Taking extreme measures when pushing the performance envelope of a dedicated track car, like the Spoon Sports USA Civic Type R and Bisimoto Porsche 986 pictured here, isn't at all uncommon. From cutting every bit of non-critical metal to powerful engine packages and even ditching factory glass and sheet metal for lightweight carbon fiber panels, the hunt for faster laps is painfully never-ending.
Power and traction are typically the focal point for progression, but as many know, too much brute force can be every bit as detrimental as not having enough power on tap, especially if that additional grunt isn't relatively controllable. One area of chassis development that both Spoon USA and Bisimoto Engineering have explored is seating position. Or, more accurately, center-seat conversions.
Look beyond the novelty of being positioned smack dab in the center of a vehicle rather than placed on the left or right and a few things become apparent, the first being that getting in and out of the car isn't nearly as easy as it once was, and yoga-like positioning is needed to make your way to and from the pilot's seat. Also, having that friend or instructor ride along with you for a few laps is a thing of the past, as passengers are no longer an option. As for on-track experience and the results of completely redesigning the cabin layout, opinions will vary, which is why I spoke with both camps to get a feel for their real-world experience.
Photos by Rodrez
This FD chassis Civic made its mark in the U.S. during 2014's Super Lap Battle when it blasted a 1:48 at Buttonwillow, and followed it up a year later with a 1:45.585 to not only land their personal best but also eclipse the long-standing Unlimited FF record held by Chris Rado by almost 2 seconds. The year following the team's massive accomplishment was one based on a complete overhaul, an experience that took place at Eimeer Engineering, and one which we covered in detail:
Take a quick look inside the cabin and you'll of course notice the center positioning of the sole seating option but what most might miss is the fact that the seat is moved back considerably - an important part of the car's revamp. As much weight as possible was removed from the car and the lion's share of that came from the rear section of the car.
The additional turbo, manifold and other engine supplementals only added to the imbalance. Spoon Sports USA's Aaron Wang adds, "The driver is the second single heaviest part of the car after the engine. In order to move some weight backwards, the driver now sits along the same plane as the B-pillar, where the rear passenger feet would normally be. And we figured why not just put him in the left-right center while we're at it so that we could move the shifter to the left or right side, since Dai prefers left-hand shifting." That's right - baked into the blueprint of the build is the ability to move the entire shifter to the left or right of the seat. With the K-series cables offering more than enough flexibility, the process of changing shifter position takes but a few minutes.
Driver safety, especially at highly competitive motorsport levels, is always a concern. One of the added benefits to center-placement is the pilot's distancing between all outside striking points, as Aaron notes, "The center of the car is the safest place, so we don't require a massive roll cage that's extra reinforced on one side. The additional distance to the outside creates a natural crash structure to dissipate energy in the event of an incident."
While the chassis was being reworked, the abused powerplant also received a number of updates. Based on a K20 platform, positive boost pressure comes by way of a Garrett GTX35R Gen 2 that hangs from a Full Race exhaust manifold and delivers spent gases through the once passenger-sided fender. A complete Toda valvetrain and Spoon Sports' own headwork, the race-only affair is overseen by Motec's M800 management. Plenty of attention was placed on the drivetrain, as well, with an OS Giken 1.5-way LSD, GearX final drive gears, close ratio gear set and Driveshaft Shop axles taking cues from the ATS Twin plate carbon clutch and flywheel.
Everything you've read above should make sense to you, but unlike addressing structural support and ease of adjustment via the modular concept, one area that must be experienced first-hand to form an opinion and facilitate adjustment is vehicle feedback and any associated quirks, which have to be overcome. For starters, the seating position is very low and with it positioned further back from the firewall, visibility became an issue. Imagine sitting just a few inches above the middle of the floor in the area where your rear floormats meet. Even with a flattened dash resting above the custom, tubular front portion of the cabin, visibility is compromised.
In addition to the basic line of sight disturbance, an issue with handling soon became apparent. "Putting the driver in center of the suspension's longitudinal and lateral axis created a turning problem we had to overcome. A driver has calibrated their senses to feel the pitch of the car from the front but now he's in the center of the axis as the car pitches around him, rather than the driver being further out from the axis center. Imagine sitting in the center of a rolling ball versus on the outside of it."
With very little testing time, the Spoon Sports USA team headed back to Super Lap Battle with a largely unsorted chassis and did their best to find the groove that had them besting the previous long-standing Unlimited FF record the year prior, but it wasn't to happen. Various issues didn't produce a repeat performance, but the steep learning curve and absolute experimentation still served its purpose. "The extra attention that was drawn to the car and all the things we learned in the process was worth the trouble. Our goal with the program was to bring attention to the Spoon brand and use the car as a testbed to test and try new ideas. Both those objectives were achieved in our exercise."
Is this a viable option for the hardcore track guy, given he has access to the level of fabrication that outfits the Spoon Type R? "Our fabricator Chris Eimer has extensive experience moving and building custom steering systems on off-road vehicles and drift cars. We faced many setup and engineering challenges that we were able to overcome because we have access to highly regarded companies, engineers, and of course, a very talented driver. It may be fun as a novelty but the cost-benefit to an enthusiast seeking faster lap times might not be worthwhile. We had more goals other than lap times in mind."
Finally, when asked if the group would ever take on another project like this with its inherent headaches and marathon hours of labor, Aaron ended with this, "Yes, definitely. We are already brewing the next project to carry over many of the things we learned and to try out new ideas."
