If autocross has a silly season, this is it. The off-season tends to be when thoughts drift to a new car, a different class and competitors ask the all-important question, “What do I really want to drive?” More times than not, these musings are halted by the perception that some of Solo’s most tantalizing classes are simply not obtainable. Perception however is not reality. With the help of a guru, the ShopManual Series will offer the pitch, the scoop, the price tag, the honest truth and the top tips for some of Solo’s most tempting classes. We kick things off with Chapter 1: C-Modified and our guru, Chris Pruett.
Chris Pruett- Chris has spent 16 of his 24 years in Solo competing in C-Modified Formula Fords. Over those years he has competed in 4 different chassis ranging from the bargain basement special to the latest and greatest technology available for the class. Currently he is campaigning the popular Swift DB1 chassis with Ford power.
C-Mod cars are an absolute hoot to drive! They can easily out accelerate, brake, and handle even the most exotic of supercars. As purpose built, dedicated racecars, they are rugged, easy to maintain and very consistent. The rules are also consistent as the class has not seen major change since 1990 and many of the same cars that were competitive then still are. The operating cost is low, tires are reasonable and the competition is always top level. You can think of CM is the “SS” of Modified category.
Before you go too far, you should plan to “test fit” a few CM cars. Most owners will be happy to allow you to jump in their cars as well as discuss the various things they did to customize the fit. These cars are worn as much as they are driven, so getting a chassis that fits you is key.
Once you know what chassis to shop for the best way forward is to shop for a car that has already run in CM. While it’s not difficult to convert a club racing Formula Ford to Solo, a “Want To Buy” post on ApexSpeed.com will likely result in a few options that do not require conversion. That said, converting a club racing FF to Solo (and back) is just a matter of changing gears, alignment, and potentially springs and bars. If going this route, having a “ballpark” Solo specific set up for a given chassis is key to early success.
As for what make/model to shop, there really is no wrong answer as every chassis can be make to work with some time/effort. With that stated, there is good logic in picking any of the Reynard or Van Diemen models from the 1980’s as there a lot of these car running CM which makes leveraging a Solo set up a lot easier.
The Price Tag:
Older CM cars that need some work can be found for around $7500. If you are looking for something that is newer or you would prefer to use the newly introduced Honda Fit powerplant, expect to spend closer to $25000. If your goal is a solid, turn key racer with the equipment you need to get started, that can be done for $10,000 to $15,000 depending on what chassis is best for you.
The first extra expense will be a trailer and a vehicle capable of towing it and the car. Used single axle trailers can be found for around $500. A Formula Ford on a single axle trailer will weigh right around 2000# meaning it can be towed by most vehicles. On the opposite end of the trailer scale is the new dual axle enclosed trailer ranging from 7’x16’ to 8’x20’ towed by newer 1/2 ton pickup or full size SUV. New enclosed trailers run from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on size and options. Used enclosed trailer run anywhere from $3000 to $10,000 depending on condition.
As for other support equipment, you’ll need a low height “quick jack” at a minimum. These are often available when purchasing a car. Jacks run $75 to $100 used to upward of $250 new. Beyond the “quick jack”, you will need a good set of hand tools. Nothing fancy just a decent quality set of SAE wrenches/sockets, and screwdrivers. A lot of alignment/set-up stuff can be leveraged from you current effort. If you do not own any of this equipment, Carroll Smith’s “Prepare To Win” outlines how to do this stuff cheaply.
As for spares, wheels are first on the list. You need at least two sets, one on the car and a spare set. A third set is ideal to accommodate for wet tires. After wheels, focus on chassis specific stuff (sway bars, radiators, brackets, etc). These items can be difficult to quickly source so it is good to have one before you need one. Most C-Mod drivers do not prioritize suspension and bodywork spares as those parts are rarely replaced in a Solo.
The Honest Truth:
The worst part of C-Modified is running in the pouring rain. The first time might be fun, but extensive testing suggests there is no way to do it without getting soaked.
In the dry, tire age, temperature, and surface grip are the three key variables to optimal run times. Fresh tires on a high grip surface on a warm day will yield the best times. Older tires on a low grip surfaces on a cold day is not ideal for good times. If you are running against other CM cars, tire age is the only one to worry about. If you are running competitively in an index class, you need to consider all three.
The biggest consumable by far is tires. The Hoosier R25B’s is essentially the “spec” tire for the class. A set costs $900, including mounted. The first 30 runs will provide “Nationals” level times. Runs 30 to 60 will be at a “Regional” level. Beyond 60 runs you are just having fun as times really fall off. That said, it is not unheard of for a C-Mod driver to put100+ runs on a set of tires.
The Hot Tips:
Start Off on the Right Foot: Buy the best, mechanically sound car you can afford. A car that has been well maintained underneath to me is worth more than one with a fresh paint job or one with a bunch of trick parts or spares. These cars do not require constant maintenance, but they are not maintenance free. A neglected car can quickly become a very troublesome.
Connect Online: C-Mod has a very welcoming and friendly web community. The SCCAForum thread “Moving to C Mod an Introduction” is a great place to start. The forum ApexSpeed.com is an invaluable resource. If you cannot find you answer on ApexSpeed just ask and you’ll quickly have multiple answers from car owners, suppliers, engineers, prep shops, and constructors. If you are on FaceBook, consider liking the SCCA Solo C Modified (CM) page.
Read the Book: The Carroll Smith “To Win” series of book are great sources of information. His “Prepare To Win” is a must read once you purchase a car.
Learn the Set Up that Counts: Do not waste your time and resources running and especially tuning on super old tires. Most find that after 60 runs, the performance drops to a point where the knowledge gained is not transferable to a fresh set up.
Play the Long Game: Stage your updates. Focus first on updates that make the car more reliable and then focused on the trick “go fast” parts. Be patient and have fun. It took Chris six years worth of development to make his DB1 into a championship level CM car.