Why open road racing?

Open road racing is a legal way to drive your 928 as it was designed to be driven:  VERY fast over the open road.  The 928 was designed as a high-speed Autobahn cruiser.  In the US, open road racing is the closest you can get o the Autobahn experience, and in many ways exceeds the Autobahn for exhilarating driving.  The 928 is perfectly suited for this type of driving with no special preparation except for safety equipment.  Drive to event, participate and drive to work the next day, and the car will be none the worse for the experience.

What is open road racing?

Open road racing is a legal, sanctioned racing event run on a closed public highway course.  Participants race against a selected target speed of their choice limited by the "tech class" of their vehicle, determined by the level of safety equipment installed.  The object is not to go as fast as you can (unless you enter the unlimited class) but to get as close as you can to your overall target speed without exceeding the class limit.  Your finishing place is determined solely by how close you come to the target, just like in a more common road rally.  This is not wheel-to-wheel competitive racing, but a rally event fully covered by your insurance.  Speed classes start at 95 MPH and go up in 5-10 MPH increments from there.  The roads are wide open with a lot of fast straights, so meeting this speed target is rudimentary for a prepared driver and car. The races vary in length from 55 to 130 miles.

What events are available and when are they run?

Events are run on two-lane  highways in Nevada, Texas and Nebraska during the Summer and early Fall months.

MKM Racing (United States Autobahn Series) hosts two events in Nevada:

Silver State Classic Challenge (SCCC), Inc. hosts two events in Nevada:

Big Bend Open Road Race -  April 20-23, 2010, Hwy 285, Fort Stockton, TX - 118 miles total - two-way.

Sandhills Open Road Challenge - August 5-7, 2010 Arnold, NB - 55 mile roundtrip

What safety equipment do I need to enter these events?

All you need is a Snell SA2000 (minimum) rated helmet and a fire extinguisher installed in your car to enter the Touring division classes.  Your car's safety belts and tires (H-rated minimum) must be in good condition.  Clothing must be non-synthetic with full leather shoes and gloves.  Requirements for the faster divisions are shown in the next section.  

The rules say that your OEM safety belts must be no older than 10 years, but I don't think that is strictly enforced or all 928 seatbelts would have to be renewed.  I ran the Touring class the first time with OEM belts.  However, I strongly recommend a 5 or 6 point harness.  These cost about $200 with brackets per harness set.  A harness is required for any class above Touring (see below).  Not only are harnesses a good safety feature but they make driving the car much easier since you are more firmly held to the seat.

Note that the SSCC organization requires attendance at a qualifying school at the Las Vegas Raceway for ALL first-timers in any of the divisions.

What are the various speed classes?

The classes are grouped into divisions with classes within them.  Here are the divisions and classes for the United Sates Autobahn series for 2007.  The other organizations have very similar setups.

The base division is Street/Stock.  All Touring classes have a "Tech Speed" limit (not to be exceeded at any time on the course) of 110 MPH with the "Target" average speeds broken into 85 and 90 MPH classes.

The next division is Touring.  All Touring classes have a "Tech Speed" limit (not to be exceeded at any time on the course) of 124 MPH with the "Target" average speeds broken into 95,100,105 and 110 MPH classes.

The next division is Grand Touring with a Tech Speed of 140MPH and target speed classes of 115, 120, and 125 MPH.  This division requires a 5 or 6-point harness.

For the most experienced and adventurous, the are the Grand Sport (Tech Speed of 168 MPH, targets of 130-155 MPH), Super Sport (Tech Speed of 185 or 200 MPH, targets of 165 or 175 MPH).  These classes require special licensing and extra equipment and Nomex clothing.

Here's a simplified table of the divisions and classes for MKM Racing for 2007.  Other racing groups use similar but not identical classes. Note these requirements could change, so be sure to check the race websites for up to date information.

Division Target Speed Classes Tech Speed Minimum Equipment
Street Stick 85,90 110 Helmet, extinguisher, S-rated tires
Touring 95,100,105,110 124 U-rated tires
Grand Touring 115,120,125 140 5 or 6-pt harness, V-rated tires
Grand Sport Lower 130, 135,140 (Rookies no more than 130) 168 (Rookies 150) Roll bar, W-rated tires, Nomex suit, gloves, shoes, & socks; neck collar; arm restraints
Grand Sport Upper 145,150,155 168 (172 for 155 target class) Y-rated tires for 155 target class
Super Sport 165 185 Fire suppression, fuel cell, roll cage, helmet restraint, (Y) -rated tires, racing seats safety wire, drive shaft loop, engine restraints
175 200 quick-release steering wheel, (Y)-rated tires
Unlimited (Special Race Prepared) Unlimited (DISCONTINUED by MCM) 180+  

Tires not more than 4 years old; 2 years old for Super sport and Unlimited

In which division should I start?

The Touring division is good for first-timers.  The lowest speed classes are a walk in the park for a 928 in good condition.  With a 928 you certainly can enter the Grand Touring class, but this is only advisable if you are already somewhat experienced and comfortable with high-speed driving.  As long as the driver is capable and safety equipment is installed, the 928 in stock form can compete easily in the Grand Sport and Super Sport classes.  Not many cars can make that claim.

How competitive is a stock 928?

