Although this was the 12 year of the european car Continental Tire Tuner GP, it was my first experience with the event. As I had just taken over the magazine, it was decided that upsetting the status quo probably wouldn't be the best plan. In the interest of time and simplicity, the event went off basically the same as years past. We invited tuners from across the country, provided the contenders with a set of Continental ExtremeContact DW tires, and even had cool stickers printed up.
As in the past, we invited shops to compete from multiple states, but in the end, seven cars, all from the state of California, rolled into Willow Springs Raceway on the first morning of the competition. We chose the 14-turn, 1.55-mile Streets of Willow out of the three road courses available at the facility. Streets was chosen for its elevation changes, variety of corners, and a track surface that can be politely referred to as rustic. These qualities require a tuner car that is completely developed; handling and braking are equally as important or maybe more important than big power.
The drag racing has been an on-again, off-again thing in past GPs. Last year, the straight-line competition was halfheartedly run on the uphill, 1,000-foot-long straight on the main track at Willow Springs. We attempted to run the quarter-mile competition at AutoClub Speedway in Fontana California but in the end, it just wasn't meant to be. We did repeat the dyno testing at Church Automotive Testing in Wilmington, California.
Our rules were relaxed a bit from years past, but still simple compared to most racing organizations. Classes were split into two categories based on horsepower. Touring Class was up to 400 hp while GT Class was any car above the 400hp mark. The cars competing were to be judged as streetable by our technical experts at the event. We were open to just about any and all modifications, with the exception of nitrous oxide injection—sorry, Mr. Toretto.
For the first time in the GP's history, the Italian flag was flown by Fiat. The smallest and least powerful car in the event became an instant favorite of the judges. A big-horsepower A3 was the only Audi in attendance, while BMW received the most representation by current models M3, M4, and 228. An e36 M3 reminded everyone that the older platforms are still great choices for tuners. Lastly, Mercedes' three-pointed star was only a single car, and a transverse-engined CLA45 AMG at that. The new small platform has been a huge success for Mercedes in terms of sales, and to be honest, I'm a bit surprised it hasn't made a bigger splash in the tuning industry. Unlike previous years, we were without a Volkswagen. And to us, a tuning event without a Golf is like a road trip without corn nuts.
Streets of Willow—Timed Laps
For overall fastest lap, the GT favorites going into this were definitely the M3 of Platte Forme AG and the M4 of European Auto Source. Both cars were running 295/30-18 tires on both the front and rear, as well as a full complement of bolt-ons. In the past, 034 Motorsports has shown up with cars either built specifically for the event or at least track events in general. This year's car is the stuff of nightmares for all the ponycar drivers in 034's hometown of Fremont. It's a relatively stock-looking A3 VR6 with a turbo kit capable of almost 700 hp.
In Touring Class, the CLA of HG Motorsports and the 228 of GSR Motorsports both looked like the strongest contenders with the more race-focused BMW having to contend with the AMG's all-wheel drive. The two lowest horsepower cars, Avus Autosport's e36 M3 and FiatTech.com's Abarth looked as though they would valiantly fight amongst themselves.
In the first GT practice, Rif Dagher in the Platte Forme M3 came out swinging, throwing down multiple laps in the 1:24 range. Jordan Yost in the EAS M4 put in a 1:29.138 in single hot lap. 034 Racing's Gary Sheehan ran three conservative laps, with the fastest breaking the 1:30 mark. In Touring, Nick Richards in the GSR 228 showed off some insta-speed, putting in a fastest lap of 1:27.453 while Clint Boisdeau in the HG CLA ran an impressive 1:28.571. Joe De Vivo in the Abarth ran a respectable 1:37.116, while Amir Bentatou went with an interesting strategy and slept in, missing the first practice session in his e36.
Practice Two saw most of the competitors shaving off a second here and second there, while dialing the cars into the track. 034 Motorsports skipped the second session, while Bentatou went out and was immediately running in the low 1:28s. By the end of the session, the little red e36 M3 was down to 1:27.27, supporting my theory that starting anything before 10 a.m. is generally a mistake.
Practice Three was again mostly about fractions of a second. Dagher's M3 was now in the mid-1:23s, but EAS had found some big speed dropping into the low 1:26s. If EAS could find another big jump like that before the final, they would be in serious contention for the win. 034's A3 still seemed to want to play things close to the vest, running some tests but pulling into the pits without passing start/finish on laps. Bentatou's M3 was covered in as much adhesive horsepower as the rest of the field combined, and he was putting it to good use. The years of development time and careful selection of tuning products allowed him pull a 1:26.794, suddenly nipping at the heels of EAS's M4. How's that for progress?
