Originally Published on TrackTuned.com on the 8th July 2016.
Story by James Chartres | Photos by James Chartres & Meghan Frolli.
Ever since I was a kid growing up, in Adelaide, Australia watching the local Formula 1 Grand Prix, I knew I wanted to race cars. Now living in the US, I was able to buy one of my dream cars, a Datsun 240z. With several track days in my Datsun 240z under my belt, I decided to attend a Skip Barber 3 Day Racing School. Armed with my competition license, it was time to seriously look into wheel-to-wheel road racing. There were so many options available, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of funds and time building my own race car. I wanted to focus more on the driving aspect and learning from competition. This narrowed it down to the inexpensive specification classes such as Formula Vee, Spec Miata and Spec Racer Ford. Visiting a SCCA weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the large field sizes of Spec Miata and Spec Racer Ford won me over. Lots of cars on track meant there was always going to be someone to race with. I talked to the racers in the paddock, I investigated the costs of both classes and decided to test a Spec Racer Ford.
Pulling out of the hot pits for the first time, I was nervous and not sure what to expect. Then I turned the wheel and with the low weight, the car responded almost instantly. I was hooked! That season I started racing with SCCA, at first renting a Spec Racer Ford with the local Customer Service Representation (CSR) named CSR Performance. With half a season gone by renting, I started looking to purchase my own car. It didn’t take me long before I found Chassis #501. For less than a modern used Honda Civic, I now owned a Race Car. A real fair dinkum purpose built Race Car. You couldn’t wipe that smile off my face for days. Sure it hadn’t run in a year and needed some maintenance but it was a good starting point. It used to be owned by Dick Clift and I later learned that it holds the race track record for SRF at Sonoma Raceway, 1:50.603. That will likely be beat this July when we run with the new faster Hoosier tires. (Update: It was beat that year by friend Jeff Cook)
So Why A Spec Racer Ford?
Spec Racers are not as pretty as a formula car, not as fancy as a carbon fiber prototype, and not as powerful as a muscle car. Don’t underestimate them though, they aren’t exactly slouches. The Spec Racer Ford is a momentum car where you can learn to go fast on track and more importantly race craft. They are a great starting point for the beginning road racer as they are relatively simple to work on, have fantastic trackside support and require only a small amount of maintenance. You can’t drive them to the track, they need to be towed, but their small size and lightweight means you don’t need a big custom car hauler. The car fits in most trailers whether open or enclosed. The network of CSRs provide fantastic trackside support meaning you don’t have to haul around a lot spare parts or gear just to make sure you make it through the weekend. The Spec Racer Ford racers are incredibly welcoming and friendly, providing lots of pointers for new drivers and helping you out if your car has issues.
There are two types of Spec Racer Fords at the moment-the Gen 2 and the newly upgraded Gen 3. I own a Gen2. Both versions use the same specification chassis, suspension, brakes, transmission and tires. The main difference is the engine and the minimum weight with driver. A Gen2 weighs 1670 pounds (757 kgs) and uses a 1.9 liter Ford motor that is dyno tuned to 105 horsepower and sealed. The Gen 3 is lighter with a minimum weight of 1570 pounds (708 kgs) due to a more modern and powerful sealed 1.6 liter Ford motor that produces approximately 135 horsepower. These specification and sealed components eliminate fancy exotic parts (AKA really expensive parts) and allow drivers to focus on the competition and racing. While it might not scratch the engineering itch for design and fabrication, there is still car preparation and setup tuning that you can play with.
Spec Racer Ford Specifications
- Manufacturer: SCCA Enterprises
- Chassis: Steel Tube Frame #501
- Body: 3 Piece Fiberglass
- Engine: 1.9ltr Ford sealed
- Power/Torque: 105 hp / 115 lb-ft
- Tranny: Sealed 5 speed
- Weight: 1670 lbs (757 kgs) with Driver
- Shocks: Sealed Penske Shocks, Rebound Adjustable
- Suspension: Fully Adjustable Lower A-arm and Upper Rockers
- Sway bars: Adjustable front and rear
- Brakes: Vented and Slotted Wilwood Discs with Hawk Pads
- Fuel: 7.75 US gallon (29 Litre) fuel cell
- Tires: Hoosier Slicks 185/60R13 Front and 205/60R13 Rear
The Spec Racer Ford uses rod ends and solid bushings all round with adjustable links for controlling Camber, Caster and Toe. Rocker arms connect the uprights to the sealed Penske or Koni shock absorbers that are rebound adjustable. The finely threaded shock bodies are also used for configuring the ride height, rake and corner weights of the car. Combined with front and rear sway bars, the all round adjustability allows you to setup the car for different tracks and changing track conditions, in the search of those elusive last few tenths. Adjustments are easily made, as once the body is lifted off, everything is right within reach. Hoosier, the Spec tire manufacturer, publishes a base setup so the beginning racer can just drive without having to worry too much about setup. Formerly, Goodyear was the Spec tire, which is why you'll see Goodyear on the sidewalls in many shots in this article.
Is it Safe?
Safety is well covered, the SRF has ample crush zones and a centrally located driver with a full tube frame chassis and roll over hoops. Drivers equipment includes 6 point harness, Helmet, Head & Neck restraints, full fire retardant clothing (shoes, socks, underwear, drivers suit and gloves) plus arm restraints in case of a crash or rollover. The cars also include a fuel cell and fully integrated fire suppression system.
Is It Fun?
Yes! So how fast does it go? The Gen 2 has a top speed of 135 mph (217 kph) and the Gen3 can reach 150 mph (241 kph). The low horsepower means you need to drive the car like a momentum car. This means trying to get the highest cornering speeds possible by ringing every last bit of grip out of the tires. With a rear mounted motor and tranny there is a lot of weight in the back and a heavy lift mid corner can be disastrous. The car is a lot of fun to drive, the open cockpit gives you a lot a visibility and you can feel the wind around your helmet. Of course it makes it interesting in the wet but with the short SCCA sprint races the water isn’t such a big deal and the smooth driver is rewarded in tricky conditions. With all the cars the same, competition at the front is tough with other racers ready to exploit any on track mistake. With limited aerodynamics the draft on long straights can be awesome and cruel at the same time. The parity of the cars results in some really great racing including multiple lead changes and battles throughout the fields. Ultimately a great bang for the buck experience, producing lots of fun and excitement for competitors.
About the Author
James Chartres wants to live in a world where Humans live on Mars. Born in Australia he is now living in the US where he works as a Systems Engineer at NASA Ames Research Center, California. When he’s not managing the technical work on Small Spacecraft projects, you can find him cooking, tinkering in the garage or racing Spec Racer Fords with SCCA on the weekends. He operates KangaMotorsports.com, which discusses how to get involved in amateur racing, provides details about racing Spec Racer Fords and covers his Datsun 240z project. You can also follow his exploits on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.