Opinion: SR20DET vs. KA24DET

KA or SR?

As the never ending debate continues, I’ve decided to say my part. I am by no means an s-chassis expert, but I feel that I’ve been around them more than enough to be worthy of sharing my perspective.

For those that don’t know, Nissan owners around the country have been arguing about whether it is best to turbocharge the factory 240sx motor (KA24DE) or to simply swap in the already conveniently turbocharged (and pricier) Japanese alternative, the SR20DET. For the sake of transparency, let’s say your goal is to put down about 275whp.

Although KA-T supporters argue that there’s “no replacement for displacement,” naysayers contend that the KA simply doesn’t hold up to boost like a factory turbocharged motor (*cough* SR20 *cough*) does.

I’ll give the KA this much — its higher displacement allows the motor to flow with much less restriction, and when boosted, its torque numbers are impressive. That being said, you must also face the typical headache that slapping a turbo onto an previously naturally aspirated motor will leave you with — shaky reliability at best, a hole in your block at worst. Sure, you could throw some decent internals into your KA and it would probably last, but you’re losing that factory built reliability the SR possesses, and you’re just adding more zeros to the price of your KA-T build.

The SR was designed to handle boost, and the overall reliability of one (in unmolested form) is worth the extra cash in my opinion. I’m not naive enough to claim that a reliable KA-T setup cannot be achieved, but for the money it would take to get there, I still see the SR as the better option. Obviously once you start shooting for higher numbers, things change, as both motors would need to be built to withstand the abuse, but in this scenario, the SR certainly wins.

An SR20 being built by Titan Motorsports. With a setup this aggressive, factory internals would obviously need to be replaced to ensure reliability.

An SR20 being built by Titan Motorsports. With a setup this aggressive, factory internals would obviously need to be replaced to ensure reliability.

First Drive: 2016 Miata

It’s lightweight, simple and versatile.

For the last 25 years, the Mazda Miata has been praised by critics for its superior drivability, well-balanced chassis and low cost of ownership. With 2016 being the debut model year for the fourth generation, enthusiasts waited with baited breath for journalists to get their hands on the first available NDs.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to toss one of Mazda’s press-dedicated test mules around a track like more heavily credentialed journalists, but I did manage to get my hands on one this week at a local Mazda dealer. To make things even better, I was paired with a pretty damned knowledgeable salesman that was completely content with the idea of me getting down to business in one of the dealership’s seven brand new arrivals.

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First Impressions

  • speed- the car is surprisingly quick in a straight line. With the sprint from 0 to 60 clocking in at under six seconds, the ND is the quickest Miata thus far. Although the absence of the once rumored factory turbocharged option will surely be loathed by some, I genuinely don’t believe that the car needs any sort of forced induction to be enjoyable. The throttle response is solid, the motor feels stout and the chassis’ lightness completes the package. Considering the fact that Mazda denounces the possibility of a turbocharged variant in the future, those looking for a little extra fun from forced induction will likely have to turn to aftermarket alternatives.
  • agility- as expected, the car was a dream through corners thanks to its perfect 50-50 weight distribution. One critique though — if you’re like me and looking at the possibility of track time, the car could certainly use a solid set of sway bars, if not a full set of coilovers. I’m sure it’s just the autocrosser in me coming out, but in a more competitive setting, body roll isn’t my cup of tea. In a less serious atmosphere, however, the suspension is great. The car possesses this wonderful ability to flow through the turns, with almost gyroscopic movement, giving you a serious flashback to the NA Miata of the ’90s. Simply put, the car is balanced perfectly and hasn’t lost the charisma it has always been known for. If anything, it has been perfected.
  • appearance- I’m speaking only for myself here, but the ND is by far the most attractive Miata to date. It’s sharp contours, modern headlights and well-sized wheels (offered in either 16″ or 17″) really work together to give you a sense of wholeness. Whenever I look at it, I just see a miniature F Type.
  • fit and finish- I have always loved Mazda’s ability to retain the level of simplicity the Miata is known for, even in the face of such tech-savvy (dare I say tech-reliant?) competitors. The interior isn’t filled with buttons and switches galore — it’s all about the driving experience and the designers understood that, as they have from day one. If you’re willing to shell out the extra cash for the Club Sport, you’ll get a nice set of 17″ BBS and some Brembos to make up for that extra clearance, as well as an LSD (the lower models come equipped with the loathsome open differential). To be honest, I’d rather save nearly $8,000 and purchase the base model, upgrading it as deemed necessary.
The ND interior is neat and simple, showing that not much has changed in the past 25 years.

