2023 Season Started- Intuitive Line Optimization

At Our Local Site Milton Frank Stadium (Photo Ashley Eyles)

In Lincoln at Nats last year I was asked by a well-known autocross blogger & teacher why I hadn’t been publishing much lately. I told him I only write when I think I have something new and interesting to say. This was the truth… it’s always been the case. And there will be a new idea contained in this post, as always, but I’ll get to that in a moment. In the meantime, there’s something else.

The Plan

Even before Nats last year I’d determined to make a big push to improve my driving, both the mental and physical aspects. When it comes to line theory I figure I know enough. When it comes to car setup for Street class, I figure I know enough. Silver Ghost is handing better than ever now that I have RE71RS tires on the front and A052s on the rear and revalved shocks that eliminate the 20% too stiff mistake I made the first go-around. Plus, I verified that the Corvette is quite the different animal with Yokohama A052 tires on it. I no longer think that it’s fully competitive in BS without the increased ability to put down power that the Yokohama tires confer.

My plan for this year has been to attend as many local/regional events as I can manage with specific objectives in mind. As I put it in the Nationals wrap-up post last year: …you must make the most of each run you do get to really develop a disciplined, decisive and consistent driving style that eliminates big mistakes entirely. I plan to make the most of a lot of runs this year.

Things have gone well so far. I’ve done seven autocross days in 2023 for a total of 57 runs. However, my plan to go to the Red Hills tour, the first national event of the season, was stymied. I started feeling poorly just before the event and just after confirmed exposure to a bad case of Covid. I cancelled at the last minute. Turns out I just had a cold and would have been fine at the event.

To make up for the loss of Red Hills I plan to add the Peru tour this year, not previously in the plan, followed only two weeks later by the double event at Bristol. As for going back to Nationals this year, I’m on the fence. Last year’s event left a decidedly bad taste in my mouth. I’ll let my rate of progress and the tire situation weigh heavily on the decision to spend the time and money. Going to Nats last year without Yokohamas on the rear of the C6 was a colossal mistake, but not for the reason I assumed it might be before-hand. Turns out it was the Yokohama compound’s aversion to picking up OPR that made the most difference, not the ability to put down power, which is the advantage at Tours and locals. Neither course last year needed power. I probably never used more than 200hp and 70% torque. The courses were just sweeper after sweeper, not transient-heavy (which would have favored the Falkens) and no digs. All that mattered was grip and grip depends mostly upon weight to tire ratio and the tire compound. I tried my best to get the Yoks last year based on the strong recommendations of others, but it didn’t happen. The lightest, least powerful car in the class won and can do it again if the courses this year are similar.


I had a type of mental breakthrough at an event a few weeks ago. I achieved a mental state during the third run in the morning that I’ve been intentionally aiming toward for some time. I found myself dispassionately watching this ‘other’ person driving. I was able to watch myself scanning ahead, feeling everything coming through the points of contact between myself and the car, feeling every bit of grip or lack thereof, watching my mind racing to analyze the line at each point on the course, how far off I was from my planned line at each location, whether I was on the gas early enough, observing the rate of brake application and the rate of torque application, whether or not and how close I hit each planned apex, and observing and modulating that key balance between aggressiveness and smoothness that is so important for driving fast and at the limit without hitting cones.

Driving Solo

Something different this year from the last couple of years is that I’m driving alone. The initial thought was for the low heat tolerance of the Yokohama tires. I’ve heard many complain about how they could not get the tires cool enough between runs with two drivers in really hot weather. Driving alone makes that problem much easier to handle, if not eliminating it altogether. Spray once right after each run and you’re done, even on a hot day.

Yokohama A052 Tires- Worth Their Weight In Gold And Almost That Expensive

Another key reason for driving alone is to give myself more time between runs to analyze data. I’ve never done much between-run analysis before, always spending lots of time after each event analyzing data, but not so much during the event. (At Nats last year on Thursday and Friday the entire time in between runs was spent cutting OPR off the tires. And that was with at least two other helpers, sometimes three, including my co-driver.) This past weekend I was able to intentionally drive sections of the course differently in the first two runs and then look at the data, decide which approach was faster and successfully alter what I did the next run.

