Tuning Up on Time Trials Tuner Category

Tuning Up on Time Trials Tuner Category

With five sub-classes, the Time Trials Tuner Category is intended for street-driven vehicles on 200 treadwear (or higher) tires. Bolt-on modifications are allowed for tuning and adjustment, so long as those value-added parts attach to stock locations. Still, there’s lots of exploration possible with mods like intercoolers and boost controllers for forced induction cars, different headers and caster/camber plates, ride-height adjustable coilovers and racing springs, tunable sway bars, aftermarket ECUs, and big aftermarket brake kits.

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Hankerin’ for Tinkerin’

A step “up” from Time Trials’ Sport Category — where daily-driven street cars can be outfitted with simple bolt-on modifications — the Tuner Category is the sweet spot for drivers who like to fiddle with their cars a bit more.

Take for example Matt Hugenschmidt, 37, of SCCA’s Central Carolinas Region. He chose Tuner as his playpen for having #funwithcars. His weapon of choice? A BMW E36 M3 generally classed in Tuner 3, but a rule change has him in Tuner 4 class right now.

“I like upgrading my car. I like tinkering with it and trying to make it the best that it can be,” Hugenschmidt said. “The thing is… I’m not a good mechanic. So Tuner, for me, is the perfect amount of adjustability with things you can do to a car without having it be an actual ‘builders’ class.”

When talking “builder” classes, Hugenschmidt is referencing the Time Trials Max and Unlimited Categories. Max is for “dream street cars built or bought” and can include engine swaps and builds, suspension geometry changes, and a host of aftermarket items. Unlimited is home to tube-frame racecars, giant wings, ground effects, stripped interiors and the fastest of the fast. But those two categories don’t quite fit Hugenschmidt’s skillset, who studied mechanical engineering for a while in college.

“I just don’t have the ability to really get in to motor swaps and flares, adjusting suspension geometry and aero… I do not have the mind for that,” Hugenschmidt admits. “Tuner allows me to do enough things to the car that greatly improves it over stock, but not what I would consider ‘off the deep end.’”

When asked what mods he’s made to his BMW, Hugenschmidt coyly responded with a single word: “Yes.”

“The car basically is prepped not all the way to the limit of Tuner; but very, very close to it. I think I’m basically a light-weight flywheel away from full prep,” he said. “The car effectively has coilovers, camber plates, intake, headers, exhaust with cat… a big brake kit on the front, wheels, tires, rollbar and seats.”

With a Tuner 4 car fitted to the hilt with goodies, how does a married man with two kids find the time to keep such a machine prepped and running for Time Trials adventures?

“It’s basically just regular maintenance. Fluid changes, check brakes, bleed brakes, replace tires as necessary, grease bushings, and that’s really about it,” Hugenschmidt said. “I will do basic stuff — suspension and brakes, I’m fine there — but anything really engine related, I outsource the work.”

The impressive list of aftermarket parts Hugenschmidt has on his car would make anyone wonder about the fiscal commitment needed for Tuner competition. Hugenschmidt, however, works as a strategic pricing expert for a heavy-duty truck manufacturer and offered two helpful thoughts on managing costs: 1) Don’t overlook the second-hand marketplace, and 2) tighten the loose nut behind the steering wheel.

“It can be as expensive as you want to make it, but expensive is not necessarily a prerequisite to be in a Tuner class,” Hugenschmidt noted to those interested in Tuner fun. “Off-the-shelf stuff will get you the overwhelming majority of the way there… [and] the driver matters significantly more — especially in a relatively fledgling program — than the hardware does.”

Why should we take advice from Hugenschmidt? He won in Tuner 4 at this year’s Tire Rack Time Trials Nationals Powered by Hagerty at NCM Motorsports Park. That pretty much cements his credibility.

Trail of a Tuner Driver

Beyond sage advice, Hugenschmidt also stands as a beacon of hope for those who want to get into motorsports but lack experience wrenching on automobiles.

“I didn’t really grow up around cars. It was kind of post-college that I really found motorsport,” Hugenschmidt said, openly admitting he calls himself a “shite” mechanic. “I ended up building a car just for fun and watched a buddy of mine do an autocross at zMAX Dragway. Then I decided I’d give it a try.”

In 2013, Hugenschmidt joined Sports Car Club of America after taking an autocross school held by Central Carolinas Region. “I went out and tried it, got immediately hooked, and joined the SCCA,” he said.

He started out autocrossing a BMW 325is with an S52 engine from a ’98 M3 BMW. He autocrossed it for three years in Street Modified, then sold it for a B Street Honda S2000. A two-day BMW driving school in 2012 introduced him to track events, and it was something he truly enjoyed. So, after only a year, he sold the Honda and bought his current BMW to make his track car — and to toy with it a bit in Solo’s Street Touring class.

“SCCA’s Track Night in America didn’t exist. Honestly, SCCA just didn’t have track stuff going on back then,” Hugenschmidt explained, adding that he was planning to build the car for TTE in NASA.

Thankfully, the creation of the Track Night in America Driven by Tire Rack (TNiA) and Time Trials programs —highly supported by SCCA’s national office — gave Hugenschmidt a place to play with SCCA. In 2019, he attended a TNiA event at Charlotte Motor Speedway in preparation for a Time Trials National Tour event held at Carolina Motorsports Park. Those experiences convinced him to remain active with the Club. And while he has his eye on doing more “track” stuff, Hugenschmidt still finds time to co-drive at autocrosses with friends and believes that the seat time has helped further develop his driving skills.

“Every time you go around a [race] track, it’s slightly different,” he said. “It’s the same thing in autocross. You need to be able to adjust on the fly. If you carry a couple extra miles an hour out of a corner, your braking point for the next corner has now changed. Autocross is very good at teaching that sort of adaptability.”

Tuning in on Future Plans

Hugenschmidt has thought about doing low-cost endurance racing or wheel-to-wheel competition in the future. But when it comes to SCCA Time Trials, don’t look for him in some other category. Tuner fits him just fine.

“I have a competitive car in a competitive class with great people to race with,” he said. “I like Tuner. I like the ruleset. I have enough things I can play with that are within my grasp. I really don’t want to go deeper than I am right now.

“At Time Trials National Tour and Time Trials Nationals, it’s been good camaraderie with everybody. And the competition has been fantastic. There are a lot of fast drivers, a lot of fast cars, and the level of competition is high. So, I’ve really enjoyed it,” Hugenschmidt said definitively.

Interested in SCCA Time Trials or its four different categories?



Photo by ABI Photo