The ND interior is neat and simple, showing that not much has changed in the past 25 years.

The ND Miata is an enthusiast’s dream. It’s light, balanced, quick and affordable. It is everything the Miata should be, and nothing more. It is a bare-bones enthusiast car, still available with three pedals, a stout engine and a design rooted in functionality and minimalism. If you’re looking for an abundance of cup holders, a back seat or a roaring V8, this won’t be the car for you. But if you’re looking for a car that can show you the very essence of automotive purity — and remind you what it is to be an enthusiast — then look no further.

Out With the Old, In With the New – Why I Sold My STi for a Civic

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I know exactly what you’re thinking — if I sold my Subaru STi for a Honda Civic Si, I must be a complete idiot, right? Well, in my opinion, it was the smartest move I have ever made.

This summer I celebrated my two year anniversary of Civic ownership. Although there is certainly much less excitement in my morning commute and I no longer get stares of admiration and excited compliments at red lights, I’m still happy. Although sports car ownership is certainly a blast (when said sports car is actually in working order), I had to find out the hard way that excitement and enjoyment don’t always trump practicality. Instead of dragging you through a 5,000 word thesis about why I chose to live a life of practicality, I’ll keep it short with a nice, tidy list.

1. Owning a sports car is expensive

No, I’m not talking about the initial cost of the vehicle. Both my 2005 STi and 2013 Civic Si were just about $22,000 at the time of purchase. The difference? The Civic was brand new, bone stock and had something that most car enthusiasts can only dream of – a warranty. Sports cars, however, are generally made of far more costly parts, these parts often wear out faster than they would on the average car, and with my luck, they seem to all start failing at the same time. Unless you have already factored in significantly steeper maintenance costs in your monthly automotive budget, you might want to crunch some numbers with that in mind. Guess how much I’ve spent on repairs for the Civic? Nothing. The only maintenance I’ve paid for is a set of tires and oil changes. That’s OK in my book!

2. Owning a sports car is a lifestyle change

No, I’m not saying you need to race everywhere you drive, or anything like that. But you’ll have to adapt to some serious road noise, harsh ride quality, a loud exhaust note, and more often than not, dealing with a third pedal in traffic. Now, all of these traits are also some of the things that I remember most fondly, but the average person can’t stand it. Your passengers are always going to have something to say about the lack of comfort, and some days you’ll wonder why you put yourself through this. Although I certainly miss that car with a passion, I’m pretty damn comfortable in my Civic.

3. You’re a target for police

The squeaky wheel gets the oil, right? Well, the loud car gets the bacon grease. If you’re in a car that stands out, cops will be all over you. Trust me, I know from experience. Have a modified exhaust? There’s a potential ticket. Police will single you out, praying for you to slip up so they can empty out your bank account with dubious traffic violations and fix-it tickets. Pulled over for speeding? Don’t even think about expecting a warning this time around. Although the occasional officer will compliment your car or ask you to pop the hood out of curiosity, a majority of LEOs will take this as an opportunity to charge you for all the offenses you’ve surely committed in their absence. Now that I have  the Civic, I can drive however I want and still manage to fly under the radar.

4. Creature comforts – or lack thereof 

I now have Bluetooth, iPhone connectivity, steering wheel controls, a dependable air conditioning system and great ride quality. Although I certainly miss the sportier feel of my STi, my Civic is a proverbial La-Z-Boy. My passengers are content, I can make it to work without my AC failing on me, and hell, I can actually hold a conversation in my car without shouting.