A third reason for driving alone is the sorry state of affairs of SCCA grid work at tours. It seems that the ability or desire to determine a proper split point within run groups has been lost. At no Tour event I attended last year was an attempt made to split the run group to equalize the time gaps between 1st and 2nd drivers. As a result, two different days we got the you’re-the-5th-car notification within 30 seconds of the previous driver pulling into the grid spot. I was made to feel like I was interfering with the event when I complained, requested to be put onto a 5 minute clock and then sometimes refused to leave when told to go until we had our tires watered and the pressures set. To top it all off, twice after receiving the quick 5-car warning and rushing to get the car ready, the grid master then totally forgot about me and never came to my row. The first time I had no clue what had happened. I just proceeded on to the start when I felt like it. I have no idea if I was in the correct order. The second time it was clear that there was a systemic issue so I got out of the car, tracked the grid master down and let him know I’m going back to my car and will proceed to the start line unless he has some objection. (How the 5-car person knows where I am and that I’m in a two-driver car but the grid master doesn’t I never understood. He apologized later… to my co-driver.)

I’m also doing more post-event analysis than ever before by exchanging data files with other people and working up an analysis for each one. For the event this past weekend I got files from four different drivers. It requires many hours but it’s necessary, just as in any other sporting endeavor, to achieve a high level of performance.

Thought Experiment

Speaking of achieving a high level of performance, let’s do a little thought experiment. I’m going to list the capabilities I think one must acquire to reach a high-level in autocross driving, not counting things like car preparation, testing to determine tire pressures and temperatures, etc.

Here’s the list:

-You must be able to walk a course, accurately imagine how it will drive, make a clear plan for how to drive it, and then drive it on the limit on the first try. You must be fast on the first run because the course is not the same if you drive it much under the limit and you only get three tries which means only two chances to figure out what to do differently. This requires a lot of experience and various forms of deliberate practice. With regard to experience: After 100 events do you have 100 events of experience or do you have 1 event of experience 100 times?

-After each run you must be able to remember what you did well, what surprised you that you need to now consider and what was not done so well. You must then develop a clear idea of what you’ll do differently and why in the next run to get faster. Without this you cannot drive smarter, instead of just harder. When I first started autocross I had almost no ability to remember what happened within the last run, what was good and what was bad. I would completely forget about huge screw-ups that I did notice one minute earlier during the run. Sometimes the memory of them would come back an hour later. Very strange. Over time the mind gets better at this sort of thing, but you have to be focused and insist that it happen by getting into the habit of mentally reviewing every run immediately upon its finish.

-You must be up on the latest understanding of what constitutes the most efficient lines for standard corners, chicanes, curved acceleration zones, increasing and decreasing radii corners, one, two and 3-cone turnarounds, the effect of sloping surfaces on the line, etc.

-You must have the tactile sensitivity to feel and then understand what is happening at the tire patches and recognize how the grip is constantly changing from run to run and from moment to moment within a run, along with complete mastery of manipulating weight shift forward and back to optimize turning rate and braking and acceleration performance.

-You must have the car control skills to drive the car at the limit of tire adhesion while maintaining a precise, as-planned driving line that has the tires just barely missing or just barely kissing the key cones without resulting in a penalty. It goes without saying that you can’t slide too much or spin, either.

Do you think that’s a pretty comprehensive list?

It’s not. I left one big elephant off the scale that, I think, is the key difference between good and great autocross drivers and out-weighs many of the necessary-but-not-sufficient points above.

Intuitive Line Optimization

There are just too many variables. Autocross is nothing if not an exercise in multivariable optimization, and no two events are ever the same.

Heck, no two runs ten minutes apart are ever the same.

We don’t get to practice the course like in circuit road-racing and the course layouts are often much more complicated, even unacceptably weird, compared to fixed circuits. (If it was up to the road-racers the course designer would often get locked in a trunk and then they’d go out and “fix” the course.)

There are no course guides on the internet to study beforehand because no one has ever seen the course before. (Well, excepting that one year at Nats…) There isn’t much in the way of standards to guide the course designers, though there probably should be a few more than there are. How clean is the surface? What’s material is it? What type of aggregate is in what type of concrete or what type of asphalt? (Barber Proving Grounds is mostly high-grip asphalt but has one section of even higher-grip concrete. Next week I’ll be there pointing out to the Novices that at one location it changes from one to the other in the middle of a corner and they need to take advantage!) If it’s asphalt has it been sealed? Sealed everywhere or just part of it? How thick is the sealant? Is it the same thickness everywhere or have certain areas been worn down? (Less sealant usually means more grip.) When did it last rain? Is the surface bone dry, a few water molecules per square centimeter, a little damp, full wet, standing water, deep puddles? Will it be the same when you run? Is gravel getting produced on the racing line as the day goes on? Is the surface abrasive and causing the tires to shed rubber that collects into “marbles” and gradually dictates a tighter line as the day goes on, even if it’s not right for your car? Which corners get camber in what direction in this particular course design? Which parts are in the sun, which are shaded? What’s the temperature? What time of day is your class running? Where are the bumps, what kind of bumps are they and how bad are they? How many cars are on race rubber that deteriorates faster than street tires and thus produces more marbles? Where are your tires on the continuum from new to nearly worthless?

