In the style of great touge showdowns of yore, Jackie Ding faces off against Eric Naumann; Honda S2000 versus Shelby S550, respectively. Very different machines and within the confines of a traditional touge, one would expect the agile S2000 to have a definite edge. However, on a faster, wider, purpose-built race track, this well-tuned Mustang belies its weight, capitalizes on its power advantage, and puts on a shocking performance that forces Ding to push his S2000 to the ragged edge.
Set at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan, the Speed Ring Touge Challenge puts two cars head-t0-head in a format familiar to watchers of the Best Motoring franchise. The goal here isn’t to overtake, but to spread or minimize the gap between both cars come the end of one heated lap. The following car tries to close, and the leading car attempts to edge away. Essentially, it’s a simple time attack with the added psychological challenge of seeing your competitor lurking in your mirrors.
For a romp around a technical course like the M1 Concourse, Ding’s S2000 is well-suited. Lightly modified with the right tweaks made for the road course, this second-generation S2000 wears track-oriented Project Mu brake pads, Stance XR1 coilovers, CR swaybars and Buddy Club balljoints. It’s incisive, nervous, and despite a relatively soft setup, is very nervous over the curbs. Fortunately, Ding’s experience in Formula 4 has given him a set of very quick hands.
Power modifications come in the form of a Hondata ECU, PLM headers, and a Greddy catback exhaust. Still, the little 2.2-liter is far from a powerhouse; making just 215 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque at the wheels. Yet, thanks to a Mugen-replica hardtop, a lighter battery, Enkei PF01 wheels, and Sparco 807 Evo seats, the 2,750-pound Honda’s straightline speed is respectable, if not impressive.
Impressive because an anemic S2000 should have no business running with an extensively modified Saleen S550. Battle-deciding grunt comes from Coyote motor and a short list of modifications; a Holley Sniper intake, a Stainless Works Offroad headers and a cold air intake contribute to a usable 445 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Though there isn’t an abundance of straights at M1 Concourse, the V8 gives the Mustang a decided advantage there, and still manages to be tractable in the slower sections.
More than just a dragster, this S550 can actually put the power to the ground cleanly. Some of that can be attributed to the Watson Racing cage, as well as the Ridetech coilovers, Steeda arms, and AMR 19×10 wheels wrapped in Potenza RE-71R tires. Of course it’s clad with a homebrewed splitter and a sizable rear wing, so if the Mustang has anything other than power on the twitchy S2000, it’s greater stability at speed.
The AP2 S2000 just isn’t that confidence inspiring in the truly fast sections of this course; its suspension likely too soft for the task. Therefore, it becomes tricky for Ding to string a few tidy laps together and relieves him of the lead he could eke out in the tighter sections of the course. Factor in the S550’s sublime straight line speed and stability in the faster sections, and a few instances of overly exuberant driving close the gap.
That said, some slightly scruffy driving doesn’t prevent Ding from putting on a show. Motivated as he is, he chucks the car into some stunning slides and probably pushes his car just a bit harder than Naumann does. His high-speed countersteering and big opposite-lock moments are part of what make this car a Touge special, and part of what makes this great pairing of machinery so interesting to watch. After all, if the cars aren’t regularly sideways—it’s not a true touge battle.