5. Now I can buy another sports car!

You honestly though I could just give up on sports car ownership just like that? Although I’ll probably never heavily modify my sole means of transportation again, I’ve managed to save enough money in the Subaru’s absence that I can not only buy myself a fun project car, but keep the Civic to daily drive! I’m certainly not about to shell out $22,000 any time soon, but I have several thousand dollars to buy a nice track car and plan to throw in a more gutsy motor soon after the initial purchase. In case you’re wondering, the car of choice is an S13 coupe, or a Nissan 240sx for those that aren’t fluent in chassis code. Given how cheap it is to own my Civic, I’ll have plenty of spare change to waste on the hypothetical S13.

There you have it. Although I certainly miss my STi with a passion, selling it was the best decision I have ever made. It led to greater financial stability throughout my college years, less stress, a more comfortable daily driver, and now, the ability to purchase a track car upon graduating this December.

DuPont Registry Cars and Coffee – 9/19/15

Just like every other third Saturday of the month, I rose from the dead at 5:30 a.m.

I hopped in my car, made the mandatory stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, and met my friends at DuPont Registry long before the sun had managed to climb over the horizon.

Of course, as my luck would have it, this was the first Cars and Coffee event I would have to cut short, since I  was scheduled to be at work by 8:00 a.m. This was also, by far, one of the best turnouts I have ever seen there.

Between the rows of Porsches, BMWs, Lamborghinis and full-blown race cars, a bright blue paint job caught my eye. The car in question? A Liberty Walk GT-R.

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Based in Aichi, Japan, Liberty Walk offers wide-body kits for exotics and supercars such as the Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Aventador and Nissan GT-R. Having never before seeing one of their kits in person, I couldn’t help but run toward it. In hindsight, this was one of the three most interesting cars at the event.

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Next up? The Porsche Carrera GT. An iconic part of Porsche history, infamously known for taking the lives of actor Paul Walker and racer car driver Roger Rodas, the Carrera GT is valued at somewhere north of $600,000. Powered by a 5.7L V10, the car can reach speeds of up to 205 miles per hour. Only 1,270 were made, and only 7 percent of them were yellow.

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Regardless of anything else present, the Lexus LFA stole the show. Between the praise it received from Jeremy Clarkson, host of the now cancelled BBC show Top Gear, and the car’s overall rarity (only 500 were produced), this car has been seen as one of, if not the best Japanese supercar ever produced. Wondering how brutal the car is? One killed Toyota’s Chief Engineer and Test driver, Hiromu Naruse, while he was behind the wheel of it in Germany.

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Regardless of the limited time I had to spend at Cars and Coffee this week, quality certainly outweighed quantity this time around. As someone that has been an enthusiast for quite some time now, it’s a rare occasion that I’m able to check three major milestones off my automotive bucket list.

The Carrera GT is powered by a 5.7L V10 that can push the car to upwards of 200 miles per hour.

The Carrera GT is powered by a 5.7L V10 that can push the car to upwards of 200 miles per hour.

See below for bonus footage of the LFA!

The Resurrection of Alfa Romeo – A Second Chance in the U.S. Market

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After leaving the U.S. market in 1995 as a result of poor sales figures and questionable vehicle quality, Alfa Romeo has officially returned to the states. Yes, officially speaking the return came two years ago, but in regards to actual presence, the return has only just begun.

The Alpha Romeo 4C coupe has seen decent sales since it's U.S. debut.

The Alpha Romeo 4C coupe has seen decent sales since it’s U.S. debut.

With the already released 4C and the newly announced Giulia Quadrifoglio performance sedan, Alfa Romeo’s sales numbers will surely be noticed by competitive manufacturers and interested consumers. Although the only two vehicles currently in production have set their sight on taking down iconic sports cars like the BMW M3, Audi S4, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and Lotus Elise, the brand plans to debut eight more economical vehicles by 2018, including two utility vehicles, two compact sedans and a full-size sedan. With the coming expansion set to reach outside of the sports car market, Alpha Romeo will likely see further success as it delves into a much deeper pool of consumers.

The all-new Giulia Quadrifoglio, set to go on sale in the U.S. in early 2016.

