Speed Unlimited | 2021 Ultimate Track Car Challenge

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Mar 16, 2022 | UTCC, Ultimate Track Car Challenge, GRM+ | Posted in Features | From the Feb. 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by Ken Neher • Lead by Kevin Adolf

It’s more evident each year we host our Tire Rack Ultimate Track Car Challenge: There are plenty of valid definitions of “ultimate” to go around.

Whether you’re measuring by pure lap time, accessibility of speed, public profile, rarity or availability to racers with even modest resources, there are many ways to run impressive laps at Virginia International Raceway.

This 15th running of the UTCC saw everything from Le Mans-grade machinery and current pro racing efforts taking a weekend off to traditional “glass cannon”-style time trial builds, street-driven cars, and everything in between. 

But while the definition of “ultimate” remains as varied as the descriptions on the entry forms, we have only one objective way to measure for it: the stopwatch. The late-summer heat kept drivers from challenging for record-breaking lap times around VIR during the rescheduled Hyperfest weekend, but the top rides in this field were as fascinating as ever.

Perhaps not surprisingly, purpose-built race cars took the top two spots in this NASA-sanctioned affair. But the third step on the podium was occupied by one of the heaviest cars in the competition, one wearing a legal license plate.

The top 10 also contained a factory-built pro race car, homebuilt specials, rookie showings, and budgets ranging from the GDP of an Eastern European country to entirely attainable.

There was also fierce competition among those diverse entries. While the top four cars each enjoyed a comfortable cushion, the cars in fifth through 11th place were separated by only a couple of seconds on track. And that group repped everything from purpose-built race cars to modified street cars running 200tw tires. 

The following is a quick look at the entire field that turned a competition lap in the 2021 Tire Rack Ultimate Track Car Challenge.

1st

FAST LAP: 1:47.727.
CAR: 2018 Ligier JS P3
DRIVER: Clayton Eley

Clayton took top UTCC honors while running within a tenth of his previous year’s time. He was a tired winner, too, as he ran both his Ligier prototype and a Spec E30 in the weekend’s ultra-tight wheel-to-wheel groups.

Still, he couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm in the winner’s circle. “I started this racing thing pretty late in life,” he said breathlessly in the few spare moments he had before switching cars to do it all again, “and it’s just so exciting and satisfying that I’ve been able to have some success, and to be able to share the track with all the great folks that you meet at these events.”

His Ligier, basically a Le Mans Prototype 3 machine, sported a 420-horsepower Nissan V8 and was designed to go very fast for a very long time in international endurance racing. While the cost of entry for these cars can be steep, their overbuilt nature makes them easier on consumables at the track.

That might have helped the car take home the top prize in the UTCC Knockout Challenge presented by KW Automotive. By requiring back-to-back fast laps for an entire session–rather than one fast lap with cooldowns before and after–the Knockout Challenge tested endurance and outright speed.

According to Clayton, the trickiest part of running the car in a time trial situation is warming it to the right temperature. “It’s not a one-lap wonder like some of the time attack specials,” he explained. “Even with optimizing some of the parts choices for time trials, it needs a little heat to work optimally, so my best lap is usually later in a session, which is also tricky because that’s when traffic starts to become a factor. So there’s definitely some strategy to the approach to every session when it comes to getting the best single lap.”

2nd

FAST LAP: 1:48.546
CAR: 2009 Elan DP02 RSR
DRIVER: James Paul

Even though his car completed laps in only two sessions, James snagged silver in his Mazda-powered Elan sports racer. With the turbocharged MZR cranking out 350 horsepower and moving just 1200 pounds of car and driver, James’ advantage was a thorough lack of mass. 

The long straights at VIR put the Elan sports racer–with aero and suspension biased toward ultimate grip at the cost of a little top-end speed–at a bit of a disadvantage. However, James is a former NASA Time Trial Unlimited-class national champion, and he credited the podium finish to his familiarity with the car and its supreme agility.

