If you've just opened up this issue and dug deep into your seat for a cover-to-cover read, peruse this month's Ultimate Street Car Challenge coverage and then flip back here for my column.
The first thing that you're going to notice is that there are only nine cars, instead of our usual 10, and the second is that Tom Ashley's Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII wasn't even revealed as a competitor in our November issue. Chalk it all up to the volatile nature of the USCC.
Months ago, we began to lock down the list of entrants for this year's USCC. All the teams, drivers, and cars had to be present in Southern California for multiple days of hard testing, and they all were told that parts might break, photos would be taken, and the competition would be fierce. Carrying out 15 tests with 10 cars in only two days requires a very tight schedule and some fundamental rules that we won't budge on.
The first day of competition begins at K&N Engineering's headquarters, and then proceeds up toward California Speedway. The second day begins again at California Speedway and then travels up the interstate to Willow Springs International Raceway. There's quite a bit of time spent in transit between testing locations and each day becomes a race against the clock since we need to get all of our testing data done. I would love to say that we have enough clout to make K&N, California Speedway, and Willow Springs open up for us at all hours and allow testing far into the night, but they simply won't-at least not at any price that we're able to afford.
Maximizing our testing time then becomes the highest priority when drawing up our testing schedule and our estimated allocation of starting and finishing times. For the past two USCCs, we've made a deal with K&N for what we like to call our "arrival day." On the day before competition, entrants have until 6 p.m. to arrive at K&N for an overnight lockdown. Any car that doesn't arrive prior to 6 p.m. is eliminated from the USCC. This ensures that all the cars are working and ready to run prior to the USCC and that all cars are ready to test the instant we get started the next morning.
This year, two cars got caught by the 6 p.m. arrival day cutoff time: Jon Martin's 3.8L NSX and Pete Martini's widebody WRX STI. Martin suffered a fuel pump failure and got back on the road toward K&N, but couldn't make it in time. Martini was finishing last minute work on his Subaru but didn't get the car put back together in time. Many of the other entrants were also sweating bullets after underestimating the notorious California traffic congestion. With only three cars on site at 5:30 p.m., and two that we knew wouldn't be making it in time, K&N's James Yim placed a call to nearby Tuning Technologies. After quick conversation, Tuning Technologies' Alfred Beltran placed a call to Tom Ashley, who regularly drives his 2.3L Evo VIII into work. Ashley, the assistant principal at Heritage High School in Romoland, Calfornia, jumped into his Mitsubishi and shot over to K&N, arriving with just seconds to spare. The USCC was officially on.
But what about those of you who sent in answers for our USCC winners giveaway? It's hard to have judged where the NSX and STI would have finished, had they entered this year, but hopefully you didn't pick either of them to take the top spot. We've decided to adjust the winning criteria, and awarded the giveaway prizes to the first reader who wrote in with the correct pick for the '08 USCC champion. They will be revealed next month. Is this the best and most fair way to award a winner? I'm sure that someone out there will say that it's not, but it's the best compromise for this year. Trust me, next year, we're going to do the entire USCC and then write about it. Then we'll see who complains.