The all-new Giulia Quadrifoglio, set to go on sale in the U.S. in early 2016.

As far as performance goes, the Giulia seems to have given rival manufacturers a serious run for their money. The car managed to not only beat the BMW M4 around the Nurburgring (by 13 seconds at that), but also more heavyweight competitors like the previous generation Porsche 911 Turbo and even the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640. Although the lighter, more nimble 4C may carry a hefty price tag (just under $54,000), the car has seen reasonable success since it’s U.S. debut and the design is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Critics of the brand are often quick to point out that returning to the country with two performance cars as their only offering might not have been the smartest move, but with a more practical lineup in the works, all backed by their sleek Italian image, I have no doubt that Alfa Romeo will be quite successful in their second shot at the U.S. automotive market.

A rear view of the 2015 4C coupe.

A rear view of the 2015 4C coupe.

5 Reasons to Try Out Motorsports Photography

If you don’t wear ear plugs, you’ll probably never hear again. You’re saddled with more camera supplies than you know what to do with, you’ll probably have sun poisoning by the end of the day, and you’re required to be at press briefings at the crack of dawn. So, what’s so great about earning that highly-coveted press pass?

1. The Vantage Point

There’s no better view than the one through a photo hole. While everyone else is stuck behind the secondary safety fence, photographers with media access are permitted to stroll right up to the debris fence, placing their lens mere inches from cars that can be traveling at upwards of 170 miles per hour. In addition to the amazing close-up experience, you can walk right into the pits and photograph all the action as crews rush to swap out worn tires and refuel cars. In between races, you can walk the track. If you’re lucky, you can take home a souvenir from a damaged car; don’t worry, track officials told me it was allowed. Just make sure to bring a filter to protect that expensive lens, because the debris can be quite dangerous for a small piece of glass.

Without media access, this close-up photograph of Japanese driver Kenshiro Gushi wouldn't have been possible.

Without media access, this close-up photograph of Japanese driver Kenshiro Gushi wouldn’t have been possible.

2. The Networking

This might come as a surprise to some, but a fantastic part of the race photography experience is the amazing networking opportunities that you’ll be presented with. With well-known photographers from around the world traveling to cover these events, you’ll have time to swap business cards, discuss your own photography endeavors, promote your own media ventures and more. You’ll gain likes, shares and new followers, all while helping out fellow photographers. However, the networking doesn’t end with media professionals. This year at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, I was fortunate enough to meet the owner of KPAX Racing. If everything works out next year, I could be contacted by him to shoot for their team at the 2016 Grand Prix. Opportunities like these are rare and exciting, and I truly don’t believe I would have been this fortunate without attaining that media access badge.

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Thanks to my media credentials, I was able to meet Red Bull Racing driver Mike “Mad Mike” Whiddett at Formula Drift Atlanta this year.

3. Getting Experience

In case you didn’t know, it’s significantly harder to shoot a vehicle traveling upwards of 100 miles per hour than it is to take a family photo. Instead of making sure everyone is all smiles and shooting away, you’ve got to worry about exposure times, aperture, ISO, framing, and managing to keep the car in focus, all while pivoting your body to follow the vehicle’s path. Everything is a variable in this equation, so when you change one setting, you’ve got to change them all. To get great pan shots, with a blurred background, but crisply-focused subject, you’ve got to slow down that shutter speed. As a result, any shakiness whatsoever will cause a terrible amount of blur, and aperture will need to be raised to account for the extra light getting in during the longer exposure. There is a pretty serious learning curve with this kind of fast-paced photography, so expect to take days, rather than minutes, perfecting your shots.

This is a great example of a low shutter speed panning shot. The blurred background really emphasizes the sharp subject.

This is a great example of a low shutter speed panning shot. The blurred background really emphasizes the sharp subject.