Walking through the pits in the afternoon before the actual timed laps was exactly like walking through any situation in which I should have had a scooter. I say this more as a note for myself than being useful to you, the reader. I wish I could say it was as emotionally charged as a method acting class at a community college, but this was a rather laid-back affair. As the GT cars staged, Dagher was looking confident, yet there still needed to be a level of strategy. He could probably shave another couple of tenths if he had to, but EAS had to shave a couple of seconds. Do you go out and shoot for the best time and risk damaging the car, or do you run conservatively and put in the safe time, gambling that EAS won't be able to find all the time?
EAS, on the other hand, had to decide if they wanted to pull out all the stops and shoot for first or live by the adage, "To finish first, first you must finish." On top of that, we still didn't know what 034 was really capable of.
Dagher laid down a 1:23.479, which was not his fastest lap of the day, but not far off. Clearly, he had decided to play it at least a little safe. EAS launched out of the pits leaving tire smoke and awesomeness wafting in the air. The timed runs consisted of a decent amount of tire spinning and backend sliding, which accounts for awesomeness, but is also detrimental to absolute speed. Youst in the EAS M4 turned an exciting-to-watch 1:26.290 lap. We expected big things from 034 Motorsports, and the A3 was clearly fast in a straight line but just couldn't quite hang with the other GT cars in cornering speed. It was on considerably narrower tires. In the end, they managed a 1:28.727.
When the Touring Class took the track, all eyes turned to the CLA45 of HG Motorsports. Hired gun Clint Boisdeau is known for pulling off some incredibly fast laps in Time Attacks and Time Trial events. He managed to shave another half a second off his previous best time for a 1:27.660, which was good enough to beat Nick Richards' best time during practice in the GSR 228. Nick, however, also found more speed during the lunch break and came back out to run a 1:26.451, proving tacos make everything better. Joe De Vivo drove the crowd favorite Fiat to a valiant 1:35.356 using every last horse that the pint-sized 1.4L could deliver. OK, it's a little over 2 pints, whatever.
The real shocker, however, came from the silky smooth driving of Amir Bentatou. While others teams seemed to be sniping time by the tenth, Amir gunned down nearly 2 seconds during taco-time, running a 1:25.920 in his 18-year-old M3. We looked at the video; he didn't find a shortcut. That time not only earned him the win in Touring, it was good enough for second place overall. This is why we can never emphasize enough the importance of solid, well-balanced tuning and development time spent on racetracks.
Church Automotive Tuning Dyno Testing
After a day at the track, the dyno is supposed to be the easy part. Hook up the cars, take a few pulls, have some pizza, and then it's another year in the books. Nothing is ever easy. Modern cars don't like to be dyno'd. The car expects a specific amount of load. It wants all four wheels spinning, and at least I'm convinced, it isn't crazy about the sensor in the tailpipe. Every car other than the Fiat and Amir's M3 was unhappy being dyno'd. We accept that these numbers are merely fair estimates of what the car is putting out and that they make for decent comparisons among the cars present. As we suspected, the 034 Motorsports Audi A3 was a monster. The turbocharged 3.2L VR6 cranked out a clearly undisputed dyno, winning 615 hp at the front axle. Next up was EAS's M4 delivering 564 hp, followed closely by Plattte Forme's similarly modified M3 at 549 hp.
When it came time for our Touring class to hit the rollers, it became obvious we weren't going to get any disputes about our 400hp limit. Taking home bragging rights was the HG Motorsports CLA45 AMG. We were told the already potent 2.0L turbo hadn't received much attention before the event because it was so new and already developed 360 hp at the crank right off the showroom floor. After delivering 347 hp to the wheels, we believed them. Following up closely behind was another 2.0L turbo in GSR's BMW 228. Rated at only 240 hp from the factory made the 335 hp at the wheels a pretty impressive feat. Next in line was our road racing standout the Avus Autosport e36 M3. Its naturally aspirated 3.2L inline-six effortlessly spun the hub-dynos to the tune of 269 hp. Pretty impressive for an "old engine." Not surprisingly, the smallest by a long shot Abarth engine was the little engine that could, cranking out 202 hp. The Abarth engine is notoriously difficult to tune, and that 202 at the ground is incredibly impressive for the 1.4L.
That's a wrap
For a learning year, we considered this Tuner GP a relative success. All our competitors demonstrated their collective abilities to squeeze more performance out of cars that are becoming better and better from the factory every year. A few of them clearly demonstrated the importance of complete tuning program and addressing the car's performance as a whole.
