Competing in a fully prepared SCCA autocross car is a treat – and for most, a rarity. In the 24 years since I first stepped foot on an autocross course, I’ve done it precisely three times. The first two came in 2010 when I was hunting for a car to co-drive at that year’s Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships; the third was in December. Yet, while I appreciate the other two opportunities to drive championship-caliber cars, it was the latest drive I simply couldn’t resist.
The call came mid last year from three-time SCCA Solo National Champion and three-time SCCA ProSolo Champ Guy Ankeny. It turns out, he was building an NC Mazda Miata for the newly minted XS-B Solo class, and he wanted me to give it a spin, so to speak.
For lack of a better term, Guy is an elite shock tuner. In the world of autocross, the Ankeny Racing name is synonymous with custom Penske shocks – and winning. Case in point, his suspension components have made their way into the hands of champions like Billy Davis, Mark Daddio, Jeff Kiesel, Shauna Marinus, Andy McKee, Frank Stagnaro, Mike Meyer, and more. In fact, Guy estimates his custom-tuned shocks have been on more than 200 Solo National Championship-winning cars, plus Club Racing and pro cars, too.
But Guy is more than a “shock guy” – he’s a complete suspension tuner, which is what intrigued me so much about his latest build, and the reason I couldn’t wait to hit the Solo course.
“My dad autocrossed forever, from the late 1950s into the ’60s,” Guy replies when I asked him about how he got started in motorsports. From there, though, his story took an unexpected turn:
“We lived down the street from Kas Kastner, and my dad would help him put engines in his car,” he explains, “and then my dad would go with him to Willow Springs sometimes and break-in the motors that Kas built.”
Kas Kastner’s story could fill this magazine several times over, but a brief summary is that beyond preparing Triumph racecars and winning road races on the Club and pro level in the 1950s and ’60s, then managing Nissan’s motorsports division in the 1980s, Kastner was good company to keep.
Guy’s father would lean on those he knew in order to build speed, and young Guy absorbed it all. “My dad would take his car to get it worked on by various people,” he says. “He’d get information from Kas, and then he’d get the car worked on by some people who were really well known at the time. I learned from them – I’d stay and clean parts and pickup information.”
Following a stint in the Army, by the mid 1970s it was Guy’s turn to autocross and road race. “I had the ability to run against Joe Huffaker’s factory cars, as well as Lee Mueller, Dwayne Anderson, and Dave Lemon – we were the ones who were running [SCCA road races] who were fast. I started pretty much at the bottom, but when I quit, I was as fast any anyone else in E Production.”
Trips to the SCCA National Championship Runoffs in 1977 and ’78 weren’t as fruitful as he’d hoped, and he soon found interests elsewhere. “I ended up selling my car and going dirt bike riding, where I learned more about shocks and adjusting them because nobody knew anything about the shocks, and I would adjust them to see what they did different.”
Returning to motorsports, Guy and Tri-Point Engineering’s Craig Nagler would push each other to be better, ultimately leading Guy down the road of more in-depth shock and suspension tuning from the amateur level to pro, as well as multiple Solo National Championship titles for Guy’s Ankeny Racing brand, be it with or without Guy behind the wheel.
More Than Meets the Eye
Guy’s latest project car is an NC Miata built for SCCA’s newest autocross category, Xtreme Street – and this car is a hoot to behold and to drive. Xtreme Street breaks down into two classes, XS-A and XS-B, with relatively open rules (think CAM for imports), which makes it ideal for a tinkerer like Guy.
Under the hood of the NC is not the stock 2.0L, but a 2.5L sporting a supercharger. And, while custom-tuned Penske shocks sit at all four corners, the entire suspension has been improved upon.
“On this car, I’ve gone for more of the real racecar stuff,” Guy explains. “The suspension links are all on bearings, so that makes the wheels move up and down as they’re supposed to as they follow the contour of the road, instead of sticking and not moving. All of the rubber has been replaced so everything is a direct connection – that makes the shocks work even better because now the shocks have a more direct relation to the road.”
The rear shock mounts are quite trick with Guy’s custom-tuned Penske shocks inverted and then hung through the factory mounting location on mounts of Guy’s own making. “The inverted rear shocks take away some of the spring bind that was going on in the stock suspension, where the spring is bent in ways it’s not designed to be bent because of the way it was mounted to the car.”
