Episode 008: How to choose the best autocross car with a simple and analytical method.

best autocross carThere is way too much information out there about what racecar you should pick. Let’s simplify it.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • My personal method for picking the best autocross car
  • Which autocross cars have the best national win record of the past five years
  • How to narrow the choices to a small handful
  • How to compare various models using facts and data



More info about the rebrand.

Have you applied to the sponsorship program yet?

Paul Sexton’s episodes: Part 1 & Part 2

Click to see the most winning cars in graph form.

Post version of choosing the best autocross car.


Yeah, what’s up everybody? Thank you so much for joining me on Episode 8 of the racershq podcast. Man, it feels so good to finally say that on the podcast. Yes, I have been going through some rebranding. Of course, we used to be howtobecomearacecardriver.com, and now we are at racershq.com. I feel pretty good about that. Do you know how many times I have to type the name of the company in a single day? Yeah, it’s a lot. I was getting sick of typing howtobecomearacecardriver.com, and it’s a much shorter and more interesting name. There are some more serious reasons for making the brand name change, and if you’d like to read about those, you can if you go to racershq.com/rebrand. That will exchange all of the technical stuff that we don’t need to talk about here. If you have bookmarked or shared links or remember the old website, just type it in the way you remember it, and it will automatically forward you to the right page on the new site. So, now problems there, no information is lost, and all the content is available as it was, so I haven’t lost anything there.

I just want to say quickly that if you haven’t applied for the autocross sponsorship program, please do so. You can get there at racershq.com/sponsorship, and I highly encourage you to do that. The feedback I have been getting is absolutely amazing, so you want to get in on that as soon as possible. As I have said before, I am the only company offering money to support the grassroots racing guys.

You know what happened? The last two episodes, I’ve had Paul Sexton on, and just before I posted the second part of that episode, Paul won the 2016 Virginia Autocross Championship. That’s really exciting. I wish that I had had time to put that into the episode to kind of brag a little bit for him, but I just couldn’t do it. The audio was already finished, and queued up on iTunes, so there was nothing I could do. I just want to give him a shout out right now, while I still have the chance. So, congratulations, Paul! And I’m looking forward to seeing some good things out of you.

So, let’s talk about today’s main topic. We’re going to be talking about the best autocross cars, more specifically, how to weave your way through all of the endless, nonsense debate about what car is actually best. You can go on any forum, any website; you can find 8,000 Google results about what the best cross car is. It is extremely subjective. I don’t think there is a right answer. I tell you what–I have a resource on my site that is all about how to find the best autocross cars. You can kind of make your decision there, but this method that I use utilizes statistical analysis, as well as some numerical comparisons to try and figure out exactly what car might be best for you. I’ll be honest. I drive the Subaru BRZ autocross car, and I did not use this process to find that car, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but if you have no idea where to start, this will definitely give you a right direction. There’s probably a thousand ways you can decide on your car, but since there is no decent way out there to do it, I decided to make one. That’s been on the site for quite a while, and I’ll put that in the show notes at racershq.com/podcast8 for episode 8.  I’m just going to be talking about that method that I have for finding the best autocross cars out there. The very first thing that you have to do, and I think this is really important, and I’m all about data. If you know anything about me, you know that I am a huge fan of real data and comparing real numbers that make sense, rather than just guessing. By the way, if you have been using the forum method, I am going to teach you everything you need to know about using forums right now.

Ready? Don’t, don’t use forums. The problem with forums is that they are full of very well intentioned and pleasant, nice people who are really just giving you opinions, and quite honestly, they talk about things they have never experienced. It’s all hearsay. You know that I have said on the site a bunch of times, if you are not using data, you’re guessing. And guessing is the same thing as hoping. So, when you are on the forum, you may not actually know it, but there is a very good chance that the people you are listening to are doing your guessing for you. I’m not sure if that is any better or not, so you just want to be really careful when you are out there on the Internet. Anyone with a keyboard can become an “expert” very quickly. Just be aware of what you are paying attention to.

We are going to talk about just street-class today. There are about 31 or 32 autocross classes, and it would take a lifetime to go through all of them here, so we are going to talk here about how to find the best autocross cars for street-class. Let’s hop right on into it, okay? The things you want to do are this: 1. You need to figure out which models are proven winners. There is no better way to start than to see which models have won the most in the past. We can do that by analyzing national results, and in this case, we are just going to go back 5 years, 2010-2014. This was just before they released the 2015 statistics, so that’s okay. We are still going to use them because the process is exactly the same. 2. You want to figure out which of these cars you would like to own. And there are a number of facts that you can sort out. You might even like the look of a car. It may be as simple as that, so that part is easy. 3. We are going to be using facts and data to compare the cars that you are interested in against each other to try and make an informed decision. So, we’ve got a real action plan here if you are looking for your next autocross car. It’s pretty obvious if you want to be like everyone else, buy a Mazda Miata. I guess we could end the podcast there, but we’re not going to. We are going to go right into it, okay?

So, let’s figure out which models are proven winners, and I have done a lot of leg work for you guys, so you can go and check this out on your own. I have compiled the top 5 finishes at the National SCC Autocross Race in, I think it’s in, Lincoln, NE. I have compiled all the 2010-2014 winners in all the street classes, super-street all the way down through h-street. All the data is in really neat, and colorful in easy-to-use graphs. We’ll be talking a little bit about those today. You can go and check those out if you want by just going to racershq.com/bestcarstats, and that will be in the show notes, as well. This will give you a really neat, easy and quick way to see which cars have won the most. For example, I am looking at one of the graphs that I have made, and I’m just browsing at the super-street class. Things are pretty even in this class for the years that I said earlier. The 2014 Porsche GT3, the 2004 ZO6, the 2006 Lotus Elise, and the 2010 Corvette GS each have three wins in the super-street class in the 2010-2014 range. In comparison, if we go down and check the b-street class from 2010-2014, we can see that the 2008 S2000 CR is by far the best autocross car you can have in b-street. It has 12 wins out of 25, and the next closest winning car has just two. It’s the 2000 S2000. Obviously, the CR package was markedly better than the standard one. That’s extremely interesting. If you want to look at these graphs, I highly encourage you to do so. They are all available at racershq.com/bestcarstats.

Each of these cars out of these 25 classes in four of those five years is a completely viable option, and I have complied them altogether in one graph. When you compare the best winners to all of the best winners, it’s pretty obvious that the S2000 CR is an amazing car. The 2012 Mustang GT actually comes in second place with nine wins and the ’96 Miata with eight, but it is extremely interesting to see that the next several winners are all Mazda Miatas, and they all have five or six wins. It’s pretty easy to see that any Miata from pretty much any vintage is going to be a very competitive car, along with cars like the Mini Cooper and the 2009 Nissan 370Z that scored very high as well. There are a number of things we can conclude just about the things that we have talked about so far. Obviously, the S2000s are absolutely amazing. They are two of the most winning cars that you can get. It’s also interesting, too, that the next thing we can notice is that there are a lot of cars on the list that are much older, and in fact, one of them is the 1994 Miata.

You can conclude that you don’t have to have a late model car to be competitive. That’s pretty exciting. 1994 was 22 years ago, a 22-year old car still winning national races. If you think you need a new car to be competitive, that’s obviously not true, statistically. Also, you can conclude that the Miatas are the best cars to own over the span of the two-door sports car dynasty. Pretty much any one of those would be fine for you.

Now that we know which cars are competitive, the next step is really up to you. You have to figure out which car you would really like to own, and in fact this is probably the best advice I could give to you. I think the best autocross car is the one you enjoy looking at, and the one you enjoy driving the most. So, if you go out and buy something you are not really interested in, just because you think it’s fast, I promise you will lose interest in it, and you just won’t like it as much. Some of the things you are going to ask yourself: Do you like American muscle? Cool, we have the 2012 Mustang GT, and that’s a great one. Is fuel mileage important to you? You want to ask yourself that if you are the Mustang guy. What’s your budget? We’ll get into the budget again in just a second, but if we are talking about acquiring a 1994 Mazda Miata that’s still winning national championships, you are probably going to be in the $3,000-$5,000 range for a really nice one, depending on where you are. That’s kind of the price you can find here in the Northeast.

Now we get to the point of getting a really reliable statistical list of nationally proven autocross cars, and Nationals are great because you know that the best drivers are driving those cars. It’s not like going to a local autocross where the talent is necessarily equal. They have really talented drivers from all over at the Nationals, so that is very exciting. And it’s really helpful to watch for what we are doing. Now you need to make a short list of cars that you are interested in getting into racing and sticking with. Once you narrow it down a little further, you probably want to ask yourself a few questions about which one of these options is cheaper to acquire initially. That is a big one. Which one has the better power to weight ratio? Which one has wider factory wheels? We all know that with wider wheels, you put wider tires on. We know that contact patch is the number 1 goal for anything. The entire point of suspension is maximizing the contact patch. That’s why I always see people making camber adjustments and tire pressure adjustments. If those are things you don’t quite understand, you need to check those out. You can get all kinds of information at racershq.com/videos. There is a great tire video that explains how to find your optimal tire pressures, how to make sure your tire temperature is in the rate way, how to tune all those things altogether so that you have really great handling. If you don’t understand those things, I’d love to show you those videos. I’ll put some of those things on the show notes. Those are really valuable to understand.