There’s not enough computing power in the world to analyze it all even if you had exact data on every variable. This means it’s a perfect job for the human brain.

The best drivers look at and think about all these things and more while they walk the course. If possible they watch other cars run, especially cars and drivers they know are fast. They intuitively alter their plan of attack from the theoretical to match the actual and optimize for the shortest time through the course. They take one run and optimize again. They take another run and optimize a last time. They drive the third and last run on that course and then it’s done and dusted, gone forever.

Silver Ghost 2022 Wrap-up

The year did not start well. First thing I did was to put Silver Ghost into a ditch at a wet Test & Tune. That was in February and caused me to miss the Red Hills tour. I had done the single-course Pro at The Firm in January, though with quite poor results and not yet on Penske shocks. I disliked the course immensely. The design used the edge of the pavement, effectively, as a wall of cones which it directed you straight toward. Except that the penalty for “hitting” a cone in the wall was an off-course spin in the dirt. The percentage of DNF runs was incredibly high. I’d never seen multiple people go 6 for 6 DNFs over a weekend and get no time for either day.

The course also contained what I thought was a dangerous feature that caused me to be extra careful (and slower) in order to not risk the car and my health. To be fair, most people took that feature just a little more conservatively, even if unconsciously. There was only one possible location on that site where you could create a danger and boy did they find it. (The previous year the course had not contained this issue at the location in question.) I’ll never go back to that site for an autocross. (The road-course track itself is fine.)

So, it was the beginning of June before Silver Ghost got into local competition and I could start to figure out the car, shock settings, tire pressures, etc. In the meantime my co-driver and I bought a set of Hoosiers for my Porsche 944 and ran it in CSP in three locals. After Nationals I realized that, thanks to winning those three events early in the year, if we continued running the 944 and I won the remaining four events I could be the local CSP champ, so that’s what we did. And I won CSP.

The full national competition history for Silver Ghost in 2022 is as follows:

That makes nine national events I raced in this year, the most ever for me in a single year. I trophied at four events and took a 2nd place points trophy for the year in BS in Pro, but no class wins. Let’s try to fix that next year. With the Penske shocks being revalved to correct my math error and Yokohama tires on the rear it’s definitely the goal for 2023, though I’ll do fewer events.

The “trophies in grid” presentation for my run group at Charlotte, a tradition begun by Scott Dobler (blue shirt on the left)

Lessons Learned in 2022

-Have autocross insurance if your car has any significant value. It’s cheap and you just never know.

-Penske 8300-series shocks are great, but

-Don’t (make a math mistake and) valve your shocks for 108% of Critical. That’s too much damping for bumpy lots, at least for this car and these tires.

-I learned new things about how Dennis Grant’s on-line suspension calculator works which are being input into the Penske revalve happening now

-The car needs just the right amount of toe-in in the rear.

-Let the tires roll over “too much” if the grip is clearly better.

-Yokohama A052 tires on the rear put down power better than the Falkens coming off corners and make the car faster.

-I need to work on my driving discipline: set up as early as possible for the next feature without fail.

An Autocross Season- Part 19: Final Event

I trailered Silver Ghost down to Moultrie, GA, for Axis vs. Allies,, the final National Tour event of 2022. No co-driver. B-Street ran first group in the cool, dry morning of Day One.

A Misty Day One Morning at Spence Field, near Moultrie, GA

With first runs complete I found myself with a scratch time leading the overwhelming favorites DiSimo and Ruggles, co-driving an M2, by over 2 seconds. Had I turned into Verstappen since the last event? Nope.

The M2 had split the turbo charge pipe. Second time I’ve seen that happen at a Tour event.

With their M2 out of the competition, I invited Ruggles to switch into Silver Ghost. DiSimo went into Ryan’s Supra. The officials were able to get it done so fast that neither lost a run. We didn’t even have to call for mechanical delays. Ruggles has lots of time in Corvettes and DiSimo has recent time in the Supra. They were both rude enough to beat their new co-drivers. Ryan and I were happy to get a data comparison to such good autocrossers.

