Arrive and Drive
Autocross is rather unique in the motorsports world, in that you can have different drivers competing in the same exact car at the same event. It’s a great test of how good of a driver you are against a real, live benchmark. Competitors can also share cars to save money, warm tires or just have fun. Co-driving an unfamiliar car can teach you a lot about the sport and how to learn a new course quickly, but it also can be a great way to take a car for a test drive before you commit your cash to a project.
We’ve been looking at getting a Miata and have been bugging a buddy of ours, Chris Harvey, about why he chose to build an MX-5 for autocross. Chris is Tire Rack’s Brand Manager for their brake and suspension programs and we have worked together on various tire, vehicle and brake tests for over a decade now, so his opinion is gold to us.
Chris offered a ride in his 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata that he's developing with his normal co-driver, Chris Fenter, for the Sports Car Club of America’s C Street class in Solo competition. The car is in a class with mild preparation levels, but it isn’t stock. The rules allow for changes to shock absorbers, bump stops and one of the anti-roll bars. We were going to be at the same local event, which was organized by the Northwestern Ohio Region of the SCCA. It was scheduled to be on one of the best autocross sites in the country, a side pad at the Toledo Express Airport. Perfect!
Chris’ car has double adjustable shock absorbers, a larger rear anti-roll bar and an alignment that is tailored to the autocross course with maximum amounts of negative camber and zero toe front and rear. Tires in the Street category are limited to what we’d call ‘real’ tires that have UTQG treadwear ratings of at least 140 (for 2015, those limits go to 200TW). Chris has chosen the latest iteration of Hankook’s RS3 with a new compound that was just released in April—which is now called “Version 2” by tire geeks. This new tire is already rated at 200 treadwear, so it’s got some future ahead of it in this class.
While we were at the event, we also talked with another friend of ours, Matthew Braun from Michigan. He has been an arrive-and-drive legend in the sport of autocross for years. Four out of Matthew’s five National Championships were in borrowed cars—He can just jump in and go fast. He was the perfect guy to ask advice on how to make the most of and show-up-and-go-fast scenario. Here’s what we learned.