pick, probe and prod every facet of a car's construction in an effort to divine the vehicle's true potential, unapologetically distilling years of work and untold riches into a plain number. Here, message-board hype and armchair BS cower before decades of industry experience. This year's esteemed gasoline geeks were: Jack Burns, founder of Burns Stainless; John Concialdi, founder of AEM; John 'Johnny Mac' McNulty, resident aerodynamicist; Jay Morris, founder of Ground Control; and myself, SCC contributor and head guru.

Moving across the aisle from judging to judged, Steve Ruiz knows a thing or two about presenting to the Gurus. The principal of StopTech has helped us pick apart cars for the last couple of years and finally wanted to throw his wheels in the ring. His 'Vette was well sorted, displaying a balanced approach to improved power and handling while taking little away from the factory Z06 engineering. The real pride of the car, however, lies in what is simply the most exotic braking system we've seen yet.

Well-developed cars are the rule rather than the exception at the USCC and Brent Mattraw's S4 followed in the Z06's tracks with focused improvements to sound factory hardware. A concerted effort to manage the car's weight through changes to the drivetrain, suspension and brakes scored big with the judges. The STI and Skyline took a more wholesale approach to upgrades, dipping into the motors and going big on the budget. It's obvious professional assembly was required, and both were outstanding examples of modern Japanese performance.

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Ryan Hawkins' association with the USCC as a participant spans further than most SCC staff members. His purpose-built Supra displayed solutions to many lessons learned by previous competitors: a solid powerplant, ample cooling and real safety equipment. However, possibly the most important lesson of all is to arrive with a stable set-up. None of the Gurus took kindly to his admission that he'd not corner-weighted the car, nor re-tuned the ECU after upgrading the turbo.

We love engine swaps, though that alone couldn't carry you to victory. The Blacktrax crew did a great job mounting a V8 lower and further back than the stock VG30DETT, but didn't have enough car to go with the engine. On the other hand, the vintage 2002 was a real looker, with a comprehensively re-engineered chassis, well-built motor and terrible engine management. In the end, it was only logical that Dave Dunn's mid-engine Integra would really captivate the geeks. A flawless install by a guy in his garage, for under $12,000 complete. After all that work, the question remained: why was an engine with such potential left alone?

While the Gurus tend to be pretty neutral on the aesthetic front, it was hard to turn a blind eye to the G35 coupe. With a claimed 61 track events under its belt, there may be some justification for the, um, 'sturdy' splitter up front. The scrubbed inner fenders, rubbing control arms and scraped brake caliper, however, indicated some set-up and suspension tuning to be done.

Regarding the Ariel Atom... Years ago, James Chen brought us a brand-new Ferrari F360 encrusted with nice wheels and a soft, cushy, custom interior. The Gurus sent him away with nothing and told him to get some new shoes too. The next year, Jay Ester turned up with a car he purchased as a kit, in a box. Having decided it wasn't quite right, he proceeded to re-engineer the whole thing before putting it together. We cried with joy. While there is merit in leaving well enough alone, precious little comes from the factory with the 'Ultimate' pedigree.
-Mike Kent

Eight hours of nit-picking later, it was getting close to 4pm. The cloud cover broke around 10am and the relentless Riverside sun had been beating on us since. The adrenaline-stirring dynos were silenced hours earlier. With the heat sapping any remaining energy, pretty much everyone was ready to call it a day. But we still had one more test, so the pack headed off to a local Chevron gas station.

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Fuel Economy
It seemed like a simple plan. Fill each car until the pump clicked, let it click a second time and then seal the gas door. At the finish, re-fill to two clicks and record how much fuel it took.

Things didn't go exactly as planned. Ryan Hawkins filled his Supra's tank with race gas, using five-gallon jugs at K&N. Presumably, this was to keep us from diluting his octane for the following day's events. So it wouldn't take any more gas at the station.

At the end of the competition, the pump immediately clicked when we went to fill it back up and we couldn't get it to take more than a gallon of gas. There were similar problems topping off the Integra, which was running a Frankenstein'd MR2 tank and filler.

Next year, we're probably going to have to revise filling methods. Future competitors: please don't go installing chokers on your fuel necks.

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Our change of track venue meant our traditional traffic-free fuel economy mountain route was thrown out. We were tired of the usual support vehicle drafting and mpg-inflating downhill coasting cheats anyway. So we devised a 70-mile ordeal through the most heinous construction- and traffic-infested areas we could find between K&N Engineering and California Speedway. And then we didn't tell anyone about the route until the guide notes were revealed right before the test.