3rd

FAST LAP: 1:49.178
CAR: 2013 Nissan GT-R
DRIVER: Kyle Carrick

Fresh off an overall win at the SCCA Time Trials Nationals at NCM Motorsports Park in June, Kyle’s 2-ton Nissan GT-R outweighed both top-two UTCC finishers–combined. 

Even with all that mass to motivate, horsepower in the high triple digits, aero help from Nine Lives Racing, and sticky rubber at four driven wheels helped the car make up a lot of time on VIR’s long back straight. Kyle had not only the top door-slammer, but also the fastest car on a DOT-approved tire–Hoosier’s A7. 

  • Fastest Production Car presented by HP Tuners (HP Tuners MPVI2+ plus $500 certificate)
  • Fastest on DOT-Approved Tires presented by Tire Rack ($1000 certificate)
  • Fastest AWD Car presented by XClutch

4th

FAST LAP: 1:51.252
CAR: 2018 Radical RXC Spyder Turbo
DRIVER: Michael Fitzpatrick

Michael ran a few tenths of a second off his best lap at the 2020 UTCC, but his 1:51.2 flyer was good enough for fourth place in this year’s contest. His radical Radical RXC was powered by a 600-plus-horsepower, twin-turbo Ford EcoBoost V6, giving the middleweight sports racer potent straight-line speed to go with its tenacious cornering grip. 

Michael proudly noted that his Radical is also equipped with a passenger seat, where his driving students get a fast-forward view of the tracks they’re learning to conquer.

5th

FAST LAP: 1:53.290
CAR: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GT4
DRIVER: Michael Hurczyn/Nate Vincent

Although IMSA specifies an ECU map for each of its race weekends, AMG was kind enough to include a “party mode” in its latest GT4 racer that unlocks most–but surprisingly not all–of the twin-turbo V8’s power. And this slightly limited AMG GT4 was still rather fast. 

Michael and Nate–both Silver-ranked FIA drivers with Nate’s recent promotion from Bronze–noted that one of the challenges of running an endurance-based car in a time trial format is getting the Michelins up to suitable temperatures. Their best laps usually come toward the end of a session, when traffic management can be a challenge.

6th

FAST LAP: 1:54.038
CAR: 2019 Shelby GT350R
DRIVER: Brian Faessler

Brian won last year’s UTCC in a tube-frame GT350 silhouette racer, a car he later drove to a NASA championship. He parked that Mustang variant in favor of a new challenge, a factory-built GT350R hotrod that had received only limited preparation. 

7th

FAST LAP: 1:54.327
CAR: Superlite Coupe
DRIVER: Dan Raver

Sporting a 650-horsepower Chevy LS7, Dan’s Superlite Coupe nonetheless relied on DOT-approved Hoosier rubber to negotiate the twisties. Dan had the second-fastest car on DOT rubber, laying down his seventh-place overall time in the very first timed UTCC track session.

8th

FAST LAP: 1:54.909
CAR: 2012 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
DRIVER: Mike Phillips

Thanks to an untouched crate LS3 under the hood, Mike’s Corvette put “only” about 460 horsepower to the ground. In this crowd, that was mild for a 3300-pound car, but Mike made the most of it, wheeling his Corvette to an eighth-place finish.

He also made a foray into pro racing this past year, competing in the SCCA’s Trans Am series in the SGT class. His Vette featured trick Nitron coil-overs and a full complement of AMT suspension goodies, like dropped spindles and spherical bushings.

9th

FAST LAP: 1:55.239
CAR: 2020 Toyota GR Supra        
DRIVER: Jackie Ding

Jackie’s 600-horsepower Supra is reaching icon status in the time attack world, competing in SCCA, NASA, Gridlife and Global Time Attack events. In fact, the Sunday before the UTCC, it was competing in the GTA event at the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Do the math on that tow if you want to have some respect for Jackie’s endurance on the road.

Still, he managed to overcome tow fatigue to post the fastest UTCC time on 200tw tires–Nankang CR-1s–beating a lot of wicked machinery on slicks and Hoosier A7s in the process.

