Imported cars aren't unknown in NHRA competition, but they haven't been seen much lately. Think back (as if you were born in 1932 instead of 1986) to the Hemi-powered Fiat Topolinos and blown Ford Anglias that dominated Fuel Altered competition in the '60s. Or the Dodge Colts (which were really Mitsubishi Lancers) that Sox & Martin campaigned in Pro Stock during the '70s. Or just accept the fact that this is the 21st century and no one really gives a damn where a car is built any more.
So maybe it was no big shock when Dean Skuza appeared at February's NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., with a piece of fiberglass that looked vaguely like a Toyota Celica atop his funny car. While this "Celica" isn't the first imported body style to show up in professional funny car racing, this is the first time that such a body has been used with the blessing and aid of the manufacturer. That's right, it's a factory effort that put that body on that car.
With a 5,000-hp, nitro-swilling, 500-cu-in. V8 in its nose, this is the most powerful and quickest Celica ever. And if there's a single stock Celica part aboard the car, we'll lick the next nitro spill at Pomona up with our tongues.
Driver Scelzi comes to fuel Funny Cars alongside Toyota, moving to the division after winning three championships in Top Fuel. The team itself is owned by long-time Top Fuel campaigner Alan Johnson, who also happens to be one of the leading makers of fuel V8 cylinder heads. The driver and team are new to Funny Car, but they are more than capable of winning at this level.
At the Winternats, Scelzi qualified the Celica in 13th place with a 4.934-sec. e.t. at 306.40 mph and beat Tony Pedregon in the first round who ran 5.016 at 275.11 mph (that's slow in funny car terms). He spun his tires in next round of eliminations and lost to Ron Capps, whose car's owner, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, won Funny Car championships in the '70s while driving a car with a Plymouth Arrow body. And the Arrow, like the Celica, was built in Japan.
Will all the foreign manufacturers suddenly swarm into the NHRA's Powerade Drag Racing Series? We'll argue that they ought to first put their money into drag racing that's actually based on products they sell.
Other NewsToyota is rumored to be working on a new GT-S model of the Corolla four-door sedan that would utilize the 180-hp 1.8-liter, VVTL-i engine and six-speed manual transmission from the Celica GT-S. The rapid Corolla could show up as early as next year.
Filet Of MR2Alongside its supercharged, V8-powered Lexus IS at the Essen Motor Show, Toyota's TTE (Toyota's European performance division) showed this evil-looking version of the MR2 Spyder. With considerable mass removed and 255 hp available from the thoroughly turbo-blasted 1.8-liter VVTL-i dohc four, TTE thinks this rapacious hedgehog will top out at 155 mph. Whether the driver can stand that much speed while poking his head above the minimal windshield is open to speculation.
Production plans for this ludicrously impractical machine? Come on....
|START PAGE||Boring||Overstuffed||IDRC wins for opening with more photos and upcoming event info.|
|GRAPHICS||Lots of black||Lots of white||NHRA wins here for the starting-tree navigation system, which is a neat way to get around the site.|
|WOMEN||None||A few||IDRC wins here, but brings itself no glory. They have a link to a section on the “IDRC Starter Girls Team” but nothing really about that team or the girls in it. No larger photos of them either.|
|SCHEDULE||Solid||Excellent||IDRC wins again, since its schedules include information on ticket pricing, driving directions and hotels for the events. Plus there are links to venue sites and pre-registration pages. At the NHRA site, you only get the where and when of the event. That’s not enough.|
|RULES||Downloadable||Readable||This is a toss up. The NHRA lets you download the entire series rulebook as a pdf file for easy reference and printing with Adobe Acrobat. But all the rules on the IDRC site are readable in your browser without Acrobat mak- ing reference easy. We’d like both sites to offer each other’s methods in addition to their own.|
|NEWS||Up-to-date and extensive||Lagging||With loads of features built around racers and regular updates, the NHRA has the IDRC covered here. Three days after the IDRC’s West Coast Nationals, the results were finally posted on their site.|
|Overall Winner: IDRC by a very thin margin.|
Carted.OffExcept for the fact that the CART sanctioning body is a basket case and political nightmare, Honda's performance in the FedEx Championship series has been nothing less than stellar. After four manufacturer's championships for its Champ Car V8, Honda plans to make it five and out during 2002. Yup, after this year Honda will be spending its racing budget elsewhere.
Honda's major weapon this year will be the eighth (and final) generation of its Champ Car V8 engine, the 800+ hp, single turbo HR-2. Developed from last year's HR-1 engine by Honda Performance Development, in Santa Clarita, Calif., the HR-2 has increased horsepower, more efficient packaging, greater fuel economy and improved efficiency and drivability. You didn't expect it to get worse, did you?
During the 2002 season, six drivers will campaign the Honda engine. Though there are solid competitors among Tony Kanaan, Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti, Michael Andretti, Adrian Fernandez and Shinji Nakano, it's who's missing from the Honda ranks that's the biggest news. Team Penske, which used Honda power in the cars of Helio Castroneves and champion Gil De Ferran, has bolted for the rival IRL this year.
When Honda is gone from CART, we think CART will miss them much more than Honda will miss CART.
Totally EclipsedUntil the Evo VII gets here, the only Mitsubishi with performance intentions (or pretensions) will remain the Diamond Star-built Eclipse sport coupe. A mild update is due for the car, now in its third generation, in 2003, as shown at February's Chicago Auto Show.