Also, you want to ask yourself which one has better factory alignment options. One of the things I don’t like about my BRZ is that there are almost no options to aligning the car. It’s basically a plug ‘n play car. There are no camber adjustments at all, which is kind of a bummer because the car is very camber challenged. I think it’s adequate for where it is in c-street, but I think you have heard me mention this before, the BRZ is supposed to go into d-street next year, which is very exciting for me. It will give me a really neat advantage, which we are always looking for. We are always racing the rulebook, as well as the other people who are showing up to race.

Let’s go through an example here of what I am talking about, comparing a couple of different cars. So in this example, I decided that I was interested in the 2000 Mazda Miata MX5, as well as the Nissan 350Z. Those are both cars I pulled off the initial list of all time winning autocross cars between 2010 and 2014. So, we know that statistically, they are very good cars. So let’s start off with something that is very relevant to all of us, probably the first thing you want to consider when thinking about finding one of the best autocross cars. Which one is cheaper to buy? This is probably the easiest thing to compare. We will take the 2000 Mazda Miata MX5. We’ll do that in the Kelley Blue Book. In excellent condition, an ’07 MX5 is worth $9,259. So, you could expect to be in the ten grand range. If you are not into that budget, you want to look much older, like a ’94. He’s still a winner. Don’t count him out; he’s a good one. The other one I said was an ’09 350Z. That would kind of a stretch for me. In the Kelley Blue Book, it is $18,000. It’s almost twice the cost to get your hands on the 350Z, even though it’s only two years older. That would be a pretty big factor in my final decision between these cars.

The next thing to do is a little bit of math. I always like to know a vehicle’s power to weight ratio. We obviously want to have a higher power to weight ratio. We can calculate that pretty easily. The first thing you want to do is to get a couple of basic numbers. You can do that by googling whatever it is you are trying to get to. I like to use the website, edmonds.com, because specs are readily available. For example, if I want to find some information about the 2007 MX5, I would go to Google and type in this exact phrase: 2007 Mazda Miata MX5 Edmonds specs. Nine times out of ten, the first result on Google is what you want to click through. If you scroll down, you get the gross weight, the capacity, the engine size, cam shaft engine type, torque ratings. The only two things we are really worried about here in this example are the curb weight and the horsepower–how much the car weighs and how much power the engine produces. We want to calculate by taking the weight and dividing it by the power [2,441 lbs. ÷ 166 hp = 14.7]. That means that every horsepower in the car is responsible for moving 14.7 lbs. of weight. Obviously, a lower number would be better, because then the car would have a faster acceleration. This is just a baseline for our comparison. We go back to the 350Z and pull up the specs on Edmonds. We find that the curb weight is quite a bit higher, 3,968 lbs. It also has a much higher horsepower rating as well, 332 hp, so we calculate [3,968 lbs. ÷ 332 hp = 11.95]. So, even though the Z weighs 1,572 lbs. more than the Mustang, it has enough horsepower to be more efficient overall. The Z has to only move about 3 lbs. less with each horsepower, so you know it’s going to accelerate faster, barring any other types of comparisons like traction. We now know that the 350Z has a better power to weight ratio. It’s going to be faster in a straight line, and that’s important to us.

From power to weight ratio, we are going to move on to which one of these cars has wider wheels. As I said earlier, wider tires are better tires. There are very few exceptions to that rule on pavement. A wider tire means a wider contact patch, and that means better traction. Let’s take a look at the wheel specs for both cars. You can get them on the same page on the Edmonds resource. We know that the Miata has 6.5 in. wheels, and the Nissan has 9 in. wheels. That’s 2.5 in. wider, a huge, huge difference. The Nissan is probably going to have more traction in the corners. We know it accelerates better, and there’s a good chance that it’s going to be faster around the corners. The 370Z is looking pretty good, except for the initial cost. You’ll have to weigh those, depending on your budget.

Another very important thing to consider in buying cars is the factory alignment option. Race cars like negative camber. That just means that the negative top of the wheel is pointed in towards the center of the car. For some complicated reasons, it’s able to create more traction for cornering. Since autocross is mostly cornering, that is very important to us. Normally, I would probably say as a general rule, you want to get some type of negative camber, which is somewhere between −1 and −2.5 degrees. These are just basic comparisons. It’s really hard to get solid numbers about vehicle alignments. There is just so much stuff out there. It’s really hard to rely on forums and things like that. Unfortunately, this is a case where you have to go for that. Happily, you don’t have to rely on someone’s opinion, because there are a lot of examples where searching Google will bring up a printout of someone’s alignment specs measured at a shop and posted on Google. The 350Z search would be 2009 370Z autocross alignment, and then we would make sure we were searching in the Google images section. Looks like the front camber is capable of −.67, and the rear is capable of −1.67, so that’s not quite as good as we would like, but again, it’s a street car, not a race car. Let’s take a look at the Miata. The Miata is capable of somewhere in the −2 range, and that’s really important to us, because that will help us go around the corners faster.

