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Click above for a high-res gallery of us having fun in the Fun Cup

Our normal definition of "fun" doesn't involve making a last-minute trek across the soul-sucking expanse of I-5 in California... twice... in less than 12 hours... through a monsoon. But in our illusive pursuit of fun, that's exactly what we did to get some seat time in a Fun Cup car: a tube-framed, mid-engine, FRP-bodied track car that could be the next big thing in amateur racing.

The Fun Cup began in Belgium back in 1997 as a way for aspiring racers to get their wheel-to-wheel kicks without mortgaging their souls for track time. Since then, the series has spread across Europe with almost a dozen different countries hosting five events each. The culmination of last year's Cup involved 175 identical Fun Cup cars competing in a 25-hour event at the Spa circuit in Belgium. With 30,000 fans cheering on the teams in person and countless others watching the event in bars and homes across the continent, the Fun Cup has turned into a series to rival some of the mainstays of motorsports in Europe.

With such a rampant fan base and a decade of successful campaigning under its belt, the Fun Cup crew is looking to expand its reach across the pond. Greg Clough, the president of Fun Cup, Inc. and our host for the day, has begun to organize the 2008 season in the U.S. and is intent that the series will put "the fun back into racing."

After making the trip down from Northern California to Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, CA, we arrived at Horse Thief Mile, an 11-turn track nestled into the hills jutting up from the desert floor. While exchanging pleasantries with our hosts, we watched as one of the invited journos flogged the lightweight cup car through a series of tight, second- and third-gear corners over a track with virtually no flat stretches of tarmac.

The Cup car rolled into the makeshift pit producing a decidedly un-Beetle noise. With a 140-hp, water-cooled, 2.0-liter four sourced from a VW Golf mounted behind the driver, this isn't an aging flower-power mobile that struggles up the hills of Berkeley. As a matter of fact, the only thing you'll find on the Cup car that's pulled from a Bug is the windshield and wipers; everything else is either bespoke bits produced just for the series or pieces culled from the Volkswagen parts bin, both of which keep costs down and make replacement parts easy to find.

The cars campaigned abroad are practically the same ones we'll get here in the States, complete with a tubular frame, fuel cell and the aforementioned four-cylinder, which, along with the five-speed manual transmission, is sealed to prevent any modifications. At 1,700 pounds, the racers have a modest power-to-weight ratio, but with series-mandated BFGoodrich g-Force sport rubber (sized 195/50R15 up front and 205/50R15 in the rear), standard disc brakes and pads, and a suspension that only allows ride-height adjustment, everyone runs the same. The mantra of the Fun Cup is simple; keep it relatively inexpensive and put an emphasis on driver skill rather dropping dollars on high-priced components.

After suiting up and getting settled into the central-mounted seat, we got the rundown on the controls. The unboosted steering wheel frames a digital readout to keep tabs on engine vitals, while a handful of switches are spread across the dash controlling everything from the ignition to the 60's-era windshield wipers. Along with the five-point racing belts, the heavily bolstered seat kept this featherweight hack from shifting much in the corners and the beefy cog swapper to the right clicks into its gates with a reassuring thud.

With a quick twist of the large, red ignition switch to the right, the four-pot out back barks to life. It's loud, but wouldn't be grating during the 90-minute stretches each of three drivers run during a normal race. The accelerator is a bit on the stiff side, acting more like an on/off switch at first until you can get a feel for exactly how much pressure will elicit the right response. Pedal placement is flawless, with a quick pivot of your ankle for seemless heel-and-toe action to match revs.

Horse Thief Mile is mainly comprised of tight bends and moderate-speed sweepers with decreasing radii. While short, what it lacks in length it makes up for in technical sections that take a few laps to get acclimated. However, once you've got the feel, the Fun Cup car is an eager dance partner. Unlike your run-of-the-mill racers, the suspension isn't stiffly sprung. It's taut and Grandma certainly wouldn't enjoy a trip to her local bridge game sitting on the tub, but there's a notable amount of body roll through the corners. While this gives the Fun Cup car a tendency towards understeer on initial turn-in -- something that's easily cured with a slight flick of the wheel and some judicious throttle application – it's incredibly composed at the limit and remains predictable for the amateur behind the wheel.

