This is no race for the weekend warriors or casual track goers. This is for the big boys, the fearless, and the veterans. We're talking about Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and after 93 years it is still one of the most demanding motorsport events in the world. So what in the hell is a Scion FR-S doing there?
Last year, we had the chance to follow our friends at Mackin Industries take on the 12.42-mile time attack course. We remembered their FR-S as a show car that graced the Mackin booth at the '12 SEMA Show with Rocket Bunny aero, bolt-on GReddy turbo kit, and an exceptionally loud exterior. The car was initially engineered for time attack duties, and we saw it take on Road Atlanta at one race, but Mackin had more ambitious plans, which was to battle the 156 corners on Pikes Peak.
We sat down with the car's build manager, Philip Chase of Mackin, to see what it was like to build and prep an FR-S capable of withstanding the demands, high elevation, and unexpected challenges involved with one of the world's toughest playgrounds.
Tell us some of your accomplishments with preparing the FR-S for Pikes Peak last year.
Completing modifications that have never been done before always leaves a feeling of accomplishment. We successfully installed a Z33 six-speed with minimal chassis modifications, fabricated a functional V-mount intercooler and radiator setup, and put together an engine package with an awesome powerband that makes 479 whp at 24 psi with 364 ft-lb of torque. It's one of the highest outputs we have seen on an FA20 setup for road racing. But the highlight has to be setting competitive sector times during practice and in the race. It shows that we as a team put together a competitive car.
What are some of the biggest challenges in getting the FR-S ready for the race?
Where do I start... We were given the green light for Pikes Peak a mere two months before the race. First, we had to get the car up to Pikes' safety requirements, which meant a competition-approved fuel cell. To be competitive, we knew we needed more power and a transmission that was up to the task. The FR-S previously made about 380 whp and was going through transmissions at every event. Both problems needed to be addressed, so GReddy modified its turbo kit to accept a larger Garrett GTX3076R turbo. As for the transmission, through tons of research we decided on a Z33 swap. The swap had never been done before, so a significant amount of time was spent getting everything to fit and work together properly. The thin air at high altitude also makes the cooling system less effective, so a huge oil cooler was installed along with coolers for the transmission and rear end. The car already had a dry carbon hood, roof, and trunk, so we lightened it further with dry carbon doors and acrylic side windows, plus added some new aero parts. We finished all the modifications in time to have one test session before packing the car up for transport to Colorado Springs. There were some teething issues at the track, but by midday the car was running strong.
What exactly happened at Pikes Peak?
Like most teams we had our issues in practice, but we got through each problem effectively. The night before the race, we felt good. We knew the car was not 100 percent, but we could do no more. Out of time and out of spare parts.
The car started the race great. I remember watching the live timing with the rest of the crew. Our driver, Rob Walker, had a great sprint off the line, set a solid sector one time, quick sector two times, and then nothing. No posted time from sector three or four. Over the safety crew's radio we heard that our car had safely pulled off the road. Rob came over the team radio, "The engine just quit. I'm a few corners away from the end of sector three." Our race was over. Using our first two sector times and practice times for sectors three and four, we probably would have finished on podium but, hey, you need to finish to be on podium…
Data logs show a lot of knock in cylinder No. 1 and then failure in cylinder No. 1. The cause of the knock may have been engine internals or maybe even electrical. Looking at the front of the engine, it looks like it was under extreme heat. Almost seemed like we had a small engine fire but no signs of flames on the in-car video or on the underside of the hood. However, anything rubber or plastic near the front of the engine was either melted or scorched. We might never know if the cause of failure was first electrical and then mechanical, but for sure the engine suffered internal damage.
What's this year's plan?
Instead of staying with the FA20, we decided to install a built 2JZ. Yes, more weight, poor weight distribution, but reliable and capable of high horsepower. We completed the swap just before SEMA. It features a BC Racing 3.4L stroker kit, Garrett GTX4088R, GReddy intake plenum, and even beefier V-mount setup. We have also gone to the AEM Infinity. Many more suspension changes are on the way to deal with the heavier cast-iron block inline-six. We'll be doing another transmission swap as well, probably something with sequential shift. Pikes Peak is a 12.42-mile course with 156 turns—high horsepower and quick shifts will definitely help make the car even faster.
Our target is to make 800 whp on E85 at sea level. That will probably be low-700 whp at high altitude. Does not seem like much for a built 2JZ, but we are looking for quick spool, good throttle response, and wide powerband.
What's the goal, assuming everything goes as planned?
In the Time Attack class, a low-10-minute run will be solid for a podium. Jeff Zwart in his Porsche is incredibly fast, running 9:46.243 last year. The class record was set by Paul Dallenbach with a 9:46.001 in a Hyundai Genesis in '13.
Robert Walker has been a regular in Super Street, having piloted the Evasive Motorsport FR-S at Pikes Peak before, as well as competing at our own Super Lap Battle. He was called on to pilot the Mackin FR-S last year, so we wanted to dig a little further and see what the experience was like in the driver seat.
How was your experience at Pikes Peak driving the Mackin car?
This was my third year at Pikes Peak with the Scion Racing team. Previous two years, we ran the Evasive FR-S, which relied heavily on aero for its speed. Running a new car at Pikes brings new challenges. We were able to shake down the car on the track before the event, but Pikes Peak is a very different form of a road course. The brakes, tires, and suspension had to be optimized, as Pikes is closer to a tarmac rally stage setup than a true time attack road course setup. The altitude impacts the car's performance due to the thinner air. The motor struggles to breathe at higher altitude and there is less airflow to keep the temperatures down. The aero is also less effective above 10,000 feet, which the driver has to adapt for. The brakes are also cold at the start and struggle to get adequate air to cool them at the very top. Choosing the right tire is also challenging due to changing weather conditions. The road has wet patches when the weather gets warmer and the snow starts to melt. Overall, the car has to be able to manage the changing weather, altitude, and grip level when running Pikes Peak.
What are the Mackin FR-S' strengths and weaknesses?
It was built and prepared using experiences we learned from the past two years of running Pikes Peak. Its strength is its build quality and preparation done by the team to run the event. Having this confidence allows the driver to predict and trust the car's limits and extract its full potential. The Scion FR-S is also a strength as a base due to its compact size, lower center of gravity, and rear-wheel-drive platform.
The weakness is making reliable power to compete at the top level in Pikes Peak. It's much easier to make a lot of power for time attack at sea level to last a few laps. But Pikes Peak requires reliability, cooling, and power to be competitive. We pushed the limits of the platform with the addition of forced induction this year and were able to show speed, but came short on reliability.
How did the FR-S handle?
The car's handling is one of my favorite things about the FR-S platform. We used KW three-way competition coilovers. The spring rate is lower than the typical road course settings to manage some of the surface irregularities at Pikes Peak. Everything is dialed in to run on the Toyo RR tires on the dry or with R888 for wet conditions.
Any last words about what it's like to compete at Pikes?
Pikes Peak is a lot different than traditional race courses. Rather than being able to revisit the corner again, you only get one chance at it. You only get to run it once a year. Going against various terrains, surface conditions, weather, mechanical challenges, all these aspects make it a very unique event to attend and also makes it a very fun event for drivers to attend. You have to respect the mountain; you have to respect the course. But in terms of fear, I don't really fear the mountain or the course itself. I try to stay within the limits of the car, the limits of my driving ability.