Most of the tweaks that make the 2003 Eclipse a 2003 Eclipse are cosmetic. There's a new nose, which puts the driving lights low on either side of the grille, and new headlights. In the back it has clear lens "tuner-style" taillights, which indicate just how much influence the readers of Import Tuner are having on the designers-WE NOW RULE TAILLIGHT DESIGN!
The interior has also been twisted a bit by the introduction of two new themes, called Midnight and Sand Blast. Midnight mixes a black interior with dark blue accents on the instrument panel, seats, door panel inserts and center console. Sand Blast, in startling contrast, starts with a taupe interior instead of black. Beyond that, there's a new gauge package and a new 210-watt sound system with an in-dash, six-disc CD changer and audio controls on the steering wheel.
Mechanically, the Eclipse is mostly unchanged. The only exception to that "mostly" is the introduction of a new GTS Performance Package, with engine output bounced to 210 hp (up from the regular 200) and new 17-in. wheels. The extra power comes from a two-stage intake and slight increase in compression ratio.
The Eclipse always sells in big numbers. It ought to continue doing so. And we can't wait for the Evo.
The Guy In ChargeTalking with Jim Skelly of the NHRAWith its merger with NIRA now complete, the National Hot Rod Association and its Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series is poised to become one of the major powers in import racing. And there's no reason to think NHRA won't succeed in import car drag racing in much the same way it has with "traditional" domestic drag racing. For better or worse, the NHRA is drag racing in America for most people.
At 44, Jim Skelly is probably twice the age of most competitors in the series, but he brings 10 years' experience within the NHRA with him to his new job as race director for the Sport Compact Series. That means he's the guy responsible for making sure that all of the NHRA's events in the series actually occur. He may have started as a traditional Stock and Super Stock racer back in his native Pennsylvania, but Skelly said he's been one of the most active evangelists for import racing within the NHRA and he's eager to make the series work in 2002.
Import Tuner: What is it that the Race Director does?Jim Skelly: I oversee the operation of the event, working with the track operator to make sure everything is there. Jeff Giovino from the tech department will act as tech director and he'll be in charge of all the tech at the events. And he's the point person at NHRA for questions pertaining to rules. But with all other aspects of the event, the buck stops with me.
It's my job to make sure there are cars in the lanes and ready to run. I'll work with manufacturers and sponsors and I'll work with the director of marketing on operational issues with them. We do our best to accommodate everyone in the schedule.
IT:Do you see any big differences between the Sport Compact Series and the "traditional" NHRA?JS: Fans and spectators at a Sport Compact event want more extracurricular or lifestyle events. So we're learning about sound-offs and the like. We're not quite sure about bikini contests, that doesn't really fit into the NHRA's family-oriented style. The jury is still out on that. And it's not an issue we can just skirt and ignore. We're investigating how to incorporate a bikini contest in a broadly appealing way.
The NHRA's strong suit is organizational. When we get compliments from racers it's usually for things like the fact that when we say qualifying is going to start at 1:30, it really does start at 1:30. We're very good at putting on drag races, and that's no different in any of our series.
IT:You don't find the people different?JS: No different, except that it's just another generation. It's kids and young people with cars and having a good time with cars. Of course there are differences with this generation and my generation, just as there were differences between my generation and my dad's generation.
I remember going to a Battle of the Imports and meeting up with Adam Saruwatari. He had left all his tools and stuff unlocked and I looked at the crowd and thought they looked a little disreputable. When told him what I thought, he just said "Dude, you've become your father. How do you think the guys with '55 Chevys and flattops showed up with your Road Runner and a ponytail? It's the same thing. This is just the way we dress." And he was right. When I looked around the pits all I saw was guys with wrenches in their hands and grease on their clothes working on cars.
IT:Can import and traditional NHRA racers run at the same event then?JS: I'd like to think that some day we'll be able to run them together. Our idea was to develop a new series to run in parallel with the Powerade and Lucas Oil Sportsman series. Eventually the domestic guys will literally die off; the demographics show they're getting older with every passing year. Somewhere down the road the two groups will evolve together. There's no set timetable, but it will happen eventually. Gary Scelzi showing up with a Celica in PowerAde shows what's going on.
IT Will the import cars become more like other NHRA machines?JS: I think we're already seeing cars being built with V8s. You're going to see more cars like the Blast Racing Lexus being built here in the U.S., and you'll see the cars leap-frog in sophistication-that will more than likely be governed by the sponsorships that are available. Our involvement with the sport will help bring better sponsorships to these guys. We are drag racing.
IT:What's the biggest challenge for you and the NHRA in developing the Sport Compact Series?JS:Our biggest challenge is developing a connection with the local enthusiasts at each venue. Our experience tells us local-level promotion is very important. Edwin Mangune, our director of marketing, is taking proposals with companies that hopefully have those connections. Then, once we get them there, we'll convince them that the NHRA is not the big bad wolf.
IT:Have you driven a Sport Compact yourself?JS:Well, I drive a 240SX back and forth from work. I haven't raced one, though. But I've done a lot of drag racing, and drag racing is drag racing.
Other NewsSkunk2 Racing Stage I VTEC camshafts are now CARB exempt. The camshafts recently went through the state-mandated procedures and passed all criteria. The camshafts now come with a CARB Exemption Order number. Owners of the B-series dohc VTEC engine can now experience great horsepower gains and control emissions at the same time. Other products undergoing testing are H22A and D16Y-Z Stage I VTEC camshafts, and all intake manifolds. For more information, contact Group-A Autosports at (510) 781-0538 or www.skunk2.com.