The uphill straight that flanks the western side of the track was a perfect stretch of tarmac to test the Cup's straight-line speed. Climbing the moderate incline up to the first hard right hand bend, we find that motivation is nicely matched to the racer's minimal weight. A couple of downshifts into second gear, a quick turn to the right and some throttle gets the Cup car to rotate with ease and then you're rocketing back down the hill, keeping right in anticipation of the high-speed sweeper to the left. Understeer rears its ugly head on corner exit, and again, a forceful jab of the accelerator coupled with a slight flick and we're tracking out on line. While the lack of power assist on the steering wheel was never a real issue, it was obvious that the little Bug is better suited to long expanses of track – like Spa and the planned 25-hour event at Thunderhill – than the tight confines of The Mile.

After a few more laps, we were able to up the pace and our confidence grew with it. We began braking later, laying into the throttle sooner and experiencing a few "hero" moments when the back stepped out and we were able to drift the racer with minimal drama. It remained completely composed throughout and even on the damp tarmac, rarely did we have any sphincter-clutching moments. We can't wait to sample this thing in the dry.

From a strictly financial point of view, you're not hard pressed to make a plausible case for renting, or even buying, a Fun Cup car. For just under $35,000 you can pick up a turn-key racer. The cost of entry for a few local races during the 2008 season wouldn't put your credit history, or your marriage, in jeopardy. It's certainly not chump-change, but it's not entirely prohibitive either, especially if you've got a few friends to spread out the cost. Engine rebuilds are normally done once a season, you can make it through several races on a single clutch and a couple of sets of tires should do you and your team well through a race or two.

Just to illustrate the Fun Cup car's ease of use, when we arrived back in the parking lot, we hopped out to find our photographer getting suited up for a run around the track. "Seriously, anyone can drive this thing," Clough said as our camera-wielding companion slid into the driver's seat. And he did just that. Easy to drive and cheap? We're in. We just have to convince both our creditors and better halves that the moderate expenditure is in everyone's best interests.

Photos Copyright © 2008 Damon Lavrinc, Brad Wood / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Lets see...go offroad and get into a Jeepspeed, class 9 or 11 or any # of other classes for 1/2 that and twice the fun....
      • 7 Years Ago
      Looks fun.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Let's see, a fixed-specification club racing class with turn-key cars for about $35K or less... that would include MX-5 Cup, Spec Miata, Spec E30, Spec Focus, 944 Spec, Factory Five Challenge, Spec Racer Ford and plenty of other options. Not much new to see here.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Ian -- The major difference between the series your citing and the Fun Cup is that no matter how competitive those are races are, strong financial backing has eclipsed outright talent. I won't name names, but stories of certain drivers dynoing 8 MX-5 engines and picking the most powerful one of the group has caused a lot of disenfranchisement among the rest of the field. This series is all about the driver -- not the car.
        • 7 Years Ago
        As a Spec Miata racer, former Formula Renault (Fran-Am) Driver, former 2.4 liter Porsche Challenge Champion, and former Grand-Am driver, I can say without a doubt that you will do more racing in 90 minutes at the Spa Fun Cup event then you will do in an entire season of any of those other series, and for less money out the door. Check out the first lap!
        • 7 Years Ago
        You beat me to it, Damon. This at least seems to be a little more controllable cost wise. I have no doubt there are other series with comparable entry/startup costs, but big guys throwing massive dollars makes it extremely difficult for the little guys to have a chance.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Wow, affordable racing?! I thought those days were long long gone. This is pretty wild!
      • 7 Years Ago
      Looks real interesting. Too bad it's only on the west coast.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Hi Emmo213,

        Once the series is established in the West, we will start on the East coast. You've got some amazing tracks on your side of the country, so it would be a shame to miss out!

        • 7 Years Ago
        (warning: shameless plug alert!)

        I almost forgot... they are available for rent, so you could always come and visit sunny California, spend some time at Disneyland, and then pop up to Buttonwillow or Willow Springs for a weekend of racing.