  • Fastest on 200tw Tires presented by Tire Rack ($1000 certificate)
  • Fastest RWD on 200tw Tires presented by Tire Rack

 

10th

FAST LAP: 1:56.287
CAR: 1999 Mazda Miata
DRIVER: Andrew Pinkerton

Nine Lives Racing built this Miata as a rolling test bed, which featured 5.7-liter LS1 power and construction that was nearly as tubular as it was factory Mazda. It was more track weapon than beach cruiser thanks to 500-plus horsepower on tap, along with FCO shocks, V8 Roadsters suspension bits and, of course, a full suite of aero.

Johnny Cichowski of Nine Lives Racing usually campaigns this car, but he wanted the best possible showing at the UTCC, so he enlisted FIA Silver-ranked driver Andrew Pinkerton. The result was a top-10 finish against far more advanced machinery, showing that an old-school Miata could still punch above its weight class. 

 

11th

FAST LAP: 1:57.229
CAR: 2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
DRIVER: Ben Grambau

Another LS3-powered Corvette, this one a C5 variant that competes in a variety of NASA classes with various power tunes and ballast packages. At the UTCC, Ben ran the Corvette in TT2 trim, which limited his stroked 6.9-liter LS3 to less than 400 horsepower. Still, he managed to comfortably break VIR’s 2-minute barrier. Hoosier tires and AJ Hartman Aero bits certainly helped close the gap left by the reduced power.

12th

FAST LAP: 1:58.753
CAR: 2015 BMW M4
DRIVER: Devin Jones

BimmerWorld campaigns the factory-built BMW M4 GT4 in IMSA and SRO competition. Five different engine tunes are allowed, with the most powerful making some 500 horsepower–about the same as the street M4 GTS, since today’s homologated, factory-built race cars are detuned that much. 

So, the BimmerWorld crew wondered, what if we built a street M4 that wasn’t saddled with such limits? The result was the M4 GTMore project car. Thanks to larger Mitsubishi turbos, this M4 put out some 600 horsepower to the company’s own 11-inch-wide, flow-formed TA5R wheels and Hoosier tires. Upgrades also included MCS three-way adjustable dampers and Alcon brakes.

At the UTCC, the car ran a GT4-spec splitter and BimmerWorld’s own swan neck rear wing uprights. The team took home a lesson: Now the car needs more front downforce.

Despite the upgrades, BimmerWorld’s M4 remained a 3700-pound, street-legal machine, making the sub-2-minute lap that much more impressive.

 

13th

FAST LAP: 1:58.858
CAR: 2020 Ford Shelby GT500
DRIVER: Nicholas Gardner

Nicholas didn’t have much time to prepare his car or himself for the challenge of VIR; being stuck in Afghanistan will cramp your preparation efforts. But some mild prep–including an upgraded supercharger pulley, a tune and a freer-flowing exhaust–cranked his GT500’s horsepower past 750, while some 305mm-wide Hoosiers helped pin the 2-ton machine to the ground. With a sub-2-minute lap, Nicholas’ rookie effort at the UTCC was worth the trip back from the Middle East.

14th

FAST LAP: 1:59.957
CAR: 2005 Ford Mustang
DRIVER: Adam George

Proving that solid-axle Mustangs can still throw down some laps, Adam pierced the 2-minute barrier with this Coyote-powered S197 that sees action in a variety of venues.

Underneath, Adam’s Mustang sported Penske shocks, Stranoparts anti-roll bars, rear suspension control from Cortex, and assorted parts from Steeda, UMI and Brembo. Running in NASA TT2 trim, the 3300-pound Mustang puts 423 horsepower to the ground through Hoosiers; Adam was the last driver to beat that magic 2-minute mark.

15th

FAST LAP: 2:00.039
CAR: 2003 BMW M3
DRIVER: Roberto Crescencio

Roberto put most of his pre-event effort into improved aero for his M3. His efforts paid off with a near-2-minute lap time. The car, which usually does battle in NASA’s Super Touring 3 division, sported a 320-wheel-horsepower 3.2-liter.