4. Everything is Free!

Nothing is better than getting something for free, right? Well, assuming you’ve been awarded media access, you’ll be getting into any event you shoot for free. You’ll get VIP access to virtually anywhere imaginable, an obnoxiously fluorescent vest to let everyone know who you are, and of course, free food and drinks in the media room. Scheduled catered meals are brought in throughout the weekend, you’ll have a refrigerator filled with refreshments at your disposal, and sponsors will fill your arms with free merchandise! I’ve taken home portable charging bricks, thumb drives, hats, bags, and anything else you could imagine.  Race coordinators certainly know how to take care of their reporters and photographers.

My friend and fellow photographer, Victor Wang, showing off his new (free) tire.

My friend and fellow photographer, Victor Wang, showing off his new (free) tire and Exedy Racing bandanna.

5. The Results

Well-executed race photography is on a completely different level than traditional photography. The amount of stress you’re under while hoping to get the perfect shot, putting your expensive camera in harm’s way, battling dehydration in 90 degree heat — it’s all worth the end result. That perfectly focused panning shot that brings a smile to your face, getting recognition for the quality of your images, and getting exposure with the help of drifters and sponsors on social media are all some of the most gratifying feelings I’ve ever experienced. My images have been shared by drivers like Mike Whiddett, Pat Goodin, Ken Gushi, and Ryan Tuerck. Sponsors like Scion, Garrett Turbochargers, Retax and Rotiform Wheels have all posted my photos to their social media accounts. Recognition, in the race community, is something that you can only achieve through hard work and talent.

Pat Goodin, one of the drivers that regularly shares my images on his Instagram and Facebook accounts, burning through a set of tires during qualifying.

Pat Goodin, one of the drivers that regularly shares my images on his Instagram and Facebook accounts, burning through a set of tires during qualifying.

Although it can be quite challenging, and even frustrating at times, motorsports photography is the most rewarding photography endeavor I have yet to embark on. If you have yet to give it a shot, there’s no time like the present. If you’ve already done so, until next time, see you on the track.

If you’re a photographer interested in applying for a Formula Drift media pass, click here to visit their application page.

Daigo Saito, a well-known Japanese driver, in his new R35 GTR.

Daigo Saito, a well-known Japanese driver, in his new R35 GTR.

Recap: Formula Drift Atlanta 2015

Although a bit late, I feel it necessary to recap the amazing weekend that was Formula Drift Atlanta 2015. For the unaware and the uninitiated, the art of drifting is judged and scored rather than simply being a race to the finish. The goal for each driver is to break traction upon entering the first corner, get the car sideways and complete the rest of the course with enough style to win over the judges, all without straightening out or ending the slide. Points are awarded based upon speed, style, driving line and angle. For a more in-depth explanation of drifting, take a look at this great video by Engineering Explained.

 

Now that we’ve got that sorted out, let’s discuss the journey. On a humid Thursday morning in May, my friend and I clumsily gathered our necessities for the three day trip, including about $5,000 in camera supplies, and stuffed them into the back of his 1995 Mazda Miata. After battling sleep deprivation, hours of hunger, speed traps, and that grueling Atlanta rush-hour traffic, we finally managed to set foot on Georgia’s unmistakable red clay.

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Japanese driver Daigo Saito kicking up some of Georgia’s famous red clay while trying to keep his Nissan GT-R on course.

Between the searing heat, intolerable traffic, suspicious locals and overzealous police force, what’s not to love about rural Georgia? Although the event was held at Road Atlanta, it would be slightly more honest to call it something like “Road That’s About One Hour and a Half From Atlanta.”

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Ryan Tuerck, a crowd favorite, clouding up the track with his 2JZ swapped Scion FRS.

Although the event, and also our hotel, were quite a ways from anything I’d consider a big city, there was no shortage of fun to be had. After all, killing time is easy when you’ve got a well balanced road car and about 100 miles of winding mountain roads in any direction you could imagine. Luckily for us, the only run-in we had with the law was at a D.U.I. checkpoint, which we passed with flying colors, of course.

Victor Wang, my co-pilot for the Atlanta trip, striking a pose on his '95 Miata.

Victor Wang, my co-pilot for the Atlanta trip, striking a pose on his ’95 Miata.