B-Street Final Results

I drove only OK the first day. Ruggles was getting used to the car; even so he was faster and was thrilled at how good the car was. I was not too far back in third place. DiSimo checked out with a first run in the Supra good enough to beat everyone. His second run in the Supra only got faster.

It was 76F and sunny in the afternoon when I worked course with a guy who’d come all the way from New York. He looked up at the sky and said, “I’m definitely coming back next year!” The event had 30 more entrants than last year and I bet it will be bigger yet in 2023.

The Five-Car B-Street Section Of Grid At Spence Field: Supra, M2, Supra, Corvette (Silver Ghost), M2

Day Two was wet, but the rain stopped about the time I got to the site and the surface began gradually drying. I had studied data and seen my mistakes on Day One. My second run was maybe the best single run I’ve ever driven. Too bad it was still wet with the Falken 660’s on the front sliding around badly while the Yoks on the rear stuck like glue.

By third runs the sun had come out and the course was now dry. Pushing hard, absolutely drunk on the grip afforded by dry concrete, I lost control of Silver Ghost and tank-slapped in the biggest high-speed turn-around (entered at 72mph!) I’ve ever seen at an autocross. Then I topped it off by hitting the last cone on course at the finish. That ended any hope of overtaking Ruggles for second and a trophy. Data says I had a shot to at least match Ruggles on Day Two and he even beat DiSimo that day. In fairness to DiSimo, he had coned his 2nd run, so was probably being a little conservative on his third to secure the win since he had a good-sized lead from Day One.

If you didn’t have a good third run in the first group you had no chance to PAX well overall because it was warmer and dry the rest of the day for everyone else. Despite running in the first run group, DiSimo and Ruggles paxed 6th and 12th, respectively, of 148 drivers in our B-Street cars, which I think shows that both Silver Ghost and Ryan’s Supra are very capable, not only of winning their class but indexing at the top overall. (No one from BS has been particularly close to top PAX at a Tour event since Tony Chow did it in Chicago last year in an M2.) They each had fast and clean third runs. In spite of the botched third run on Day Two I placed 2nd of 33 on the Masters list. (I’ve yet to finish on the top of that list!)1

My second run on Day Two was just fast enough to allow me to retain third place over Ryan, which gave me three wins vs. two losses to him in national competition this year. We ran against each other in several regionals as well and it’s been great competition. For some reason he usually beats me in those events. I think maybe it’s because I tend to get faster in just three runs, but it takes him a little longer. With the extra runs at regional events he catches up and tends to win.

It’s been a great year running Silver Ghost.

  1. A friend pointed out that my memory was wrong. Turns out that I did top that list once: at Peru in 2021 while co-driving his FS Camaro.

C6Z06 Solo Nationals Super-Stock/A-Street Competition History

I’ve followed Super-Stock and then A-Street closely over the years. While I’ve never owned an A-Street car, I have co-driven in the class on occasion. A-Street and it’s predecessor Super-Stock have been two of our premier classes with interesting cars, compelling marque competition and they always draw top driving talent.

Charles Krampert, 2021 A-Street National Champion, in his C6Z06 (Photo by Chris Morey)

A-Street class has been dominated in recent years by the sixth-generation Corvette Z06 model (C6Z06), so much that people newer to the sport may think this is the way it’s always been. Prompted by comments from some of the old hands I did some investigation to see just how the class has gotten on since 2006, the first year of the C6Z06.

The first surprising thing that I found is that the C6Z06 never won its class (Super-Stock) at Nationals during its production years from 2006 to 2013. People ran the car during those years but it was beaten over and over again by the Porsche GT3, the Dodge Viper, the Lotus Elise and the C5Z06. For whatever reason, it looks to me like no really top-level driver drove it, either. I don’t know why, but I suspect that the perception was that it just wasn’t quite as good as the GT3, plus it was not cheap.

In 2010 the C6 Grandsport model was released and some top drivers, like Sam Strano, did give that car a try. The Grandsport never won, but Strano came in 2nd in 2011 to Braun in the Elise.

I don’t understand why people thought more of the Grandsport than the Z06. It’s gearing made it only equal to the C6Z06 in acceleration, at best. It weighed significantly more for the exact same rims and tires and the suspension was effectively softer. As a new car it was at best equal in cost (or more expensive) than an early C6Z06. By then the issue with the C6Z06 cylinder heads had become known, but the true extent, cause and the proper fix were not well understood. Maybe this issue kept some people away from the car. Or, maybe it was the generally-held opinion that it was a tricky, ill-handling car at the limit. Magazine testers constantly harped on that, but most of them don’t have the skills to consistently drive at the limit in any car that has good transient response, so I always discount their opinions about handling except for those who have a bone-fide high-performance driving background. I never had any issues at the limit with any C6Z06 that I’ve autocrossed, I can’t even recall ever spinning one, but they were all well-setup examples with expensive shocks, sticky tires and race alignments, all of which certainly create a departure from the stock condition.