  • Fastest BMW presented by BimmerWorld ($250 certificate)

16th

FAST LAP: 2:01.304
CAR: 2008 Chevy Corvette ZO6
DRIVER: Tracy Gaudu

Tracy is a heart surgeon by trade, and those steady hands and calm nerves helped her pilot her Lingenfelter LS7-powered Chevy to 16th place. She also used the HyperFest weekend to make one of her first forays into wheel-to-wheel racing, starting on pole in Friday night’s feature race to take fourth overall.

17th

FAST LAP: 2:01.811
CAR: 1996 Ford Mustang GT
DRIVER: Devan Keeling

Devan’s SN95-chassis Mustang was powered by a 5.2-liter Aluminator XS crate engine cranking out nearly 600 horsepower. This fully prepped race machine typically races in NASA’s American Iron Xtreme class, where Devan could legally replace the factory front struts with a Cortex Racing A-arm setup. 

A Maximum Motorsports torque arm and Whiteline watts link controlled motion in the rear, and Devan reported that the entire package was drivable and had never let him down on track.

18th

FAST LAP: 2:01.988
CAR: 2003 Nissan 350Z
DRIVER: Bryan Settle

Bryan’s 350Z was born powered by a Nissan V6, but it came to the UTCC sporting a 489-horsepower LS3 V8 with a host of internal power and reliability modifications. He explained that not one single piece of the strut suspension was left untouched, with BC Racing coil-overs and SPL Parts arms holding up each corner.

Perhaps the most dramatic modification was the wheel–the steering wheel–which resided on the right side of the interior. Not content to simply swap a JDM clip onto the car, Bryan completely engineered the conversion from scratch.

19th

FAST LAP: 2:02.955
CAR: 2017 Honda Civic Type R
DRIVER: Trever Degioanni

Trever’s Civic was not only the fastest front-wheel-drive car in the UTCC field, but it also had the audacity to take that title on 200tw Yokohama tires. 

What made the Civic so fast? A reported 500 wheel horsepower plus MCS dampers, RV6 control arms, Karcepts anti-roll bars, and aero from Nine Lives Racing and Racebred.

  • Fastest FWD
  • Fastest FWD on 200tw tires

20th

FAST LAP: 2:02.956
CAR: 2000 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS
DRIVER: Kendall Samuel

Big power–more than 600 horses at the wheels–big aero and big traction through all-wheel drive propelled Kendall’s Subaru Impreza. An STI-based powerplant, Fortune Auto dampers and custom subframes from 4D Automotive helped this car serve as a showpiece for Kendall’s Subaru prep shop, Mechanical Advantage Racing.

21st

FAST LAP: 2:03.907
CAR: 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
DRIVER: Ghais Khaleghi

Ghais originally registered with a Nissan GT-R, but a last-minute prep issue meant he had to abandon that ride for the Z06. The Vette ended up being the third-fastest car on 200tw tires–not a bad backup plan.

22nd

FAST LAP: 2:05.454
CAR: 2017 Ford Mustang GT350
DRIVER: Brian Collins

Brian’s GT350 remained relatively mild in the chassis department: just a little lowering through Ford Performance springs and some chassis bits from Steeda. But under the hood, the 5.2-liter V8 was boosted to nearly 800 horsepower with the use of a twin-intercooled Whipple supercharger. APR aero rounded out the package.

23rd

FAST LAP: 2:05.947
CAR: 2019 Camaro ZL1 1LE
DRIVER: Jeremy Lowder

The engine in Jeremy’s ZL1 was mostly stock–just a few bolt-on mods, like headers from American Racing Headers, an ATI pulley and a higher-capacity radiator from Ron Davis. But when you have north of 650 horsepower from the factory, you’re not lacking too much. Sticking with that theme, Jeremy also ran the factory Goodyear Supercar 3R tires.