Bisimoto Hot Wheels 986 Boxster - @bisimoto
Photos by Renz Dimaandal
In general, the thought of increasing a vehicle's dynamic balance doesn't exactly lend itself to mid-engine, 2-seater chassis like the 986 Boxster. In fact, to most it might seem like wasted effort, and that's just fine by Bisimoto's Bisi Ezerioha, an industry icon who's made a name for himself in going full-tilt against the grain, often researching and developing projects based on an outside-the-box mentality.
This particular 986, the third consecutive center-seat converted Porsche that the Southern California-based tuning shop has completed, is based on the knowledge gained from the first two and may very well be the brand's best yet.
Already well-balanced due to its mid-engine layout with factory weight distribution at around 47/53, Bisimoto's interpretation of the ideal 986 track car, after having been reworked and its driver's seat transplanted mid-ship, boasts a 49/51 split. When I asked about the process and the variables involved with this sort of reimagined layout, Bisi stated, "The process is engulfed in engineering, with safety as paramount. Removing the center 'tunnel,' reinforcing it, and then tying in a multi-point cage are all key elements to making this a structurally sound chassis."
The Spoon Civic sedan inherits an issue of decreased visibility due to moving the seat not only to the left from its factory position, but also rearward in order to find the center point of the vehicle, while the 986 doesn't face the same sort of issue. "Visibility is still superb...and the driving experience is exhilarating...just ask Jay Leno!"
Work your way through one of the doors and into the center positioned Momo Safari Daytona XL (and realize you probably should have stretched first) and you can plop down into position. You'll quickly realize just how driver-centric the layout is, and as a nod to the safety that Bisi mentioned previously, a complete, chassis-specific Bisimoto-Roth Fab roll cage laces the cabin. As you rest your heels on the adjustable footplate that supports a Wilwood pedal box, your left hand grips a suede Momo steering wheel, while your right grasps a wooden Hot Wheels/Bisimoto embossed shift knob - a piece that solidifies the collaborative effort.
Rather than a slew of hyperactive gauges tossing info at you from multiple directions, a refined AEM CD7 digital dash takes cues from an Infinity ECU and is programmed to relay everything you'll possibly need to keep tabs on while at speed. Oh, and then there's that precarious "Hot Wheels Mode" which flashes across AEM's digital dynamo anytime either of those bright red, dual steering wheel buttons are pressed. The result is a jump from low boost, which sits comfortably at 6psi and generates 354 crank horsepower, to an increased boost target of 10psi and 530 crank horsepower. The "push to pass" affair allows a gut-wrenching burst of power on command, without a constant toll placed on the engine, so long as you can control your primal urges. And, about that engine...
Bisimoto prides itself on taking the road less traveled, that's well documented, but many shake their heads at the often vilified M96 on board. Hmm, reminds me of a lifetime ago when everyone was reaching for DOHC swaps and Bisi was flying down the dragstrip with a single-cam motivated CRX and taking a number of wins despite the naysayers. Nevertheless, the 2.5L mill used in this instance was massaged and treated to Five0 Motorsport 1,000cc injectors which help support twin Turbonetics BTX4842X2 turbos that hang from Bisimoto scratch-built turbo manifolds. The billet boost producers feature Bisimoto turbo drip tanks and rest proudly on display in the center of an Extreme Dimensions rear bumper. Vibrant HD clamps hold the puzzle pieces together while a Rywire Motorsport Electronics engine harness ensures the proper signals are sent to their respective assignments.
Spend even a brief moment looking over a 986 Boxster in factory form and you realize just how far removed Bisi's version truly is. The sunny disposition of the factory front end is replaced by a lower, far more pronounced front bumper, its headlights replaced by carbon fiber caps. The flanks have been bulked up with much lower side skirts and bolt-on flares offer shelter for staggered 19-inch Momo RF rollers for a look that adds a switchblade and leather jacket to the once fun-loving convertible raised in the suburbs. Rather than opt for the aluminum hardtop that most anyone can grab, his is a featherweight carbon fiber roof cap with Cayman-esque design cues that sweeps down toward the rear where the aggressive body is finished off with an APR carbon fiber GT wing supported by Bisimoto's aluminum wing uprights.
You don't get a vehicle to this level overnight, and having put in the work to create two versions prior to this example, it's obvious Bisi and his partners have found their groove with any roadblocks or missteps early on now a thing of the past. Bisi adds, "It drives like a go-kart on steroids! Extremely forgiving and balanced with the 49/51 weight ratio." Even with the sustained visibility and improved weight distribution achievement along with the increased power, handling and safety, not to mention that fact that the mid-engine layout Bisi deals with isn't fighting the same demons that the FWD Spoon sedan conversion is, most would still anticipate a steep learning curve. To that, he notes, "It takes a few moments to get used to, after years of driving a right- or left-hand drive car. The mid-engine layout is a huge bonus! Every race car should feel this way!!" The excitement expressed by Bisi doesn't fall on deaf ears as he's been swarmed with media and questions from fans non-stop since the first example was debuted just a few years ago. He's even got an eager center-seat conversion customer in the queue.
Two very different platforms built in similar fashion with a common goal of realizing a level of vehicle balance that these chassis were never capable of prior to the major undertaking that is essentially a "start from scratch" scenario. Is it the ideal upgrade for the dedicated track warrior? Probably not, as the cost is incredibly high if it's done well with the proper safety measures. However, we're excited to see Spoon Sports USA develop their next big demo car and we expect that Bisimoto is only getting started - with three conversions already active and a headful of ideas about how to make future versions even better.