Chad Ryker gets behind the wheel of Project Reddawn and lays down the fastest lap of the day.
Written by Chad Ryker;
I recently got the chance to drive TCI Engineering’s Project RedDawn at the NMCA West Autocross season opener. Project RedDawn is a 1971 Camaro that served as TCI’s R&D platform for developing their pro touring suspension for second gen Camaros. On the surface, its very similar to my own TCI equipped 1968 Camaro. TCI Subframe and torque arm, check. LS engine, Currie Enterprises Turn 9 full floater rear end, Wilwood disc brakes, check. Red, check.
However, the devil is in the details. I’ve actually driven RedDawn a handful of times and each time the car is faster. TCI has been tweaking some of the subtle things that go into making a winning autocross car. Recent examples include everything from tuning the engine and throttle behavior in autocross environments to the size of steering wheel. These little details can make a big difference in how a car responds on course. In fact, despite not making any suspension changes the car drives very different from the first time I drove it.
For those unfamiliar with the NMCA West Autocross series, it is a two day event where drivers are competing for daily class wins, a weekend overall champion as well as season championships. This past weekend competitors had 9 laps on the course Saturday and 9 laps in the opposite direction Sunday. After finishing my competition laps on Sunday I was asked to take a few laps in RedDawn after official competition runs were over.
It’s a privilege when someone asks you to take the wheel of their well prepped autocross car. And with Sal Solorzano having just spent the weekend scrubbing in a brand new set of tires I was stoked. The car had been sitting for over an hour so the first lap was really just a warm up lap and a chance for me to reacquaint myself with RedDawn. Despite that, I turned a 44.9 second lap which was only .1 second from my fastest lap in my own car. I don’t know if it was the culmination of the recent tweaks TCI made or a brand new set of tires but RedDawn felt amazing and I knew we could drop a bunch of time. Each lap I asked the car to do more and it did. The car has become very driver friendly. Some ultra fast cars have a knife edge window between fast and out of control. However, on this day, RedDawn’s performance window was wide open and forgiving.
I drove a total of four autocross laps in RedDawn. Each lap I was dropping 3-4 tenths. After completing a 44.1 second 3rd lap I turned to Sal and said I think I there is a 43. While these were unofficial runs and not part of the competition, I didn’t know at that point that none of the approximately 80+ cars competing that day had dipped into the 43’s. And there were some badass drivers and cars there that day. An extensively prepared C7 Grand Sport Corvette and a 2017 Camaro ZL1 1LE were the fastest (44.0) and second fastest (44.1) cars of the day. These cars were far from stock, with a host of the best parts available in the aftermarket industry.
My fourth and final lap proved that when you also have a host of the best pro touring parts available applied to your classic muscle car you can still play with the best track current offerings from GM. Yes, with Sal still riding shotgun we put down the only 43 second lap of the day. A 43.7.
Thank you to Sal and TCI for letting me drive the wheels off RedDawn.