Up front sits a blade-type swaybar designed by Guy that does more than counter roll. “The front swaybar is super easy to adjust without even jacking up the car. You reach under the car, loosen one bolt, and rotate a blade that allows you to adjust about 100lbs of roll rate in 20 seconds.”
An unmissable feature of this NC is the massive rear wing. “The wing is really important, and you feel it right away – even in a straight line. The car has better hookup with the rear wing.”
Is the wing necessary, I inquire? “When you’re an elite driver, you can get by without it,” Guy admits, “but when you’re an average driver going against elite drivers, you’re not going to win without something they don’t have.”
That’s the point of this NC build, says Guy – engineering an autocross car to the top of the results sheet. “The elite drivers are generally going to win unless you can find enough better things that they don’t have that adds a tenth here or a tenth there.”
I’m Far from Elite
My biggest claim to autocross fame is a 16th-place finish at the SCCA Solo National Championships. To say the least, I’m not the elite driver Guy was referencing. Topping that, my first time to drive Guy’s NC Miata was during a Cal Club Region SCCA autocross as I pulled from the grid to the starting line. Yet even I impressed myself with what came next.
The starter dropped the green flag and I gingerly accelerated to the 90-degree left that led to a short slalom, cautiously feeling out the car. I breathed the throttle at the second slalom cone, not knowing whether the Falken RT660 255/40-17 tires would hold. Yet, as I rolled back on the throttle, I instantly realized that grip was ample. Then heading into the long, undulating right-hand sweeper that followed, I knew without a doubt that this car was more capable than I was. From lateral and longitudinal grip to acceleration and braking, Guy’s Miata was not the weakest link in the equation.
Four runs and one cone later, my fastest time was sitting about 0.7sec behind Guy’s, yet that’s not what was fascinating. Chucking my first run (which was a 57.238) and discounting the cone on my second, my times were a 56.436, 56.500, and 56.507. Consistency has always been my strong point, but with a total spread of 0.071sec and two runs falling within 0.007sec of each other, this was a whole new level.
While Guy sees great value in putting elite drivers behind the wheel of his cars to receive input, he was quick to see value in my experience. “For you driving the car, for never seeing the car before and then being just 0.7sec off of my time, you did great – and that tells me the car works pretty well,” he says.
Parts of a Whole
Parts for this Miata came from companies both big and small, including Ciro Design, Competition Tire West, Penske Shocks, DifTech, Fab 9 Tuning, Falken Tire, FRSport, Goodwin Racing, Kraftwerks, Mazda Motorsports, RPS Racing Clutches, and Wilwood Engineering, and the end product is rather amazing. For one, the power delivery was dreamy – the 2.5L with a supercharger is how all NC Miatas should be equipped. But while the power was a joy, the true beauty came as the car would transition into, through and out of the corners. It was an absolute pleasure to drive.
Being that custom-valved shocks are Guy’s specialty, I inquired as to how much of the car’s demeanor came from his specially tuned Penskes – what would the car perform like with the Ankeny Racing shocks but without the bearings, custom shock mounts, and blade front swaybar?
“The shocks make a big difference no matter what the other suspension is,” Guy explains. “The shocks make the car more consistent. It does the same thing more often on a given track, whether it’s a road racetrack or an autocross. Every time you hit a bump with lesser shocks, it’s a bit of a crapshoot as to how much it’s going to throw the car in a certain direction and how you’re going to catch it.”
Double that with the rest of the free-flowing suspension and the experience becomes exquisite.
What’s left for the Ankeny Racing NC Miata XS-B build? Less weight, for one, but after that, Guy’s plan is simple. “I don’t know at this point what the car can actually do because there hasn’t been an elite driver in it,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “no offense.” Yet he’s in no hurry for that. “I just want to have fun with the car myself,” he says.
And for those looking to take their competition car to the next level, you can contact Ankeny Racing at (805) 279-1338.
This feature has been adapted from the March/April issue of SportsCar Magazine, which is included (in both print and digital form) with membership in the Sports Car Club of America.