"We race a 2009 Mitsubishi Evolution X RS in the relatively new category of Time Attack. It's a big horsepower car with very few restrictions imposed within the category, I think that's the reason we enjoy it so much."
Track Car Modifications Q and A with Daniel McCoey of Road Track Rally, A Track Car Prep Shop in Australia
By Michael Allen
Daniel McCoey is the owner of Road Track Rally, a specialty shop in Australia that focuses on car modifications and preparation for track use. McCoey has quite a bit of insight and information about track driving and modifications necessary to have a more successful track experience. RTR specializes on Evos, Nissans, Subarus, Audis, VWs and Porsches. In addition to their busy schedule at the shop, Daniel and his business partner Darrin Morice race in a time trial series in Australia and Daniel was once with Team Mitsubishi Ralliart. We picked his brain for information to help guide you in making modifications to your car. Daniel has some excellent insights on which mods to focus on and on the positives and negatives of listening to what you read on forums. He also has some important warnings on the Achilles heels of some popular models. We hope that what he has to say helps you to prioritize your mods and saves you money to boot. Following is our interview with Daniel.
To establish for our readers your experience and credentials, can you first tell me about yourself, your involvement in motorsports and your business.
I've been involved in the automotive industry for 20 years now, my first experience in my career was working at a Mazda dealership preparing cars ready for sale on the lot. Not exactly glamorous but it involved working with cars. I've worked for Mazda, Ford and Mitsubishi to name a few. Today I run a workshop that specializes with Mitsubishi Evos as well as their competition, namely Subaru and Nissan although now we've branched out adding VW, Audi and Porsche to the list.
How did you get started in motorsports?
I was working at Mitsubishi at the time, and within my role I found myself liaising with the then Team Manager of Team Mitsubishi Ralliart, Alan Heaphy. One thing led to another and before long I was working within the Team with some very experienced people that had been involved with motorsport teams both here and abroad. If I could say anything about my experience there, it would be that Motorsport People truly are clever. Some of the smartest people I've ever met are working in the motorsport arena, I think it's the 'way the think' that separates them from other professions, everything you do is extremely result based, it either ends with your car on the podium or in tears. My time at Team Mitsubishi Ralliart was 'money can't buy experience' if I was to paraphrase my time there. I have many fond memories of the people and my experiences there, the lows and the highs.
Do you drive or race on the track?
We, I say we as both myself and Darrin Morice my business partner both drive the car. We race a 2009 Mitsubishi Evolution X RS in the relatively new category of Time Attack. It's a big horsepower car with very few restrictions imposed within the category, I think that's the reason we enjoy it so much. It's not 'rule book' racing although there are rules to abide by or course, you really are only limited to your imagination and your budget as to what you can build. And just like any form of motorsport, it's about building the best car you can, the best 'mouse trap!
Would you recommend that track day beginners drive their cars stock for the first year? If so, explain why.
I don't know if I'd recommend driving a completely stock car in a motorsport environment for the first time, but then I wouldn't suggest to spend money on making it more powerful either. My recommendations to our customers that are about to participate at their first 'track day' would vary dependent on the environment and application the car is being used in. Environment and application are of the utmost importance whether it be for just a fun day at a circuit or motorkhana right up to sitting on the grid at the Bathurst 12hr or running at Targa Tasmania. As an example, if you were going to a track day, the main focus would be tyres and brakes, making sure you have enough of both.
Manufactures understand environment and application of their products very well, but then they aren't taking into consideration what conditions your car is going to be put under at the race track, so some thought is required to bring your car up to 'spec' to handle a track day is required.
The best recommendation I can give anyone for their first year at the track is driver training and experience. You can add 100Hp to a car easily enough, but learning race craft is something that you are not born with, as with nay craft you have to learn it. Having someone in the car that is a professional driver point out to you where you can improve will see your lap times fall. Adding 100Hp only makes a car harder to handle. It's up to you of course, you can grind away for years and slowly get better, or get some training and improve almost immediately. And whatever you do, whoever you are, you can always learn more.
What would your recommendations be about modifying a car for track day or HPDE use? Can you break that down in stages?
