This came out today. Most changes will be effective in 2014 with the change to no external reservoir shocks effective for 2015. The biggest change is no more R-compounds. The proposal is to require at least 140 treadwear in 2014 and t least 200 in 2015. Those running in stock class should pay attention and let the SEB know your opinions. You can contact the SEB at http://www.sebscca.com/
This afternoon, via Fastrack, the Solo Events Board released a proposal that would radically reshape what we now call Stock Class. The proposal includes changes to the allowances for tires, shocks, sway bars and wheels as well as new language to allow for camber adjustment and the disabling of traction and stability control. All totaled, the proposal includes 36 changes to the category, including changing the name from “Stock” to “Street” to be more reflective of the true nature of the class. The proposal represents the first rewrite of the category’s ruleset in 40 years and one of the largest proposals in the sport’s history. At its core, it comes down to a simple philosophy, autocrossing should be fun, and the SEB’s belief that, more than any single factor, stock class participation has declined because the current ruleset does not provide the allowances needed to make a modern car fun to autocross.
The proposal represents a meaningful change in the philosophy of the Board. Historically the SEB has strived for rules stability in the category. To that, if you look at the Stock Class rules from 1972 you will find the foundation of what we have today. Those rules included an allowance for any make of shock absorber, the substitution or addition of a front sway bar and substitution of any part of the exhaust beyond the manifold. Though there have been incremental advances in theses allowances, for the most part the foundation of shocks, a bar and exhaust has been constant since the early 70s.
These allowances were part of a larger set of rules intended to make stock cars more appropriate for autocross. The early ruleset also included catch cans, vents, upgrades to brake lines and the replacement of steering wheels and gas caps. The purpose was not to go faster, but rather to make cars of the era better suited for the sport. In effect, the rules were intended to address universal shortcomings in vehicle manufacturing. Over time, the allowances that did result in performance gains, such as balancing of engine parts and port matching have been removed. Others, such as “windshields may be folded” have remained.
Comparing the interiors of the 1975 and 2012 Civics
Vehicles, on the other hand, have changed dramatically since 1972. It is hard to fathom that a 70’s era Civic was built by the same company as the modern version, much less that it is the same model. Newer cars are larger, heavier, safer, smarter and more comfortable than anything the 1972 SEB could have imagined. Still, like in the 70s, very few modern vehicles come off of the production line optimized for autocross. Most new cars do need some level of preparation to become a fun autocrosser. While there are things that can be done within the current rules to address these issues, the rules were simply not written with the challenges modern cars pose in mind.
It was from this foundation that the SEB took out a clean piece of paper and asked the question, “What should stock class be?” Before any specific allowances were discussed the board first considered the key elements of the category. First and foremost, the rules had to allow for dual-purpose cars. This meant that, unlike Street Touring where cars could be dual purpose but generally are not, the category rules had to encourage dual-purpose not just allow the possibility. The Board also determined that the category should provide a significant value. This does not mean that it should be built on cheap cars, but that competing in the category should provide a solid bang for the buck. The third foundation point of the category was that the rules should foster competition between as wide a range of vehicles as possible. Specifically, allowances should be considered that would overcome problems that are common in modern cars.
Above all else, the Board determined that autocrossing is something people do to have fun with cars. We have all heard statements to the effect of “come for the cars, stay for the people.” In the end, however, the fun element of driving the car has to be there for the sport to make sense. Simply put, particularly at the national level, autocrossing requires too much investment of time and money for it to be justifiable if it is not fun. It was this concept, more than any singular factor that the Board pointed to in determining the cause of the decline in Stock Class participation over the last 5 years. Stock Class cars changed, the rules did not evolve to reflect and as a result the category is not as much fun as it should be.
There is actually data to support this belief. 2007 was a banner year for Stock Class participation with 428 drivers competing in the category at Nationals. Since then the number has slid to 237 in 2012. Yet, all of the singular factors used to explain the decline of the category were present in 2007. While there was a Kumho car on the podium in Super Stock, the Hoosier A6 was the dominant tire in the category, remote reservoir shocks were legal, and there were four solid Street Touring classes to lure Stock Class competitors away (STS, STS2, STX and STU). But 2007 represents a shift. It was the beginning of the decline and the biggest changes between now and then have nothing to do with our rules.
Some will point to the economic downturn of 2008 as the root cause, and certainly it was a factor. But for the most part, National level competition on the whole has remained consistent over that time. However, the new car marketplace has seen major changes. In 2007 the groundwork was laid for all vehicles sold in the United States to have federally mandated stability control by 2012. That year 50% of new cars were sold with ESC systems standard. Vehicle safety, and as a result weight, was skyrocketing. CNN reported in 2007 that the number of airbags in a vehicle had replaced horsepower as the most important number to consumers when selecting a vehicle. The new MX-5 had just been released, larger in every dimension than the previous Miatas. The attitude toward suspension design and handling was also changing. In the years leading up to 2007 both BMW and Honda had redesigned the suspension of their sportiest cars to make them more stable and thus, more likely to understeer. Other manufactures were doing the same and part of this package was limiting front camber under load. This effectively reduced front grip so that a car would be less likely to spin and more likely to have a frontal impact, which the numerous airbags were best equipped to handle. These changes represent the biggest shift in automotive design and production since the initial Stock Class rules were written. In the 5 years since, every stock class has seen a decline. Even Super Stock is down over 35% from 2007.
