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The Big Switch

copyright (c) 1994 by Terry Coates

The secret wasn't too well kept that a new car had come into my posession just before Christmas ("new" to me, anyway, it was a 1993 Toyota MR-2 prepped and raced in Colorado last season). If you had any interest in the fact I was going to change cars, you probably already knew. The grape vine among local SCCA folks is a powerful means of spreading information. It got to the point that I was as shocked to encounter someone who didn't know, as they were to find out!

I chose to switch from the '92 Nissan Sentra SE-R I have campaigned for the last two years because of the Runoffs' move to Mid-Ohio. I'm guessing that the MR-2 will be the faster car at that track. The MR-2 checks in at exactly 150 pounds heavier and has 5 less horsepower to carry it around. Based on those numbers, I'd never buy it to race in SSB. But based on what Tony Suever did to us with his MR-2 at Mid-Ohio last year, I had to consider it.

In a straight line, the MR-2 is far less quick than the Sentra. At the end of the straight, however, the Toyota's superior brakes will haul the car down in a shorter space. The MR-2 will carry more speed through and out of the turn. The Nissan will climb back to speed faster. And in the end, if I raced myself against myself, who would win? (I would, obviously, but...) It depends entirely on the track. Is it an MR-2 track or a Sentra track?

At one extreme, the MR-2 will dominate; at the other the Sentra will. In between will be those tracks that will make for quite a battle. Ultimately, we care only about the Runoffs. Earning the invitation shouldn't be too difficult with either car and a little luck. Performance at the big race is what it's all about. I'll accept a less-than-ideal season for a legitimate shot at the Championship. Naturally, both would be nice.

Now comes the task of learning to drive the thing. This is the first rear-wheel-drive vehicle I've ever owned, save a van and a pick-up truck, and I never drove either with the vigor that the race track requires. I had never even sat in a mid-engined car.

In late March, I slipped into a Kumho tire test at Indianapolis Raceway Park to try and get some seat time. After five laps in the car, I thought I was going to have to sell it. I just couldn't drive it. Five laps later, I spun violently. It made a load of noise (lots of tire there), but fortunately, there was nothing near to hit. Five more laps and I was hootin' and laughing out loud in the car. It's just that much fun. Five laps more and it began to rain. I had just twenty dry laps before the car's first race.

We stripped all the previous owner's graphics and called on HighTech Signs to outfit the new car. The result is very pleasing. Beware the white MR-2 with the purple stripe!

We took the car to Gateway International, April 23-24. Begin the dream sequence . . . In the course of a Regional/National race weekend, we took the Regional pole, took the Natioanl pole with a qualifying record, set a race lap record, and won the National race. Oh, there were the bad times, too: Spinning in practice, spinning in the Regional race (and getting collected by an IT car), and getting together with the SSC leader and spinning him off during the National race . . . END dream sequence.

So there is plenty of work to do yet. It is another planet to drive the Toyota. Just about everything I ever learned with front-wheel-drive, I have to forget. I need to build some strength in my arms. I have remember to use the dead-pedal. I have to react quicker to the rear coming around. We have to figure out how to set up the car. We have to figure out some good tire pressures. Heck, I can't even tell with any certainty if the car is understeering or oversteering! Maybe it's neutral!

In the next four weeks, we race three times: Blackhawk, off, Blackhawk, and Mid-Ohio. I'll try and figure some of these things out before OVR's Mid-Ohio Showcase weekend. I'd hate to embarass my home region!

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