In full competition mode, the presence of Mark Smith’s autocross prepared 2003 Volkswagen R32 visually promises to do many things. With fenders that look like they were modified by Dr Jekyll, and the widest tires ( 285mm!) you will ever see on the Mk4 chassis, the car is built to compete, and compete mercilessly. One fine saturday I spent the day shadowing Mark as he competed in a local event. Take a moment to crawl inside the meticulously maniacal mind of Mark Smith and see what motivates his passion for racing.
QUESTION 1 : WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE AUTOCROSS SCENE ?
ANSWER : ” ( I got into racing ) Accidentally, definitely not intentionally. Autocross racers drive at or above 10/10ths, I like that. Road racers rarely drive at the limit the way we do. If they did they would be in wrecks, ditches, or walls all day long. Autocross drivers are driving at 10.5 or 11/10ths all day long, the chance of losing control and spinning is always there. Finding the razors edge, and exposing it excites me. I also really appreciate the community aspect of the racing scene, its just alot of fun,”.
QUESTION 2: WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST SUCCESS & FAILURES AS A DRIVER ?
ANSWER : “I have enjoyed success as a competitive driver from day one. Within the first season I was kicked out of the novice group ( for good behavior, not bad ). I was awarded the Novice of the Year Award in my rookie season, and won the national championship in my second season. I guess my biggest success has been turning driving like a ( cough …. cough) jerk, into winning races. My biggest failures…? Probably continuing to make novice mistakes, driving too fast in the slow sections and vice versa,”.
QUESTION 3: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE VOLKSWAGEN R32 AS A PLATFORM ? WHAT ADVANTAGE DOES THAT AFFORD YOU ?
ANSWER : ” The R32 (as a race vehicle )was not intentional. I saw the R32 before they were even for sale, went to dealer and ordered mine. I didn’t know I was going to race the car, but things have worked out very well. I am a very aggressive driver, I think that really benefits me in the autocross arena. Most people aren’t aggressive enough. Like I tell my Mom when we are competing, its not enough to simply accelerate full throttle : you have to MASH the pedal. By my second season I was teaching other people how to drive like I do, aggressively. One of the biggest advantages of the R32 is the all wheel drivetrain. In SCCA Pro SOLO we have a drag launch, and 100ft of straight-line acceleration from the start. This usually affords me a 60ft advantage over my competition. Biggest disadvantage ? The car is heavy ! After the launch, I can get some good speed going, but all the weight makes it hard to maintain that speed. I am by far, the heaviest car in my class.
QUESTION 4: WHAT CLASS DO YOU COMPETE IN ?
ANSWER : ” ( I compete in the ) X Class. We have the best drivers in the country. I am constantly competing against a number of drivers who all have multiple championships. Everyone competing in Colorado is VERY fast.
QUESTION 5 : DESCRIBE YOUR AUTOMOTIVE FANTASY.
ANSWER : ” I’d love to have a huge garage. 12 cars at least. But more than just owning the cars, I want the time to work on them. I want a mechanical engineering degree and a commercial drivers license. I want to build, design, repair, and transport cars that I build and design, and compete nationwide.
QUESTION 6 : HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU SPEND WORKING ON THE CAR ?
ANSWER : ” I used to spend every waking minute working on the car, and thinking about the car. Now that I have 3ZERO3 Motorsports as my sponsor, I don’t have to bust my knuckles as much. I usually spend 1-2 nights a week working on the car myself during the season. Usually before a race I will spend a few nights in the garage prepping, and finalizing my set up. But even when I am not near the car, I am always thinking about it, “.
QUESTION 7: DESCRIBE YOUR SETUP.
ANSWER: ” In a word, twitchy. This is what autocross is all about, getting the car to rotate. I have prepped the chassis to the limit of what is allowed there. Now I am continuing to look for ways to shave ounces of weight off the car. After we tackle that we will be looking to continue to develop the engine and rear differential. I have been considering completely redesigning the intake system for engine, but we’ll see, “.
With constant wheel/tire changes. The toque wrench is always nearby.
Checking, adjusting, rechecking, readjusting.
VIEW FROM THE PASSENGER SEAT
As I strapped into the fixed back passenger race seat in Marks car. I was not sure what to expect. I’ve been both driver and passenger in cars with more than twice the power of this R32, and after having studied the course for the better part of the morning, I was sure the experience would be fun, but perhaps not unlike past motorsports experiences. It took all of 2 turns before I learned just how wrong I was.
Thinking about the R32 in terms of horsepower was simply asking the wrong question. From the first turn, it was clear, I was strapped in to a crazy-ridiculous-out-of-control roller coaster. Again, I had been studying the road course set up for hours, I had even walked the course earlier that morning with Mark to really get a feel for the rhythm of the track, to no avail. As the car ripped, whipped and danced its way through the cones, I had no idea where I was. Every turn surprised me both in its immediacy, and its direction. I was bracing for a right hand turn, while the car was turning left. Mark describes his chassis set up as twitchy, I would like to add that concept; and describe it as violently twitchy.
Within two minutes of clock time or three hours of T.P.T. ( aka Terrified Passenger Time) we were crossing the finish line, I couldn’t have been any more surprised and relieved. In driving school we are taught to look ahead, not into just this exit but the next turn. This technique could not have been anymore optimistic. Instead of keeping my head up, watching the cones for turn in, and exits, I was doing full strength leg presses against the floor boards. Trying to keep my body from flopping around like a fish out of water, and keeping my helmet from smacking the side of the B Pillar between corners.
I now know what 11/10ths feels like. Its ridiculous. Thanks Mark !
Suspension dialed in to the max.
Evolution Motorsports cold air intake helps the narrow angle 6 cylinder remain full of breath.
Mark chatting up the “competition”.
Event officials doing what they do best, point at all the cones that need to be reset.
Ready for launch.
Look closely, the cones indicate the inside of each corner. While riding in Marks car, my brain was unable to keep up.
Nearing the finish line, throttle mashed.
If these ( helmet ) walls could talk.
SEASON UPDATE :
In a last minute maneuver, Mark and his mother Connie (who also competes in autocross events), picked up a 2008 Audi TT 3.2, just 10 days before the SCCA Solo National Championship. Mark piloted the new silver coupe into a D Stock Pro 2nd place finish for the National Championship ( a title earned based on the season points totals ). While many others would be thrilled at the success of a second place finish on the season, Mark is not content, nor will he be until the championship title is his yet again.
Connie ( Marks mother ) drove the wheels off of Marks R32. Connie is now the DSP Ladies Street Modified National Champion ! When I was interviewing Mark, he could not have been anymore proud or excited about his Mothers, talent, progress, and enthusiasm for the sport. We here are 3ZERO3 are equally impressed. Congrats Connie !!!
3ZERO3 Motorsports is proud to support and sponsor the efforts of Mark Smith and his mother Connie. Their steadfast dedication and talent, has earned them great success, and we are proud to be part of that effort.
While 3ZERO3 Motorsports is also a maintenance and repair facility (not just high performance tuning and motorsports applications ) it is the continued dedication to these types of projects that help us to continually inform our concepts of speed, safety, and performance, which trickle down into everything that we do everyday.
If you have questions about how you can wring the most performance out of your Porsche, Audi or Volkswagen on the street or the racetrack, please do not hesitate to contact us. Whether your passion is racing thru traffic on the I-25 corridor, or blowing the doors off of 6 figure exotic cars, we have the answers, the support, and the enthusiasm to exceed your need.