24th

FAST LAP: 2:07.212
CAR: 1988 BMW M3
DRIVER: Michael D'Abreu

Michael’s M3 combined three generations of the marque–E30 chassis, E36 M3 transmission and E46 S54 engine–to produce a wonderful Frankenstein’s monster for the track. The swap needed a few custom driveline bits machined, but all the parts were sourced from BMW. Öhlins suspension as well as AP and Brembo brakes rounded out the slick package.

25th

FAST LAP: 2:07.431
CAR: 2013 Toyota FR-S
DRIVER: Phil Grabow

Element Tuning’s Phil Grabow is usually closer to the front of the pack in this FR-S–after all, it sports a twin-turbo LS3 Chevy V8 under the hood, along with more aero than an F18. But sorting issues kept him from running at the front this year, so it was back to the shop to further refine the package for its next attempt.

26th

FAST LAP: 2:12.095
CAR: 1991 Volkswagen GTI
DRIVER: Paul Inskeep

Paul brought an old-school track standby–an A2 VW GTI–with a new-school powerplant in the form of a Honda K20 to his first UTCC. But this was more than a simple swap, as Paul fitted custom subframes while pushing the driver farther back in the cockpit. He said it behaved like a benign VW on track, just with more power and grip.

 

27th

FAST LAP: 2:18.375
CAR: 2018 Honda Odyssey
DRIVER: Karl Hertel

Prepped by a crew of engineers from Honda’s facility in Alabama, this Odyssey sported a completely stock chassis. Most of the interior soft bits and trim had been removed, while Megan coil-overs and six-piston Brembo brakes complemented the turning and stopping. But mostly, this was a platform to show that minivans can haul more than kids and groceries.

28th

FAST LAP: 2:21.042
CAR: 1999 Volkswagen Jetta
DRIVER: Amy Kelley

A UTCC rookie, Amy brought a 1.8-liter turbo Jetta that looked unassuming from the outside. Inside, though, it was pure race car, with a lightened, seam-welded chassis, modified suspension geometry and metal-on-metal suspension. It formerly competed in the World Challenge series before seeing duty as Amy’s current time trial mount.

29th

FAST LAP: 2:24.161
CAR: 2018 Audi RS3
DRIVER: Arul Angamuthu

This RS3 sees action in the SCCA’s Tuner 2 time trial category, and Arul ran in the SCCA’s Time Trials Nats before making his rookie appearance at the UTCC. With more than 500 horsepower on tap, his Falken RT660s had their treads full.

30th

FAST LAP: 3.32.839
CAR: 2020 Ford Mustang GT500
DRIVER: Steve Luca

Steve scored a podium finish overall at the SCCA’s Time Trials Nationals in June at NCM Motorsports Park, but transponder issues took him out of the official running at the UTCC. With 850 horsepower channeled to the ground through wide Hoosier A7s, Steve’s GT500 is a threat wherever it shows up.

31st

FAST LAP: 3.34.520
CAR: 1995 Honda Civic
DRIVER: Mark Johnson

With more than 800 horsepower motivating less than 2000 pounds, Mark’s wild turbo Civic should have been a top contender at this year’s UTCC. Sadly, sorting issues kept him from turning a full-attack lap.

DNF

FAST LAP: n/a
CAR: 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
DRIVER: Patrick Kite

Patrick put his Hendrick Track Attack Camaro into the wall on the out lap. On the bright side, he took home the weekend’s Safety Award from SPA Technique. 

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Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
Robbie (Forum Supporter)
Robbie (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/19/22 12:30 p.m.

I read this article in my print mag last night. 

And I wonder (looking at the top 10 specifically):

Do we really need to differentiate between "slick" "DOT" and "200TW" amymore? All 3 are clearly very fast.

pinchvalve (Forum Supporter)
pinchvalve (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/19/22 2:18 p.m.

So let me get this straight, as an FIA-ranked driver - in addition to being a freaking FIA ranked race-car driver - people ask you to race their amazing track machines for them? I chose the wrong career path. 

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