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Passing The Test

Changes to the 2005 US Touring Car Championship Rules Help to Improve Competition As Tom Lepper idled around the track after being shown the checkered flag at last years season ending USTCC race, Brian Lock pulled along side after being passed with one turn to go. Through the darkening Northern California skies, Lock saluted what he later called "the best car and the best driver," a gesture magnified by circumstances. Competitorsí praise for Lepper resonated as more than just the typical "nice race" variety, maybe because they all knew what went on to Lepperís championship effort. Ask any driver. The 2004 USTCC season tested their ability, and 2005 looks to be even more difficult. No question the cars will be more difficult to drive - requiring more muscle and much more precision - than in previous years. Changes upcoming for the 2005 season aimed at "evening the field" will do so, but the cars will all be even at a much higher level. The changes will force the drivers to work the throttle more often, "hustle" the cars, driving them in loose conditions (narrowing the window between fast and wrecked!) and race much closer together.

"I know it will be more competitive than last year," said Ali Arsham USTCC Official, assessing the aesthetics of the upcoming season. "Itís a combination of increased tire grip and engine power and with the larger fields, it will be a spectacle."

The observations of the past seasons were that the competition was not as tight as the drivers would like, but Arsham has worked over the past season gently "massaging" the rules to level the field, and now that he feels thatís done, all of the cars will be receiving a much wanted power increase. "Itís still about, patience, momentum and making moves at the right time," said Charlie Frank, driver of the P1 Motorsports, CasinoGT.com Honda and an early season favorite. "I think all of the changes play into the better drivers hands come race time because theyíre going to make the smart moves at the right time, and theyíre going to know how to keep the momentum up."

Teams are feverously gearing up in the off-season for the upcoming 2005 season and the new engine modifications rules package. In previous years, the engine rules allowed very few engine modifications (aftermarket headers, cold-air intake, and upgraded ECU). Now the new 2005 engine specifications package includes allowing unlimited head modifications (including porting and polishing, aftermarket intake and exhaust valves, racing cams, valve springs, and valve retainers, lightened flywheel). The trick for the teams is to get all of these new modifications to "click" or work together optimally.

"When USTCC added all of the new engine rules for 2005, we knew we were going to have to spend a significant amount of time working the engines over to get maximum output. Getting the most out of each engine involves using an engine dyno to make sure each part is working with the next to make the most power, we were able to add 10% more horsepower to the wheels by spending some time on an engine dyno last year," says Raymond Brenneman, Principal and Team Manager of P1 Motorsports in Port Orchard Washington. "This year, with the new rules, we should add another 20% in horsepower. We estimate that our P1 Motorsports Civic with a B18 (Acura Type R Motor) engine will make 225 hp to the wheels using the allowable modifications and test time," elaborated Brenneman.

To make the racing as close as possible, this year the USTCC has added specifications for each car competing. Meaning certain cars will be allowed certain modifications, while other cars will be not depending on the horsepower/weight ratio. "It is really the only way to get a Subaru WRX or BMW M3 and a Honda Civic to be on an even playing field," said USTCC Director Arsham.

So what can the Touring car fans expect from these changes? A hell of a show! And with the new engine rules package and big horsepower, faster lap times, higher speeds and closer door handle-to-door handle racing itís no wonder that the USTCC is the fastest growing professional racing series around.