Our route and navigation instructions were so convoluted, only the PDX Tuning team and Jacko Luong in the GT-R decided to brave the route without the added weight of a navigator (or passenger seat, for that matter, in the case of the STI). Ironically, fuel economy was the only competition Kim was obsessed about winning with his flyweight Ariel Atom.

The rest of the pack used standard tactics: over-inflated tires, spare tires removed, windows closed, electronics and A/C switched off-despite temperatures still hovering in the high-90s. With all the big-wing downforce machines in the group, only the GT-R had its rear spoiler and front splitter removed.

The procession (fully tanked up with all fuel access points sealed by our staff) left our departure-point gas station shortly after 5pm, straight into notorious Southern California traffic. We giggled-none of them had any idea of what was in store. Their only instruction was to follow the route, as we had people camped out at random checkpoints along the way.

Then the call came from Dunn in the pack-leading Integra. Our route, which we reconnoitered as a relatively light traffic area just days ago, was closed temporarily, because of some yahoo flying through the two-lane back road whose car now rested shiny side down.

By the time I got to the scene, seven of the 10 cars were parked on the shoulder (those that could do so without ripping off a bumper), forming probably the most impressive car show ever in that neck of the woods. And huddled in a group under the only shade available were the drivers-all soaked in sweat. Thirty minutes passed before the road was reopened and the group slowly filtered back out. The final leg of the drive was the high-speed return leg on an interstate full of truckers who had no idea why they were all being drafted in a pack. It was a perfect rerun of The Fast and the Furious.

It was well over two hours before we saw the first cars rolling into the gas station. And, once the ignition was off, every group's first priority was to run into the mini-mart for drinks. Dunn's Integra beat out the pack by using only 1.6 gallons on the 69.5-mile stop-and-go trek. This included an accidental detour from the road closure. At 44 miles per gallon, this was a little extreme, even for a bone-stock Honda engine. But nothing compared to the 41mpg that Ryan Hawkins' 3.5-liter, fire-breathing automatic Supra scored. We think he's been to one too many of our competitions.

Kim's Atom, which averaged 40mph on the interstate, managed third place with a realistic 34mpg. The open-chassis aero was more to his disadvantage than he realized.
-Jay Chen

We were now well behind schedule. There were loose plans earlier for a group dinner at the close of day one. But, as soon as each competitor had their fuel topped off, they were released to the hotel for much needed and deserved rest.

The group reassembled early next morning in the massive parking lot of California Speedway. All the foo-foo tests were done with, so it was time to unleash the cars' performance potential. The schedule on the second day was even tighter than the first. We needed to knock out the Acceleration, Braking and Skidpad tests as quickly as possible, then trek up to Willow Springs International Raceway for the Road Course and Gross Display of Horsepower.

In the interest of expediency, we split into two groups. Scott Mortara, Road Test Editor for Motor Trend magazine, came out and drove the cars in the braking competition while Andy Hope took to the skidpad.

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Skidpad
As I ran through the cars, it was apparent that we had a nice batch of competitors. They all performed predictably and consistently, allowing me to back up my numbers and run through them pretty quickly. The surface was fairly good, but there were a couple of dips that would test the versatility of each car's suspension.

The pushers stood out right away. The BMW and Integra both had noticeable understeer. Rocking the throttle, trying to get the front tires to bite, felt better, but resulted in the same sub-0.9g average as just pushing around the circle slowly.

The Z, Supra and Skyline all misbehaved under load. However, they still remained neutral and were able to pull decent numbers. The front of the Supra could only be pushed to a certain limit before it would clunk and hop around. This was fine. The tranny was slipping so badly that giving it more throttle just made scary noises.

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The Z was the opposite. It was bottoming out in the rear, but the power delivery and steering felt so good that it was easy to catch when the back end snapped. The Skyline felt balanced but undersprung all the way around. Once the suspension was compressed, the dips would bounce the whole car off line. These cars all had lots of grip, but, still, I was happy not to drive them at speed on the track.

The StopTech crew weren't specific about what was wrong with the Z06, but, with some reservation, they asked me to go ahead and run it around the pad. With no power steering, wheel effort was heavy and the car didn't feel all that fast. Still, it managed to run within 0.01 of the highest lateral g of the competition.