2014 was the first year of Street on 200TW tires instead of Stock on DOT race composition tires and the classes were reconstituted. For the first time the C6Z06 was separated from the GT3 and Elise. The C6Z06 went into A-Street while the other two went into Super-Street and it won at Nats for the first time with Daddio at the wheel, one of the best-ever autocross drivers. C5Z06 cars were 2nd and 3rd, with an S2000CR in 4th. Compared to the “super-200” tires we have now, those first 200TW tires were really pretty bad. You just couldn’t use much power coming off a corner.

In the meantime the GT3 went on a tear in Super-Street, winning in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. In 2018 a GT4 won. In 2019 the new NSX won.

Then in 2015 Yom won A-Street in a C5Z06, beating Daddio who was again driving the C6Z06. The next year Daddio won A-Street again in his C6Z06 with C5Z06 drivers taking 2nd and 3rd.

In another swap-around in 2017 Frank, in a C5Z06, beat Daddio in his C6Z06 to take the win in A-Street. Beginning to see a pattern? Or the lack of one?

In 2018 C5Z06 cars took 1st and 2nd with a C6Z06 in 3rd. In total, over the first 5 years of Street the C5Z06 won three times vs. two wins for the C6Z06.

It was not until 2019 that the tide began to change. C6Z06 cars took 1st and 2nd. A Cayman S took 3rd and a C5Z06 took 4th. This was the first time that a C5Z06 was not either 1st or 2nd in A-Street.

Nationals were not held in 2020 due to Covid. In 2021 C6Z06 cars took 1st (Charles Krampert in the car in the picture above), 2nd and 3rd. This was the first year you could say that the C6Z06 dominated A-Street, with Cayman GTS drivers in 4th and 5th. C5Z06s were 7th and 9th, driven by excellent but, I think most would say, at that point in time, somewhat lesser talents than some who had piloted that car in previous years, no disrespect intended. The C5Z06 may have finally lost favor, probably due more to the age of the car than any performance reason, except possibly for one thing. 

In my estimation, the courses at National Tours have been getting faster, though perhaps not those at Nationals itself. Newer cars in almost all Street classes have been getting more powerful. They have also been getting heavier, but in general the power increases have outpaced the weight increases so acceleration performance has been improving. I think some course designers have been, perhaps unconsciously, catering to these higher power cars by setting up courses that have at least one location where more acceleration and thus a faster top speed than previously typical can be achieved. Sometimes more than one location. The C5Z06 tops out in 2nd gear at about 70mph. Up to that speed it’s a close match to the C6Z06 thanks to its gearing. But, if the course allows a higher top speed, the C6Z06 will continue to accelerate extremely quickly on up to 75mph, even 80mph. The C5Z06 is then at a marked disadvantage as the car either sits on the rev limiter or the driver is forced to upshift. It is rarely advantageous overall to upshift in such a situation unless you can really use 3rd gear for a while. That happens almost never, so it makes sense to now favor the C6 over the C5.

In 2022 C6Z06 drivers took 7 of 8 trophies in A-Street, with a C5Z06 in 5th. The best Cayman, the same car and driver that took 3rd in 2019, was 10th. Though the courses absolutely did not allow the Z06 to use its power advantage, grip ruled on both courses. C6Z06s have more grip than the Porsches, more grip than most anything else in Street, at least as measured by weight to total rim-width ratio. Plus they have a negative camber advantage over the Porsches on the front end, a wider track and probably a lower center of gravity, all things that tend to produce grip. It’s like that old saying, “There’s three things most important in autocross: grip, grip and grip.”

OK, maybe I made that up.

Autocrossing 5 Mid-Engined Porschees*

In the span of two seasons I scored co-drives in several Boxsters and Caymans at local autocross events. I was in between nationally competitive cars, the last being a 1989 944 in E-Street, and wanted to find out if a mid-engined Porsche might be my next autocross tool. In the end, as many of you already know, I bought a 6th generation Corvette after it was moved down from A-Street to B-Street.

The five cars, in the order I drove them, were a 2008 Cayman, a 2005 Boxster, a 2008 Cayman S, a 2011 Cayman and a 2019 Cayman GTS.

