The challenges of piecing together a machine for ChumpCar are all made worthwhile when you begin ascending that famous, windy driveway leading to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. With the rolling Monterey hillsides surrounding you, you’re whisked away into a fantasy realm, and as you crest the hill and make your way through the toll gate, you can almost hear the violin swells in the background.
As the landscape unfolds before you and you’re given view of the front straight, the infield, that unmistakable Dunlop bridge, and the sprint up the hill towards Turn Five, you’ve got to catch your breath. Of course, the blare from cars likely practicing already—I’m not known as terribly punctual—should shock you into drawing some air into your lungs.
The raucous buzz from a field of forty-eight; mostly Mazda Miatas and BMW 325s, a smattering of Mustangs, the odd Neon, and a dash of rusty Porsches to complete the mix. The cars sort themselves out throughout the first day; first running through technical inspection before throwing in a few sighting laps. As the sound limits at Laguna Seca are notoriously low, entrants were scrambling to make sure they slid under the ninety decibel limit, often by diverting their exhausts off to the left; the sound meter station sits just off the right side of the course. Therefore, if you live somewhere on the west coast, when you see a racecar’s exhaust jutting awkwardly away from the bumper at a ninety-degree angle, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s seen some time at the famous circuit.
Outside the track, teams set up their campsites with gleaming motorhomes, ragtag tents, sleeping bags laid out in truck beds, and everything in between. Idle chit-chat quickly becomes enthusiastic laughter, everyone seems at ease, and yet it’s still quite competitive. However, after looking at the team names, you realize what the real character of this event is.
ChumpCar is meant to be light and fun, and when you name your team Late Ape-X, you’re probably not sweating tenths of a pound, avoiding red meat, and getting nine hours of sleep. That said, there are plenty of guys in this category who want to win and will, like a depraved addict, chase the dragon all across the country. Therefore, the guys at the front of the pack were not just hanging around.
On Friday practice, Open Source Autosport and their Porsche 914 led the field with a 1:50 lap, with the Basil Weenie E30 two seconds behind. The majority of the contenders that day were lapping within ten seconds of the front runners, so the spread of performance wasn’t too wide for a race of this level of competition. However, with seven hours of racing ahead, lap times would contribute less to success on Sunday than a reliability, consistency, and strong strategy.
After a heated start on Saturday morning, the Uncommon Friends 240Z shot of into the lead, driven by IMSA champion John Morton. Uncommon Friends had some serious firepower that day—both with their ’71 Datsun and an impressive driver lineup. Behind them, the Open Source Motorsport Porsche 914 followed by The Flying Hawaiians’ 260Z , and the No Ragrets! MR2 in close pursuit. Trailing carefully and quietly in fifth, the matte black Mitsubishi Eclipse run by Slugworks prepared its chance.
As is often the case with a seven-hour race, it was mechanical attrition which claimed a few and thinned out the pack, which by then was being led by a few quick Miatas from Bare Bones Racing and Force Majeure, Miami Bucket List Racing’s E30, and a very quick ’94 Jetta from die Lilium Mannschaft.
The 240Z at the front of the field ran into gearbox issues as well as losing a bit of power, but their persistence kept them in contention with the front runners for five of the race’s seven hours. When driveline problems forced them out as the sun was at its highest over Laguna Seca, the unsuspecting Slugworks Eclipse grabbed first and fended off the attacks of the Basil Weenie BMW. A few other quick cars, including the Flying Hawaiians’ E30 and the Miata P.I., waited in the wings for attrition to hand them the lead.
With just an hour to go, the running order had been well established and the gap was such that it would take a Herculean effort or a mechanical failure to change the positions. Such was the case with the Bare Bones Racing Miata, when a broken wheel bearing sent it into the pits just thirty minutes shy of the checkered flag being thrown. Force Majeure’s Mazda also checked into the pits prematurely with a broken ball joint. With two of the quickest Miatas out of the fight, On Second Thought’s Miata and Blown My Wad’s—you’ve got to love the names—’94 325is inherited a top-ten finishing spot.
Carefully managing pace, keeping their noses clean, and having the luck to avoid mechanical failure: the Slugworks team had it all. They took the checkered flag on Saturday, showing that a a front wheel-drive machine with a spraypainted exterior stands as good a chance at winning as a prepped 325— Basil Weenie’s BMW came in second. The aptly-named Miata P.I.—doused in Ferrari red—finished third; down another two laps. Trailing in fourth and third, respectively, were the Flying Hawaiians’ 260Z and the Polish Hammer ’05 Acura.
The weather on Sunday was nothing but ideal. Sunday’s seven-hour race began like Saturday’s, but after leading for just one lap, the Uncommon Friends 240Z retired with mechanical problems—so much for an all-star team! Always in contention, the Basil Weenie Beemer inherited first, with the No Ragrets! MR2 using its nimbleness to nip at the BMW’s heels. Proving that ChumpCar attracts all stripes of racing enthusiasts, makes, and models, Bluff Harder campaigned their Mercedes-Benz C32, which tailed behind in fifth. Who says a luxurious cruiser can’t hold its own at Laguna?
When Basil Weenie cracked their oil pan on one of Laguna’s pointier curbs, they had to back off and observe the melee waged between the Miatas of Force Majeure, Bare Bones Racing, and Miata P.I. from a safe distance. After the first third of the race, the Porsches’ of UBoot Rennenwerks and Open Source Autosport diced for the lead, while the ever-present Slugworks Eclipse watched carefully and quietly from third; ready to pounce.
Though some first accused the Slugworks Eclipse for sandbagging, there was no question they had the combination of pace and reliability that would see them to another victory. Pulling four seconds out, every lap, ahead of the dueling Porsches, nobody could touch the ramshackle Mitsubishi. With a scorching 1:46.526 lap managed in the last quarter of the race, it was obvious these guys had their setup right, and could make their tires last the distance.
Behind these three, the unsuspecting C32 and two Miatas—Force Majeure’s and Bare Bones’—made up the front-running pack, and for a while, it seemed as if they’d settled into a high-speed procession. Likely fatigued from the three-day effort, the drivers were running consistent paces and avoiding any major risks. The equally-matched aforementioned Miatas traded positions for third and fourth as the Mercedes dropped back, and at the finish line, the entry from Force Majeure snagged third by the slimmest of margins.
At the end of it all, it was the Slugworks Eclipse which brought home a second win. Perhaps the Mitsubishi’s layout aided it over the sand-swept surface of Laguna Seca, or maybe a set of spectacular brakes—Laguna’s known to be tough on the ‘ol binders—helped it lap consistently and quickly. Maybe you could chalk some of that success up to the tried-and-tested 4G63 motor. Whatever the reason, the elated Slugworks team took home their first two wins in the ChumpCar series, and the UBoot Rennwerks Team tailed in second; just three laps down, with the rest of the field not far off.
With competition this close, at this cost, and with this sort of scenery, it’s no wonder the Wilwood Grand Prix drew as many entrants as it did. What’s more—the relaxed ambiance meant the drivers’ heads avoided unnecessary inflation, and most of the cars went home dent-free. When ChumpCar returns to the iconic Californian circuit this winter, you can rest assured—the field will be filled to the brim.