It was with this perspective that the rewrite began. The Board agreed that the challenges of making a modern car fun to autocross could not be overcome with a true stock ruleset, and thus some level of allowances would be appropriated in the quest for fun cars to drive. These allowances needed to be affordable and constant with the concept of a dual-purpose car. The result is a new formula that included allowances to manage heavier vehicles, overcome electronic controls, and increase the value of the experience while staying true to the dual-purpose intention.
Under load many modern cars lose camber resulting in understeer
The new allowances, set to take effect in 2014, address electronics, wheels and camber kits. 13.9.E specifically allows the disabling of Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control and Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems without limitations as to how. Changes to 13.4 allow a plus or minus 1 inch of change of diameter on wheels to ensure that all cars have greater access to “the tire to have.” 13.8.F and G provide allowances for camber. This allows tires to maintain better contact patches while cornering. The obvious benefit is increased tire life through reduced edge wear but the larger benefit is better handling at the limits and thus, more fun to drive.
Shocks and sway bars allowances are retained but there are tweaks to both. Shocks are limited to two adjustments without remote reservoirs, effective 2015. The Board felt it was important to allow competitors to control the suspension compliance of their vehicles but it should be done in a method most consistent with stock. At the same time, the SEB wanted to allow people who are currently using remote reservoir shocks time to adapt to the new rules, so they have proposed sun-setting the remote reservoir allowance in 2015, a year after the rest of the rules are proposed to go into effect. Disallowing remote reservoirs eliminates the need for drilling holes and keeps vehicles consistent with stock configuration. Under the proposal, sway bars would be allowed on both ends to help competitors manage the weight of vehicles.
The section likely to get the most attention in the proposal is 13.3, Tires. The proposal would set a 2014 treadwear minimum of 140 and a 2015 minimum of 200. Part of the logic behind this is reducing cost per run. Some will claim that testing and optimizing 200+ treadwear tires will be just as costly as current R-Compound tires. There will always be a faction of our sport that will invest heavily in achieving the greatest pace and it is possible that the treadwear limitations will not result in significant savings for them. However, for the average competitor, the per run cost of autocrossing would be greatly reduced with the higher treadwear ratings as the number of on pace competition runs a tire could produce would meaningfully increase.
There is more to the tire discussion than cost, though. While the high grip R-Compound tires are certainly fun, the Board is inclined to believe that they are not appropriate for the category. As these tires have evolved they have drifted further and further from “streetable” and now often carry “for racing purposes only” warnings. Cost aside, this is not consistent with the Board’s vision of dual-purpose. While some competitors will opt to drive on the street and compete on separate sets of tires no matter what, the opportunity to have dual-purpose tires would be far greater under the proposed rules.
The SEB does recognize that not everyone will be excited or even willing to give up the thrills that only R-Comp grip can produce. In an effort to give those participants a place to play, the Board is proposing a limited preparation ruleset for Street Prepared classes. This ruleset would allow vehicles prepared to the limit of the new proposal to compete in an appropriate Street Prepared class on R-Compounds. The limited preparation cars would run in a slower class than their SP classing. The SEB’s goal would be to place cars where they are competitive but do not become the car to have for the class.
In all of this the Board also decided it was time to move past the name Stock and adopt “Street,” as Stock was no longer reflective of the level of preparation in the category. This is not meant to imply that there is no place for true stock vehicles in autocross. In fact, the intention of the SEB is to highly encourage regions who have accommodated membership needs with indexed street tire classes to transition those classes into a home for true stock, or unmodified cars.
Under the street ruleset, the SEB hopes cars like this BMW will become more attractive for the category
This proposal is not about making it harder, or more expensive to compete at the National level. In fact, the opposite is the goal. By allowing competitors to add simple, generally inexpensive modifications, such as sway bars and camber kits, and by limiting the scope of shocks, the SEB is aiming for an affordable package that is easier on tires, more fun to drive and allows a greater number of cars to realistically and affordably participate in the category. If successful, we may see a resurgence of cars that have been written off in the past due to camber limitations alone -cars like the late model Volkswagen GTi, the WRX/STi and a wide variety of BMW products, all of which are not able to get enough camber to be attractive stock class cars under the current rules. The goal is to find the formula that unlocks the potential of these and other modern cars and to build a ruleset that makes sense both to current members and those we hope to attract in the future. And above all else, the goal is having fun with our cars.
If you would like to provide feedback to the SEB on this proposal, please do so at http://www.sebscca.com/