Got Boost? A Group of GM Employees Race a Four-Cylinder Camaro

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Mar 22, 2021 | Chevrolet | Posted in Features | From the Dec. 2017 issue | Never miss an article

Story by David S. Wallens • Photos as credited

The Sports Car Club of America’s CAM ranks welcome some of the most radical machinery found in autocrossing today. The rules are intentionally loose and open. In fact, they fit on a single sheet of paper. Aside from entries having to remain street-legal, just about anything is allowed, from firebreathing engine swaps and reworked suspensions to steamroller tires and composite body panels.

Going forced induction? Your max boost is only limited by your checkbook.

So what kind of monstrosity currently holds the title of national champion in the CAM-C class, where the late-model pony cars roam? A mildly modified Camaro.

It’s powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the same one found in the base model. Other than that, it checks all the boxes for CAM-C: 200-treadwear tires, a 3250-pound minimum weight, and a post-1989 build date. And yes, the car came by its championship win rather convincingly. Really.

This Camaro recently won a national championship, but it's not the top-spec, 650-horsepower ZL1 model. While it sports a few improvements, it's still powered by the four-cylinder engine found in the base car.

Let’s Autocross

In 2017, just a couple of years after several General Motors employees formed the GM Performance Driving Team, the group set its sights on dominating CAM-C with a new Camaro SS 1LE. It did just that. Team driver Shaun Bailey, a General Motors vehicle performance engineer, landed that SCCA championship by half a second. The rest of the 53-driver class contained almost every Camaro and Mustang variant offered in the past 20 years.

With its first mission accomplished, the GM crew concocted a follow-up plan to build up another V8 Camaro for 2018. A supplier issue delayed the effort, however. “At the time of this writing,” Shaun adds, “we’re still twiddling our thumbs in anticipation of delivery of those unique parts. And yes, I’m being vague about the parts, because it’s a secret.”

While they were waiting around, team members took a fresh look at the rest of the Camaro lineup. The enthusiast world tends to focus on the V8-powered models, but the team wondered if the turbocharged, four-cylinder Camaro could work. After all, the CAM rules don’t require an eight-cylinder engine.

One advantage of the four-cylinder car: It weighs about 300 pounds less than the V8-powered Camaro SS.

This simple fact puts a nearly stock Camaro Turbo within 100 pounds of the class minimum.

“The CAM-C Turbo 1LE build could best be described as organic,” Shaun explains. “It started as a gift from the Camaro development team. When we realized our V8 car plans were being delayed, we hatched the idea of building up the Turbo 1LE. The idea was formulated in May, and we started putting the car together in June.” A step-by-step development followed. “First we drove the car stock as a Turbo 1LE at a local event held at Michigan International Speedway, complete with stock wheels and tires,” he recalls. “For the next event in Oscoda, we put on the ZL1 1LE suspension, wheels and rear bar.”

Fine-Tuning the Plan

None

“The takeaway from that event was, suspension worked but throttle response of the 2.0T was a challenge to overcome,” Shaun says. “And this is where the team is fortunate to have so many talented and capable engineers. Matt Bush and Dave Schmitt stepped up and said they’d try to calibrate a performance tune. Things escalated quickly from here.”

Their goals were twofold: Increase boost while adding anti-lag. Sympathy for the mechanicals wasn’t a high priority. “This is a race car part,” Shaun told us of the tune. “It’s mean to the turbo.”

The anti-lag delivers 10–15 psi of boost off throttle. At corner exit, this setup delivers more torque than the team’s Camaro SS. Along with that extra power comes extra heat, though: The Camaro quickly went through three turbochargers, including one that died soon after the car returned from the CAM Challenge event in Peru, Indiana. “At this point the tune was for pump gas, and it turns out that running anti-lag on the highway for 500 miles is a good way to cook your turbo,” Shaun notes. “Thankfully it didn’t die until we drove back.”

Before the turbo let go, though, the Camaro delivered impressively in Peru. Alexander Doss, another GM team hot-shoe, finished first against the class’s 58 other drivers. Shaun took second.

The next key to more power was a cold-air intake, as the team’s original setup grabbed hot air from the engine bay. “We built a new intake before Nationals that draws cold air from the lower-left front corner of the grille,” Shaun explains. “We did have some serious concern in the rain for it becoming a straw.”

While the GM Performance Driving Team developed the performance tune now available for the eLSD found in the Camaro SS 1LE, this car wasn’t running it. Instead, it retains the stock mechanical limited-slip differential. “It is a huge tear-up to get it in,” Shaun says of the eLSD. “We’ve looked into it.”

Before Nationals, Matt and Dave tuned the car for alcohol–a 55 percent mix is their current cocktail. “We’d like to get to E85, but that will require us to solve a fuel-flow problem,” Shaun says. “We need a bigger pump in the fuel tank. This winter we’ll probably get a pump from a ZL1 installed, and then retune. This should improve robustness of the calibration, but not really solve the problem of cooking the turbo during anti-lag operation.”

The tune and a few other small tweaks netted a sizable performance increase. Chevrolet rates the stock Camaro Turbo at 275 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. At this fall’s Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals, the team told us that the engine makes about 100 more horsepower than stock and another 100 lb.-ft. of torque.

“In the wet, it was impossible to drive,” Shaun adds, explaining that he had plenty of power for the monsoon-like conditions. Impossible doesn’t mean slow, however. Shaun took the national title by 1.235 seconds. Codriver Alexander Doss finished third. Once again, the class was dominated by traditional, V8-powered pony cars.

One of the car's big hardware upgrades came right from the Chevrolet Performance catalog: The damper package found on the ZL1 LE is sold separately, although Chevrolet Performance stresses that technically it's only street-certified for the Camaro SS. The exhaust and oil catch can are both custom items. Engine internals are completely stock.

So, want boost?

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Comments
spacecadet
spacecadet GRM+ Memberand Reader
2/8/19 1:39 p.m.

I love this car, and all the GM Performance guys are super awesome. 

the new 4CYL 1LE is also awesome. 

te72
te72 Reader
2/8/19 10:30 p.m.

I need to look into CAM eligibility for my Supra. Yes, it was born in Japan, but it was built in America, specifically, my garage. Basically anything that makes it fast was built here in the US too, so if we're arguing percentage of parts by country of origin, I suspect it's more American than the Camaro I once had...

 

However, that "post-1989" rule for CAM-C would put me out.

 

Considering how a lot of people don't know what a Mk3 Supra is, maybe I could convince them it's a third gen F-body haha.

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
2/9/19 10:00 a.m.

The E55 tune is impressive. Of course, the anti-lag tune that made it much more drivable isn't realistic for a car you actually use and have to pay for turbo replacements. 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin UltimaDork
2/9/19 12:48 p.m.

Very cool build. 

z31maniac said:

The E55 tune is impressive. Of course, the anti-lag tune that made it much more drivable isn't realistic for a car you actually use and have to pay for turbo replacements. 

How big of an impact is it on turbo life if its running only during autox runs?

Dave M
Dave M Reader
2/9/19 6:40 p.m.

They should give this car to Snrub as compensatory damages for dragging him through hell and not repairing his Camaro. 

STM317
STM317 SuperDork
2/10/19 8:55 a.m.
ProDarwin said:

Very cool build. 

z31maniac said:

The E55 tune is impressive. Of course, the anti-lag tune that made it much more drivable isn't realistic for a car you actually use and have to pay for turbo replacements. 

How big of an impact is it on turbo life if its running only during autox runs?

Awhile back somebody posted that these guys were on their 3rd or 4th turbo when they won. But I'm not sure if the turbo failures were from development teething issues that have been resolved, or if turbos are just consumables now.

gencollon
gencollon New Reader
2/10/19 4:18 p.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

Good question. I'd like to know as well. It sounds like they did not have the ability to change tunes from a street tune, to a race tune, and drove the car to the race events... 

spacecadet
spacecadet GRM+ Memberand Reader
2/10/19 11:52 p.m.
ProDarwin said:

Very cool build. 

z31maniac said:

The E55 tune is impressive. Of course, the anti-lag tune that made it much more drivable isn't realistic for a car you actually use and have to pay for turbo replacements. 

How big of an impact is it on turbo life if its running only during autox runs?

They had been through 3 turbos, or were on their 3rd, by the time they got to Nats in September.

StillNoCones
StillNoCones New Reader
2/11/19 12:37 p.m.
spacecadet said:
ProDarwin said:

Very cool build. 

z31maniac said:

The E55 tune is impressive. Of course, the anti-lag tune that made it much more drivable isn't realistic for a car you actually use and have to pay for turbo replacements. 

How big of an impact is it on turbo life if its running only during autox runs?

They had been through 3 turbos, or were on their 3rd, by the time they got to Nats in September.

Spoke to a guy who knows the team well, they lost turbo #2 or #3 by about 500 miles

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/11/19 12:43 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

It’s powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the same one found in the base model. Other than that, it checks all the boxes for CAM-C: 200-treadwear tires, a 3250-pound minimum weight, and a post-1989 build date. And yes, the car came by its championship win rather convincingly. Really.

Now I want to build a V8 ND Miata to compete in CAM with 800 lbs of ballast and an American flag on the hood.

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