The entire weekend was a photographer’s dream. Long, winding mountain roads, graffiti walls, waterfalls, and of course, plenty of rare cars and drifting action kept my hands glued to my camera. With the help of my media access pass, I was able to get within feet of cars sliding past me at upwards of 60 miles per hour, not a crash fence in sight. The photos I managed to capture were nothing short of fantastic.

Mike "Mad Mike" Whiddett sliding through one of the track's most photogenic corners. FD Atlanta was the debut event for his new four rotor Miata.

Mike “Mad Mike” Whiddett sliding through one of the track’s most photogenic corners. FD Atlanta was the debut event for his new four rotor Miata.

This weekend certainly had its share of surprises. Big-name drivers like Mad Mike and Vaughn Gittin Jr. were knocked out of the competition by up-and-comers like Forrest Wang and Alec Hohnadell. Controversial calls were made by the judges, Chris Forsberg’s car caught on fire, and the usually competitive Daigo Saito just couldn’t deliver a solid run.

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During their late-night tandem run, Chris Forsberg’s 370z caught on fire while chasing Ken Gushi. It was quickly resolved and the two went on to place third and second, respectively.

In the end, Lithuanian underdog Aurimas “Odi” Bakchis went on to take first place. Coming in second and third, respectively, were Japanese driver Kenshiro Gushi and American Driver Chris Forsberg.

Kenshiro Gushi, driver of the Scion Racing FRS, posing with an umbrella girl before the top 16 round began.

Kenshiro Gushi, driver of the Scion Racing FRS, posing with an umbrella girl before the top 16 round began.

Considering the amazing elevation changes, the widespread absence of intrusive fences and the fantastic mountain roads surrounding the track in every direction, I will certainly be back next year for Formula Drift Atlanta 2016.

A definite sign that fun lies ahead.

A definite sign that fun lies ahead.

Welcome to The Apex Hunter!

Hello all, I’m Sean LeRoux, the man behind the keyboard. I’m a 23-year-old senior at University of South Florida St. Petersburg and will be graduating with my BA in Communications – Journalism and Media Studies – this December. In my spare time I enjoy working on cars, driving cars, thinking about cars, photographing cars, and doing my part to support the Tampa Bay craft beer scene.

A picture of me from my trip to Georgia last June. I went with my close friend, Victor Wang, to photograph Formula Drift.

A picture of me from my trip to Georgia last June. I went with my close friend, Victor Wang, to photograph Formula Drift.

My unshakable desire for the thrill of speed has always had a major influence on my life. It all started with an electric ride-on police motorcycle I received for my third birthday. Surprisingly enough, the three mile-per-hour top speed didn’t keep me interested for very long.

Fast forward 20 years and the $200 piece of plastic has turned into a $20,000 piece of metal, and my land-speed record is now somewhere north of 170 miles per hour. I have owned multiple sports cars and motorcycles, traveled around the country shooting professional race events, and almost every friendship of mine has been formed, in some way, by my passion for anything automotive.

Recently, I have decided to take on the challenge of competitive racing. Having started with sanctioned autocross events, I plan to eventually move to larger-scale track days at road courses such as Firm, Sebring International Raceway and Palm Beach International Raceway. I plan to attend up to two autocross events a month and will take on a more serious track day once I buy myself a dedicated project car around the end of this year.

A candid photo of myself, sitting in my friend's 2014 Subaru BRZ awaiting the start of my first AutoX experience.

A candid photo of myself, sitting in my friend’s 2014 Subaru BRZ awaiting the start of my first AutoX experience.

This is the video of my fastest lap from the first autocross event I attended. I placed 6th out of the 50 drivers competing in the novice class. Did I mention that my first time driving this car was while rolling up to the starting grid? My 2013 Civic Si wouldn’t have been particularly competitive, so my close friend let me drive his STX Class prepped 2014 Subaru BRZ instead.

With this blog, I plan on documenting races I compete in, sharing my experiences at car events, discussing vehicles available on the consumer level, and keeping up to date with all of my automotive photography and videography ventures. To all that plan to follow me on this journey, welcome, and happy racing.

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