There's nothing like the fumes from high-octane fuel and the smell of tortured rubber to get your eyes watering and your mouth salivating for the heat of competition. And so it happens every year, when we invite the nation's top tuners to take part in our Grand Prix event.
Entering its seventh year, etGP has grown in stature as horsepower numbers rise and quarter mile times dive with the controlled tires we provide to every participant in an attempt to level the playing field slightly.
This year would see perhaps the most diverse collection of cars in the event's history, with cars from Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Mini, Porsche and VW vying for top honors.
Previous years had seen only VW and Audi tuners prepared to put reputations on the line and back-up their claims of horsepower and performance. However, 2009 would see the arrival of the latest M3, a dark horse from Mercedes and a Porsche Cayman take to the field of combat.
In previous years, we resisted attempts by tuners to enter cars like the 911 Turbo since we don't feel it represents our audience. Nor do we feel it's especially difficult to make one go fast. But with the arrival of several supercharger conversions for the M3 V8, and the continued dominance of the Audi A4/S4, we decided to open the doors to a modified Porsche Cayman since it represents the first step on the sportscar ladder for many aspiring Europhiles. We were also interested to see whether it could hold its own in this impressive company.
Inevitably, there are some tuners who don't want to appear in the GP, many who couldn't afford to make the journey to SoCal, and several who experienced last-minute car trouble before the event.
So what we have here represents a good cross-section of vehicles popular in the European tuning scene to give you an idea of the performance gains from the modifications on display.
As we've said before, the GP isn't really a competition with winners and losers because very few of the cars are the same. Instead, it's our opportunity to scrutinize specific products and packages in order to see if they meet the tuner's claims. So don't imagine the fastest and most powerful car wins. Yes, the team with the highest numbers has something to brag about, but that's not the whole story.
The GP isn't a head-to-head competition. Don't simply look to see who's fastest. Rather, you should use it as a tool to measure the relative performance of various tuning options on specific platforms.
Basically, etGP is a shop window where you can browse tuning conversions under the harshest conditions and draw your own conclusions about what will work for you.
As we always say, etGP is a test of speed, power and poise. The cars must participate on the dyno for outright power, the drag strip to underscore those numbers, and the road course to see how the engine, brakes and suspension perform as a complete package.
Like every GP the rule is there are no rules - except no nitrous in the engine. And because some teams previously had a big advantage through tire choice, we were again grateful to Continental for supplying its excellent ContiSportContact3 tires to all the teams.
On the GT-Pro dyno day, teams are allowed a maximum of three pulls and can tune in between. In the past we've seen high numbers and this year was no excepetion.
With a change of venue, our drag strip was on the long straight at Buttonwillow Raceway. Competitors were unrestricted in the number of runs they could take during the three-hour session, and many took full advantage. However, the track officials were again unprepared by the speed of some cars and limited the fastest to a few runs, although it had little bearing on the final outcome.