When you want to know how to be successful behind the wheel of a late model Camaro whilst road racing, you want to talk to Todd Napieralski of Total Performance Racing (TPR), and that’s exactly what we’ve done several times in the past. Todd is the man working behind the scenes with Chevrolet developing some of the Camaro’s latest performance parts and homologating them for use in SCCA road racing. Todd’s expertise lies within the Touring 2 (T2) class where he competes in his Camaros with everything from Mitsubishi Evolutions and Nissan 370Zs to Porsche 911s, and wins.
We got word from Todd and the TPR team they have been racing their new Gen 6 Camaro SS with great results, only having some 30 days to transform it from showroom spec to race spec. And get this, besides a Chevrolet Performance Lowering Kit and some safety equipment, the car remains a Gen 6 Camaro through and through. Interested in how to get to racing in your new Camaro? Well, we’re going to let the expert guide you for your next track session. Don’t yet have a Camaro, click here and get rollin’.
Words by Todd Napieralski.
When you have 12 weeks to get something done, it usually takes 12 weeks. When you have 6 weeks to do something that should take 12 weeks, you really need to make some things happen, and quick. And you need help from your friends and, your soon-to-be, new best friends. Here’s a race-prep short story on our 2016 Camaro SS project for the SCCA Touring 2 Championship Runoffs.
Timing is everything. Starting a new project in the middle of our SCCA Pro Trans Am season certainly added excitement in our shop. With no time to order the perfect vehicle for race prep, the first step was locating an existing vehicle on a dealer lot. The good news was finding the perfect 1SS at a dealer in Kentucky and the bad news was having only 35 days to make the last runoffs qualifying regional race at Mid-Ohio. It was Thursday, June 30 when we headed south to pick up the car. I remember having to call the Kentucky dealer en-route and asking him to wait for us after hours. They were very accommodating and we were very appreciative.
Nothing can be worse than jumping into a new Gen 6 Camaro SS with specific orders to not go over 70 MPH or 4,500 rpm for 1,500 miles! It was torture, but we did it. Over the next 3 days, our team took turns driving all over Michigan and Ohio to prep the LT1 and TR6060 for what was to come. I had never driven a Gen 6 up to this point and had been actively racing our Gen 5 Camaros all over the country. I remember my first impression, how responsive the steering inputs were and how sporty and nimble the car felt with stock trim and curb weight.
In my experience, stripping down a new car hurts for the first 20 minutes or so until the excitement of making a race car takes over. The breaking point is when the chassis seam sealer starts to not look so bad. For anyone taking on a project like this, be sure to leave most of the electronic modules in the car. So many of the systems are integrated today and removing the wrong module can shut things down. With the break-in complete and the interior removed, we had 30 days to go. Off to the cage shop.
With the smaller Alpha platform, none of the cage templates from our Gen 5 Camaros were of any use. There is no better cage fabricator than Mark McMahan of McMahan Autosport. They put all of their projects aside to make new templates and fabricate the cage system, all in two weeks time. That, put us a t–minus 16 days to launch timeframe.
One “cool” thing is the fact that the Camaro offers an optional track kit (pn: 23508024) for brake cooling. It is an easy bolt-on deflector system that mounts to the lower control arm and directs air from under the car to the caliper/rotor interface. This is designed to enhance the track day experience and works well for the weekend HPDE (High Performance Driving Experience, or simply, track weekend) event. For dedicated, wheel-to- wheel racing with drafting, less air flow, and high performance racing pads, one of our challenges was getting more air to the calipers and rotors to improve brake system cooling. The advanced OEM drivetrain cooling system includes two additional auxiliary radiators located behind the daytime running lamps. Since we did not need any of the AC system and condenser, we were able to relocate the cooling volume of the auxiliary coolers to the previously occupied condenser location. This allowed traditional brake ducting to the rotors and caliper.
The 2016 Camaro was homologated in Touring 2 with an approved lowering kit. You’ve got to love it when a manufacturer offers a performance package including stiffer springs and performance dampers at a lower ride height AND it’s all pre-engineered to work together. The kit installation was very straightforward with clear instructions for the weekend warrior. I would say this is the best investment one can make when looking for performance.
The Touring 2 rules allow up to 3 degrees of negative camber and this is obtainable in the front spindles without the need for camber plates. We were also able to maximize the wheel width and strut clearance with custom 18” wheel sections by Ryan Dettling at Jongbloed Racing Wheels. We then dressed the wheels with the spec Hoosier 295 A7s on all four corners. Another task completed was removing the T6060 transmission for standard race prep and durability and then reinstalling. Thank you Tremec! You have to do this once to appreciate how everything fits in a smaller chassis. We removed the catalytic converters and mufflers to allow for the custom header-back exhaust by the team at Corsa Performance. Next up was Erik Johnson at Backstreet Performance and the dyno for restrictor based engine tuning. There was no better sound as the car came alive with the Corsa Performance exhaust. All of the safety items were completed in short order including the race seat, belts, fire system and safety nets. We are now under a week to go with much more to do.
