Trading a STI for a BRZ - First Autocross Thoughts

Here’s the details people, and what I thought going from an STU-class STI to a CS-class BRZ on street tires. [Background: I have a 2006 STU-L STI that I built up to be a National SCCA Solo Champion car, and that will always be my first love, and I have a 2002 WRX that is a Pikes Peak/Rally America Open Class car that is a grassroots build with friends.]

First off. The BRZ is a great platform. The only distaste I have so far for it is the electronic nannies. I suppose that is a part of the game with newer cars, that nannies are a new way of life, and the ‘pedal dance’ or extra-life nintendo-style button-pushing we have to do to disable it is the new norm, but that doesn’t decrease my distaste for it.

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The car is bone-stock. The only exception we made is we put on some Dunlop Direzza ZII’s (225/45/17) onto the stock wheels for daily-driving, and ditched the prius tires that come with it. First run out, I forgot to disable the traction control completely. The car just bogged off the line, and was flashing at me the entire time. The course was mostly wide-open, with amble large offsets and just a few, fairly wide-open slaloms. There were two large decreasing radius sweepers at the end, and one increasing radius sweeper at the beginning to give you a little sense of speed. The car was held back by grip and low temperatures, with sleet coming down during the morning runs, as well as moderate winds and temps in the mid-30′s.

When I finally figured out to turn off the traction control (via button, not pedal dance), I noticed something peculiar during braking. I am a left-foot braker.. this is due to my rally driving style that has come over into my solo life. Prior to rally, I was a right-foot braker, but not anymore. Normally, this would increase my speed, but the car seemed, confused. I later found out there is a variable brake assist that is on the car, which can get confused if you tend to LFB. During the decreasing radius sweepers, when I would be trying to maintain a somewhat steady-state throttle with partial lift at the end, supplemented with some easing in on the brake pedal at the same time to aid rotation, the car would ‘shudder’. This was an entirely new feeling I had not experienced before at a solo. It was finiky at this point, and I’m wondering if the brake assist isn’t the entire problem. Could it have been the diff? I doubt it, but at this point I am not entirely discounting that it wasn’t also the rear diff.

The overall handling/corners/feel of the car is great. Turn in response is good, and I feel as one with the car almost immediately. Very much a drivers car, and there is not much fighting that happens, apart from the trail braking and left-foot-braking while turning. However, I do not feel, in stock form, that this car is not going to be up to CS competition. I think that an older Miata, without the nannies, is still going to be the car to have. The BRZ has some roll in stock form, not like a WRX, but still, it does roll, and it does want to get a little tail-happy if you aren’t smooth in your inputs. I believe that it will be more competitive in STX trim, especially if you are an agressive driver that requires a very flat car on entry and exit, but even then I worry it is underpowered in that class. It is an excellent platform for maneuverability, but power and braking are going to be its downfall.

Knowing this, I am excited to see what we can do with the car this year, and if we can get it into a form that will win (STX or SM). Many people will scoff and say, why SM? Well, its simply the power issue that I worry about. Is there a turbo that could be added that will remove the power issues and allow the handling to shine? SCCA Solo Nationals isn't always friendly to cars that lack on power. And if you add in nannies that cause you braking issues, well, that's another problem all together, especially if you can't disable them easily within your class. We shall see as we investigate this platform throughout the year. Next article: Coilovers +Sway bars + High Spring Rates.. will the increased flat-ness be enough to make up for the lack of power in STX?

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