Choosing a Car
How to pick your ride.
Whether you are buying a built car, or starting from scratch, there are some things to keep in mind when choosing your platform. If you are a passionate and loyal fan of a specific brand or model, and you already have the knowledge and resources to maintain that vehicle, then it’s probably a good place to start. Often finding a pool of knowledgeable people to draw information from is half the battle, whether it's friends and family, or active online forums. If the online communities for the car of your choosing are buried in threads about wheel tuck or 50 horsepower cone filter testimonials, prepare to do a lot of your own research and development.
Platforms with a strong aftermarket will save you many headaches down the road. Your initial investment, if choosing a car from scratch, will long be forgotten when you are deep into your build before realizing you can’t find parts. Be sure someone makes a racing brake pad for your car, and you have a wheel bolt pattern with aftermarket options. Don’t buy something that appears affordable on the surface, without first investigating the cost and availability of consumables for that vehicle. Find out how many of them are in your local junkyard, you’re going to be needing those too. You will be breaking and wearing out parts, the more spares that are available to you, the better.
This may sound unnecessary, but make sure you are going to fit. Remember that you are going to be wearing a helmet. You are going to have a 1.75” bar with an inch of padding between the roof rail and your head. Your helmet will have to be below the roll bar plane. You are going to have crash bars between your elbow and the skin of the door. Creative seat mounting will buy you some space, but being in a comfortable and ergonomic position in the car to survive a two hour stint is easier said than done. It also has to work for any potential teammates you may have. Plan for the biggest guy on your team and accommodate everyone else with padding or seat sliders.
Remember that this is endurance racing. Not only does your car have to survive 16ish hours of racing in a weekend, but there has to be some consideration given to your pit window. There is no point having a car that can drive circles around everyone if you have to come in for fuel every hour and watch everyone unwind themselves. You’ll be surprised how much fuel your car uses when being driven wide open. On the flip side, you’ll be surprised at how competitive a small underpowered car can be with a clean and consistent stint schedule. A fuel cell may be a complicated and expensive undertaking, so if you plan on using your o.e.m. gas tank, make sure it’s a reasonable size before you commit to that car.
On a similar note, keep in mind that the bigger, faster and heavier your car is, the faster you are going to burn through tires and brakes. Outside of entry fees, tires will likely be your single greatest expense for a race weekend. You may be throwing away at least 4 tires Sunday night that still had the stickers on them a couple days ago. You may need a new set on the drive end of your car each day. Brakes will probably last you a couple race weekends and some test days, depending on the car and the compounds available. Again, this is an expense that snowballs the faster you want to go. More power does not always guarantee more success, but it will guarantee more expenses.
If the learning experience and challenge of the build is part of the fun for you, go for it. If you are looking to get onto the track quickly and/or affordably, a used built car is almost always the better option. Obviously some due diligence is required on the part of the buyer before jumping into someone else's project. If the cage is not legal or structurally sound, there isn’t much point looking any further into that car. Ask some of the other drivers and teams around the paddock about the car, it’s best to eliminate as many surprises as possible before you write a cheque. Do your best to acquire all of the spares and set-up notes you can from the previous owner. Race weekends are too expensive to spend trying to sort your car out. If you can convince the owner to sell you some seat time on a lapping day before you buy, that would be even better.
You are going to see some shiny, expensive looking cars at some events. It can be intimidating and demoralizing upon first impression. First of all, that is why there is a bracket style system in place, to make sure everyone has someone to race against. As long as you maintain your car and keep it out of the weeds, it won’t matter how much or how little you have invested. Second, there are some cars out there that have had a small fortune spent on them, unloading their oil pans onto the track surface, or catching on fire, or smashing into things throughout the course of the race. There will be cars that look like they're on their last legs still going around when the checkered flies. It takes all kinds to have a race, just take some pride in your machine and have fun.