Three and a half years ago I bought a 1991 turbocharged MR2. It has since come to be known as "Hyde." With the purchase of this MR2, I embarked on a mission. The mission was simple: To build a turbo MR2 that is competitive in drag racing, auto crossing and road racing all while still being able to be comfortably street driven.
These venues are obviously very different from each other, so there was going to have to be some compromise and flexibility in the buildup of the car. It would b e impossible to build a car that is absolutely ideal for any one of these events and still remain competitive in the others. So there needed to be a balance in the modification process. There were important choices to be made.
The stiff suspension that wou ld be desirable for the twists and turns is quite unwelcome on the drag strip. Likewise, a massive turbocharger capable of 600 HP would be great for drag racing, but the lag of that sort of beast would be painful on a tight autocross course. These choices , and many more, had to be made on my budget, which is slimmer than Olsen twins on a diet.
The result of my efforts was a 308 RWHP MR2 with a mildly adjustable suspension, a good medium-sized turbocharger and several sets of rims with different tires for the different venues. The turbo, a custom T3/T4 setup, was chosen because of its 400 RWHP potential coupled with mild lag.
I find a lot of irony in the fact that my first serious dyno tuning session in Hyde resulted in 300 RWHP. The irony comes from the fac t that 300 RWHP was not my goal (in fact, I had no specific HP goal), but for whatever reason, 300 RWHP seems to be the Holy Grail to the many MR2 drivers.
In the MR2 world you will often hear people inquiring: What's the best turbo for 300 RWHP? What's the best clutch for 300 RWHP? What's the best intercooler for 300 RWHP? And my all-time favorite: What's the best blow-off valve for 300 RWHP?
I have searched high and low, but I have yet to learn why the 300 RWHP is so coveted. When I reached that Mecca of power and looked down from that awesome height, I did have one sudden, very insightful realization. I prefer to drive my MR2 on low boost.
As wonderful as 300 RWHP is in a street car, it is entirely unnecessary, even for those of us who love pushing our ca rs every chance we get. On the low boost setting, 15 PSI, Hyde is making just about 260 RWHP, which is more than enough power to force your lips into a smile.
As stated, my goal was not to make 300 RWHP, it was to build an all-around performance vehicle. In order to do that, I was going to need the racing skills and experience in order to drive the car competitively.
My history of racing turbo MR2s before the purchase of Hyde made it painfully obvious to me that I would have to work on the driver as much as the car if I was going to meet my goals. My prior experience proved me to be a slightly better than average autocrosser. Since we all know that thousands of people participate in auto crossing, saying I am slightly above average in that venue is like say ing I have slightly better than average breath. It's just not the same as saying it's good.
My drag racing ability was significantly worse. My launching was not perfect, my shifts were far from ideal and my reaction times redefined falling asleep at the wheel. The only part I felt pretty confident about was the part about holding the throttle all the way to the floor.
Before the purchase of Hyde, my best 1/4 mile was 13.8 @ 107 mph with a GReddy TD06 turbo at 15 PSI. That car should have been sniffing 12s, not poking into the 13s. Granted I had a horrible transmission on that car, but my driving was still very weak.
So over the first two years of racing Hyde, my concentration was in drag racing since that was my weakest leak. I still did an occasional autocross or two to keep up my skills, but nothing serious.
The transformation from being an autocrosser to drag racer was more natural than you might think. They are very similar on the most integral of levels. It doesn't matter if the 1/4 mile is straight or has a slalom followed by 10 turns, the goal is the same. Traverse the distance in the shortest possible time.
One of the nice things about drag racing is that the "course" is the same every week with slight fluctuations in the actual surface. This little detail of the sport makes comparing times from week to week much easier, unlike autocrossing where it changes every week like my boss's moods. I have found the only way to track improvement while autocrossing is to compare your times with other drivers, but who's to say they are not improving as well?
All of this led to me becoming addicted. That's right. I was addicted and I still am.
I am addicted to the numbers -- drag racing numbers. I'm completely lost in a sea of E.T.s (elapsed times), 60\rquote times, reaction times and 1/8 mile mphs. Making subtle changes in the car or my driving resulted in changes to the numbers. It has been captivating to watch. There is so much more to drag racing than I, and a lot of other people, ever thought.
