SITE: Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving / Chandler, AZ
We won't deny it: we're a pretty competitive bunch here at Modified. So when Goodyear Tire told us they would be hosting a special event designed to determine which of the top automotive magazines in the industry has the fastest editor on staff, there was just no way we were going to miss out on the opportunity to stick it to our friends and competitors at those other mags (including Car & Driver, Road & Track, 0-60, DSport, PAS mag, Car Craft and Super Chevy). The fact that we'd also be testing some of Goodyear's latest and greatest tires while flogging some pretty cool cars at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in the Phoenix area made it all the sweeter.
Details about the exact nature of the competition were kept under wraps until all the editors arrived at the Bondurant facility, one of the world's leading high-performance and race driving schools. After outfitting us with some stylish Piloti driving shoes, the schedule of events was announced, starting with a two-man team karting endurance race, followed by an autocross in Porsche Caymans, a slalom course run in both directions in Pontiac Solstices, a heads-up bracket-style drag race event in Pontiac G8 GTs, a police inceptor exercise and then a grand finale time attack in Corvette Z06s.
Paired with Rob Choo from DSport for the kart race, we used a unique pit stop strategy, getting our three mandatory driver changes out of the way on the first three laps. At first, it looked like this strategy might backfire on us, but it paid off in the end. We took the win and I got the checkered flag from none other than Bob Bondurant himself (one of only approximately 70 drivers to have ever scored championship points in Formula 1).
In the autocross event, I again opted for a different strategy, choosing the Porsche Cayman with a manual gearbox when all but one of the other drivers chose the PDK (flappy paddle shifting) version. Whether or not this proved advantageous is hard to say, but being one of the more experienced autocrossers in the group certainly did, as did my experience on Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires (having done a lot of track testing of our G35 project car on this rubber). With a best time of 58.02 seconds (based on two timed runs), Modified was two for two in the victory column.
Mike Monticello from Road & Track prevented the clean sweep, posting a best slalom event time just one-tenth of a second quicker than mine. Still, I was impressed by the grip of the Eagle GT tires the Solstices were equipped with - the affordable UHP all-season tires provided grip I normally associate with more expensive summer-only rubber. With a second place finish in the slalom event, I was in a solid position overall heading into the drag event, a lead I was certain I'd need since I've only been to the dragstrip a handful of times, and not at all in recent years.
During my first qualifying run on Firebird Raceway's NHRA quarter-mile strip, I cut one of the worst lights of all-time. On my second qualifying run, I got my act together enough to place fourth going into the single-elimination bracket-racing format that followed. From here on, the event was really all about reaction time and not breaking out. I posted a 0.024-second reaction time in the quarterfinals and a 0.017 in the semis, two very quick getaways that were no doubt aided by the consistent performance of the Goodyear Eagle SS drag radials. This put me through to the finals against Jim Campisano from Super Chevy. I managed to get out of the box slightly quicker than Jim (0.092 to his 0.123) and ran a 14.36 at 99.92 mph, just slow enough to avoid breaking out (I set my time to 14.30).
I wasn't even sure if the police inceptor exercise, held on the autocross course in a Crown Vic and a Chevy Tahoe, was a part of the official competition or not, so I just went out there and had some fun lighting up the rear tires. The Crown Vic was surprisingly capable, but the Tahoe proved to be the superior drift machine; Jared Gall of Car & Driver put up an Eagle RS-A smoke show that would've made Tanner Foust proud.
Finally it was time for the time attack, the event we'd all been waiting for. The first two runs were in Z06s equipped with the first-generation Eagle F1 SuperCar factory rubber, and then for scoring (and comparison) purposes we drove identical Z06s with the new G:2 tire. The grip difference between the two tires was immediately evident, even with the traction control system still fully enabled. As a result, every driver went between 1 and 3 seconds a lap quicker on the G:2s. Although I was a half-second quicker than the field on the old F1 SuperCar rubber, Rob Choo from DSport pulled a Bunnikins rabbit out of his hat and pipped me by one-hundredth of a second to take the time attack win. The horror...the horror!
In the end, consistency and a healthy dose of luck, experience, good looks and strategy paid off in the form of the big trophy as the 2010 Goodyear Eagle Challenge points champion. This not only gives us bragging rights for a year, we also scored a pleasure cruise in the Goodyear blimp. Unfortunately, I can't invite any of my fellow competitors, because after all the gloating at the awards ceremony I'm afraid I'd be forced to walk the plank without a parachute.