The Spec E30 might not, on paper at least, have the most appeal of all the racing cars out there. They’re relatively underpowered, and not the lightest machines to ever grace a track, but there’s plenty of good reasons why people would push these cars to the limit. The simple formula not only keeps competition close, but it allows guys to really showcase their ability since the low levels of grip and sufficient amount of torque reward the drivers with a bit of extra finesse.
Mike Skeen is a respected driver in the American road racing world, and here, he dices with 2015 Mid-Atlantic Spec E30 champion Robert Grace, who puts on an amazing display of commitment and courage chasing the wily Skeen. Grace is a superb late-braker, but Skeen had more experience at the time and was able to use some of his craft to keep the hard-charging Grace behind. Additionally, this means Skeen has an ability to rotate his car under braking, which gives him an ability to block and defend without losing much momentum.
That is due, in part, to the setup of the E30. The rear suspension is flawed in some respects, namely it allows for toe-out under compression, which can make the rear dance around quite a bit on throttle. While it doesn’t result in lurid burnouts, it can be used to “bend” the car around an apex if done accurately, and Skeen seems to have mastered the art of gentle hoofing.
With all this tooth-and-nail fighting, the two show one another some respect, and more importantly, and understand what lengths each driver is willing to go to. Grace chimes in on what it takes to dice at that level: “The most important thing at those speeds is trust – I never thought Skeen would do anything unfair.” Skeen’s driving could be described as “hard but fair,” and he does not give any quarter, yet expertly avoids contact, even when arguing over real estate at triple-digit speeds. Somehow, these two make it look almost like a dance.
It’s even more challenging when another, slower car comes into the picture. When negotiating the esses at VIR (01:36), Grace noticed the black E36 they were coming upon and sensed a chance to strike. “At the lower esses, I saw the car and knew it might present an opportunity. Once we were behind it and I saw it go sideways, I lifted to be safe, and ended up losing a bit of time,” Grace explains. When slower traffic gets thrown into the mix, an assertive pursuer can occasionally make up some ground, but it’s hard to predict.
There are plenty of categories one can get started in, but Spec E30 holds a special appeal because of the robust nature of the cars, their willingness to get sideways, and the raspy engine note they produce. They’re not scalpel-sharp, but they’re fairly responsive at 2,700 pounds, and with the right drivers, as seen here, can be made to slide around in close quarters while contesting corners. Formula One can’t hope to have a modicum of the zest these low-budget, spec series offer, because the DNA is simple, the rules emphasize close battles, and the atmosphere encourages a bit of laughter.