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Jay Chen - Ready, Set, Bench Race

Jay Chen
May 1, 2008
Sccp_0805_01_z+shootout+jay_chen Photo 1/2   |   Jay Chen - Ready, Set, Bench Race

About three years ago, when I was engineering editor for a weenie Euro-snob magazine and in constant envy of the cool tech and track tests SCC got to do, I came up with a master plan to blow Coleman and his four-bangers out of the water. It was a suspension shootout featuring stock BMW E46 M3s on a spec tire, each using a different-but-popular brand of aftermarket coilover suspension. The idea was to see how good our suspension tuners could do against an already supremely tuned factory hot rod. The idea was good, but no one in the Euro community cared, nor had any idea how to read a shock dyno graph. The story ended up being hacked into three forgettable parts on account of all the graphs and data collected, and discussed more on Subaru forums than by BMW owners.

Now I'm entrenched at the right magazine, we finally have the chance to revisit the topic of a proper suspension shootout. The format will be the same: spec tires, limited modifications and every imaginable detail of each suspension documented. The factory hot rod this time is Honda's S2000, something many aspiring weekend racers own, but all seem to have botched set-up jobs. Most S2000s we've seen on the street and the track are just cars on expensive parts, sitting on bump stops.

The planning started three months prior, even more time than we spend planning our annual USCC. By the time you read the article, the project will have spanned six complete months. Invitations have been sent out to every major and minor manufacturer of S2000 coilovers. The list is long and distinguished, including: TEIN, KW, Moton, J's Racing, Powerhouse Amuse, ASM, Tanabe, Ground Control, Bilstein, Koni, H&R, GReddy, HKS, Mugen, Comptech, Ohlins, JIC, Buddy Club, A&J Racing, Enduratech, and Cusco-in addition to a stock AP2 and the phenomenal CR. The test will be at Buttonwillow Raceway, running configuration 13, the same as our Super Lap Battle, so we have a performance reference against known time attack cars.

We've asked each tuner to bring out a near stock S2000, one modified to reflect what the average daily driven weekend warrior has. Each car shall be set up by its manufacturer, as per its alignment, including wheel size and stager specs using out-of-the-box spring rates and valving-exactly as on the retail shelves. So we don't end up with a handful of racecars, we've made certain limitations to the list of modifications. Each car has to have a stock 2.0- or 2.2-liter block with no internal modifications, head work or forced induction. We've allowed cams, manifolds, exhausts and intakes to even out the difference between the slightly lower-powered AP1s and the later 2.2-liter AP2s. Secretly, we know how little difference these hard parts make, since we've also outlawed changes to the stock ECU.

Sccp_0805_02_z+shootout+honda_s2000 Photo 2/2   |   Jay Chen - Ready, Set, Bench Race

Continental Tires is providing our official spec tire, with tires in any size under 265 width. The new Ultra-High Performance Continental Sportcontact3 (which is OEM on high-end BMWs and Porsches) was chosen, as it's the best middle ground that S2000 owners can get, ranging from race compounds to el-cheapo grocery getters. Using UHP tires also levels the playing field between full race suspensions designed to use high spring rates with super-sticky tires and the average street performance suspension.

To make the test comprehensive, we will shock-dyno each damper, weigh every car and test each car's power output-so there will be no argument as to why Car A is faster than Car B. Then our own racer-boy hot-shoe, Andy Hope, will take five consecutive hot laps for lap times and telemetry data. Editor Leh and all-around nerd, Mike Kojima, will also test each car for driveability and civility.

In the end, we won't declare a winner. We'll just provide the hordes of data we've amassed for your bench racing pleasure. Buy the magazine, scour through the data and decide for yourself what suspension is ultimately best for you. In the meantime, we'll be formulating yet another ber-geek shootout for the forum monkeys to debate and get upset over.

By Jay Chen
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