Today's motorsports fans have proven that their interests extend beyond crashes and hours of left-hand turns. Road racing is easily one of the most exciting forms of motorsports around, save bar stool racing (those guys have mad skills!). And if you're looking for exciting, real-world, tightly-contested road racing it doesn't get any better than the Grand Am Cup, a series within a series (sidebar alert!) with fields as large as eighty to ninety cars. Races are usually two and a half hours long, with some as long as 12 hours. During a race there are additional elements such as driver and tire changes and high speed refueling through a system known as a dry break. With 80-plus cars on the track at once and pit stops and driver changes, the GAC makes for two and a half hours of action that even Bruckheimer would be hard-pressed to top.
We were fortunate enough to spend a race weekend with i-MOTO Racing. i-MOTO Racing is a GAC Team running in the Street Tuner (ST) class. We caught up with the i-MOTO crew for the fourth round of the 2006 Championship at Laguna Seca Raceway, a beautiful track set in the middle of Monterey, California and home to the legendary Corkscrew. We rolled up, camera in hand, only to be greeted by handshakes and warm smiles. The i-MOTO crew was so welcoming that it wasn't long until we decided to pick up a wrench and help prep the cars for the weekend. The vehicles consisted of two beautifully prepared Acura TSXs. These two matched yellow sport sedans were piloted by the well-known Roger Foo (aka Hong Kong Fooey), team owner Glenn Bocchino, former Spec Miata hot shot Tom Long, and American Honda Engineer (as well as Type R Guru and Super Street hero) Lee Niffenegger.
The TSX is a fairly new vehicle to the GAC and is still very early in its development. The i-MOTO Racing crew knew it was a quick car but they were unsure of how it would stand up against the likes of other world-class manufacturers during a grueling GAC race. The RSXs had already proven themselves very capable along with the Cobalts, 3-Series, and RX-8s. We turned out to be quick in qualifying too, with Glenn setting the car nice and high in the top fifteen of a twenty-nine car field. But qualifying well at a Grand Am event is only a small portion of the battle for the weekend. We knew we had done well but our work was not through. We stayed late in the paddock after qualifying to make sure the cars were flawlessly prepared.
It is these cars that are the best part about GAC. Grand Am cars are based on factory unibodies; you will not find relocated suspension pickup points, sequential gearboxes, built to the hilt engines and other outlandish modifications that shoot the cost through the roof and remove a car from its showroom counterpart. While Grand Am may be beyond the budget of an average person, it is very much an affordable form of professional motorsports complete with great TV coverage.
The allowed mods in GAC are limited to keep the cost down and the performance up. The GAC sanctioning body keeps a close eye on performance and will attempt to regulate if they see any vehicle has a significantly unfair advantage over the field. By keeping the cars closely regulated Grand Am keeps the racing close and exciting. And if you were to look back to Grand Am Cup a few years ago, you would have seen legendary cars like the Integra Type R, which competed in GAC with great success.
The modifications to the i-MOTO Racing TSXs are unassumingly simple. But when these mods are mixed together in the hands of a competent crew and driver they become a dangerous package. Like any typical road racecar each TSX has been outfitted with a roll structure including window net and proper attachment points for the six-point harness. A fire suppression system and racing bucket seat also contribute to the safety of the vehicle. Suspension consists of a pair of triple adjustable reservoir dampers and sway bars. Brake modifications are very minimal consisting of stainless steel lines, upgraded pads and rotors, and better fluid to resist boiling. The drivetrain is relatively stock, including the CV shafts. Transmissions are allowed different final drive ratios, limited-slip differentials and an upgraded clutch. Engine modifications are moderate and consist of camshafts, valvetrain, intake, exhaust, header and a stand alone engine management system. The allowable modifications will vary from vehicle to vehicle to maintain a level playing field. As you can see the specs are very similar to a Super Street feature car sans the monitors in the gas door and diamond-plated floor mats.
The majority of GAC teams run two cars per team which obviously costs more money but makes for an invaluable development aid. When you're at the track there are countless variables in car setup that will need to be addressed. By having two cars with identical equipment you can quickly narrow down what works and what doesn't and come up with a good setup for both cars in a reduced amount of time. Two-car efforts also significantly increase the chances for winning and allow a team to use strategy to its advantage.
GAC races usually begin with a rolling split-start between the two classes-the higher speed and displacement Grand Sport (GS) and the ST. This usually will help reduce the chance of chaos and carnage caused by so many cars charging for the same line at once. During the race, drivers must be in constant communication with their crew chiefs. This way the crew will know how the car is performing, and if there are any problems that need to be addressed. Avoiding unnecessary tire changes and excess fueling can be the difference between winning and losing the race.
At Laguna Seca the number 188 car of Bocchino and Foo came in for a scheduled stop. Glenn flew into the pits and the crew leapt into action. You could smell the race gas flowing through the dual dry break, the brakes burning hot and the barely contained idle of the race motor. The stop was over before we knew it and Roger was off in a cloud of tire smoke as he took the K24 to eight thousand RPM and back. Roger began to navigate to the front of the pack. But he communicated to his crew chief Mike Quan that his front tires were going away. Even with the reduced grip, he was able to nurse the car home for a seventeenth place finish. Only a few rounds later the team would climb the podium with a third place finish at Miller Motorsports Park.
The Grand Am Cup offers some of the most exciting professional road racing where you see cars that you can actually relate to. Most other racing series include cars that neither you nor I will ever be able to touch, not to mention drive. Erotic exotics on parade lap processions do not good racing make. Check out a Grand Am race and see how your car stacks up against the pack.
The Grand American Road Racing Association (www.grandamerican.com) was founded with rules aimed at keeping costs down and competitors evenly matched. Grand American racing is actually comprised of two distinct series, each with two separate classes. The big dogs run in the Rolex Sports Car Series and the biggest dogs of them all are the purpose-built Daytona Prototypes (DP). The production-based Grand Touring (GT) cars may look more like a high-end sports car fresh off the showroom floor but they flex some of the same tech as their DP siblings.
The Grand Am Cup Series is where the true showroom stockers come to play. The Grand Sport (GS) class is home to the higher-displacement cars and the Street Tuner (ST) class is all about the Super Street rides only without the Lambo doors and JDM headlight conversions. In order to ensure parity, exact specs vary from model to model. Here is a rough breakdown of the classes:
|DP||purpose-built||mostly 4-5L V8 and 3.8 liter flat-six||500||2,150-2,275||185|
|GT||Corvette, F360, GT3,GTO, |
|V8, flat-six, three-rotor||390-450||2,500-2,700||170|
|GS||CTS-V, GTO, Mustang, |
M3, NSX, 350Z, 911
|V8, flat-six, two-rotor||350-405||2,730-3,250||160|
|ST||Cobalt SS, IS 300, |
Mini Cooper S, RSX,
SRT4, TSX, 3-Series
Owner i-Moto Racing
Hometown Coral Springs, FL
Daily Grind Racing three hours or more at Grand Am Cup events
Power 245whp, 220 ft/lb
Under The Hood Grand Am Cup spec engine package including camshafts, valvetrain, intake and header and exhaust
Drivetrain Exedy Racing clutch, KAAZ LSD
Brains Hondata K-Pro
Stiff Stuff Moton four-way adjustable dampers with H&R springs and antiroll bars
Rollers 5Zigen Forged Racing wheels; GAC spec Hoosier tires
Stoppers Cobalt Friction pads; Goodridge stainless lines
Outside Custom yellow paint job; Acura A-spec lip kit
Inside Recaro Pro Racer Hans SPG; Sabelt six-point harnesses; MOMO steering wheel