Good question and I'm glad you asked this as it leads into discussing what are the do's and dont's in getting a car ready for a track day and again it comes back to the environment and application the car is being used in. As an example, some race tracks are fast and flowing but have big stops at the end of the straights, washing off speed effectively is something you need to target at a track like that, so spending time on brakes, making them more efficient at removing heat is paramount. Always remember with brakes in any car this; brakes don't slow you down, tyres do. It's a physics lesson that I find I have to remind myself of occasionally. All your brakes do is remove heat, make them more efficient with that, and big stops at the end of a straight won't be an issue. Removing backing plates of the front rotors is something we regularly do as this aids the cooling with more air being able to remove temperature from the inside of the rotor, it also helps with more uniformed cooling across the rotor. Brake fluid being hygroscopic means you need to replace it regularly, with a car used in the motorsport arena we use a fluid that is more suitable at working at hotter temps, and lastly the brake pads themselves. Manufacturers supply pads that are fine for road duties, low noise and provide ample stopping power but just a few laps with a seasoned campaigner behind the wheel will almost always induce brake fade, either boiling of brake fluid or gassing from the pads. Either way, a brake pedal that falls to the floor as you start hurtling into a corner isn't exactly confidence inspiring.
Safety is also an area where we like to impress upon our customers, if you have a $50 head then by all means wear a $50 helmet, but really can you put a price on safety? Having the right helmet, and if you can make the dollars stretch, a HANS device might just be that something that protects you from carrying an injury for the rest of your life, don't be 'that guy'. While a roll cage might not be possible in your road car you drive to work on weekdays and have fun in on the weekend, roll cages are amazing things, and I'm not talking about their strength or the safety aspects about them, I'm talking about the psychological benefit with having a roll cage, because they make you faster! I think it's because of what you feel snugly fitted into a race seat, harness and roll cage, you feel safer and for that reason alone you drive faster, you brake later and stay on the go pedal for longer. There are other options out there instead of roll cages, and while a cage is always high on the list, talk to professionals about your dilemma as other options are out there.
What I want for our customers is to be the guy or gal that turns up to the track, prepares his car, tyre pressures and the like, goes out there and drives each session without issue, then at the end of the day, packs up and drives home and drives to work the next day with that same car, issue free.
Which are the most popular modification requests from your customers?
It's always power that is being chased, very rarely will someone come in and ask to have their suspension bushings upgraded, it's always an end figure of HP they are chasing. Most of the upgrades we do are intakes, exhausts, fuel pumps and tuning as we have a 4WD Dynamometer at our workshop.
Do you see a common theme among those requests and do those common themes change depending upon the car?
For the most part cars are cars, meaning that there are things you can do to any make and model, apply that principle and you have improvements. It's the internet or automotive forums that are without a doubt the biggest influence on what customers are asking to have fitted to their cars today. When you get to the crux of it, it's because XYZ customer has had this part fitted to the same make and model of your car, and it performs (allegedly) better than ABC's part, here are the dyno sheets and an endorsement from that person. Or it can go down that path of, I fitted that part to my car and it was rubbish. That kind of money can't buy advertising has meant that the better parts get the better reviews which hasn't hurt the industry at all, it's just changed the direction of it. People don't want cheap parts, they want good parts at a good price. We are talking about car enthusiasts here, nothing is too good for their baby after all!
For the most part automotive forums have been the biggest game changer, and a positive one at that, I believe customers are better informed, have a better base knowledge, and a quick 30min research session can answer most of the questions you'd normally ask your mechanic/speed shop. What you won't get though is years of experience and the 1%'ers as I call them through a forum, that’s what you need a human for.
Auto forums are great, I'm active on a few of them myself and I am happy to admit I have learned a few things from other peoples mistakes, likewise people have learned from our mistakes, so that part of it is good. But there is a bad side to forums as well. For the most part, advice on forums these days is okay, but it's not perfect so you do need to take any advice you get from a forum with a grain of salt. I have a 6 year son, and he has had a few colds. Being a nervous first time parent it's been a case of stuffing him into the car and going to see our family doctor, a health care professional, not getting in front of google and seeing if I can diagnose his symptoms. I see this same thinking from people with more experience with modifying cars, they don't guess, they take their car to a professional.
Any examples of one car model that might have oil depletion issues or heat issues versus other cars that might have other types of issues? And can you discuss those cars? Give us some insight into those issues.
All cars have an Achilles heel, it's just that some loyal owners are blind to them or just don't want to admit their car has a problem. The RB26 is one engine that has more than a few faults, so when you ask a question with words like oil depletion or heat issues, that engine comes to mind straight away because it's such an iconic engine having been standard fare in GTR skylines for as long as it has. Not so much oil depletion, but the RB26 is an engine prone to engine oil starvation which results in the bare minimum of spun bearings right up to throwing a leg out of bed as we call it here. It's something which can be rectified, but it usually takes good times to go bad before a customer takes the steps to fix the inherent issue.
