Tom O’Gorman keeps a busy schedule. Not only does he race a Civic Type R in TCR with L.A. Honda World Racing, but he also coaches and regularly autocrosses. Lately, he’s been dabbling in a bit of time attack with the rapidly growing Gridlife scene, which has branched out from strict in the last couple of years.
In addition to racing the clock, Gridlife entrants can now compete wheel-to-wheel in the Gridlife Touring Cup. This relaxed club category promises to keep viewers engaged with rotating grids, 15-minute races, a unique selection of cars, and plenty of skilled drivers. Tom, capitalizing somewhat on his celebrity, accepted the keys to a C4 Corvette a couple of months ago at Gridlife’s event at Road America. It’s nice to be known.
Chris Tuttle, a Spec E30 racer and owner of this simple and effective Corvette, bought the car as an already previous multiple NASA ST3/TT3 Nationals winner. Bilstein shocks up front, and World Challenge shocks in the rear aren’t wild, but they are effective. It retains the OEM swaybars, leaf springs, and even the OEM 17×11-inch C4 Grand Sport wheels wrapped in 245-section Hoosier R7 tires. Wilwood big brakes up front and OEM brakes in the rear, both sporting Raybestos ST43 pads, help bring the bruiser to a halt.
Touring Cup uses the relaxed rules present in most time-attack categories. The primary constraint is that the cars need to adhere to a 12.5:1 power-to-weight ratio. But, because Tuttle’s car has a V8 and a rear wing, he has to up his ratio to 13:1 — further negating his supposed power advantage.
Having a 350ci L98 V8, you might think it’d be the strongest along Road America’s long straights. But due to a restrictor, the engine makes only 241 horsepower. As usually happens, the competitors start finding ways to exploit the rules, and with clever ECUs, some drivers and tuners can provide an unusual amount of torque underneath the curve. Working around the rules — whether at grassroots or the professional level — is just part of racing.
That nifty tuning is what helps a K24-swapped Miata outgun the throatier Corvette along Road America’s straights. Weighing considerably less than the 3,090-pound C4, the Honda-powered Miata is the fastest machine in a straight line. Still, the Corvette fights back with its own set of strengths.
A Strong Start
“Because the car is sporting biggish tires, the Corvette was the best on the brakes. It was also the best off of the first few-hundred-feet of the corner,” Tom elaborates. Once the race is underway, we can see Tom take full advantage of these strengths and clear most of the field before the first corner. Off to a strong start, he capitalizes on his stopping power to out-brake the K24 Miata into Turn 8 (1:35).
Tom’s excellent composure in traffic helps him navigate past the EG Civic ahead, and then he sets his sights on the surprisingly quick Acura TL leading the pack. With a gutsy move around the outside of Turn 10, Tom takes the lead.
Playing To Its Strengths
Though free from traffic, Tom is then faced with a new set of concerns. In addition to managing the Corvette’s high-speed understeer (7:44), he continually checks the Miata in his mirrors “just about every time the Corvette was in a steady state.” Though only a few laps into the race, he has to duel with a Miata that can run laps three-seconds faster than his Corvette can. To keep in front, he needs to play to his Chevy’s strengths and use a few tricks.
One is the Corvette’s broad powerband and low-end shove. When the Miata sticks its nose in after Tom turns into Turn 8 (9:00), he relies on torque to remain ahead. Though this might rattle the cage of a lesser driver, Tom keeps his composure, runs wide, and uses the L98’s larger motor to fire off the relatively slow corner. It’s obvious Tom can’t afford to make any big mistakes with such a straight-line deficiency.
Down To The Last
A cautious prod of the brake pedal (10:50) before Turn 1 ensures the pads haven’t been knocked back during any curb-hopping and are ready to slow the car into one of Road America’s heaviest braking zones. Tom’s a little later on the binders there, as well as in Turn 5 (11:28) — just hanging on by the skin of his teeth.
On the final lap, just after clouting the exit curb of Turn 11, his drivers-side mirror droops just outside the camera frame. This forces him to guess the Miata’s position, and he hedges his bets by braking in the middle of the track, compromising his exit out of Turn 14. Though the Miata just nips by before the finish line, Tom’s not entirely dejected. The ‘hang loose’ he gestures seconds afterward reminds us that, despite the fierce battles, Gridlife is all about fun at the end of the day.