Forget everything you think you know about air suspension and its supposed performance limitations. Next, forget the same about Subarus and the various mechanical mishaps you may have heard they suffer when made into track cars. And finally, forget everything you know about Time Attack's Unlimited to Street class hierarchy and its presumed corresponding lengthening lap times. Cody Miles—owner and driver of this air-bagged, 500-whp, Time Attack record-breaker—has a few things to say about all that.
Cody was just two years of age when he first started riding dirt bikes on his family's 17 acres of dusty, desert land in Agua Dulce, California. At 5, he started racing them, a fascination that lasted until his mid-teens. Then he realized that in order to be competitive, it required the involvement of sponsors and endorsements. When he turned 10, however, his need for speed began shifting from two wheels to four. "We had a few big, rear-wheel-drive boat cars, like Oldsmobiles and Plymouths, just sitting around that my dad would let me drive around in the dirt," Cody explains. "At first it was just learning the basic controls, getting a feel for gas and brake... but before I knew it, that racing instinct took over and I was learning how to apply throttle in corners, oversteer into straights, and correct counter-steer. Just throwing the car around in the dirt and figuring it out."
By 16, Cody had purchased his first vehicle, a Tacoma truck, which he gradually modified pre-runner style to better enjoy the Agua Dulce landscape. His years racing bikes and messin' with cars had always been about the driving; modifying the Tacoma was his first foray into learning mechanics and how to make improvements where needed. He naturally made friends along the way, but they were mostly into cruising nearby canyon roads in modified 240SXs, Subarus, and Mustangs. The more Cody learned of these cars, the more he got into them himself. Racing bikes was put to the side and his fixation fully shifted into cars. "I've always loved the sound of the horizontally opposed four-cylinder," he tells. "I loved the STI's speed, and some of the upgraded turbo cars I'd heard were just nasty." Eventually, the decision was made to sell the Tacoma and put his money where his heart was.
And ironically enough, this is the moment when heartbreak first enters our story. For six months, Cody saved money from the sale of his Tacoma and working Joe jobs for $8 an hour (while attending school on a mechanical engineering degree), scoured classified ads, and finally plunked down everything he had on a low-mileage, '07 Urban Gray Metallic WRX STI—his dream car. He was one mile from his home after a late-night, 100-mile drive to buy the car when it happened. "I was just cruising, probably going 80 mph," he recalls, "and I heard this 'clunk, clunk...' and it just died." He called a friend to try to jumpstart it. Nothing. He pretended he didn't hear that horrible sound, but he did. And deep down he knew—as we all do, on some intrinsic level—exactly what it meant: catastrophic engine failure.
He had it towed the rest of the way home, tried to sleep for a few hours, and rose early the next day to start it again. This time it actually worked. "It ran for about 10 seconds," he explains, "and I heard the worst metal-on-metal screeching, grinding, and knocking sounds I've ever heard. I'll never forget it." The oil pickup had cracked above the level of oil in the pan (a known issue with certain Subarus), rendering the oil pump unable to feed the engine. He had the car transported to Subaru tuning experts Yumi Sport Tuning, in nearby Santa Clarita, and had the EJ25 torn down for a diagnosis. "It was bad," he says, bluntly. "The bearings had seized, the crankshaft walked, pulled the pulley into the block and cracked it, the rods were tweaked and angled the pistons into the bores, there was metal throughout the block and heads, everything was scored...it was almost comical how completely destroyed the engine was."
Simply replacing the engine with a used one from a salvage yard and taking his chances was out of the question for Cody, so he was faced with two choices: rebuild one to OEM specification, or, for some more money and the same amount of labor and downtime, he could invest in a quality aftermarket build that would stand up to much more abuse. Not one to repeat mistakes, Cody went back to work, saved every paycheck, then had the Yumi Sport team rebuild the engine using the knowledge they've accumulated from more than a decade of racing and conducting similar builds. Cody also took their advice to upgrade to a BorgWarner EFR 7163 turbocharger, which boasts power comparable to a GT35 turbo, but with the responsiveness of something much smaller.
The freshly built motor and new turbo setup made a solid 400 whp and 350 lb-ft of torque at 20 psi, all on 91-octane fuel. More than a year and several thousand dollars later, Cody finally had it. "Man," he begins, "the power, that exhaust note, knowing that the build was rock solid... it was exactly what I wanted."
At this point, Cody still intended for the STI to be his daily driver. He wanted to build the rest of the car to match the performance of the new engine, but also needed it to endure California's rough and predictable roads. When a friend recommended Air Lift's new Performance Suspension kit, he was intrigued. Instant ride-height adjustability was of course a benefit, as was aggressive damping from the kit's custom-valved shocks and struts (no one wants their built STI to ride like an Impala on hydros). But since the Air Lift kit offers height adjustability via bag pressure as well as a threaded perch where the bags mount to the dampers, it allows users the option to set effective spring rates with bag pressure, and ride height through the adjustable threaded perch. What's more, the material weight of the air bags in place of steel springs compensated for the added weight of its air compressor, tank, and lines. Cody estimates his entire system (with a smaller aluminum tank) weighs just 7 pounds more than a conventional coilover system. And since his ideal ride height and bag pressure are in between maximum and minimum limitations, he can inflate the bags and raise the car temporarily when more ground clearance is needed, or slam it to the ground for fun, and let Air Lift's management system bring the car back to its fighting stance in seconds.
It was around this time that Cody also massaged giant 18x9.5-inch wheels and 255/35-18 rubber under the STI's fenders. With the car making good power and able to put it to the ground, he started realizing the benefits that having a badass car and living close to a racetrack presented (Agua Dulce is less than an hour from California's Willow Springs road course). He began attending Extreme Speed's un-judged Time Attack events and saw his lap times improve to where he was clocking times within the top five-fastest of each event—that's among a group of 100 cars, many with much higher price tags and stock performance numbers than his Subaru. So in '15, he decided to join the ranks of the Redline Time Attack series, entering the STI in Street Class competition. "After I won the first event," Cody recalls, "I remember thinking, 'Hell yeah! Let's do this all season!''"
Cody amassed five Redline Time Attack wins and six podiums, earning the Street Class season championship in his first year competing. Hooked on his newfound success and finally earning enough to fund his racing addiction, he decided to dedicate the STI to track competition. Front, center, and rear differentials were added, a partnership with Renner Racing Development yielded a more powerful 500-whp/500 lb-ft closed-deck engine, and Cody continued to make a host of other refinements on his own. He added Global Time Attack to his '16 season schedule with a Street Class win at Road Atlanta, and has so far won four of six Redline events. At the time of this writing, he leads Street Class championship points in each series. In a recent Redline race at Buttonwillow he clocked a 1:51.523 around the Clockwise 13 configuration, in 100oF+ heat—faster than the winners of every other class (including Unlimited Class), save for Modified AWD, which was won by Yimi Sport's Mark Jager.
Having successfully worked through and learned from the few setbacks he's encountered, Cody's plan is simple: Keep improving his driving, refining his build, and continuing to test/tune gearing and suspension for optimal performance wherever it's needed. No one can say what the future holds for racing, but after learning where he's come from and seeing first-hand how far he's gone, we think it's safe to say the future's going to be bright for Cody and his air-bagged, Time Attack Subaru.