Mitsubishi Evo X with the prone to fail fuel pump relay was a recent problem that surprised me this day and age, literally a $5 part that can cause major engine failure. Also, there is the fuel pump bucket on the 2.0T engine used in the Golf R. If not changed routinely with servicing, this part will wear down and throw itself into the engine causing catastrophic failure, the interesting thing there is the Audi S3 that has the same engine has within its service schedule that parts changeover, VW does not. Same engine, same part and same weakness.
I know that you have done builds on Evos and we will get to that in a minute. But first, what are some of the other cars you have done racing or HPDE builds on?
We've done so many builds on so many cars it's hard to come up with just one. A recent car, although not a track oriented car it certainly could be used as one was a Subaru Forrester. Now you might think that sounds odd, but with the upgrades on this car including Cosworth crate engine, 6 speed conversion with DCCD pro, brakes, suspension and diff upgrades just to name a few, it certainly turned out to be a stand out car for us.
You have an extensive build summary on the Evo forum. Can you summarize that build for our readers? Can we reprint parts of that with credit going back to you?
We took a road going Evo X GSR and turned it into a 650Hp Evo X RS time attack car in one year and came third at the World Time Attack Challenge back in 2012.
How did you transition from working for Mazda, Ford and Mitsubishi to opening your own shop?
I think going from one manufacturer to another is an easy step from a mechanical point of view, a car is a car at the end of the day. In most cases cars are just big spare parts bins in wheels when you think about it. The ABS systems in most cars come from Bosch as an example, get to know that well and you’ve covered a lot of different manufacturers. However, there is an emotional attachment you get to a manufacturer, take Mazda. The MX-5 or Miata as it’s called in North America is a car that is very close to my heart, I still have one today that I race and I find it a car that while flawed is a fantastic vehicle that I keep being drawn back to. For the emotional reasons, it’s hard to switch manufacturers, from the practical side of things, it’s really very easy.
It is clear that you enjoy working on cars. But can you describe for us a typical day in the life for you as the owner of a race car prep shop owner?
Something that I have to remind myself of is that while I see the inside of a dogbox or maybe an engine every week, it’s not what everyone sees. When customers come into the workshop with a fresh set of eyes, not having seen a car with a roll cage, or an engine in pieces, it’s an ‘occasion’ for them. So while I might say something like, “Every day is similar to the next with the cars that come in and go out” that’s not entirely true.
The more ‘mundane’ vehicle logbook servicing along with race car prep and fabrication means that every day is different. Last week as an example, we tuned a series 2 997 GT3 RS, we had a Renault Megane 265 cup production car on the dyno getting ready for a 1 hour endurance race in the Australian Production Car Championships and we serviced some everyday road cars like Mazda 2s so, yes every day is different to the next.
I'm assuming there's a difference between working on cars for customers who are bringing in their cars in a frustrated, exasperated mood because their car broke down on the way to work or because they need an oil change and they feel put out by this errand and those customers you have who typically are bringing their cars to you and are all excited about their upcoming track event. Can you give a commentary on your typical customer and what it's like to work with him or her?
As far as differences go, it’s yes and no. While it’s more enjoyable for a mechanic to work on what I’d call a proper race car, you still need to put in the same effort for a road car. If anything, I think that’s what separates us from our local competition. You see, with a race car you have to make sure you’ve carried out faultless work because if you don’t, you could seriously injure or kill the driver in a competitive motorsport environment where the driver is asking a lot from the car, and I think it’s that level of workmanship that gets carried across to road cars that our customers appreciate. Most of them know we are involved in motorsport, they know we have money can’t buy experience and leave their cars with us because they feel comfortable to do so.
Customers that have had some sort of motorsport experience, generally are easier to deal with too as they get the grassroots philosophies you are trying to instill in them, and from personal experience they are more receptive to ideas you might have for them because after doing a track day, they realise they don’t know everything that they thought they knew, and they are up for a steep learning curve. These types of customers are upgrading their cars, having work performed on their cars because it’s a hobby. It’s all a positive experience.
Road car customers on the other hand that are just in for a service, treat this as an expensive chore that has to get done and nothing more. The emotion and enjoyment isn’t there, I mean who do you know that gets excited about having a timing belt changed?
That being said, customers all want the same thing, professionalism. And that’s something we will keep striving to give our customers now, and in the future.
Not bad street cred or shall we say track cred. We could not agree more with Daniel’s advice and philosophy. For more information on modifications, see our how to article. Hopefully we have given you a good start for your research and track preparation.