With an APR widebody hiding monstrous 315mm-wide Kumho race rubber, it was unsurprising that the PDX Tuning STI took the skidpad test. The rest of the cars all behaved well, except for the Atom, which would kick from neutral to oversteer over slight surface irregularities none of the other cars seemed to notice. As soon as each car finished going in circles, it was sent over to the opposite side of the speedway, where the drag strip lay.
-Andy Hope

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Acceleration
As with the dyno challenge, the acceleration test is always a coveted category for bragging rights. For this year's competition, we decided to switch from the dusty and downright dangerous drag strip at LA County Raceway to the much cleaner surface at California Speedway. The change in venue alone made for a much smoother schedule.

It's a two-part competition: the fastest overall quarter-mile times and 20-to-100mph acceleration times from three runs get up to 110 points each. Combined, the 220 points from here typically pull the front-runners ahead of the pack. It wasn't easy getting a perfect score, as running 11 seconds was almost par for the course this time around.

We gave the first volunteer a roll of the dice. For being first and doing everyone the favor of blasting dust off the track, we rewarded them with five runs. Brent Mattraw stepped up instantly, seeing the advantage of more runs and the cooler 80-degree morning air for his all-wheel-drive, twin-turbo S4. The first practice run was already in the mid-11s. And with every successive clutch-dropping, bushing-shredding launch, the S4 made its way toward a final quarter-mile time of 11.16 seconds, just 0.03 of a second behind last year's fastest Skyline GT-R (albeit in far better traction and ambient conditions).

Also in the 11s were the Skyline GT-R, Supra Turbo auto and small block-powered 300ZX. But not without casualties. The Supra's only run compounded its transmission woes incurred the previous day on the dyno into a DNF, and, adding insult to injury, ripped off the aluminum front splitter and all its rivets halfway down the track. The Blacktrax 300ZX driver also managed to detach its 'custom' shift knob while slamming up to fifth. His excuse? The odd domestic shift pattern.

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The jaw-dropping performance expected from the StopTech Corvette never materialized. On its first run, a missed shift threw the dual tensioned supercharger belt and bent the tensioner bracket. We allowed them to fit a new belt on each run, but the damage was done. The fantastic Ariel Atom, advertised to have sub-three-second zero-to-60mph times, also failed to inspire. Although Kim's Atom is the lowest-power model, this so-called street car only managed time slips in the high 12s. Three runs just weren't enough to figure out whether first or second gear was the fastest way to launch.

With all its immense power and grip, the STI couldn't overcome a glitch in its standalone engine management's traction control system, which only allowed boost-less granny launches time after time. Even so, its sheer muscle managed to pull off a 13-second run and place it in a tie with the Corvette for its 20-to-100mph acceleration time.

By this point, the performance underdogs were obvious, even though the BMW and mid-engine Integra continued to put up a fight. But the lack of power put them last in the quarter-mile test and opened up the spread of 20-to-100mph times. For them, trap speeds never broke 100mph. But the effort was there, exemplified by Groma Fabrication as they snapped off the little BMW's go pedal on its way through the firewall.

There was talk about StopTech having a crew member work on the Corvette in their enclosed trailer during the tow to Willow Springs. But they chose (wisely) to hit the road early and fix it upon arrival.
-Jay Chen

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Braking
This time, instead of putting Motor Trend's Scott Mortara behind the radar gun and laptop, we threw him into the cars and left the owners and drivers to mill around under the EZ-Up and eat tacos. What a difference the changes made.

Having Mortara (who is intimately familiar with testing at California Speedway) drive each car ruled out several possible cock-ups in the braking test, including nerves, unfamiliarity with the methodology and a crap test surface. All that was left to sort out were the idiosyncrasies of each car. And boy, were there a few of those.

The jaded and cynical among us never guessed Dave Dunn's Integra would have finished in last place. We were fooled, because it looks stock. And experience has taught us that stock cars generally stop pretty well. But, as you know, Dunn's car is nowhere near stock. It's basically an Integra that has been cleanly but forcefully rear-ended by a Prelude. Not only is the engine in the back, but those rear brakes are from a Prelude's front end as well. Dunn also disabled the ABS system and had too much brake bias dialed toward the rear. This made stops more like e-brake drifts. Mortara managed to lock up the brakes on each pass.

Groma Fab's BMW 2002 didn't lock the stoppers and had great brake feel, even though it was equipped with old-school non-ABS brakes. Too bad that, at 226 feet, it had the second-longest stopping distance. Mike Kim told our test crew that his Atom liked a bit of rear lock, but the numbers didn't reflect that: 224 feet put it third from last.

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Serious stoppers can go from 80mph to zero in under 200 feet and an unprecedented six out of 10 competitors managed to pull this off. The shock was who came out on top. To our surprise, it wasn't the StopTech car, which only managed to finish in fourth place at 195 feet.

