- New track series organized by Auto Tuned welcomes grassroots enthusiasts with little-to-no experience on a road course.
- Inaugural event took place at Streets of Willow in Rosamond, CA, with 12 supporting sponsors, including Sparco, CSF, Remark, and Wilwood.
- Four pro drivers were on-hand, which included Formula DRIFT’s Ken Gushi. Instructors shared their expertise with 40 students using a combination of lead-follow laps, personal coaching, and ridealongs.
- The absence of a structured competition and overcrowded run groups proved to be the perfect catalyst for improving driver skill levels and quickening lap times throughout the day.
If you’re an inexperienced driver or completely brand new to the track, chances are you’re not going to sign up for the next Global Time Attack or Grid Life Track Battle. On the other side of the spectrum, there are organizations out there that offer track days filled to the brim with aspiring hot shoes, which, let’s face it, isn’t the best environment to learn the proper race line or the limits of your own project car either. Then there are established performance driving schools that curate a full-day program with the hired help of professional drivers, some of which have cars for you to drive. Many of these schools are legit; however, they often cost just as much as a set of new coilovers or race tires. Southern California’s Auto Tuned saw the lack of a beginner-based event as an opportunity to produce a new track series while also playing host to many members of their customer base — a customer base of undoubtedly well-built and capable project cars but with enthusiast owners that still lacked the knowledge to navigate a road course. Enter the Starting Grid…
NO SHORTAGE OF LAPPING AND LEARNING
Drivers begin the Starting Grid by listening to trained instructors review the basics of safety, the meaning of the flags, proper passing, how to enter and exit the track, and so on. Then, drivers are divided into smaller groups of 4-5, where an instructor will lead each car at least once in what’s known as lead-follow laps to demonstrate the fastest driving line. After a debrief and Q&A in the pits, the training wheels come off, and the students have three more 20-minute sessions and an additional 40-minute final session to sharpen their skills and push themselves, all while enjoying the track with no more than 15 cars on at once (Note: Mainstream track series often cram 20-25+ vehicles in one session resulting in lots of traffic). Throughout the day, instructors are accessible for one-on-one coaching and hot lap ridealongs.
KICKOFF AT STREETS OF WILLOW
40 registered vehicles showed up at the 1.8-mile, 13-turn Streets of Willow located just 90 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Four instructors were on-hand, including Formula DRIFT driver Ken Gushi and Auto Tuned time attack driver Jeffrey Ting aka “Jepp”. The overall vibe of the Starting Grid was relaxed and rewarding. Various cars from low-powered Hondas and old school whips to a C8 Corvette and a handful of A90 GR Supras made up the entrants. The diversity of people was also cool to see, with several female drivers learning the ropes and in a field that doesn’t discriminate between age groups and skill levels. It didn’t matter where anyone came from or what car they drove as everyone echoed the same vibe, willing to learn while having fun at the same time. The ample amount of seat time coupled with smiles on everyone’s faces made it memorable for drivers, spectators, and staff. The absence of a highly competitive environment and overcrowded run groups helped make all this possible. Auto Tuned owner Young Tea said it best: “The Starting Grid will never ever deviate from teaching beginners. We’ll have our intermediate and advanced groups so drivers can get more seat time as they improve. If they decide to go to another series, they’ll feel confident and know what it takes. Our event is all about feeling no pressure and being focused on learning. If you ask anyone from our first event, they’ll tell you they had a blast.”
HOW TO REGISTER
If the sheer amount of track time and instructors’ availability wasn’t enough, Auto Tuned also provided lunch, a free t-shirt, and raffle prizes (which included tons of dope Sparco gear). So how much does the Starting Grid cost? $250! Considering the value you’re getting with small run groups, high caliber instruction, and a comfy environment, you can imagine the Starting Grid events are going to fill up fast, which is exactly why you should reach out to Auto Tuned directly if you’re interested in joining.
PROJECT EK SHAKEDOWN
With spacious run groups, the Starting Grid also proved to be the optimum time for Young to shakedown his EK Civic hatchback project car, which he’s been building from the ground up for the last six months. Under the hood is a JDM K24 swap that’s been dyno-tuned to 225whp and 195 lb-ft on 91-octane. Other notable parts include RS-R coilovers (which had to be shipped from Japan and are the only set in the U.S.), GReddy K-swap exhaust, Hasport motor mounts, J’s Racing carbon hood, CSF radiator, Sparco seats and steering wheel, and a Porsche Brembo brake retrofit. With any first shakedown, there’s always the likelihood that something will fail right off the bat. Young also explains the days and hours leading up to the Starting Grid were hell for the EK.
“Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and I almost threw in the towel. It had leaks, the car wouldn’t start. I had to pull and replace a new steering rack, get it aligned by Monrovia Alignment, and loaded it up at midnight. Ended up performing much better than we thought, scared something was going to break like an axle. Most shakedowns don’t make it, but we full sent it going more than 15 laps.”
With a few more tweaks, the front-wheel-drive hatch could be a menace down the line with a Jackson Racing supercharger kit on the way.
One final note: It’s important to mention that the Starting Grid wouldn’t have happened without this EK hatch. The original idea was to build the Civic to be a competitive track car and test it on an already established track series. Young thought, though, why not come up with an event concept that would allow him to test and tune his Civic while also filling a void that so many of his customers have shown interest in. Sure enough, the Starting Grid was born, and we’re excited to watch this series and its drivers grow.