Over the years, several SL-Cs had track experience, several of them running well in local track-day and High Performance Driving Education (HPDE) kind of events through the US and internationally. In 2009 a customer race car was built at the factory, and delivered with the customer-provided Ford-based LMP drivetrain used in the Panoz LMP1 cars, and developed by Elan Technologies. That car, while fairly quick, went through a number of prep shops where it suffered, and by 2010, still hadn't achieved the potential everyone thought it could.
So in late 2010, Fran Hall, owner of RCR and Superlite Cars, decided to build another race car- and to control its destiny by running the car in selected NASA races, with an audacious goal of winning the NASA Super Unlimited National Championship. This was a bit of a reach, as the car didn't exist yet, not to mention a team. Or a driver.
But the idea was compelling, as it was one way that would test the SL-C in the crucible of actual competition. Fran believed that the car would be fast and competitive right out of the box because it was designed and engineered as a race car for the street, as opposed to a car that had been a street car that was now thrust into competition. But design goals were one thing- proving them was possibly quite another.
So early in 2011, a body was specified (in the most lurid Kawasaki green), and a chassis build was started. The plan was not so much to build a race car with parts that were different from the street car, but to use the same parts that everyone else got in their kits to prove the point that the SL-C was a pretty good race car in even the basic configurations. In fact, the 01 car was built with a completely stock chassis except for an optional additional 2" offset spine (all cars have a 2" offset toward the center, so in a left-hand drive car the driver sits 2" to the right, and in a right-hand drive car, the driver sits offset to the left; in the 01 car, the driver is placed a total of 4" to the right of the centerline of the car). The chassis was also fitted with an optional (and now available) bolt-on rear, which was accomplished by slicing the front billet rear bars in the chassis and bolting and pinning them for fast removal, as in an endurance race.
The body, except for the color, was also stock- from the same molds, and in the same thickness as other production bodies. As the chassis was being built, and the body was being laid up, the roll cage design was begun. The objective was to build a "spec" race car, by which is meant that the car could be duplicated easily for other customers, all in the same basic specification, in an attempt to improve consistency at the manufacturing level, and also to ensure that all the subsequent cars were, apart from drivetrain selection, as equal as possible. To do that, the cage design had to be acceptable to every major sanctioning body, starting with NASA and SCCA in the US, and the FIA internationally. So rulebooks from all three major sanctioning bodies were obtained, and a CAD model was created. After several iterations, and calls from tech inspectors and scrutineers, the design was finished and tubes began to be bent. The cage incorporates a NASCAR-style intrusion bar setup on the left side, with an FIA-style arrangement on the right. During driver fitting, the cage was further modified to add additional bars to improve driver safety in the head area.
Early version of the factory 01 SL-C race car
Of course, the progress on the car wasn't the only issue- the team still needed a driver. Not just any driver, but one who could help develop what was to be a very new, but potentially fast car, one who could represent the company well, and one who could take direction.
Being fast was the last requirement, which meant that the short list was getting shorter.
One driver in particular stood out, and he was going to run his first major professional race of his career at the Continental Tire series opener at Daytona International Speedway just before the 24 hour enduro. So Fran and the team manager went to the 24 to see him run the car. It looked good, when Ryan Ellis, our prospective driver, put the APR VW GTi on the pole in the first race of the year, outpacing his much more experienced teammate. It looked even better when he set a new lap record during his stint in the race. And of course it really looked good when he and his co-driver won the race in convincing fashion. A lunch meeting the next day, where Fran got to meet the young driver in detail, as well as his father-manager, was enough, and the deal was sealed- Ryan would drive the 01 car in it's maiden season of competition. There were a few risks- notably that Ryan had never driven a car as fast as this, but he had come up to speed in faster cars throughout his career so far, and we hoped that experience would translate to the new race car in progress.
The first time Ryan saw the car, the roll cage was just being finished, and the driver cockpit details were being finalized. He was fitted for a seat (actually a Kevlar version of the standard Superlite SL-C seat), and mounts and belt openings were made. Ryan also asked for an extra bar near his head to provide better intrusion protection, and with that, the fitting was done.
Some weeks later, the car was deemed ready enough to drive, and a test session was arranged at Autobahn where the car was shaken down. We had a recalcitrant engine, the car over heated, and the handling wasn't quite right. But it sounded great, and looked good on course. We also had an oil leak that we couldn't quite trace. The session ended with good feelings about the car, but we all knew that work remained to be done.
And so the team beavered away until the first real race outing for the car- at Summit Point Raceway in WV, where we would run the popular Hyperfest in NASA. This was a bold place to take a new car that had never been raced before, as unlike most NASA races, this one was attended by thousands of spectators
At that race- the first time the car had ever turned a wheel in competition, it set a new lap record, despite a few teething pains.
The next few races were at Mid Ohio, a track closer to the Superlite and RCR factory in Michigan. Those races demonstrated the raw speed of the car as it started on pole every race it got to qualify for. Engine problems caused a few DNFs, though, but finally a race or two was won, and the team felt confident it was ready for the Big One- the National Championships.
With a new engine sponsor, and a new lap record at Mid Ohio, the 01 car sat on the pole for every qualifying race, won every race (including the National Championship race), and won the NASA Super Unlimited National Championship. The final race was in the damp, a condition thought not favorable to the SL-C, but Ryan managed to lap everyone in the class except the 2nd and third place drivers.
Since then, the factory has competed in other races, but has mostly let customer cars take up the mantle as the 01 is now mostly retired, having made its point. The 18 car has been further developed, and has led the NASA 25 hour race, and another SL-C led last years 25 hour race for over 8 hours until an impact with another car broke the steering rack.
Wherever SL-Cs compete, the car is a respected competitor. And as a track day car, it offers speed, reliability and low running costs.