One of the ongoing team discussions was about how we would dress up the solid black car. Over the years, we had done full body wraps, partial wraps, custom paint and everything in between. We sketched up a few ideas. At the end of day, we decided to use the factory offered decal and stripe package (Body Side Spear - pn: 23507054, and Center Stripe Package, pn: 84047833) in silver ice metallic. It was perfect and we sealed the graphics with our traditional TPR # 39. The final step was the SCCA inspection and creation of the log book. Two days before the first test, it was official. We now had a legal and safe race car! I remember sending out the picture of the new logbook to the team, sharing the sense of accomplishment. Our focus quickly turned to the first track session.
To make sense of all this, keep in mind not one part on the Gen 6 is repeated from the Gen 5 platform (well, besides the deck lid Bowtie and the SS badge). All of our racing experience and data from our 2010-15 race cars was of little use. Where would we be out of the box and with little time for development? How will everything work together in race trim? Do we have a top 10 car? At our first test session, our goal was to record as much data as possible. We needed information on fluid temperatures, motion geometry and tire data. We outfitted the car with a very nice Race Technologies DL1 data acquisition system and went through our normal test and tune progressions. Back in the shop that week we reviewed the data in-depth and made more changes as we prepared for the regional qualifying race.
We had three goals for the weekend regional qualifier at Mid Ohio. First was to make it through the weekend and complete the events to qualify for Runoffs. Second was to see how repeatable the car was on longer runs for durability late in the race. And lastly, was to see how close we could get to the existing class record. At the end of the day, we won both regional races and the qualifying race. More importantly, we were only 1.2 seconds off the class record for our first race outing. We were closer than we expected.
Runoffs week at Mid Ohio consisted of 2 test days followed by four days of qualifying. Our team worked hard each day with data and suspension adjustments as we lowered our lap times with each session. By the end of qualifying, we had recorded a lap of 1:33.2. The good news is this was nine-tenths under the existing track record of 1:34.1, but only 7th position for the T2 race start as many in class were under the record. Twenty one cars took the green flag. Our TPR # 39 2016 Camaro SS finished in P7 running strong.
We had accomplished our goal of getting under the existing track record and finishing in the top 10. In our experience, it takes much longer to develop a new race car. So many factory changes with the platform allowed us to get up to speed quickly. The smaller wheelbase, width and lower weight are huge improvements. There are many more aluminum components including control arms, sub-frames, and bumpers for better weight distribution. In race trim, coming off track at the end of a race, without me in the car, the car scaled at 3375 pounds. Keep in mind this includes the weight of the roll cage! Another amazing thing we noticed along the way was the lack of preload on the sway bars in race trim. Corner weights were very close to 50% on our very first scaling session. I was also thoroughly impressed with the factory Brembo brake setup. The Camaro engineers did a great job reducing total weight and then designing an anti-lock brake system (ABS) programming to match the higher performance g-loads produced on track. The brake system had a great initial bite followed by a smooth and predictable deceleration, producing greater than negative 1.2g’s. With high performance racing brake fluid, there was virtually no brake fade late in our sessions. The electric power steering responsiveness is amazing, especially in competition mode trim with traction control and stability control in the off position. Turn in and corner entry is extremely crisp and immediate with a great transition allowing early throttle input well before the apex producing higher speeds on corner exit with the rear following the front. The car just feels incredibly connected to the track. It is so much fun to drive on the race track.
A special thanks to Hoosier, Tremec, Corsa Performance, McMahan Autosport, Backstreet Performance, and of course Chevrolet Performance, for helping with our project and timeline.
If reading this gave you the itch to go out and race head-to-head with the world’s best sports cars at your local track, and run successfully, well, we’re right there with you. Let’s say you already have a Camaro. Chevrolet Performance offers a slew of performance products to make your first outing a success. View their model-specific parts here: http://www.chevrolet.com/performance/camaro-parts.html. And remember, you can order all of these parts at your local Chevrolet dealer and even have them install the fresh parts so you can get on the track sooner with fewer headaches. We hope to see you on track soon.
Stay tuned, Todd and TPR’s #39 Gen 6 Camaro will be prominently displayed in Chevrolet Performance’s booth at this year’s SEMA Show. We’ll be sure to check in with Todd and bring you the latest on his car and racing efforts.