The later S4, GT and GTS cars are competitive up to 145 target speed in stock form.  Although these cars can sustain 165-170 MPH on the long straight-aways seen in these race courses, there are enough slower turns that averaging 150 overall is probably not feasible (although it's a close call) with the horsepower available in bone-stock models.  Of course, this depends on the course layout, elevation changes, wind conditions, suspension setup, driver skill and course knowledge. Tuning for more horsepower, such as high-flow headers, could make achieving the 150 MPH average likely.  A mid-80's Euro car (300HP) can compete successfully in the 140 MPH target class.  The 220 HP early model year and 234 HP S model  US cars should be OK at 130 MPH target class, but not much more without modification.  Let's pay homage, though, to the famous DEVEK White Car with a stroked (6.5 liter) S4 motor that averaged over 170 MPH and was clocked at over 209 MPH on the Pony Express course in 1999.  So, the sky is the limit if you are willing to do some modifications.

What will this cost?

A Snell SA2000 (now all new helmets are SA2005) helmet will cost about $225+.  Note that motorcycle helmets do not meet the required Snell standards.  It may be possible to use a motorcycle helmet with a Nomex headsock - check with the race organizers.

A 2.5 lb minimum, automotive BC fire extinguisher, with a secure quick release metal mounting bracket mounted within easy reach of driver is required in all cars.  The extinguisher and bracket will run about $50 (DEVEK sells a convenient kit for this price).

Clothing:  Classes below Grand Sport only require non-synthetic (cotton, wool, leather) clothing, gloves and leather topped shoes.  Grand Sport and above require a Nomex suit.  Suits run $250+ with more expensive suits being lighter and cooler.

Safety Harness:  Touring class only requires standard seatbelts in good condition.  All other classes require a 5 or 6 point harness less than 5 years old.  Figure about $200 per harness set (with hardware).

Other equipment, such as a roll bar, arm restraints and padded helmet support may be required for higher classes.  See table above.

Entry Fees:
Driver: About $500, $700+ for upper divisions
Navigator $175
MCM & SCCC have annual membership fees in addition.
SCCC Qualifying School for first-timers $195

Lodging: Figure about $40-80/night.  May be as low as $20 for weeknights.

Do I need a navigator and what does the navigator do?

A navigator is not required, but it is a big help to have one.  The navigator tracks your progress versus mile markers with a stopwatch and other landmarks and helps to keep you on your target pace.  The navigator gives you advance notice of slow turns ahead.   You can do all this alone with cheat notes and glancing at stop watches and mile markers while driving, and solo drivers often win in their class, but it is much harder.   Note that the navigator must have the same level of safety equipment as the driver.

Why do the events take 3 days?

Although the exact schedule may vary, the first day (Friday) usually includes registration, tech inspection, a qualifying session for first-timers (at MCM events), a practice sessions, and a welcome dinner.  It is possible to skip the first day and register and tech on the second day except if you are a novice driver.  The second day includes a wash and shine car show, an unscheduled opportunity to ride the course a couple of times at regular speed and familiarize your self with landmarks and turns and develop a plan for hitting your target speed and a mandatory drivers meeting.  The last day is the race itself.  The classes run in order from fastest to slowest.  After the race there is an awards dinner.

What preparations should I make for the tech inspection?

The main concern of tech inspection is condition of your tires, safety equipment and basic car operation.  You should inspect your tires and brakes if they are not fresh.  It is a good idea to change your fluids and do any other periodic maintenance before the race to make sure everything is in good shape.  Inspect your radiator hoses, belts, brake hoses, CV boots, tie rods, steering rack boots, sway bar bushings, and other suspension parts.  Your helmet, fire extinguisher and any other required safety equipment will be carefully inspected.  Note that safety harnesses are date-coded and cannot be more than 5 years old.

What kinds of problems and challenges should I anticipate?

The roads are in very good condition and, in general, the turns can be taken very fast with no real surprises.  Still you have to pay close attention to the course notes and mile markers and make adjustments to your speed so as to stay close to your target speed.  Also, the possibility or crosswinds and road hazards (animals, debris) require careful monitoring of the road ahead.  Without a navigator you will need some kind of highly visible list of turns described by mile location, direction and estimated speed, as a number of the turns are blind and there are numerous crests that may have turns or straightaway after them. 

 If you are shooting to hit a target speed you will need some more carefully plotted landmarks with target times and correction recommendations if you are off your target by various amounts.  There are a lot of possible ways to approach this, but be aware that class winners come remarkably close to the targets, so this takes a good amount of skill and luck.

What does it cost equipment-wise to move into the Grand Touring, Grand Sport divisions?

Grand Touring (Tech Speed 140 MPH):  Besides the Snell SA2000 helmet and a fire extinguisher, you will need a 5 or 6-point safety harness (about $200 with mounting hardware) no more than 5 years old.

Grand Sport (Tech Speed 168 MPH):  In addition to the above you will need a multi-layer Nomex Driver/Co-Driver's suit, shoes, socks and gloves (leather palms O.K.) are required. Suit must  meet SFI 3-2A/3 or better rating is the minimum standard (a single layer suit meeting SFI 3-2A/1 with Nomex underwear equals SFI 3-2A/3). A one-piece suit (coverall type) is highly recommended.   ($300 to $1,000) and a Roll-bar (about $500, such as here).

Bill Ball
George Suennen

Last modified 05/07/2010