I'm looking to get into a reasonably inexpensive (relative right?) class of car that has cheap parts for replacement and spec parts like tires, rotors, pads etc. and sealed engine/tranny so that the biggest wallet is not always the guy at the front.
From what I hear Spec Miata is out of the question because the races are so crash happy in NASA and SCCA that side panels are changed after each race weekend.
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Both are a great time. I race a 944 but on the side rent a seat in an enduro prepped E30. The 44 is more fun to drive I think but the performance is similar and so it depends on the amount of folks racing in your particular region.
SM can have quite a bit of contact and also can be a wallet race where the guys with pro built $6k+ engines win
Spec E30 seems cheaper and Spec944 too...I have driven a Spec E30 and SM...between the two I do like the SM better...its just more fun to drive & the HUGE fields are fun too...but do pose more risk....
My answer...the pseudo spec 928!!!!! I came up with the 1st one.....started life as a lemons racer....now is being converted to NASA GTS2....
It all depends on where you are and what is popular in that area....
SE30 is pretty huge here in the Bay Area (20 car grids common these days it seems), not so much for Spec 944 although there are a few (~5 car grids). If you want a p-car then do spec 944 if you want a larger grid and more competition do SE30. We run a SE30 in NASA and love it. Great little car for not much $ and ear to ear smiles.
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944spec is great class. Popular enough to have very competitive fields and great racing. Not so popular that big money has come in like Spec Miata creating a disposable car mentality.
944spec is still a nice friendly class as well. For the most part all of our drivers are very willing to help each other. Sharing spare parts is common to get guys on the track. We care more about racing each other hard than winning. So most will gladly help out the next guy even if they are likely to beat them just to have the competition.
When it comes to racing class what attracts new people are the speed and the cars. What keeps people in the class are the other drivers. 944 spec has a good group of racers and many racers have been in the class for 5+ years as it is great home to race.
In my area spec E30 does not exisit in any form so I can't say anything about spec- E30 drivers. From what I can tell on the track the overall lap times seem very similar. E30's generate more hp, but don't seem to handle quite as well. I am not saying E-30's are bad handling cars, but where 944 gives up lap time due to power they make up in handling.
Cost to operate is very similar and probalby more dependant on how you like to operate/maintain your car than the cost of each.
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I've actually been looking into this as well in SoCal. A friend let me drive his 944 spec at Fontana's infield and Buttonwillow and found it to be a blast.
BMWCCA (at least in SoCal) doesn't seem to have a large class of club racers in Spec E-30s and at least in the POC and PCA there doesn't seem to be a big enough class in 944 spec. Haven't checked NASA or SCCA here, but that will probably be next on my list.
I'm currently "casually looking for a well set up car" and based on Joe's spreadsheet of costs, I'm leaning toward the 944 spec. The only thing about Joe's spreadsheet of yearly costs is that it's a little light on travel costs as Phoenix has a huge 944 spec class and they can race at home. He does all his own work on the car which definitely helps too.
OP hasn't reported back on his location, but 944 Cup is pretty big on the East Coast. It's a slightly more open mod spec compared to 944 Spec, but otherwise seems to be culturally very similar. More info is available on 44cup.com.
... The only thing about Joe's spreadsheet of yearly costs is that it's a little light on travel costs as Phoenix has a huge 944 spec class and they can race at home. He does all his own work on the car which definitely helps too.
I purposely did not include travel and transport costs. Those costs are impossible to normalize and are less dependant on the car you run vs where you live and race and how you want to get to the track. Some guys here in Arizona flat tow to the track from home 15 minutes away. Another guy tows to the track from Palm Springs in a 40ft RV diesel pusher towing a 2 car stacker trailer. You can't compare these costs in any meaning full way. (oh one flat towing guy has won the regional championship last year and won 5 times this year and never finished lower than 2nd so driver skill not tow rig size tha make a difference.)
As for doing the work yourself one of beauties of the class is that you CAN do the work yourself. Most guys I race with do some level of wrenching. Even if it is just at the track prep. Because these cars are simple and the build is so stock you do not need a high dollar race shop to maintain the car. If you as a driver/owner can change brake pads, change the oil and know a few things about troubleshooting the car you can avoid shop labor rates to a large degree.
Typical race count is 8-10 racers with a few more in HPDE. Tim Comeau is the leader down there. He is in San Diego, but very helpfull and knowledge able about the class and cars. He can also help you find complete race ready cars or builders. He can also hook you up with support shops in the LA area if you need help.
Another thing to consider. NASA Nationals at Miller Motorsports park. 2010 numbers (still months out)( We have 27 944 spec cars from 4 Regions. They have 6 Spec-E30's from Nor-Cal.
sealed engine/tranny so that the biggest wallet is not always the guy at the front.
As a 944-Spec racer, you can guess my vote.
But, one thing to point out since you specifically mentioned a sealed engine/tranny - there are VERY few classes out there with a true, physically sealed engine/tranny rule. SCCA's Spec Racer Ford and Pro Miata series are the only 2 that come to mind, though their Pro TDI Jetta series probably has a sealed engine/tranny, as well.
Of course if you're just talking about more of a 'logical' seal through tight rulesets that don't allow much tinkering, then it would seem that 944-Spec is your best route, given the fact that many 944 racers have built whole cars for what a front-running, pro-built Spec Miata engine can go for these days.
If I were you, I would call Tim Comeau and see about renting one of his cars for an upcoming event, to see how you like it: