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Last Post 17 Sep 2015 04:54 PM by  HorsePower2
My Letter to the SEB RE: A Place for Affordable FWD Cars
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HorsePower2
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10 Feb 2015 08:31 PM
    I am putting this out there in the interest of starting a discourse about what I believe to be a void in the Street classing structure. The purpose of writing these letters is to initiate change (or sometimes to oppose it). I've written my letter. If you agree, please write yours. If you disagree, please write your letter, too. If I am the only one out there who thinks classing older FWD cars competitively in Street is better for overall participation and variety, so be it, but I happen to think the issue is important enough to be aired. Please note, I am not looking for "I-Classing" specifically for my car, as I am in support of this concept regardless of whether my current vehicle is classed/reclassed accordingly, as mentioned in the last paragraph of my letter; I simply see an issue where two of the slowest classes in autocross (and the only FWD-dominated Street category classes) are dominated by $20,000-$30,000 new cars, leaving no room for affordable, versatile 10+ year old FWD vehicles available on the used market that may better meet the needs of new autocrossers, autocrossers on a budget, etc.

    Here is my letter to the SEB as submitted:

    "I am concerned about the direction that car classing in the Street category is taking. I am concerned that the emphasis on creating de facto spec classes that intentionally feature the new cars and bury the old ones will ultimately hurt participation in the sport. Autocross is the grass roots entry level of motorsports. The Street classes feed the other levels of autocross, and autocross feeds the other levels of racing – time trials, club racing, professional racing, etc. To hurt the roots of the tree hurts the branches and the leaves.

    I was thrilled when the Stock (Street) class move to street tires was made. I viewed this is as a move to make competition more fair and affordable. It fit perfectly with the SCCA’s new mantra of “Keep it Simple, Keep it Fun.” It closed the gap between those with unlimited funds for buying the fresh R compound tires and those who can’t spend with such extravagance on a hobby. It allowed more people to make the jump to competing at national events. I, personally, “voted with my feet.” I left an AS Corvette in 2008 in favor of an STS Miata specifically because of the cost of R compounds for a full season of autocross with 2 drivers. With the move to street tires in Stock/Street, I returned in 2014, running a GS Celica.

    Why am I rehashing the street tire issue? Because I feel like its main touted advantage, affordability, has completely lost relevance with the new emphasis on classing only new cars competitively in the Street classes. With cars now classed based on newness and perceived popularity, who cares if you save $2,000 per year on tires if you have to spend $20,000-$30,000 on a NEW car to have a shot at being competitive in even the two slowest classes in Street (GS and HS)?

    Street class should be an affordable place to compete, given the move to street tires, and the limited preparation allowances. What better category to draw in new enthusiasts, young enthusiasts, those on a budget? There is a class (SS), devoted to $100,000 super cars (Porsche GT3), but at the other end of the spectrum, to be competitive in Street class in a car that costs under $10,000 ES is currently the only choice. This leaves out a HUGE potential market segment of people who might need a more practical dual-use car – college students, new grads, those with young families, or those who don’t want to have an expensive car payment on a new vehicle. What about those who want a separate car for autocross that still has some practicality and purpose beyond the sport, but don’t want to spend a ton of money on a hobby? What about those who want to be able to carry spare tires, equipment, and their family to an event without needing a truck and trailer? A RWD 2-seater MR2 Spyder or NB Miata with a tiny trunk isn’t a very practical choice for this, and an expensive car payment or two isn’t very practical or feasible to a lot of people either. If we drive these potential enthusiasts away to different sports and hobbies now because of the barrier to entry, who’s to say they will ever return?

    Of the 9 Street classes in solo, only 2 are aimed primarily at FWD cars. I think adding one more class, an ES-like class for a variety of 10-20 year old fun and affordable FWD cars, would be an excellent solution to this problem. I would once again vote with my feet and I am confident that I am far from alone in this philosophy. I like street tires, I like front wheel drive and the practicality of having usable trunk space, and my budget is $10,000 or less. Right now, I feel like Solo has no class to offer me. My naturally aspirated 140 hp 2003 Toyota Celica GT is intentionally buried in GS under turbo-charged 252+ hp titans with electronic differentials, gearing advantages, and wider wheels simply because the Celica isn’t a brand new car. I use this example because it is personally relevant to me, but there are numerous other fun and affordable out of production cars that are likewise buried, and other drivers in the same scenario as me. Just as GS became a spec class when the Mini Cooper S was allowed in, it is now rapidly becoming a spec Ford Focus ST class under the hand of the current classing scheme. HS is poised to become a spec Ford Fiesta ST class. DS will soon be dominated by the new 2015 Subaru WRX. There’s no FWD Street class left for any other marquee or budget. A $20,000-$30,000 Ford is the minimum cost of entry. The history of the brief rise and inevitable fall of spec classes in Stock/Street is well known, like the GS Mini Cooper S, like the BS Honda S2000 CR, like the CS MSR Miata, et al. yet we are on the cusp of repeating this cycle once again.

    Yes, I realize there is no feasible way to make every car competitive. However, the current classing scheme leaves a large void for affordable FWD cars available on the used car market. Even if an affordable FWD Street class is made and my current car isn’t classed there, I will still absolutely support it because the principle is sound and is good for the sport. How many others are out there who feel this way, but aren’t writing letters? How many are simply walking away from this sport or being put off it from the very start? I love autocross, and I have devoted myself to it regionally and nationally for 9 years. I am proud to have two national champion jackets in my closet. But I myself am starting to consider just walking away. I am concerned that the sport I once loved is being steered away from the grass-roots entry level motorsports status it once enjoyed. Isn’t creating an inviting classing structure that appeals to people of all ages and budgets an integral part of keeping this great sport simple and fun, just like the motto says?"
    impalanut
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    10 Feb 2015 09:35 PM
    Great letter
    drdisque
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    11 Feb 2015 02:07 PM
    Two things - HS used to be like this, nobody raced in it. That's why they proposed getting rid of it altogether. HS is already the most undersubscribed Street class. There's no way they're going to go for an even slower street class.

    With the moves they made this year, there are plenty of older inexpensive cars that will be competitive in HS. Sentra SE-R, Civic SI, GTI VR6, 3rd Gen Supra. All those cars can give the FiST a run for its money.

    The SEB hasn't moved the final generation Celica because whether you like it or not, top drivers can still compete with it successfully against the FoST's at a national level in GS.

    The other issue is that all the people you mention who would be interested in this class aren't interested in racing at a national level. That is the reason HS is on life support and faster cars were added to the class- nobody races HS at a national level. If your local region wants to add "beater stock" for FWD cars over 10 years old worth under $10k, they are more than welcome to. Virtually any HS car can be successful at the local level in HS. The issue is that those interested in competing at a national level usually move onto a faster class. In order for a class to have appeal at the national level, it has to be have cars in it that are actually sort of fast. Thus, the addition of faster cars to HS.

    Don't think I don't understand your sentiment. I certainly do. I think that anything we can do to make more cars competitively classed is a good thing for the sport. However, at a national level, there's simply no appetite for a class like this.
    rosejm
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    11 Feb 2015 10:22 PM
    However, at a national level, there's simply no appetite for a class like this.

    Of course not. This kind of class (what HS & GS were for the last few years) doesn't sell any new cars for the manufacturers.

    Just as with any other shift in the world, follow the money and you'll see who the real decision makers are.
    rodhx
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    11 Feb 2015 11:11 PM

    Of course not. This kind of class (what HS & GS were for the last few years) doesn't sell any new cars for the manufacturers.

    Just as with any other shift in the world, follow the money and you'll see who the real decision makers are.


    Oh yeah....the solo classes are all full of new cars to pay off our manufacturer overlords. Just look at all of those in AS, BS, ES, STS, STF, STU, and most everything at the higher prep levels. ;)
    ucfquattroguy
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    12 Feb 2015 11:24 AM
    I think what the OP is experiencing is a 'nature of the beast' that is Stock/Street class cars: Cars are getting faster from the factory, period. We are now in a world where you can get a Ford Focus with 220+hp. It wasn't all that long ago where the "hot" Focus was 160hp (just as an example). The older platforms are simply being outperformed because the 'market' has been demanding better performing vehicles to drive to/from work and the grocery store.
    drdisque
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    12 Feb 2015 12:38 PM
    I forgot to also mention, that a number of the cars in the price range he quotes, such as early Mazda3's, Proteges, Zetec/Duratec Focuses, older base mini, can make really good STF cars on a pretty modest budget.
    Adam303
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    12 Feb 2015 01:22 PM
    ^ This.

    I think STF checks a lot of the boxes that the OP is asking for. I wouldn't be surprised if the SEB brings up STF in the response to the letter.
    Z3papa
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    12 Feb 2015 03:21 PM
    Other than ES where NB Miatas still compete, there are not going to be many Street classes to support 15 year old cars. Why? Because the typical consumer is not going to keep or rely on such cars to be their primary source of transportation, and those that do will be less inclined to then run them through the paces.
    coneassasin
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    13 Feb 2015 12:55 AM
    I like where the new H street is going. I wrote my own letter to have the Veloster Turbo moved - there is no reason for that car to be in G when it is right in between the Civic Si and Fiesta GT in performance, weight, and wheel size.
    LASTNDN
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    13 Feb 2015 06:14 PM
    No money to be made on people that only want to drive/race cheap. They don't WANT you to participate this way. Consider the solomatters on how car classifications are made. Also, note the automotive magazines (most-not all) DON'T write about how to do things cheaply. Again, their customer is the advertiser, not the reader and the advertisers are about selling parts. Consequently they are all about loading parts onto a car (except that one magazine that emphasizes skill, knowledge and treachery (and bribes) every October...)

    It can be worse.
    Go read forums regarding sportsman racing in NHRA drag racing....(although most of the "stock" class racers are REALLY old cars. Then again, one forum stated it costs about $20,000 AFTER you have the body to make a competitive (not world beating) "stock" class car....) NHRA is not a club and has displayed a lack of interest in sportsman racing. At least SCCA has a process to interact with the leadership.
    Finally, I would offer the club national leadership seems to be focused on national type events, not local events. True, your local region can make whatever class / rules they want, but perhaps they could give more consideration to local regions.

    I like your idea simply because it makes it easier for young families to participate without leveraging their kid's college education...
    sjfehr
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    14 Feb 2015 08:38 AM
    Horsepower2, your argument seems to be less about cost and more about forced stagnation. I get that the guy with the 2014 Mustang wants to be able to run it a few years, but we can't exactly tell the guy who just bought a 2015 Mustang we're going to bury him so the 2014 guy can stay competitive, can we? It's just the nature of the beast. Normal people will just continue to run what they've got and enjoy themselves and repeat the cycle when it's paid off: they're not buying a car to autocross, they're autocrossing the car they have. Which, despite whatever the purchase cost was, is essentially "free" because it's what they already have. It's only the pointy-end that has the "I have to buy a new car every year!!!!" attitude, but they're not the demographic you're talking about.

    Since you're talking college kids, here's a snippet from Econ101: supply and demand. Really cheap cars are really cheap because nobody wants to drive them. Most college kids aren't going to be able to afford the tires, gas & entry fees associated with autocross anyhow, even if they have a well-classed car. I know I couldn't. Hell, I had enough trouble just affording beer.