Just from having done just a few minutes of research, we’ve weeded most of the cars that a lot of people talk about that are not on the national winning list. I would strongly advise getting on that list and seeing what is working for everyone else statistically for the past few years. That makes a lot of sense. I didn’t do that for the BRZ because it was still really new to autocross. At the time the BRZ became available, for the next couple of years, there wasn’t a lot of information about how it was doing in autocross. I took a chance on it, and I totally won. The car is working really well for me now.

If I were starting over, I might consider some research like the kind we are talking about now. We can draw a number of conclusions. One of them, and this is a huge one for me. It would cost $8,800 less to buy the Miata, and that’s a huge gap. There are almost two extra autocross cars right there alone. We also know that the Mazda can produce a marginally wider range of camber angles, and that’s good too, because we know that the car is perfectly balanced out of the factory. That’s why it’s so popular. It handles so incredibly well because of all these little things that add up. But the Nissan has its points, too. It has a significantly higher power to weight ratio, so we know that it can accelerate better. And we know that it has those wider tires. Based on those two things alone, I personally think that the 370Z has the Mazda beat all day long. This is confirmed by the fact that after 2010 Nissan 370Z was reclassified from d-street to b-street because it was just a bit better than the MX5.

I just want to make one more point before I wrap this up. We could sit here and talk about this all day long. The point is that I don’t want you to get too wrapped up in all this stuff. I talked about Paul Sexton earlier, and I am going to do it again now. He came on my show and just blew away all of this theory. If you haven’t listened to those episodes, you should. There is a huge amount of wisdom about getting grassroots sponsorships and getting personal branding and all that kind of stuff. He’s showing up to races, and he’s racing a bright red Toyota Prius, and I promise you that car is not on any national racing list anywhere. That speaks a lot to his ability as a driver, but it also proves that the best autocross car might just be the one that you already have.

I know that people get wrapped up in shopping for the best autocross cars. You need to take advantage of what you have, especially if you are just getting started. If Paul Sexton can do it–he just won the Virginia 2016 Autocross Championship in his Toyota Prius. That is remarkable. So, don’t get too caught up in this. I know it’s fun to go shopping, and eventually, there will be a time and place to buy that right autocross car for you, so that you can buy one of the best autocross cars out there. I have always said this, and I always maintain that winning is 80% driver skill, 15% car, and 5% performance. If you haven’t maxed out your driver’s skill, you don’t need that car. If you have the Mazda protégé, run it. If you have the Z, go and run it. If you are in the Chevy Beretta, go take it to the autocross. You have to cut your teeth. There is no sense in wasting money on something if you don’t need it. Your number 1 asset is driver education and not the car. That’s pretty much everything I wanted to say. I love talking about this stuff. You know what surprises me, there are so many people listening to this podcast. I’m very excited about that, but there is very little interaction on the website, and every podcast episode, and again this one is racershq.com/podcast8. On every page where there is a podcast episode, there is a comments section underneath. I believe you can sign in through Facebook or wherever is best for you. I want to know what you are doing, and where you decided to land your autocross car, or what you are shopping for now. This is a really cool method for finding the best autocross car. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me. It’s rated very high on Google. It’s rated number four nationally for the keyword, “best autocross car.” It brings a lot of traffic to the website, and I really want to share that with you. It’s very valuable, and I think you might benefit from it.

I have some very exciting things coming up. One of them is the continuation of the sponsorship program. I get a ton of applications for that, again racershq.com/sponsorship. I am going to spend the weekend in Pennsylvania at a private space that I have acquired. If you haven’t heard yet, I have a product coming out that will help you get an 11,250% increase in your seed time for free. It’s all about going out and working deals with business owners to use their commercial parking lots for motorsport testing, tuning. I am going down there this weekend to do some testing with the BRZ. I’m really excited about that. After I get back, I have one day of rest, and then I’m going to F1 Outdoors in Boston where I worked a deal with DRT Racing to have one of their shifter carts for the afternoon. Hopefully, I will be working with one of their semi-pros and getting some of their great driver education there. I’m so excited. I promise you, no matter how good you get, the driver education never, ever stops. It should never stop. There is always someone faster than you, and it’s your job to go out and find them and learn absolutely everything you can from that person. I’m going to end it here. There is a lot of value here. I am not racing this weekend, but if you are, please, good luck. If you need anything from me, please e-mail me directly or grab me through the website or Facebook page. That’s it from me. I am going to talk to you soon.

The end.

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