The relevant specs are:

-2008 (987.1) Cayman, 2.7ltr, manual trans, stiffer front sway bar, aftermarket struts & stock springs, autocross alignment, near-dead Bridgestone RE71R tires (I think they were 255/285) on 8.5″ & 10″ rims, competing in B-Street

-2005 (987.1) Boxster, 2.7ltr, manual trans, all stock, autocross alignment (of dubious pedigree) well-used 245/275 Hoosier A7 tires on 8” & 9” rims, competing in A-Street-Prepared just because the owner wanted to try R-comp tires

-2008 (987.1) Cayman S, 3.4ltr, manual trans, all stock, autocross alignment, 235 Michelin Pilot Sport tires on an 8” rim in front and 265 Falken RT660 tires on a 9” rim in the rear, competing in B-Street.

-2011 (987.2) Cayman, 2.9ltr, manual trans, Bilstein B8 replacement struts (w/stock springs), stiffer front sway bar, autocross alignment, 245/275 Falken RT660 tires on 8.5″ and 10″ rims, competing in B-Street

-2019 (718) Cayman GTS, 2.5ltr turbo, manual trans, PASM, Sport-Chrono, track alignment, 235/265 Michelin Pilot 4S tires on 8.5″ and 10.5″ rims, competing in Super-Street

2008 Cayman

I drove this car in one event for eight runs in the warm and dry. It had gone through several autocross owners, at least one who had the knowledge to set it up right. It was as sharp as a scalpel, transitioned beautifully, did not push excessively and was held back only by the old tires and low-torque engine. Luckily it was a very tight, super-transitiony course that day with little place to use much power, so I had exactly the right tool for the job and I knew it before the first run. Even so, the start was a straight-up drag race up through first gear and half of second. With the 245hp engine it seemed like it took forever, coming from my C5. After the four morning runs I was top PAX of 61 drivers. In the afternoon I was eclipsed only by a soon-to-be national champ in an A-Street Corvette. Those eight morning runs (with co-driver) seemed to kill the tires once and for all. I was unable to match my morning times in the afternoon, as was the owner.

This car showed me how capable the lightweight, big-tired base Cayman can be. On the right course, anyway.

2005 Boxster

I drove this car in three events for a total of 16 runs, some of which were wet. This car handled very well, felt usefully lighter than the next three cars and did not push. This was surprising and I half-suspect that some previous owner had done something to create this situation, or it could just as easily be a wonky alignment like some toe-out in the rear. (The present owner thinks the suspension is stock and I could not see anything non-stock when I examined it in my garage.) With Porsche Stability Management turned off this car actually tended to oversteer at the limit, so I had to be careful with it at first. Braking was good as was transition speed, though nothing great in spite of the mid-engined design, I was a little surprised to discover. I credit the aftermarket struts and stiffer FSB on the 2008 Cayman (above) for its better transition speed as compared to this car. Being a non-S, everything (springs, shocks and bushings) is probably relatively soft in typical Porsche fashion, but that means excellent grip on our bumpy lot. The 2.7ltr motor is not torquey. Pulling off slow corners was painful.

Thanks to multiple events I got comfortable to where I could really throw this car around, slippin’ and slidin’ even in the wet. It was great fun with the R-comp grip, especially in sections where you can keep the speed up. If this car were in C-Street I might very well run it even though no way it can take the Mazda ND2 MX-5. It’s a much more comfortable and practical car than the MX-5.

The owner (we rode with each other on some runs in each event) was amazed that it was possible to slide the car around, even in the wet on R-comps, and not spin with PSM off. He had developed an almost comical ability (always leaving PSM on, wet or dry) to approach each apex cone way too shallow and fast, wildly throw the car into the turn and allow the stability control to figure out how to prevent a spin. The apex he made for each corner was, therefore, about 15 yards beyond the theoretically correct location. This did not bother him at all! Once PSM had done its magic he’d go on to the next corner and do the same thing over again. When I first rode with him I couldn’t stop laughing. It was almost half-fast.

The car was not competitive in ASP or on PAX, being simply a stock car on R-comps, like the old days of Stock classing before Street.

2008 Cayman S

I was in this car in one event for five runs in the warm and dry. Falken RT660 tires for the front were on back-order so we were running on Michelins with new Falkens in the rear. Slightly sharper handling than the 2005 Boxster, probably due to stiffer springs and bushings on the S model, but it was limited by a push that was easy to provoke on either corner entry or exit, probably exaggerated by the front to rear tire mismatch. Somewhat more torque than the base models, but of limited usefulness in this case due to the corner exit push.

Transition speed was lacking. Could that be down to the relatively narrow Michelins in front instead of the wider Hoosiers on the 2005? I guess so. The 3.4ltr motor still lacks low-end torque coming off really slow corners but feels adequate in the mid-range. This car needed a thicker front sway bar, wider wheels and better front tires, and a more extreme alignment, so it was not representative of what it could be as an autocross machine.

I was faster than the owner but got pounded in the overall standings.

2011 Cayman

In the left seat for one event for eight runs in the dry, cool to warm conditions. This car was a well-prepped example for B-Street, though without the ultra-rare LSD. (I doubt it needs it.)

Handling was sharp, grip was good, transition speed good, could provoke push if you tried hard enough, but corner exit behavior was very nice. Torque is still lacking with the 2.9 though significantly improved from the older 2.7. I had raced against this car and owner several times in B-Street in regional events against my full-prep C5 and we were always very close. I think he’s one of those rare fast guys who’s never been to a national event. (He has a Lemons team and for all I know he’s done hundreds of regional autocrosses.) We leapfrogged each other every run this day as conditions warmed. I lost to him by a small margin in the end. We were both well inside the top 10 PAX at a smallish event.

I think in B-Street I might rather have this 987.2 non-S than a 987.1S, especially if I factor in how much nicer the 2nd-gen cars are in general and how bullet-proof the non-direct-injected 2.9ltr engine has proven to be, but my vision may be clouded by the unprepared 987.1S I drove. I once saw a unicorn 987.2 non-S car for sale, all the right autocross options including LSD and none of the wrong options. For all I know it was the only one made, having been specified by a buyer who wanted the most track-worthy, non-S car possible, for some strange reason. (Maybe he didn’t trust direct-injection.)

2019 718 Cayman GTS

I drove this car in one event for six runs in the dry. This was one of the more difficult cars to autocross I’ve driven, entirely because of the turbo-lag at low rpm in 2nd. It’s quite horrible, even with the variable-geometry turbo. Then, when the huge torque finally comes in (usually so late it’s at the wrong time) it hits like a 2by4 to the back of the head and there’s no telling where you end up. This is a very quick car from corner to corner if the motor is on boost.

In all fairness the owner was definitely better at throttle modulation than I, able to often settle for a smaller amount of boost even though more would have been usable but not practically achievable in the short time between closely-spaced, tight corners. Maybe I could eventually master it, though I can’t see myself ever warming to it. The owner says that on the track (where he spends the majority of his time) the lag is much less noticeable because the motor is higher in the rpm range even in the slowest corners. He was amused at my frustration.

This car was clearly the best handler of the five, probably because it was lower, with stiffer springs and bushings and was a later generation chassis. Porsche always continuously improves their models. This car also remained distressingly pushy in spite of dialing in all the camber possible in the front. Why, Porsche, why? Why do you feel the necessity to save us from ourselves even in a GTS model, making it impossible to have a sports-car that’s balanced at the limit without resorting to artificially degrading grip at one end or replacing expensive suspension components? If Chevrolet can give us the adjustability needed in their car why can’t you? Is it because the mid-engined design is too easy to spin at the limit for the typical driver so you must enforce a plow, baby, plow at all costs rule?

We were limited by the marginal grip of the Michelins in the cold of morning, but the 4S tires improved tremendously in the warm afternoon with two drivers. Once warm they were really very close to the Falken RT660. It was an enjoyable car to autocross, in spite of the tendency to push, excepting the awful turbo dynamics. On a high-speed but transitiony course with no really slow corners this car might very well be a match for the C6Z06 in A-Street. But one slow corner and you give away a half-second, easy. (I can’t imagine trying to campaign a base 718 with the non-variable venturi turbo in A-Street… talk about tilting at windmills!) After driving this car I have even more respect for Rachel Baker’s Super-Street win in a 718 GTS at Bristol Tour in 2020 over Foley, a national champion, in a Porsche GT3. I was working course during that heat and she was really driving that thing smoothly, if on a bigger, faster course than I had. Still, it was something I could not do during this first event in the car with some tight corners and maybe never could do. Yes, I’m definitely spoiled by the instant, linear torque of a big naturally-aspirated motor. I bet the 4-liter naturally aspirated motor they put in this chassis later is a revelation.


