How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Four

Illustration for article titled How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Four

One month down, one month to go and the guys at K-PAX Racing are right on schedule. That's one of the great things about these guys, they have built so many racecars that they have turned what is basically an art into a science. It's pretty awesome to watch and even cooler to actually be a part of.

K-PAX Racing's attempting to turn an off-the-line Volvo C30 into a world-beating race car in 60 days. Driver Robb Holland's going to give us weekly project updates. Part four: Going Bob Ross on the C30 and ditching the nanny. —Ed.

Now that I've said that and totally jinxed everything, we start getting into the really tough part of the project, the ECU (queue ominous music and dramatic thunder clap). Yeah, this stuff is no joke.


Modern cars are awesome, no doubt. With ABS, Traction Control, Stability Control, and all of the safety systems built into them, the average driver is safer than ever before. (Note: I didn't say they were any better drivers than they were before, just safer when they do crash). The problem that creates for building a racecar is, while all of these systems are immensely helpful to the average driver on the street, they completely screw up racecar drivers on a racetrack. The limits that these systems set are far below the limits that we drive to on track and they want to jump in at the most inopportune moments to spoil our fun and our lap times.

In addition, with our switch to Pirelli slicks this season, we are pulling g-forces substantially higher than anything these systems were ever designed for, over 1.5g in fact. The way these systems are designed to react to high g-forces, or sustained under/over steer, is to cut back power and apply brakes as necessary to bring the car back to a more neutral attitude. Cut power, apply brakes — two things you don't want to hear when you're trying to set a fast lap time.

Also, in order to be competitive in the World Challenge Touring Car class, we're going to need a few more thoroughbreds under the hood. Most of the cars we'll be competing against will have race tuned engines putting out somewhere between 250 and 270 wheel hp per class rules. Volvo advertises the C30 as having 225 hp, however manufacturers usually measure horsepower at the crank, so it's clear that we're gonna need to turn up the wick just a bit more.

Unfortunately adding more hp is not a simple as just increasing boost in our 2.5-liter inline-five turbo engine. There are a huge number of things that the ECU calculates for and just adding boost will completely throw all of those calculations into complete and utter chaos, most likely leaving us with a very expensive and unwieldy paperweight.


I'd initially planned on writing a whole post on how we've gotten around the electronic nannies and picked up the additional horsepower that we were looking for but, to be honest, we haven't…. not yet anyways. There are a ton of things that we've been able to sort out but there are overall more things to figure out than things we've solved.

It'd be great if every post I wrote was just about how we're just breezing through everything and there were no issues or hiccups along the way and that come St. Pete we show up the fastest car on the grid. The reality is that building a modern racecar, even one that is still not far off from being a stock car, is a huge undertaking. Plus, we're in uncharted territory as the first team in North America to run these cars in race trim, so there are going to be a few speed bumps along the way.

Illustration for article titled How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Four

With less than 35 days to go I'm glad that we've got some of the best people in business working on it and we have several back up plans in place, so I'm still 100% confident that we will have a car capable of being on the top step of the podium at the start of the season. Come on, what's a reality show without a bit of drama?


So while our engineers are rolling up their respective sleeves and getting down to work figuring out the ECU, the rest of the car is sitting over in the body shop waiting to be all beautified. A lot of race teams now days wrap their racecars (and trailers, and pit bikes, and pit carts, and pretty much anything else that's within reach) with vinyl wrap.

There are several advantages to vinyl wrapping. It's relatively inexpensive when compared to a good paint job, it's durable and easy to repair, scuff marks wipe off with a solvent, it's lighter than paint, you can do some pretty cool (or pretty heinous) designs that would be very cost prohibitive with paint and lastly it looks good at 100 yards going 100 mph, which is the traditional standard for racecar appearance.


The one drawback to vinyl is that, basically anytime where someone is going to be within 5 feet of the car, vinyl looks like… well, vinyl. Now, I know some of you may still have an abnormal attachment to that vinyl couch you had back in college (the ahem… stain resistant one) but for the rest of us who have grown out of that phase, vinyl is no bueno.

