To match a car with less weight and roughly a third more power, you have to be on your game. That’s something Jackie Ding does almost compulsively with his S2000. The once-F4 driver, Hoonigan, and time attack ace is someone who values seat time. Regularly competing in club events like this one, he never really accumulates any rust.
The guy simply drives the tires off his S2000 — regularly pivoting the car in the middle of the corner with a quick wiggle — but, not so wildly sideways to scrub much speed, if any. On the tight and technical M1 Concourse, this aggressive style does pay dividends when battling an agile Miata fitted with a big turbo driven by Darby Barber.
This Speed Ring duel is judged in the touge-style rules, by which the size of the gap determines the winner. If the gap is maintained or lengthened, then the lead car wins, but if it’s shortened, the chasing car is the victor. However, this Speed Ring event is a little stricter with its rules.
A Strategy Fitting the Format
“Basically, unlike the conventional style where you judge the gap visually, this format judges gap by time,” Ding says. “So, even if the gap doesn’t seem to have changed visually, whoever runs the faster lap, and increases or decreases the gap, is scored as winner of that round. Whoever wins two of the three rounds is the winner.” Think of it as a time attack battle with the added pressure of a rival filling your mirrors.
Though the psychological pressure might unsettle an uncomfortable driver, they never have to worry about pass attempts, as the running order must be maintained. This lightens the load somewhat, and it also influenced Barber’s approach to this battle.
“My thought process during the battle was to focus on the track,” Barber begins, “not on him.” While this might seem obvious, many drivers naturally check their mirrors after exiting a tricky corner or proceeding down a straight to determine their rival’s position. While this can be reassuring if all goes well, this can also become a distraction; keeping the driver from focusing on what is ahead. Sometimes the best defense is a strong offense.
For that reason, the drivers resorted to some less-than-obvious pacifying measures. “We didn’t do anything to psych each other out, but I did notice that he had his mirrors folded completely in. I then did the same, so when it was my turn to lead, his car was out of sight and out of mind.”
Ding’s feelings of dread are even stronger when being chased closely. “I’m usually really bad under pressure. When I have someone close behind, I always find myself driving in my mirrors and screw up,” he elaborates.
Similar Specs for the Street Modified Class
The classes are determined by modifications, tires, aero and so on. Essentially, these two enjoy a slew of footwork modifications and a few power adders, but at the end of the day, they are modified road cars. Ding’s S2000 may benefit from a Hondata ECU, PLM headers, and a Greddy catback exhaust, but it’s still far from a powerhouse. These goodies help make 215 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque at the wheels, which isn’t much when pushing a winged road car through the air.
He’s taken some measures to make sure those ponies push around as little weight as possible. A Mugen-replica hardtop, a lighter battery, Titan 7 17×9.5-inch T-R10 wheels, a Sparco 807 Evo driver’s seat, and an NRG passenger seat all trim some heft. These bring the S2000 down to 2,750 pounds, but still, a turbocharged NB Miata should eat his S2000’s lunch on the straighter portions of the M1 Concourse.
The silver Miata is a homebuilt track toy that Barber has assembled over the last two years. With plenty of hand-made aero pieces, Xida coilovers, and Wilwood Dynalite brakes in front, it has poise and stopping power similar to Ding’s S2000. In fact, at 2,415 pounds, it’s a fair bit lighter than the Honda.
Barber’s 1.8-liter BP engine is force-fed by a BorgWarner EFR 6758 turbocharger. With 300 horsepower and 3.63 gears, it is a veritable rocket down the straights. The ball-bearing turbocharger also spools quickly and gives Barber more power all the time. Unlike Ding, she doesn’t have to rev her engine to the moon to make good power.
However, that makes harnessing the thrust available a little challenging. The 15×10-inch Jongbloed wheels, wrapped in 245/40 Hankook RS4 tires, will still spin under full throttle. Darby has to adjust her style to suit the snappy power delivery.
Dramatically Different Driving Styles
Her second year in time attack, Barber is still developing the finesse needed to harness the turbocharger power and exploit the grip a wing-shod Miata provides. Her focus has been to try and not overdrive the car. “I tend to push my car and the braking zones too far sometimes, so I’m really working on being smooth and braking earlier so I can get a better line and faster exit,” she elaborates.
Where experience is concerned, Ding clearly holds the advantage. His time in formula cars taught him how to brake late, conserve momentum, and charge towards the apex — sideways if necessary. His big Stoptech C43 brakes and well-sorted suspension — including Stance Reinharte R1 coilovers and CR swaybars — provide Ding with the tools and feedback needed to charge the entry-to-apex phase. This bold approach is risky and does get the car out of shape more often than Darby’s more conservative style.
Over the course of a few laps fraught with psychological pressure, the two showcased their own driving styles and their vehicles’ strong points. Darby’s smooth, error-free style helped her snag the first victory by a little less than a tenth. The following round, with Darby leading, she fell prey to her habit of over-charging the entry phase. A big lockup (3:34) brought Ding back into contention.
With the lap times as close as they were, the two were sent out for another round. But, it was over just after the flag was thrown. After Barber overcooked the entry to the first corner, she backed off. Despite his dirt-dropping moments, Ding’s car control and entry speed gave him the edge — snagging a 1:13.4 — half a second over Darby.
With so many factors at play, such close times, and the pressure on the drivers’ shoulders, this battle would only be decided by a mistake. Clearly, even when drivers and cars are closely matched, it’s a cool head that determines the winner.