The number that most intrigues me is the ratio between E.T. and H.P. That relationship is the measure of the driver. Hence, it was the measure of my improvement as a driver. After putting over 70 1/4-mile passes on Hyde, I managed to claim my first 11-second time slip with just over 300 RWHP. It is my understanding that I made that 11-second pass with the least amount of horsepower of anyone in the turbo MR2 world.
I guess the two years I put into learning how to launch and shift Hyde really paid off. You can see the history of Hyde's progress on the drag strip here: http://www.jekylhyderacing.com/slips.htm.
It took many trips to the drag strip to finally get my launch down to where it is good and consistent. And it has only been since this year that I have become more aggressive with my shiftin g. Staying full throttle while shifting from 3rd to 4th is now standard fare on my menu.
The 11-second run in 2003 was my last pass of the season and I was left with the winter to decide what direction this project was going to take. That is when I decided that the simplest route to improving all of Hyde's performance would be to significantly reduce the weight of the car. Lightening a vehicle not only improves its acceleration, but also its handling and braking ability. So Hyde went on a winter diet.
Hyde was already down well over 100 lbs. from his original state, which was close to 3,000 lbs. The previous weight loss was accomplished by losing the A/C compressor, OEM muffler, the OEM steering wheel w/air bag, the OEM muffler and a number of other smaller things.
This past winter, weight loss became a huge goal. I managed to take off close to 200 lbs. from Hyde, but added 40 lbs. back with the addition of a roll bar. The weight loss came from all sorts of places -- fiberglass hood, 15 LB Odyssey battery, l ightweight racing seats, swapped over to manual steering, got rid of the ABS and the full A/C system and many other items.
Hyde is down to 2,675 lbs. and the results have been wonderful. The 1/4-mile times have dropped and the handling of the car is out of this world.
I was really concerned about how the weight loss would affect the handling since most of the weight I lost was forward of the driver, but I am really pleased with the end result. Hyde's the best handling MR2 I\rquote ve driven. The handling is perfectly neutral with a very predictable throttle-induced oversteer.
So I approached the 2004 racing season in my lightweight 300 RWHP sports car to see what I could do against the competition.
As of this writing, I am halfway through my first real season of racing. I've completed six races of my scheduled 12. So far this year I have entered two national NHRA Sport Compact Events; Summer Slam, an annual drag event at Englishtown, two local SCCA Solo 2 autocross events and my first SCCA Solo 1 Hill Climb event. I finished in the top five for all races and I've earned one first-place finish and two second places.
The highlight of my season was a 30-day period where I took first in a Solo 2 event, second in the Solo 1 event and runner-up (second place) the following weekend at Summer Slam. This was incredibly exciting considering I had never raced a Solo 1 event before and I had never before made it past the first round of a national drag event, much less into the finals.
Out of 69 entries in the Solo 1 Hill Climb, I was the fastest person there on regular street tires and I beat the previous hill record for my class by nearly three seconds. Unfortunately for me, my good friend and fellow MR2 enthusiast, Fabio Vlacci, beat the hill record by more than me and took a well-deserved first place. He was the only driver there who was faster than me in an inspected and registered street-driven car.
At the Summer Slam drag event I netted my new personal best 60' time of 1.676 seconds and a new best reaction time of .17 seconds. A regrettable missed second-gear shift caused me to miss the chance for a new personal best E.T.
So I have arrived at my goal. Hyde has been track tested and dyno proven to be what I intended him to be: a street-legal sports car that can compete in a vari ety of automotive racing venues from road racing to drag racing. Surprisingly, he has done all of this with 198,000 miles on the original engine. I am extremely amazed at what Hyde and I have accomplished.
Reaching goals is a lot like making a new scientif ic discovery. Instead of enjoying the new plateau, it becomes a new height to look forward to, ask new questions and push the envelope farther. That being said the completion of my mission has merely laid the groundwork for the next step.
The next step is to make a 10-second 1/4-mile pass with less RWHP than anyone else in a turbo MR2 and take first place or set a record in an SCCA Solo 1 event. I have already taken steps toward this new goal. Since Summer Slam, Hyde has gotten a new intake manifold from Ross Machine Racing which resulted in a gain of over 43 RWHP, and I am looking at further weight reduction. Over this winter I am looking at other engine mods to push the 400 RWHP limit, which I aim to prove is enough for an MR2 to make a 10-second pass.