A Mildly Modified Hatchback Is All You Need to Try Time Attack Racing at Gridlife
This popular time attack series is a haven for momentum cars and prides itself in community and driver development.
Gridlife's SundaeCup and SpecFit are two of the best things to come to Time Attack racing. These classes lower the barrier of entry by encouraging inexpensive, easily maintained cars to get onto the track and into the mix of real competition. Honda Fits, non-ST Ford Fiestas, and other modest machines with a 1:25 power-to-weight ratio don't just have a home here, they have a community.
Peter Nelson is an author at Car Bibles, a coming-soon sister site to The Drive focusing on automotive adventures and DIY tips to help you get the most out of your car. That includes takes on how to drive smoother, better, and faster (safely) no matter how much horsepower your car actually has. Enjoy! — Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles EIC
Track days and time attack events are intimidating. Those with the means can get behind the wheel of a huge variety of fast and capable cars, but those of us with limited resources can get overwhelmed trying to rip around a track in a slower daily-driven car. Also discouraged, with thoughts like: "My car isn't nearly as fast or capable as a [insert cheat code Chevy LT-engine car], plus I'll just get in the way, and I don't have anyone to compete with anyway."
When it comes to underpowered, yet lightweight and fun FWD hatchbacks, they're often in the minority on track. Most people want to wheel something that's a little more exciting. But rest assured, the slow-car-fast gospel shines through; don't overlook the fact that it's a lot of fun to drive something slow and grippy at its limit. One time attack series that's captured this mantra perfectly is Gridlife (usually written out #GRIDLIFE)'s SpecFit and SundaeCup.
Its website summarizes the pitch perfectly:
"Building off the incredibly successful inaugural SpecFit season we are excited to introduce the next iteration of fun per dollar motorsports with the #GRIDLIFE SundaeCup. Both SpecFit and the SundaeCup are all about bringing motorsports to the masses with a maximum fun per dollar series utilizing affordable daily drivers, a simplified rule set and a balanced field putting focus on the driver vs the build."
If You're Not Familiar With Time Attack...
Time attack is, simply put, competition between cars on track based on their lap times alone. This isn't wheel-to-wheel, first-car-across-the-finish-wins stuff, and it's a form of competition that's lower risk and has a lower cost of entry. Pretty much anyone can participate as long as their car passes a safety inspection and they've got proper safety equipment—which is generally just a helmet and functioning, OEM seatbelts. Though, certain classes in time attack have higher/more safety requirements due to the cars having a ton more power, among other reasons.
Humble, Wholesome Midwestern Beginnings
How did SpecFit and SundaeCup come to be? A bunch of older Honda Fits didn't just all show up out of the blue and realize "whoa, we should create a time attack series." I decided to get some background from Gridlife's Motorsports Director, Adam Jabaay. He's been a part of the Midwest track scene for many years and is known around the country as one of the nicest guys, well, ever.
"It started off several years ago semi-organically," Jabaay revealed about SpecFit's humble beginnings. "A bunch of good buddies, the Chicago-based Ramblers Car Crew, had been mostly instructing all year for us with Gridlife and West Michigan Honda Meet, and had basically all broken their 'real' track cars."
"Most of them had first-gen (GD) Fits as daily drivers or work cars, and generally had cheapo coilovers and 200TW cast-off tires from their track cars or other buddies. At the last few events of the year, they just started taking their Fits to the track instead, and (did some) choo-choo train party driving every session we'd let them out."
What this means is, they'd mob around on track doing some wholesome track day rascality.
"I think at one point there was like eight of them nose-to-tail, having way too much fun... and the idea of making it a class was born."
I love this. A bunch of experienced track drivers showed up in their Fits and a realization was made; let's start a time attack series based on these modest-yet-immensely-fun hatchbacks.
How It's Expanded, How It's Been
In regards to how the GD Fit-based SpecFit grew into SundaeCup, Jabaay explains: "The ruleset evolved from 'SpecFit' in the first couple years to 'SundaeCup', as other cars were similar in pace."
SpecFit and SundaeCup follow a simple ruleset that contains a limited allowance of modifications, and a required 1:25 power-to-weight ratio. Any fun, slow car can participate as long as it jibes with the ruleset. Noteworthy platforms include the newer GE-gen Fit, Mazda 2, and non-ST Ford Fiesta. These cars have been raced extensively in World Challenge TCB, SCCA B-Spec, and have even raised eyebrows in the NASA 25-Hours of Thunderhill.
Speaking of B-Spec, prior to the introduction of the 2021 ruleset, Jabaay said there's potential for fully-prepped race cars to run, too: "B-Spec cars on 200TW tires are a planned mod to the ruleset as well, so those cars can have some time attack fun." This makes things more interesting for sure and gives B-Spec racers a chance for seat time. Some people find practice laps to be lacking during regular SCCA race weekends.
SpecFit X SundaeCup is already in its fourth season, and the car-counts keep growing. The draw has been quickly realized by anyone who's attended GL events.
"I wanted in on the fun!" Matt Williams, one of SpecFit's competitors, explained to me. He had been driving in GridLife HPDE since 2016's South Festival at Road Atlanta in his Honda S2000, and later his Miata. Then, he started noticing more and more Fits hanging in the paddock. "I had never considered owning a Fit before. I wondered why someone would invest time and effort turning one of these underpowered shopping carts into a track toy… But, I knew one thing; they were having a blast!"
Planned as a Fun, Welcoming Event From the Beginning
Jabaay shared a fun story about SpecFit's humble beginnings that's a testament to it being a friendly form of grassroots time attack. This went down at West Michigan Honda Meet 2017 at Gingerman Raceway, not too long after SpecFit's inaugural event at GridLife's Midwest Festival at the same venue.
"The most enjoyable story I have about (the series) is the (official) Gridlife Spec Fit build. We had bought a second-gen Fit for cheap and got suspension, brakes, wheels, tires, and other bits. We had a bit of a livestream/party in the timing tower, and after the track went cold we built a car on Saturday night. I think at one point we had like 30 people under-or-on the car doing something, and about the same amount around the tower drinking cold ones and eating cheap pizza. It was a night I remember fondly."
That's so fun, and a testament to momentum cars, an inexpensive ruleset, and a grassroots-community vibe being a great combination to keep this sport we all love alive.
Williams had some great things to say about the friendly, grassroots vibe, too. "I’ve had some success since entering SundaeCup in 2018 with a few class records along the way. More importantly, I've made close friends and had a ton of fun in the process. SundaeCup is a party on-track and off."
He also shares that it's been great for driver development. "We make a point at each event, usually on the last day, to do #BuddyLaps. Put simply, we get every SundaeCup in attendance on track together with the faster cars at the back. It gives the newer drivers a chance to practice traffic awareness and passing while maybe picking up something from the faster drivers."
This all sounds so excellent. I'd love to participate in one of these events myself. I actually received a couple offers to co-drive at one of this summer's events. Again, a testament to the welcoming community this series exudes.
But I think it'd be really cool to make an epic road trip out of it and attend with my very own Mazda 2. We'll see.
They have a bunch of events planned for this spring, summer, and fall, mostly in the Midwest. Check 'em out!