    I think all cars should have a reasonably competitive place to play, that's why I wrote a letter last year in support of keeping HS despite waning national interest/participation, but I just don't think the demand is there to create another new class for this segment. Definitely not enough demand to make them "the" car for a class. Even if it might work for a few years, those cars are getting older and worse and very soon people will stop driving them altogether. It's only going to get worse, as many (most?) of the cheap FWD hot hatches of today, and the used hot hatches of tomorrow, are too unstable to even be permitted to run, letalone classed competitively. Right now, you've got ES for cheap miatas (the answer is ALWAYS miata), and STF/STC where cheap beaters with cheap performance upgrades can still be competitive, so it's not a bad time to be autocrossing as a poor college kid.

    In short, you may have to sigh and accept the most popular cars are always going to be favored and that Sports Car Club of America has an unfair bias towards sports cars. And then start scouring craigslist for a 1989 Civic.
    gareno
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    14 Feb 2015 07:07 PM
    Just my 2cents.

    Your Celica is a very competent car, and with the exception of the FoST, it isn't horribly outclassed. Its still a trophy car.

    I also feel like you're discounting 2 other affordable FWD cars. I feel the base Mini will still be the car to beat in HS. And you can easily pick up an 07-08 Mini Cooper S for under $10,000 and win DS. Which I predict is the car that will win this year since the TT is gone.
    Andres3165
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    15 Feb 2015 01:03 PM
    Mini is not the car to have anymore in HS... you know that Greg... neither Kumho tires... so far ;)

    Andres
    VT2WA29
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    16 Feb 2015 11:24 AM
    I've owned and autoX'ed a 2008 Mazdaspeed3, 2012 Mazdaspeed3 and currently have a 2014 Ford Focus ST.

    You can buy a 2008 Mazdaspeed3 for $14,000, can buy a 2012 Mazdaspeed3 for $18,000, and can buy a Focus ST for $19,000

    Yes you can buy a Focus ST for less than $20K: http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/c...33867.html

    Though I currently own a Focus ST, I liked my 2012 Mazdaspeed3 better. I think the 2010 - 2013 Mazdaspeed3 is definitely on the same level as the Focus ST. Should be an interesting race in GS this year.
    race2win
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    21 Feb 2015 04:37 PM

    Posted By AJ Laferty on 13 Feb 2015 06:14 PM
    I like your idea simply because it makes it easier for young families to participate without leveraging their kid's college education...


    I've never quite understood this argument...Just about anyone with a pulse can walk into a Ford dealer right now & drive off in a new Focus/Fiesta ST with a warranty for less than $400/month. Buying/maintaining/repairing a 10+ year-old car with 6-figure miles on it could be arguably more damaging to a young family's college fund IMO.

    I think the OP's idea has merit on the surface, but as has been said it does not work for National level autocrossing. Most of the cars in question are VERY difficult to find in good running condition, & especially STOCK. Adding to that is the fact that there will still be some unobtanium unicorn model that becomes the "must-have" for the class, & there are like 3 still left running in the country.

    ES works because the top cars are still plentiful & easy to find, but most important they are very fun to drive. 90's FWD econoboxes my be plentiful & easy to find as a group, but the top models that would be the "one to have" are not, and the "very fun to drive" aspect is very debatable ;)
    sjfehr
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    21 Feb 2015 05:09 PM

    Posted By race2win on 21 Feb 2015 04:37 PM

    I've never quite understood this argument...Just about anyone with a pulse can walk into a Ford dealer right now & drive off in a new Focus/Fiesta ST with a warranty for less than $400/month. Buying/maintaining/repairing a 10+ year-old car with 6-figure miles on it could be arguably more damaging to a young family's college fund IMO.
    What student can afford a $400 car payment? That's out of reach of a lot of families, too. If your used car is costing you more than $400/month in repair bills, you're doing it wrong. Even if there was some catastrophic failure with an extremely expensive repair, your liability is limited with the used car as you can always just scrap it buy another. $5k will buy a kid a good car. $10k will buy a damned good car. I daresay you can find competitive dual-use autocross/daily driver cars for both price points.
    race2win
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    21 Feb 2015 05:31 PM
    First off, I never said college student, we were talking about young families.