        • 7 Years Ago
        Nothing wrong with shameless plugs, especially when they're a good point. My vacation for this year is already planned but I'll definitely keep that in mind for next year. I have a few buddies who'd love to try to, and I wouldn't mind splitting the cost either.
      • 7 Years Ago
      BFG G-Force Sport, I have a wider version of the same tire on my Trans Am. They're quite good, but not the cheapest (or most expensive) and not a pure-bred race tire either. It's too bad they couldn't get the costs down to something like $15-20K per car considering it's a tube frame without any accoutrements and only one seat. It's still way cheaper than most racing, but I'd rather have a nice go kart instead and have plenty of dough left over.

      It may just be the audio on the clip, but from the cabin, that may be the worst sounding vehicle I've ever heard. Some sort of mixture of air whistling in through the cabin ventilation ducts, nails on a chalkboard, and a coffee grinder. It's a shame too, since air cooled VWs sound so very beautiful to my ears. Other than that, it looks like a lot of fun. I wonder what they would charge for a one day class with everything, including car, provided.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Hi Eric,

        Yes, the g-Force Sport tires are excellent... but as you noted they aren't racing tires. This is a decision that achieves lower running costs (cheaper than "R" tires, and last longer), and allows the car to move around a little so that you really have to DRIVE the cars. It also keeps the stress out of the drive-line, and saves us having to step up to a specialized (i.e. Expen$ive) racing transmission, clutch, etc.

        I understand your point about the cost vs. a go-kart, as I loved my time in karting. With the Fun Cup, however, you get a full-sized car, which allows you to have a gearbox, and needs a different technique, such as heel-toe. The skills developed in the Fun Cup car are applicable to any other circuit racing car, so a lot of people use it as their first step onto the long circuits.

        As for the sound... we've dispensed with the air-cooled VW, and are running a 4-cyl water cooled engine from the VW Golf/GTI, etc. In the cockpit it's certainly loud, and ear-plugs are always recommended. I think the "nails on chalkboard" is a combination of the cameras, and a *very* windy day at Willow Springs.

      • 7 Years Ago
      As was said by others, this car virtually mirrors the SCCA's Spec Racer Ford in cost, concept, and general design.


      As SRF is the second largest car class in the SCCA it's not uncommon to already find fields of 20-25 cars competing at SCCA events. There is also a reasonable market for second hand cars running in the $16,000 to $23,000 (depending upon age, condition, etc).

      There's also good information at http://www.specracer.com for those interested.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Admittedly Corn may not be the most efficient feed stock, but at the moment it's available and abundant."


      "When William Lapp, of US-based consultancy Advanced Economic Solutions, took the podium at the annual US Department of Agriculture conference, the sentiment was already bullish for agricultural commodities boosted by demand from the biofuels industry and emerging countries.

      He added a twist – that rising agricultural raw material prices would translate this year into sharply higher food inflation."
      "The United Nation’s agency responsible for relieving hunger is drawing up plans to ration food aid in response to the spiralling cost of agricultural commodities."

      If you race E85, people starve....

        • 7 Years Ago
        > If you race E85, people starve....

        Actually that's not entirely true. I remember the story about the price of a Tacos in Mexico going up because of the Ethanol industry... but the largest contributor to the cost increases was the price of Oil. There's only maybe 2c of corn in a Taco:


        We have to remember that the "waste" from the corn sent for processing into Ethanol is used as a high-protein cattle feed. Only the starch in the kernel is converted, and the rest is left for other uses...

        Sure, the price of corn has gone up, and nobody will argue with that. This has resulted in a revitalization of many rural communities in America, that are tooling up to meet the extra demand. I like the fact that someone in the US has a job farming, instead of someone on an oil-rig. The cash stays here and benefits the balance of trade, and that the moment we need all the help we can get.

        Can we run the entire USA on corn? Absolutely not... which is why cellulosic ethanol is starting to gain ground. There are several plants doing this now, and as the process is developed and refined, more will come on-stream.

