Autocross Like a Champ in Street Touring

Let’s get this out of the way from the beginning: Street category classes in SCCA® Autocross are some of the most competitive, fun, and easiest classes to get into. Also, in an odd way, they’re some of the most challenging to get right. But (and there’s always a “but”) when it comes to bolt-on performance, most racers can’t help themselves. Rare is the competitor who has the discipline to leave their car alone – and that’s where SCCA’s Street Touring™ category comes in.

One of the most popular categories in SCCA’s Solo® program, Street Touring lives in that fantastic space that allows some modifications, without the need or the budget to get in too deep. Many of the allowed modifications in the Street Touring category come in the suspension, which, of course, makes a dramatic improvement in the ability to get around an autocross course.

There are tricks to this trade, and some people are especially dialed in to, err, dialing in their autocross cars. As such – and not surprisingly – suspension tuning is largely why Jonathan Lugod has been able to snag six National Championship jackets at the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships. What are the secrets to success of handling Street Touring like a champ? We asked him.

Getting 95% of the Way There

It’s no coincidence that, as the owner of Shaftworks USA and a longtime autocrosser, Lugod is exceptionally good at suspension tuning and driving. That combination has led to SCCA National Championship titles in Street Touring Roadster (2012 and ’18) and Street Touring Xtreme (2017), before he made the trek to the Street Prepared categories for Solo Nats wins in 2021-’23.

“For me, [Street Touring is] about being allowed to modify the car to both improve its performance as well as aesthetics,” Lugod says. “It's a bit of an introduction to a builder’s class. While it’s easy to get the right parts and play, there’s a mental aspect of being able to sort and adjust the car for the given conditions in order to have a favorable result. Pointy-end competitors will do a fair amount of testing and tuning to get their setups to be as ideal as possible for given conditions. I personally feel my victories came from being well prepared before and during the event.”

(Lugod's third Street Touring Solo National Championship title came in an STR MX-5 in 2018.)

That preparation comes from experience and knowledge. While there is some fine tuning that will have to be done, it starts with the basics.

“Street Touring can be as simple or complex as one thinks it should be,” Lugod says. “For me, the key components to doing well are shocks and struts properly suited for our sport. [You’ll want] as wide a wheel and tire package allowed for the class, adjustable swaybars, and camber allowances to make use of the tires. Those are the key components people should focus on to get 95% there.”

Fine Tuning the Grip

Within those basics, there are some simple tips for those new to making adjustments.

Shocks handle bumps and transient behavior. If the issue is with mid-corner balance and low-speed grip, turn your attention to the swaybars. All of that works in concert with alignment, rake, and tire pressures to fine tune the grip.

“There isn't a ‘best’ setup, but there certainly can be pitfalls in setup when one aspect of tuning is heavily utilized rather than letting each component do their job,” Lugod explains. “There’s a lot of mathematics involved in setting a generic baseline both in spring rate choices and shock valving. Shaftworks specializes in identifying a suitable baseline starting point for each given application and their best use case for both track and autocross and, most recently, UTV side-by-sides. We’re able to help identify those issues and provide consultation on how to proceed to get the car to handle better.”

If you want to figure out the best way to get your Street Touring car to handle the way you want on your own, start with a build. At the very least, there’s a set of equipment that has worked for others that can be found either on-line or just by talking to successful competitors.

(No one Street Touring setup is right for all drivers. Lugod recommends making adjustments, then taking notes.) 

Lugod points out that, even if you use the exact same setup as the most successful Street Touring driver ever, a setup is not set in stone – you’ll need to make that setup work for you. Change a suspension setting, take an autocross run, then immediately write down how the car performed. That information will be helpful and handy when it’s time to make another adjustment.

“Developing a flow chart of changes helps guide you in understanding your changes and how severe [of a handling difference] the change made,” Lugod says. “If you’re at a test-and-tune, it’s best to sweep through your adjustments and take notes. The goal is not to dial in a vehicle for the test-and-tune’s fastest time, but to feel what adjustments make the car react and how far those adjustments go. For instance, if you have an adjustable rear swaybar and you find out full stiff is undrivable, you can rule out full stiff from your flow chart.”

Changes like that eliminate some variables, which is the ultimate goal – especially when the opportunities to tweak a setup are few and far between during SCCA’s Tire Rack National Solo event weekends.

Discover What You Don’t Know

Finally, it’s important to remember that you don’t know what you don’t know.

A person who has never felt a finely tuned Street Touring car can’t know what a finely tuned Street Touring car feels like. There are two ways to solve that problem – drive an established car, or have an established driver hop into your car and offer feedback.

“Ride in, or perhaps drive, your competitors’ vehicles whenever the opportunity presents itself,” Lugod says. “Getting a feel for how a well-handling car behaves should motivate you to tweak your own setup to get towards a similar handling car. Don't be shy to put more experienced drivers in the car to help give feedback for you to take in and make changes as needed.”

Setting up a Street Touring car may not be quite as easy as someone like Lugod makes it seem, but take a closer look at his advice. At its core, it comes down to one thing: Drive, then change something, then drive some more to see what happened. At the end of the day, even if you don’t become the greatest Street Touring autocrosser in history, it’s still #funwithcars.

Lead photo caption: Jonathan Lugod has earned multiple Solo National Championship titles in Street Touring, and has become one of the go-to suspension gurus. 
Lead photo by Rupert Berrington