In the case of K-PAX Racing, from time to time Volvo has asked that we bring one of the racecars to be displayed in a public forum. Nothing major but little things, like say the LA Auto Show, a full-page ad for Pirelli Tires, or a ½ page ad in USA Today. In addition to all of that scrutiny are the hi-res pics we're posting for you loons good folks here and the tens of thousands of people that see these cars up close at the races. Yeah, we'll be painting our cars, thank you very much.


Fortunately the guys at K-PAX Racing take their painting seriously. Very seriously. They have a full time paint and body department in the race shop, with an Accudraft downdraft paint booth. When they're not repairing the post race bumps and bruises that we bring the racecars back with, they are working fulltime on the restoration and upkeep of a fleet of vintage racecars. Not just any vintage racecars but the kind of vintage racecar that was worth as much as your house when it was new 30 years ago and is still worth as much as your house today (ok it's probably worth more if you're anything like me and can trade the equity in your house straight up for a decaf soy latte).

I sat down with K-PAX Racing's lead painter, Mark Godard, to find out what actually goes into painting a racecar and what I found out means I'll probably have some serious reservations next time I even think about sticking my car down the inside of somebody at 100 mph on a street course.


On steps taken to paint a race or show car:
"The same level of work we put into our show cars or vintage cars also goes into our racecars. Each car will take about 5 or 6 days and close to 60 man-hours to complete. We start by wiping down the roll cage with a lacquer thinner to remove the oils that are in the metal as well as any contamination that may have been introduced during the welding of the cage. From there we sand the entire car, the interior floor, walls, roof, and the entire exterior. Once that's done and wiped down we then prep everything so that we don't have to waste time moving the car in and out of the paint booth. Masking the car takes almost a full day to do it right."

Illustration for article titled How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Four

"On the C30's we're painting the roll cage the same blue as the exterior stripe. Painting the roll cage is a lot like painting a bicycle because the round bars make it difficult to lay down an even coat. You end up wasting a lot of material during the process but it's necessary to get it done right."

"While we're waiting for the cage to dry we will mask all of the exterior openings (doors, windows, ect) so that we can paint the exterior. On the C30 we'll lay down the yellow, then white, then blue and finish it off with a clear coat. When we're done with that, we then unmask everything and then mask the roll cage and any interior openings so that we can then paint the interior floor, walls, and roof. If you miss masking off an opening you will get overspray that will find it's way out and mess up the exterior paint you just laid down so it's crucial to get the masking done right. For the interior on the C30, we'll be using a single stage, enamel gray."

"After the paint has cured we then hit it with 1000 grit sandpaper to knock it down. Then we go to a 2000 grit. Finally we hit it with the buffer to get it back up to a shine again. All in all we'll have about 6 days of work in just the one C30, which is a lot less time then we have to put into the S60s because the C30 is using the stock bodywork which is a lot easier to work with that the custom carbon bodies."


All right guys, that's all for this week. Next week the car gets out of the body shop and it all starts coming back together. All of our go fast stuff starts making its way into the shop so we'll be chatting with a few of our product suppliers to find out what they're doing to make their stuff work on our car. Also, before I sign off, I do read the comments section (as much as time allows) so if any of you have any questions you'd like an answer to, please feel free to ask. I can't promise I can answer all of them and some information we have to keep under wraps because I know the a lot of our opposition are reading these posts, trying to glean any hint of information that might gain them an edge before the season begins (yes Brad I'm talking about you, you naughty boy). That being said I will try to answer at least a couple every week.


Robb Holland is a professional racecar driver with K-PAX Racing and 3Zero3 Motorsports. When he is not racing in World Challenge, Holland works as a performance driving instructor and owns a travel company that takes US clients over to Europe to drive the Nurburgring. You can follow him on his Facebook page.


Photo Credit: K-PAX Racing

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Why are you trying to adapt the stock ECU setup? Why not go standalone like Tec 3 or even Megasquirt?