"I didn't think I'd be this slow"
The 2013 Subaru BRZ is an excellent introduction to rear-wheel drive performance cars. Affordable, responsive, and easy to drive quickly, the BRZ will certainly find buyers who want to race their cars, but don't have the stomach to hit a road course until the monthly payments stop. What's a wannabe racer with a limited budget to do? Allow us to introduce you to Tire Rack SCCA ProSolo racing.
ProSolo combines the excitement of a dragstrip start with the technical difficulty of an autocross course, which makes it an ideal entry into the world of racing. There are two courses, mirror images of each other, and drivers compete head-to-head. After you finish one course, you return to the staging area and switch sides with the other car. Bone-stock cars are welcome and there's a better chance you'll damage your car driving to the event than on the course. Just weeks after we took delivery of our BRZ, ProSolo came to Toledo, Ohio. Of course we had to try it.
Before we signed up for the event, we called up the Tire Rack, our official wheel and tire supplier, to order a new set of rubber. Woody Rogers, a product information specialist, runs ProSolo and recommended a set of 225/45R17 Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec tires. Star Specs wouldn't be the absolute fastest tires allowed in the road tire class, but they would be very predictable and forgiving - a smart choice for Chris Nelson, road test editor and autocross newbie. Woody suggested shaving the tires down to 6/32 of an inch tread depth to give us the best possible traction in dry weather without completely throwing wet weather performance out the window.
In addition to the sticky rubber, we ordered a set of OEM camber adjustment bolts (part number 901000394) through our local Subaru dealer and had the car aligned. After the adjustments, each wheel had 1.2 degrees of negative camber, front toe was zero and rear toe sat at 0.25 degrees. With the new tires and alignment, the car was much more willing to rotate and there's certainly more lateral grip.
We sent Nelson off to Toledo Express Airport to meet up with the Tire Rack SCCA ProSolo tour on a Friday morning. After lunch, he decided to watch the first group of drivers run the course. Unfortunately for Nelson, his class was running and he missed his first timed runs. Chris learned this happens fairly regularly and was told he'd be allowed a chance to make up his runs later that afternoon or Saturday morning.
After five hours of wandering the parking lot and a little bit of daydreaming, Nelson finally got his shot at timed runs. Here are his notes:
Heat one: "Holy crap, autocross is not easy. I didn't think I'd be this slow. I clear the slalom quickly but go way too fast into the long, sweeping right that turns the car back toward the start. I try to scrub some speed and take off too much. I need to add some more power to counteract it and add too much. I go too fast into the last corner and eat a cone. Bad run. Maybe I will have more luck on the next course."
Heat two: "Nope. No more luck. Still having problems. I must be overexcited because the car feels great. I need to slow it down. Give me run three."
Heat three: "Run three is clean. I don't touch a cone. Still a little too fast into some parts, still scrubbing too much speed in others, but I feel best about this run. If I can replicate this tomorrow with a little more speed and car control, I should put down a time that I'm pretty happy with."
Heat four: "I've lost my mind by this point. I'm amped like nobody's business. I'm sliding the entire course (not hitting a cone, either). I'm in the 'when in doubt, power out' mind set, which isn't great for autocross. I do, however, hold a powerslide through the entire turn-around that sends smoke pouring off the rear tires. It's the most fun I've had on the course, and it seems like everyone else watching enjoyed it too. What's racing if it isn't fun? Besides, it wasn't a bad run time either. Win-win."
After a good night's sleep and some reflection, Nelson returned to run on Saturday.
Heat five: "I took about 5 PSI out of all my tires and brought them down to 30 PSI. I started off really slow, got my line right, and felt a lot better about autocrossing than I did the day before."
Heat seven: "I ran a bit faster on this run, but still not as fast as I would've liked. It's really hard to be smooth and fast in autocross it seems. Still, I was happy to have a clean run that was faster than the previous."
Nelson had high hopes for his final runs on Sunday, but he woke up sick as a dog. Nonetheless, he pressed on. "I had the layout of the courses memorized, all it would take now is some car control."
Heat nine: "Coming off from the Christmas tree, I felt better. I entered the first slalom slower than usual but came out way faster. I was harder on the brakes, rougher on the tires, but it all paid off and I made a giant leap in my time."
Heat eleven: "I really wanted to lay down a solid run, and I did. When I got back to the staging lanes and saw my time on the clock, all I wanted to do was run again and trounce my personal best again, and again, and again."
Heat twelve: "I had a boost of self confidence when the announcer said 'This kid is a lumberjack,' talking about how much time I had been cutting off each run throughout the weekend. This was my last run of the weekend. I kept my right foot down through most of the run, had a few scares but avoided all the cones, and came out with the best run of the week. I came away fulfilled but wanting more runs to really perfect my line. Autocross doesn't tickle me as much as road racing does, but I still see the appeal."
Although Nelson made huge progress over the weekend, his combined time for the left and right courses was 54.918 seconds while the winning time was 49.715. If you hope to be competitive in ProSolo, you must be able to win at the local level first.
Our total cost for the ProSolo event was pretty minimal aside from the new tires. Four 225/45R17 Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec tires were $576, shaving was another $15 per tire, and we spent $100 to have them mounted and balanced on our stock wheels locally, which made the total investment in tires $736. Four camber bolts cost $8.14, but the installation and alignment ran $150. It cost $107 to enter the ProSolo event, plus an additional $15 for a weekend membership to the SCCA, and we needed $38.16 in decals for the car to meet all the SCCA regulations. That brought the total to $160.16. Our total investment for the weekend was $1054.30, but we could have been competing for $160.16 if we stuck with the stock rubber.
Even cheap racing is still expensive. The cost for ProSolo is artificially inflated when you look at a single event. A set of tires will last for an entire season, however, so an entire summer of autocross action wouldn't cost a whole lot more than our single weekend. Perhaps after a season of practice we could even get Nelson on the podium.