Steve Ruiz's crew had a reasonable explanation, though. A paltry three stops was not enough to get the 'Vette's massive Pilot Sport Cup tires up to temperature. And everyone knows brakes don't stop a car, tires do.

Still, three other cars managed to stop significantly shorter and it was hard to figure out which was most impressive. Both of the heavy, all-wheel-drivers beat the Z06 by over 20 feet, but Mortara gave high points to the Audi, which was in his mind, the most 'stock-like' in terms of feel and performance.

And then there was Ed Reeser's G35, which looked just like the kind of car we elitist snobs at SCC love to make fun of: big front air dam, massive rear wing, tons of stickers. When the competition started, we thought for sure he didn't stand a chance, but it turned out the joke was on us. This rice rocket can stop: from 80mph to standstill in only 168 feet is almost unbelievable.
-Ed Loh

The testing was finished a little before noon and everyone split as quickly as possible. Normally the drive from California Speedway to Willow Springs International Raceway is only about an hour and a half. But as luck would have it, the direct road was closed, extending the drive by a good three-quarters of an hour. Those were 45 highly critical minutes, since we were now in a race to get up to the track and finish the competition with enough light for photography at the end of the day.

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Road Course
The road course test is the pinnacle of the USCC. While it is worth no more points than the car show or driveability test, most teams are willing to compromise those in order to finish on the track respectably. It is also the only test where we see hired guns show up routinely to drive in the competition.

The first hotshoe out for a timed run was James Hickerson in the Audi S4. He only got one hot lap before blowing an intercooler pipe off and pitting the car. Still, that lap was a blistering 1:26.37, which set the bar high.

I was up next in the Atom. After hearing about the other drivers showing up, Mike Kim asked me to take the wheel, which I was more than happy to do. The open-cockpit car drove unlike anything I've driven before, including both boosted and naturally aspirated Lotus Elises. It was wicked quick, but sadly, I was unable to extract the maximum performance. With its smooth plastic seat and inadequate four-point harness, there is effectively no lateral upper body support when cornering. The only thing to hang onto was the steering wheel, which ended up wedged against my knees because of the custom pedal placement for Kim, who is a good eight inches shorter than me.

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The experience of driving the Atom at speed was sort of like riding a really fast children's tricycle and having someone crack your left elbow with an aluminum bat every time you turn right and jerk your neck with a choker every time you turn left. It was fun, but a proper race seat would go a long way toward bringing it up to speed and attempting to dial in its suspension. Its second-place finish, half a second behind the Audi, was to be short-lived.

The heavy hitters stepped up and laid down some smoking fast times. The PDX Tuning STI just edged out the StopTech Corvette with a time of 1:23.17. Most impressive was the driving of Billy Johnson, who was visibly fighting the G35 but still managed to clock a time just a couple of tenths off the top pace. Dave Dunn, a NASA-licensed driving instructor, also deserves a good deal of credit, as he was the only competitor to drive his own car on the road course. Reluctantly, even Jacko Luong handed the keys of his Skyline over to veteran road racer Steve Mitchell of M-Workz. -Andy Hope

When the checkered flag fell and times were tabulated, a few competitors (especially those with all-wheel drive) balked at the idea of tire-smoking destruction. But when the first car went out for the Gross Display, they fell silent. This is a competition, after all.

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Gross Display Of Horsepower
The Gross Display of Horsepower has morphed from just a tire smoke competition to something far more demanding-a smoking free-for-all where burnouts, Rockfords and all-wheel-drive donuts are just the beginning. It's an appropriate end to the USCC and a rich reward for the spectators at the end of two tortuous days of competition-as well as a final chance to see a car blow up. But expectations are much higher after all we've seen over the years.

It's nearly sundown on day two and still 80 degrees F. Each car has to strut its stuff in 30 seconds and earn 25 subjective points, as determined by our three judges, Taro Koki of Best Motoring International, SCC publisher Mark Han and me, SCC's Engineering Editor. There are no 10-point freebies in this one, but the score might just be enough to make the difference between winning and losing.

As always, there was a debate between whether to send out a ringer shoe to earn big points or give the car's owner/builder the potential to blow up their baby. The results are wholly apparent, as professional drifters, hardcore road racers and do-it-yourself mechanics duked it out for bragging rights.

First came Blacktrax Performance's 300ZX, out to show what a modern small block could do to a set of sticky Nitto NT-01s. While the tire smoke was overwhelming, the performance was to be expected from any pushrod beast with this much power. The end result was back-to-back donuts, obscured by billowing clouds of smoke.

