Try to arrive a little late to the party dressed better than the rest: That’s the approach Ehsan Farkhondeh took when deciding on a Camaro GT4.R for his track toy. Throughout the years, he spent time racing bikes, then a few more in a Cadillac ATS-V, and he even tried about a half-dozen Lemons races. Maybe that’s where the seed was sown. He learned back then that a dedicated race car, even one based on a Dodge Neon, always has that special sense of occasion about it.
He tried another approach with a modified street car: a supercharged Z that rarely ran. The regular repairs had taken a lot of wind out of his sails. He wanted to drive a reliable car—not spend his afternoons diagnosing problems and wrenching. As parts continued to fail, Farkhondeh began to wonder if there was a better way to go about racing.
Is there such a thing as a cheap track car? – Ehsan Farkhondeh
“I got so tired of bleeding money with all the repairs and thought about hanging up my helmet,” Farkhondeh recalls. “Then I tried my friend’s McLaren 570S GT4 and learned there was a better way to go. Obviously, it was fast and extremely well-balanced, though I was more impressed by its robustness and preparation. Each part had a specific service interval. Plus, it was relieving to know I was driving a car designed by engineers as a full package to handle racing abuse.”
There’s a good idea behind all this: if you’re in the privileged position to spend $100,000 on a track car, spending a good chunk of that on the up-front costs is not silly. A sorted race car will initially cost the owner a lot more, but owning a car that’s built to handle the stresses of racing comes with added peace of mind; casual lapping events are hardly a cause for concern. Though some people love to build and tinker, others want to spend their limited time honing their craft.
What Is A Camaro GT4.R?
Wanting to spend more time driving and less time wrenching, Farkhondeh chose to pick a 2017 Camaro GT4.R. Built by Pratt and Miller for the Pirelli World Challenge GTS class, this particular car has the pedigree. In 2017, Lawson Aschenbach took this car to win the series’ driver, team, and manufacturer championships. The car is out-of-the-box fast, which is why it might interest the well-heeled weekend warrior looking for a high-thrill alternative to a Porsche.
The speed is due to several things: easy operation, a massive footprint, mild aerodynamic additions, a racing transmission, and weight reduction. Several of the standard body panels are composite pieces to save a few pounds; the front fascia, splitter, and doors are all carbon. All these, plus lexan windows, turn the Camaro into a 3,131-pound middleweight.
Simplicity is Key
Though it is a GT-level race car, it doesn’t always turn heads. The body shape is a plain ZL1, though there are a few interesting aerodynamic touches and a much sportier stance. It won’t attract attention unless the observer is particularly knowledgeable.
It’s a solo effort for Farkhondeh most weekends, but the car is relatively easy to access and operate—albeit with a practiced routine. The startup procedure goes as follows: turn on the main power, put it in neutral, and turn over the motor without ignition activated. Wait for the oil pressure to hit 30 psi, flip on the ignition, turn the engine over, and wait for the water and oil to climb to operating temperature.
The gearbox must be warmed up too, which means running through all the gears to ensure the gearbox oil is warm enough to maximize component life and enable smooth shifts. Getting the drive wheels to spin while stationary requires propping the car up on its air jacks and shuffling through the gears until all is warm.
It’s important he has everything turned on before he tightens his belts, as some switches are beyond reach once he’s snug in his carbon Racetech seat. A set of earplugs are necessary while driving, and most of the time, it’s a challenge to keep cool. “It’s a greenhouse inside,” Ehsan says. “I’ve learned to open the door as soon as possible once I come to a stop to air things out.”
Long Distance Runner
Fortunately, he doesn’t need to worry about much else overheating. The 6.2-liter LT1 motor from GM-propulsion is built to handle the strain of longer races, so twenty-minute sessions are nothing to worry about. It sports a custom camshaft, dry-sump oiling, a carbon-fiber air intake, a Bosch Motorsport MS6.4 ECU, and a PBX-90 PowerBox.
The Xtrac six-speed sequential manual transmission is sandwiched between a Tilton clutch and an Xtrac Salisbury-type limited-slip differential. It is easily as costly as some road-going Camaros, but it simplifies driving and makes it much quicker. Thanks to rapid shifts, reduced weight, and a fat torque curve, the Camaro’s 455 horsepower punches above its class.
The powertrain is impressive, but it’s the footwork that truly separates this machine from the road-going siblings. Behind the one-piece, 18-inch Forgeline wheels are a set of six-piston Brembo front and four-piston ZL1 rear calipers over slotted Brembo discs.
Like the motor, the brakes are controlled by some of the best management in the biz: a Bosch Racing M4 ABS/traction control system makes the braking power completely manageable and intuitive. It also helps avoid flat-spotting the Hankook slicks, which, thankfully, are off-the-shelf items. These tires last about three lapping days before needing a new set.
As far as the aerodynamic additions go, the list isn’t extensive, but it is fantastically effective. Dive planes, a carbon front splitter, and a 21-position adjustable rear wing—all built to GT4 specifications and tested in a rolling road wind tunnel. “The car has so much front-end grip at high speeds, it’s unbelievable. At first, you struggle to imagine the car making it through the corner. You have to learn to trust it,” Ehsan reflects.
Being a purebred race car, it sports an AP Racing air jack system, a fire suppression system, a Fuel Safe 23-gallon fuel cell, and two-way adjustable Öhlins TTX coilovers. A true racing car, but one that doesn’t differ that vastly from the factory machine it’s based upon.
The steering is not the sixth-generation electric rack but the fifth-gen’s hydraulic, which offers more feel. “Yes, it’s relatively heavy. The small diameter wheel makes corrections very quick, and you can feel everything coming through the tires and steering rack,” Farkhondeh adds.
There’s a Tilton pedal box with hinges on the floor, and the weighting of these was initially a little offputting. “I expected to have a hard time with the super-light throttle, but adapting was surprisingly easy,” Farkhondeh says.
The brake is a firmer pedal than some might be comfortable with, but the effect is noticeable. Modulation is great, and the rate of deceleration is quite strong. Hot slicks, race-grade Bosch ABS, and a stable setup make for startling, repeatable stopping performance. Not surprisingly, the driver becomes a limiting factor in braking performance.
Really, it comes down to how strong your leg is and how much your stomach can handle.– Ehsan Farkhondeh
Its relatively easy nature offsets some of the discomforts of a purpose-built race car. To name a few: reduced visibility, navigating a cage, dealing with a more complicated startup procedure, more exacting handling, and so on. Farkhondeh says, “Between the sequential shift, ABS, and TC—both controlled by knobs on the dash and steering wheel, it’s a safer car.”
While a GT4 isn’t meant to be extensively adjusted, it offers the user a fairly wide range of adjustments to suit their driving style and confidence. The dampers, springs, brake bias, rear wing, ride height, and sway bars can be altered. One major advantage to running a car with considerable racing success is the fact that setup notes are widely available.
Food for Thought
While he recognizes his fortunate position, he can’t deny the sense of taking this route. For a little more than a TA2 car, he gets the benefits, safeguards, and speed that most production-based current racing cars can offer without suffering much harshness or impracticality. Plus, it’s truly fast. Professional drivers on Michelins or Pirellis can run 1:30s at Laguna and very low 1:40s at Sonoma. Farkhondeh is still a few seconds off the pros, but it might only be a matter of seat time and, of course, a few easy chassis tweaks. Considering his rate of development, it’s possible that he’ll be within striking distance soon.