After a month of more vehicle proposals than we could count, registration for Castrol Syntec's Top Car Challenge is finally closed. Thanks a thousand times over (almost literally)--you and your cars have been considered, and after some very close consideration, we've picked the lucky reader whose car we're putting our Benjamins on to win this thing: Ryan Gates, and his '08 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
We'll get to the specifics of Ryan's car next month, but for now let's meet the man behind the wheel, and why his experience, attitude, and commitment to motorsports and our scene make him the perfect representative for the 2NR community in the Castrol Syntec Top Car Challenge.
Ryan, you have a slightly different background than most of our readers--you grew up in the middle-of-nowhere, Minnesota, racing go-karts and dirtbikes. How did you end up in the world of import tuning?
I was always a competitive kid, and got into racing go-karts when I was about 12 or so, just because they looked fun. I got into motorcross when I was about 16, and got into cars around 19, after I got sick of breaking myself on the bikes.
What were some of your motorcross injuries?
I broke my femur, compressed a few vertebrae in my back, broke all the toes in my right foot, broke both wrists, my right hand, ruptured my spleen, messed up my left shoulder--nothing too crazy.
Dave Mirra would cringe at that list! Was it worth it?
Oh yeah, I loved it all the way. But I began to realize that no one lasts too long in that line of racing, and started getting into cars at the same time, so I thought, "Why not try this?"
What was it about the imports that attracted you?
Imports just do it all better. Since I had experience karting, I wanted to build a car for road racing and time-attack, and the fastest cars in each of those sects of racing are imports, hands down.
So how did you actually begin getting involved with racing?
I had an '03 350Z that I was driving daily at the time, and began to take it out to NASA events to earn my HPDE certifications. It was a great car to learn in, but I eventually wanted something faster, so I sold it and bought an EVO IX to finish my certifications with.
How did owning an EVO X come about?
I loved my EVO IX, but once the X was released, I began hearing people talk about how much better and faster it was than the IX, so I started looking into it. Around the same time, the July '08 issue of 2NR hit stands, with JUN's EVO X on the cover, and that pretty much sealed it for me --that car was running 1:01 at Tsukuba circuit that same month, with very little modification.
So that's when you got an EVO X of your own?
Pretty much. I did some basic bolt-on mods to the car at first, and began running it in NASA TT-A time trials and street-class time attacks. It won Modified-class time-attack at its first event, and won NASA TT-A national championships at Mid-Ohio Raceway, setting a new track record in the process, with a mid-1:32.
What differences did you see in the EVO X versus the IX?
A lot, actually. The IX was a great car, but the EVO X seemed to do it all better. It's a lot more rigid and responsive to drive, it accelerates better and smoother than the IX's 4G63 engine, the brakes don't fade as much, it doesn't have the understeer problem that the IX did, and the stock drivetrain has taken a lot of abuse with no problems.
After you dropped $30K on a brand new EVO X, how hard was it to say "screw the warranty" and modify it past the point of no return?
It was easy. Maybe too easy. [laughs] I knew I needed to be more competitive, and that meant that I had to modify it. Over the winter, I stripped the car down, removed about 800 pounds of dead weight, did some stitch welding and engine work, added a full suspension, and basically got it in the shape it's in now, so I could compete in the Limited class of Super Lap Battle and NASA TT-U, but still be able to throw the interior back in and drive it on the street.
So it's still your street car? Do you drive it regularly?
Everyday, unless it's being worked on or prepped for a race. That's part of what I love about this car--you can make it fast on the track, and still keep it completely comfortable on the street.
What events can we expect to see you and the EVO competing in this year, while we use it to kick everyone's ass in the Castrol Syntec Top Car Challenge?
I'll be pretty much everywhere the guys from AMS in Chicago go: all the time attack events, Super Lap Battle qualifying rounds and Finals at Buttonwillow in the fall, and whatever else I manage to get into in between that. And of course, the Castrol Syntec Top Car Challenge.
So what is your plan of attack for this competition? Remember, it's going to have to battle high-dollar European exotics, big-power American muscle, and other imports and sport compacts on the drag strip, the dyno, through braking tests, road racing, on the street...
EVO Xs are already one of the best road race and time-attack platforms out there, and mine was built specifically for that, so that will be no problem. It runs faster than the exotics all day long without a hiccup. Since it's also my daily driver, it's definitely going to drive better on the street than most other heavily modded rides--and it gets great gas mileage. Braking should be no problem either--all a part of a good track car. And stripped down to race weight, its AWD drivetrain is going to make it very fast in the quarter. Power is up significantly over stock, but we didn't want to kill its throttle response with lag from some giant turbo just to make a big peak power number, so it might have a little trouble taking out the V-8s on the dyno . . . but we're still working on some tricks in that department!
Awesome. Sounds like a killer! What do you see in your motorsports future?
Professional driving, hopefully. I'd love to get into Koni Challenge or Speed World Challenge. ALMS would be a dream. But I'm just planning to enjoy each season that comes my way. I'm happy to be where I'm at right now, just scraping together enough to build my car and enjoy it . . . and shake up some of the other guys in the process [laughs].
Solid outlook. Got any other encouraging words for the people?
First, learn how to drive your car: go through NASA's HPDE ranks. Second, don't worry about building your car before you've learned its limits. It's much easier and more rewarding to learn the limits of a slower car than a faster one. Upgrade as you go, and re-learn the new limits on the track every step of the way.