We have bigger plans for next year's event. We are looking at options for a new facility, considering a different tire in Continental's product line, and are weighing the value of dyno testing. We're keeping the things that worked and getting rid of what didn't. We are hoping that by providing plenty of notice and picking a date that doesn't conflict with other events, we will be able to draw tuners from across the country.
The goal of the european car Continental Tire GP is to give performance tuners a place to show off their abilities and technology while competing against each other. This isn't a car show, and it isn't about popularity. If you're a tuning shop and interested in competing, drop us a line and tell us why you deserve consideration. We're looking forward to the next one.
Team: Platte Forme AG
Car: '15 BMW M3
Driver: Rif Dagher
Lap Time: 1:23.479
Dyno: 549 hp
Modifications: Burger Motorsports JB4 tuner, JRZ RS Pro dampers, Eibach race springs, Ground Control camber plates, Brembo Calipers and Type III rotors, Volk ZE40 18x10.5 in. wheels, Autotecknic rear spoiler, Sabelt GT-130 seats
Team: Avus Autosport
Car: '97 BMW M3
Driver: Amir Bentatou
Lap Time: 1:25.920
Dyno: 269 hp
Modifications: Port and polished head, stage 2 cams, shorty headers, Y-pipe, 3-inch custom exhaust, custom differential, KW coilovers, VAC Motorsports control arms, WP big brake kit, Forgeline RS 17x9.5 in wheels, Marvelous Tune front splitter and canards, Origin Lab rear wing, Bride Brix 2 seats
Team: European Auto Source
Car: '15 BMW M4
Driver: Jordan Yost
Lap Time: 1:26.290
Dyno: 564 hp
Modifications: Burger Motorsports JB4 tuner, Akrapovic Evolution Exhaust, Raceworks downpipes, KW coilovers, Apex EC-7 18x9 in. wheels, BMW Performance aero-kit
Team: GSR Autosport
Car: '14 BMW 228i
Driver: Nick Richards
Lap Time: 1:26.451
Dyno: 335 horsepower
Modifications: Burger Motorsports JB4 tuner, AFE intake, GSR Technik catless downpipe and muffler delete, Aasco flywheel, Clutchmasters FX250 clutch, Wavetrac limited-slip differential, KW World Challenge Spec coilovers, Apex EC-718x9.5 in. wheels, BMW decklid spoiler
Team: HG Motorsports
Car: '14 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG
Driver: Clint Boisdeau
Lap Time: 1:27.660
Dyno: 347 hp
Modifications: KW Clubsport coilovers, HRE R101 18x8.5-inch wheels, HG Performance brake rotors, Recaro seats, HG Performance rollbar
Team: 034 Motorsports
Car: '06 Audi A3 3.2 Quattro
Driver: Gary Sheehan
Lap Time: 1:28.727
Dyno: 615 hp
Modifications: 034 Motorsports; Stage 1 turbo kit, Precision 6262 turbo, intake manifold, billet fuel rail, 85mm MAF, X34 intake, 3.5-inch turbo-back exhaust, ECU and DSg tune, Bosch 850cc injectors, KW Clubsport coilovers, 034 Motorsports; rear sway bar, endlinks, trailing arm bearings, adjustable rear-upper control-arms, TTRS rear A-arm bushings, Rays CE28 18x8-inch wheels, Audi TTRS front brakes
Car: '12 Fiat 500 Abarth
Driver: Joe De Vivo
Lap Time: 1:35.356
Dyno: 202 hp
Modifications: RoadRace Motorsports Piggyback tuner and Intake, Abarth Motorsports Catless downpipe, Magneti Marelli springs, Koni FSD dampers, RoadRace Motorsports brake pads, OZ Racing Alleggerita 17x7 in wheels, Sabelt seat
Continental ExtremeContact DW
The ExtremeContact DW is Continental's ultra high-performance summer tire that is a natural choice for the European tuning market. The company as a whole is one of the leading German suppliers of automotive components. Its tires are used standard equipment by just about every European OE selling vehicles in the United States from Audi to Volvo.
The internal structure of the tire consists of twin steel belts, reinforced with spiral-wound nylon cap-plies. It uses an asymmetric tread design with continuous center tread bands that provide constant contact with the road, providing better stability and feel. The outboard blocks use a lower void design for better cornering grip while the inside blocks feature a higher void ratio for better wet weather performance.
We have driven these tires on a variety of vehicles ranging from lightweight tuner cars to large luxury sedans and have been continually impressed.