    Second, going with your example...what college student has $5-10K expendable cash lying around? I know my 19-yr old college student doesn't lol. I agree that repairs would have to add up to $400 a month to be equal, but that's not taking into consideration the original expense. Doing it wrong IMO is putting your own $$ into an old depreciable asset that may break at any time, causing not only financial stress, but the stress of being without a car & trying to get to class/work. I would rather invest that cash into something with a potential return, but agreed I may see this differently than some.

    A brand new base Fiesta ST can be had for $289/month with 10% down, $247 with $5000 down, & $174 with $10K down. Ford credit will also lease to just about anyone, that would make the payment even less.
    twistedwankel
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    21 Feb 2015 06:39 PM
    Good letter. I feel for the masses.
    I'm old and no longer compete at Nationals. I am totally pleased with both my 04 RX8 in C Street and my 00 Corvette Vert Z51 in B Street. Very competitive and I'm over 68. Both are reasonably priced great handling, bone stock competitive cars well under $15k with low miles. Fantastic factory and aftermarket support.
    I gave up on the "stock classes" two decades ago when they moved my 4cyl turbo car to higher classes every year for 3 or 4 years only to end up ultimately back where it started in GS. "G"eeze Stock/Street. It was an 88 Conquest Turbo. 200HP big rims. Small cars are running more HP that that now with crazy computers.
    I really don't think it's possible to keep old stock cars competitive against the modern ones. I was told years ago (when I gripped about a discontinued cat) by Howard Duncan that the reason there are Prepared classes is that parts eventually are not available anymore and people still love their cars:) That was good advice then and I think still has merit. I moved that car to SMod and had a lot of fun. Move your older cars to another class and have competitive fun.
    LASTNDN
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    21 Feb 2015 08:08 PM
    Prepared is not a cheap place to be. First, if you want to be remotely competitive it isn't going to be a streetable car, meaning $2000 for a trailer and however much you can get away with for a tow truck ($20-50K?)There is the cost of fuel to tow to and from an event, stowage of the vehicle because you can't just park it and the trailer just anywhere, especially if you live in an apartment. Street prepared today falls into the same category---trailered cars. So, when you think you'll build a FSP car for $10000, better add to that the transportation costs. Pretty easy to blow through $100 in gas just towing to and from an event. Add entry, consumables, etc and you're at $200 for 3 runs of 60 seconds, not including the cost of the vehicle. Not exactly cheap fun. Isn't that what we're talking about here-the price of fun?

    For Racetowin, I appreciate your position but I would offer that as a general rule, NO car appreciates. Your comments about a depreciating asset is noted but I would note that depreciation on a new car is far higher as a percentage invested than a 5 year old used car. There are some exceptions, but I feel comfortable stating that depreciation on a new focus will be higher over the same 3 years than a 5 year old focus during the same period. Then there is the cost of insurance, taxes, etc.

    Mods cost money, sometimes a lot. That's why a lot of folks try to run in a street / stock class. Minimal mods.

    My complaint is that there are cheap econoboxes that LOTS of people can afford and then there are expensive econoboxes that dominate their class. I just don't think they should be in the same class. But, that's my problem I guess. It doesn't seem to matter to SCCA.
    If SCCA wanted to increase participation, they would create a place to participate for young families where they can grow from a slow car to a faster car over the years. But, SCCA, with few exceptions, SEEMS to be more concerned with new cars and shaping the membership. I'm inclined to believe they don't want to expand the base, only a particular group for that base. Thus the shaping description.
    Now, they could compensate for older cars being less competitive by moving them DOWN the classification ladder as they age, but I will recognize the administrative burden the SEB would have with this effort.

    They have included CAM which seems to me a run what you brung deal and will result in ludicrous investment eventually. Probably not the "GoodGuys" crowd the SCCA is pursuing, but the hard core autocrosser chasing a jacket. If you need a precedent, look no further than the Street Touring classes.

    So, it gets down to how much do you want to spend to have fun?
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