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Reeser's road racing G35 made its drifting debut with a beautifully choreographed continuous drift ballet (considering the ballerina weighs 3800 pounds), but failed to show the car's true power as it didn't produce enough smoke to be smelled by the judges.

Brent Mattraw, owner of the Audi S4, gave the only proper demonstration of what an all-wheel-drive car's drift potential really is. While the smoke levels were acceptable, the multi-axis spins and multiple near-encounters with the dirt earned due respect. The PDX STI, on the other hand, re-established its ridiculous amount of grip (as on the skidpad) and earned the title King of Understeer.

With its fantastic weight balance and instant supercharged torque, Mike Kim's Atom finally made its mark with a smoke-filled, side-to-side, tail-wagging drift, some with both hands free of the wheel and only steering with the knees.

Groma Fabrication's BMW 2002 started out with the throttle on the floor and a clutch dump that would send even a GT-R shuddering. For the rest of the time, it performed a series of loops, drifts and spins without ever lifting off the gas even a millimeter. Both tire smoke and burning engine oil gave the little BMW the final laugh. This display of absolute mayhem provided it with one of its two victories.
-Jay Chen

You would think that, with the competition over, everyone could finally relax. But before we could clear our tire smoke-filled lungs, the cars were all corralled onto the skidpad for a group photo and the awards ceremony. Typically for each USCC, there was no clear winner. Entrants that looked incredibly strong on paper, or had taken early leads, were constantly shuffled in the rankings throughout the course of the competition.

The Audi S4 of Brent Mattraw, built by the crew at Torque Factory in Venice, California, showed its capability with consistently strong finishes in the acceleration, dyno, braking and driveability tests. A true example of an ultimate street car, this S4 builds upon a factory platform with choice modifications and just the right amount of tuning. Making this win even more impressive is the fact that, two weeks prior to the USCC, Torque Factory had the S4's engine sitting on the ground in pieces. Going for broke, they built the engine, put the car together and ended up with an 11-second, 572 wheel-hp street-driven beast. Jeff Moss, head honcho at Torque Factory, drove the car to our cover photoshoot and then drove it back to his shop, without having had time to touch the car since it entered and took the crown as the Ultimate Street Car.

BASE PRICE
{{{BMW}}} 2002 $4,286
{{{Acura Integra}}} $19,{{{850}}}
{{{Infiniti G35}}} $32,{{{200}}}
{{{Subaru Impreza}}} WRX STI $32,995
{{{Nissan 300ZX}}} Twin Turbo $33,000
Ariel Atom $38,500
{{{Audi}}} S4 $38,{{{900}}}
{{{Toyota Supra}}} Turbo $44,{{{100}}}
{{{Nissan}}} Skyline {{{GT}}}-R $47,250
Chevrolett {{{Corvette}}} Z06 $52,185
DYNO
  Peak Peak
  Power (hp) Torque (lb-ft)
Nissan Skyline {{{GT-R}}} 588 440
Audi S4 572 622
{{{Subaru}}} {{{Impreza}}} WRX STI 517 {{{505}}}
Chevorlette Corvette Z06 514 458
{{{Infiniti}}} {{{G35}}} 505 468
{{{Toyota}}} {{{Supra}}} Turbo 505 430
Nissan {{{300ZX}}} Twin Turbo 500 536
Ariel Atom 212 199
BMW 2002 190 202
{{{Acura}}} {{{Integra}}} 181 144
MPG
Acura Integra 44.18
Toyota Supra Turbo 41.10
Ariel Atom 34.05
Subaru Impreza WRX STI 27.28
Nissan Skyline GT-R 22.01
Chevrolett Corvette Z06 21.29
Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo 20.82
Infiniti G35 20.{{{80}}}
BMW 2002 20.36
Audi S4 20.04
LATERAL g
Subaru Impreza WRX STI 1.06
{{{Chevrolet Corvette}}} Z06 1.05
Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo 1.03
Infiniti G35 1.01
Ariel Atom 1.01
Nissan Skyline GT-R 1.00
Audi S4 0.98
Toyota Supra Turbo 0.96
BMW 2002 0.88
Acura Integra 0.87
BRAKING (FEET)
Infiniti G35 168
Nissan Skyline GT-R 172
Audi S4 174
Chevrolett Corvette Z06 195
Subaru Impreza WRX STI 198
Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo 213
Ariel Atom 224
BMW 2002 226
Acura Integra 246
Toyota Supra Turbo DNF
By SCC Staff and Contributors
1 Articles

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