-I think that any of the first four cars can be made into a very pleasurable autocross car with proper attention to & knowledge of setup detail. In Street class, where more front camber is not available, probably all will tend to pushiness, less you intentionally degrade rear grip, and all will therefore be hard on front tires given the paltry one degree of negative camber available. Maybe testing with a very small amount of toe-out in the rear could produce the best compromise for a skilled driver. Or maybe replacing the rear anti-sway bar with an adjustable unit instead of the front (only one or the other can be replaced in Street class) could be the ticket to balanced handling and reduced roll.

-The turbo GTS will often be frustrating on the autocross course, I think, due to the power characteristics. If it were well-classed maybe we’d learn to live with it in the interest of winning, but it’s not well-classed, so why bother? For contrast, I’ve done some autocrossing in a Mazadaspeed Miata in BSP where class rules limit it to the small, old-school, stock turbo. It has less than 2/3rds as much power but is such a better autocross engine due to the negligible turbo lag given the other modifications that are legal in that class that help it to spool a little faster. (I still don’t care for the non-linear torque curve.) That car is 600lbs lighter, I admit.

-None of these cars can hold a candle to the transitional ability of a Mazda MX-5 ND in spite of the mid-engined design. The Mazda is just so much lighter. They do change direction faster than fifth and sixth generation Corvettes and that’s fun.

-In my totally subjective opinion none of these cars brake as well as the 2011 base C6 Corvette (non-Z51) on Falken RT660s I drove just after the GTS, except maybe the GTS. I really don’t know why this should be. Seems like they should brake better given the weight distribution. Maybe it’s down to pad differences, but braking didn’t seem to be as controllable or direct as the Corvette. C5 and C6 base brakes are, admittedly, marginal on a racetrack in the hands of a decently fast driver. They just don’t have the heat capacity to take lap after lap of hard driving on a course that’s tough on brakes. Corvette track rats must upgrade at least the fronts, but for autocross the Corvette brakes are fine. Porsche brakes typically are much better on-track in my experience and do not require upgrading on a stock or near-stock car for track-days, even in the hands of a fast driver, though we must recognize the horsepower differences. The GTS I drove had full-race pads that were high-torque and quick to bite when warm but with poor modulation characteristics. It was therefore not optimum for autocross, though we were sure to drag the brakes on the way to the start so that we began each run on consistently warm pads and rotors. I think on a softer, less radical pad it would have been fine and a match for the Corvette. The 2011 Cayman had performance pads, but not full race, which should have been perfect for autocross. It had the same front rim width as the C6 Corvette and the same tire, with less camber and less weight in front, yet it didn’t brake as well. The other Porsches were on stock pads. Their braking was nothing to write home about either. I admit that I don’t understand this. I was consistently slightly disappointed in the autocross braking from the first to the last of these five cars. I suspect that it had nothing to do with the brakes and more to do with soft springs and bushings. Possibly the lower polar moment also makes the cars feel less settled under braking as compared to the high-polar moment Corvette, in which case the issue I have has nothing to do with the brakes, per se, at all.

-If the first four cars in the list above were in C-Street I don’t think they could win against the ND2 very often, though it would be great fun to try. Performance-wise the GTS is probably a B-Street car, able to hold its own against the M2 and Supra, probably beat them more often than not. I don’t think it could win very often in A-Street, much less in Super-Street where it is presently classed, but Rachel Baker did it at least once, so what do I know?

-As street cars any of these would be excellent and fun cars to own. I think they’re designed to be tremendously rewarding at 90% effort on a twisty road. I certainly understand that design focus from a business standpoint. I never drive more than 80% to 90% on any public road and I remember to this day how astounded I was by the first Boxster I test-drove, a 1999 model. (This was before I started autocrossing.) I had test-driven the newly redesigned 2003 Honda Accord Coupe off the showroom floor only an hour before. It was getting rave reviews for its handling. It drove like a schoolbus compared to the Boxster.

Only when pushed to the limits of traction do the shortcomings of these cars manifest, but what mass-produced sports car is any different? Certainly, both my fifth and sixth generation Corvettes were much worse cars at 90% as they came from the factory, especially the C5 on those early run-flat tires. I remember when, intending to sell it, I once returned the C5 back to near-stock, including the original shocks that had only 13k miles on them, after autocrossing it fully prepped for B-Street for several years on expensive, specially valved dampers. It felt shockingly bad even though it was not on run-flats any longer.**

*As my wife pronounces the marque

**When I did finally sell it it was aligned well on Koni shocks, had a moderate front bar and had Z06 titanium mufflers with a by-pass mod that made it sound killer without being very loud. It was a much better-driving car at that point than stock.