        Is there enough biomass to run the entire USA? You bet!

      • 7 Years Ago
      To clarify, Spec Racer Ford uses sealed engines, transmissions, shocks, etc. Even air filters are a specific part number.
        • 7 Years Ago
        (disclosure: I own the US series)

        Yes, it's similar to SRF, but have you seen an SRF up close... not the most attractive racing car, and the sound is pretty ho-hum. I think these look cool, and the sound is great.

        Also, the cost isn't meant to be paid by 1 driver... as this is an enduro-only series with a minimum of 2 drivers, and 3 is usually a great team size. I raced in a team of three for 5 years, and I always had lots of fun. Break it down by 1/3 and you're under $12k for a NEW car. It also means you don't need to "convince" your friends that being on a pit-crew is a glamorous job, because if three guys go away for the weekend then everyone gets to race!

        Finally, we're trying to be a little bit green... which isn't the norm for motorsports. All cars run on Ethanol E85, which means we're reducing carbon, keeping the money in the US, and it's even cheaper than race-gas.

        In the end we're always going to be compared to the established series, but I think this is different enough that there is a place for it... 175 cars on the grid can't be wrong:


        • 7 Years Ago
        Hi Steven,

        > Looks are subjective

        True, and I understand why you like the Can Am look. For me, the splitter and huge rear wing on the Fun Cup make it look a lot better than a Herbie.

        > And it's open cockpit, which to me is way more cool.

        Yes, I used to race Radical's so the open-cockpit is nice... until it rains. A few races like that made me reconsider. Obviously this isn't a real problem in California like it is in England, but I also feel safer with a full roll-cage.

        > I agree that SRF's don't have great sound

        I think we'd all like to be driving something that screams like an F1 car (or IRL/Nascar, whatever your preference), and even at the entry level the cars should look/sound/smell like a racing car. It doesn't cost any more to engineer a nice note to the exhaust, so that's what I did.

        > E85 is actually worse for carbon

        There's arguments on both sides of this. Admittedly Corn may not be the most efficient feed stock, but at the moment it's available and abundant. Even using corn we're still better off, and Cellulosic Ethanol will increase the benefits markedly:

        (It's long, so skip to page 35)

        I'm also happy that my cash is going to support the economy in Iowa, as opposed to overseas.

        > ...campaigner for fewer classes...simply dilutes fields...

        Actually, in Europe the Fun Cup has been responsible for introducing a lot of first-time drivers to the joys of Motorsport. Our focus is on folks that have always liked the idea of racing, but never found the time/expertise to start. We do a lot of hand-holding, and try to make things easy and uncomplicated.

        To increase the popularity of motorsports, we need to make it more accessible and attractive to those outside the "knowledge circle". SRF does that, and I'm confident that the Fun Cup will appeal to a different audience and increase the overall number of people that when asked what they did on the weekend, can say "I raced my car at..."

        • 7 Years Ago
        (I should disclose that I own and race a Spec Racer Ford in the SCCA).

        1) Looks are subjective, I think. I like the way an SRF looks; like a smaller Can Am car from the early 1970's. And it's open cockpit, which to me is way more cool. The Herbie look went out a long time ago. :)

        2) I agree that SRF's don't have great sound, but really, if that (or looks) is one's criterion for racing...I think most people wouldn't chose either car.

        3) E85 is actually worse for carbon than gasoline in the US because the ethanol is corn based.

        I will also admit that within the SCCA I am a strong campaigner for fewer classes of racing; adding more classes of racing with similar performance simply dilutes fields and loses the overall effectiveness of scale that keeps costs reasonable.

        And finally, SRF, with over 800 cars built, is here to stay -- meaning that for the foreseeable future there will always be places to race it against large fields of similar cars. Even now, if one prefers longer enduro formats, there are many enduro events run each year where multiple drivers can own/share a single car and compete -- including such races as the 25 hours of Thunderhill.

        While I have nothing against the European Fun Cup Series at all, in the US there are already many series which come close to the Fun Cap, with one (Spec Racer Ford) being virtually identical in size, performance, objectives, and cost control.
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