Joe McGuigan went down a popular route a few years back. When his wife Rebecca purchased a Scion FR-S in early 2017, she got it to learn how to turn a quick lap. Joe, a coach and racer of high repute, had other plans. One year later, he’d usurped this car from his generous wife and turned it into a serious track toy. Reliable, lightweight, stable, and very lively, this Scion has gifted Joe the sort of joy that can be measured in the creases at the edges of his eyes.
Much has been said about the FR-S’ handling. As the spiritual successor to the agile Toyota AE86 and the Toyota/Subaru representative in the momentum car matchup, it had to gyrate and communicate. It turned out the car would work well in the hands of the tidier drivers, too. “The beauty of this chassis is its versatility; it can adapt to almost any driving style or application. At the end of the day, the real adaptations depend on tire choice; they have to do with whether the tire rewards lots of slip or tidier driving,” Joe gushed.
It takes more than that to win time attack events. To build upon the FR-S’ strong foundation, Joe decided to stiffen the car, replace most of the arms, widen the footprint, and add just a few aerodynamic elements for a hint of downforce and extra reassurance at higher speeds. His first addition was TC Design’s unobtrusive half-cage. This kept Joe and his 6-foot-3-inch frame safe and allowed him to continue commuting comfortably.
He then fortified the front end with Cusco lower control arms and SPL’s bumpsteer-fighting front tie rods. At the rear, he employed an MCA Traction Bracket to better combine wheelspin and propulsion, and then bolted on FIGS Engineering rear arms for more adjustability. “From the factory, the rear end has no camber eccentric bolts so aftermarket items are needed for easy trackday adjustment,” he clarified. Then came ST swaybars, SPL solid subframe bushings, 17×9-inch WedsSport TC105X wheels, and 255/40/17 tires. Last but not least, Annex Suspension‘s Clubspec Pro coilovers finished off the suspension. Annex helped develop the car with Joe. In fact, he’s now switching from 9k/10k to 12/14k at the next event to better support the aero loading.
Cornering speeds are critical, but hitting the brakes late and trailing them even later are also required to make up for the FR-S’ straight-line shortcomings. Up front, Alcon front calipers and custom two-piece rotors handle the brunt of the braking force, though OEM Brembo’s with Centric rotors play enough of a role to help him rotate the rear into slower corners. Winmax pads give him consistency and confidence. With a well-sorted brake system underneath him, he’s comfortable waiting for the guy beside him to brake first.
The aerodynamic additions were aimed at achieving a modest improvement in stability rather than transforming the car completely. With a Verus front splitter, a Verus Non-Agressive Rear Diffuser, and a prominent Sard GT-style wing, the FR-S was made more reassuring. Thankfully, it remains a playful car that slides at high speeds—albeit in a forgiving fashion.
With a background in drifting and karting, Joe prefers driving with a little slip angle and can improvise with the car well out of shape. He knows how to play to the car’s strengths, too. With moderate torque and a pointy nose, the FR-S allows Joe to take shallow, economical lines through the tighter stuff and still get back to power early.
Down on Power
As strong as its cornering was, the FR-S still had some real shortcomings. Out of the box, the FA20 engine didn’t quite cut the mustard. “It’s almost like Subaru took one of their normal turbocharged engines and said, ‘OK, remove the turbo, make it rev a little faster, and leave it at that,'” he scoffed. In addition to little torque and a lackluster top-end, an awkward lull right in the middle of the rev range—right around 4,000 rpm—left Joe feeling a little lukewarm.
Fortunately, only a couple additions were needed to raise and broaden the curve. An ACE 350 Header and a Tanabe cat-back exhaust filled in the mid-range’s dip and made the flat-four a little hungrier for revs. However, it was Delicious Tuning‘s Flex Fuel kit, an EcuTeK Bluetooth kit, and a Stage 2 tune from Zach Tucker of Counterspace Garage which realized the potential of all the parts involved.
Though it’s still a far cry from a drag king, the FR-S weighs a little less than 2,700 pounds and has a 4.7:1 final drive to make good use of the 200 horsepower available. For Joe’s purposes, it’s enough for now; the usable torque and extra urgency are appreciated while exiting the tighter corners at Sonoma Raceway and Thunderhill.
A Bright Future Ahead
This well-rounded vehicle hasn’t been hindered too much by its shortcomings; Joe has gone wheel-to-wheel with cars with twice the power and much more tire. Even so, this success hasn’t quelled Joe’s desire for a little more grunt. In the coming months, the car will have a Harrop supercharger installed. Supercar drivers better watch out—a supercharged FR-S is seriously quick in the right hands.
That’s not his only target on the horizon. “While I’ve enjoyed leaving it open for time attack and track days, now I’m shifting to a more competitive mindset,” he asserts. Once he picks a series to have a specific rule set to observe, he plans on taking the car to TC Design to complete a full cage for competition. “I’m confident that, with my partners’ help, we will be able to develop the car to perform well since it’s already done so well as it has.”
Since Joe’s already finished on the USTCC podium in a car he’d only spent one morning in, I have a feeling he’ll be at the sharp end of the pack in this soon-to-be-frightening FR-S he knows so well.