SSC Battle: 2016 vs. 2017 Scion FR-S Compared

Story and Photographs by David S. Wallens

Another autocross class?” We heard the cries of exasperation the microsecond that the SCCA announced Solo Spec Coupe, a restricted class for the popular Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S. It would be backed by Tire Rack; require a spec wheel, tire and suspension package; and be limited to the earlier versions of the cars.

Some of that clutching of pearls came from our own message board. “If we add enough class’s, soon every one can be a winner,” iceracer posted, complete with the internet-obligatory grammatical errors.

Hate to see a simple tire distributor have this much influence over the supposedly neutral SCCA,” Two_Tools_In_a_Tent added. “Very similar to what NOPI did in import drag racing and look how all of that turned out. Nothing wonderful happens when corporation get their noses into the mix.”

Of course, there were fans of the idea, too. “I like this SSC idea,” a reader with the handle Meat championed. “It seems that many solo classes end up as virtual spec classes so why not create one explicitly? The Tire Rack tie in makes things easy for everyone.”

Meet Solo Spec Coupe

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Spec classes, where the car and modifications are tightly controlled by the rules to place more emphasis on driving and setup, have been part of road racing for decades.

And they remain popular to this day. Witness the success of Spec Miata, a huge hit for both the SCCA and NASA going back to its launch 20 years ago. Or how about other stalwarts like the SCCA Spec Racer program (established in 1984), NASA’s Spec E30 (established in 2003) and MX-5 Cup (born in 2006)? Formula Vee, conceived back in the mid-’60s, was envisioned as a spec class, and nearly all of today’s pro racing cars are homologated to a standard.

Yet, until the announcement of Solo Spec Coupe at the 2017 Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals, spec racing had never been a part of the national autocross scene. The goal of the class was simple: Create a competitive autocross car that can also serve as a daily driver. The rules, likewise, were easy to grasp. All entries were required to run an Eibach Pro-Plus Kit (stiffer, lower springs plus adjustable anti-roll bars), Koni Sport dampers (sealed to prevent tampering) and an SPC alignment kit.

While alternates were not required, entrants could also run any 17×8-inch wheel weighing at least 17 pounds and sporting at least a 40mm offset. Before the 2018 season got rolling, a spec tire was announced, the Falken Azenis RT615K+ in the popular 225/45R17 size.

Did the class find a following despite the initial nail biting? At this past fall’s Solo Nationals, just one short year after the class’s announcement, Solo Spec Coupe attracted the most drivers: 76. The long-established A Street class came next with 68 drivers total.

 

A simple, bolt-on suspension package turns a BRZ or FR-S into one of today's most popular autocross cars.

A simple, bolt-on suspension package turns a BRZ or FR-S into one of today's most popular autocross cars.

New vs. Old

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The SCCA limited the class to the 2013–’16 cars because both models received an update for 2017. The biggie was more power, as output increased from an even 200 horsepower to 205. Torque climbed a tad-151 lb.-ft. vs. 156 lb.-ft.-while the final drive went from 4.10:1 to 4.30:1. Weight, depending on options and year, could differ by as much as 20 pounds or so–not a huge change, but something worth mentioning.

Are those hardware updates enough to make a difference in actual performance? We wondered. So we did something about it, fitting a 2017 Subaru BRZ with the spec parts package.

Our comparison also needed a control vehicle, a driver and a testing ground. Enter two-time SCCA Solo champ Steven Duckworth and his 2013 Scion FR-S, a car prepped for the class. Our location would be Spence Field in Moultrie, Georgia, a venue regularly used by the Dixie Region SCCA. Like so many other preferred autocross sites, this one also features grippy World War II-era concrete.

In addition to the same hardware, both cars received the same setup. Steven even reinstalled his stock brake pads and muffler, and both cars started the faceoff with full tanks of gas and fresh Falkens.

After taking a few laps to scrub in the tires and learn the course, we set the data system to record and let Steven bounce between the two machines. After about half a dozen runs in each car, we felt that we had enough data. It was looking like a dead heat, as the average times for the two cars were identical to the hundredth of a second: 56.46 seconds. (Steven set his fastest run in the earlier car, however.)

There were subtle differences in how the two cars landed on the same tick of the stopwatch. “This car is easier to drive,” Steven said of the later car. “It is more stable, it is more predictable.

“But I like a car that dances,” he continued. “I like a car that’s loose. My preference? I prefer the old one.” Why was the older car looser despite the identical setups? Maybe that’s due to the 70,000-mile bushings, Steven wondered.

 

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On course, it was a dead heat between the early (top) and late cars.

On course, it was a dead heat between the early (top) and late cars.

The other big difference could, as with most things involving autocross, be described as course-dependent: On this course and on this day, the newer car ran into the rev limiter two or three times per lap in second gear thanks to the lower final drive. The earlier car only flashed its warning light.

“It is a hard-cut rev limiter, and you hit it and feels like someone just jabbed the brakes,” Steven said of the later car. “It may only be for a quarter-second, but it feels like forever.” Because of that gearing difference, the newer car topped out at 56 mph in second gear where the older one was good for 58 mph.

One more characteristic separated the two. “I may be completely insane, but it feels harder to modulate the throttle in the later car,” he added. “And it might be 100 percent in my head.”

Final thoughts from Steven: “It’s a wash. The power difference, the gearing difference, if it changes anything, it is going to be on a single-course basis, and this is only when you’re looking at a course that has multiple segments that are getting you right there at 56 mph.”

Steven noted one more benefit to opening up the class to the later BRZ and the Toyota 86, the replacement for the Scion FR-S: A larger pool of cars and drivers.

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The Konis are tamper-sealed. The tires are spec from Falken. The rules allow any wheel that meets a few easy restrictions. End result: a fun, usable autocross car.

The Konis are tamper-sealed. The tires are spec from Falken. The rules allow any wheel that meets a few easy restrictions. End result: a fun, usable autocross car.

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Comments
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pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
5/1/19 7:56 a.m.

A very interesting read. I went from HS to STH and since I am on the same tires as HS, I wonder how much all the other stuff makes a difference. The common limiting factor is ultimately how much grip you can generate, and it seems like that remains the case with the FR-S/BRZ/GT86.

nderwater
nderwater UltimaDork
5/1/19 10:12 a.m.

I'm curious to know how the SSC suspension changes how these cars feel while daily driving.  How much of the stock car's handling characteristics are retained?  How is the ride quality and NVH now?

spacecadet
spacecadet HalfDork
5/1/19 10:20 a.m.

In reply to nderwater :

Bumps of a moderate size at Freeway speed will cause the rear to get airborne. Or at least feel like it. 

Scared the crap out of me riding with my buddy. Drive the same road every day in my ST and the car doesn't even flinch... 

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