Swedespeed Rides Along With Josh Koropchak and the TKi Motorsport S60
by Stu Fowle
Aug 10, 2010 - 4:17:01 PM
The sun is already blinding and pit row already has that oasis blur of melting air when I arrive at New Jersey Motorsports Park one mid-summer morning. I should have taken advantage of my opportunity to be air conditioned for a few last precious moments but instead I left the top down on our 2011 Volvo C70 and I’m peeling myself off the driver’s seat in the small chunk of shade afforded to me by a racing team trailer.
Josh Koropchak doesn’t seem to care in the slightest. Here I am in short sleeves, dying, and he’s climbing out of a bare-bones S60 race car in a full helmet and race suit, smiling from ear to ear. He’s the driver and team principal for TKi Motorsports, a team that for the past few years has been confusing Mustangs and Porsches in NASA’s Pro Racing GTS3 class by taking a funky teal-and-orange Volvo S60 and shoving it between them through the corners. Josh seems to handle the heat well, regardless of how you want to interpret us saying that.
The TKi team is in the thick of its second year in NASA GTS3 racing, and along with K-Pax Racing is among the very rare breed of folks running a Volvo in a major series. Their funky-colored S60 arrived that way from Europe where it was built as a factory race car for the S60 Challenge Spec Series and later ran in the Dutch Supercar Challenge, for which a scrutineering sticker still lives on the rear window. Put together by Volvo Motorsports, the car uses a factory modified and sealed B5234T3 five-cylinder turbo motor producing about 300 hp and the same figure in lb-ft of torque.
As I walk through a wide garage door at NJMP, the hood is popped and the wheels are off the S60. With the first test session of the morning just completed, chief mechanic Tom Koropchak and team mechanic Dave Lipkins, both experienced Volvo technicians, are checking the car’s vitals. Everything seems solid this morning, but they do a quick brake bleed because Josh felt just a touch too much softness out on the course.
Throw a blanket over a few components like the carbon fiber airbox or the strut brace holding two external reservoirs for the Ohlins shocks and the scene beneath the surface looks almost identical to the engine bay of any other S60. It even has that shiny silver sticker reminding the mechanics when the timing belt was last changed. The car still runs catalytic converters and sounds just a bit noisier than a normal street car. As the wheels go back on hiding big 355-mm AP Racing brakes, we notice they’re even stock Volvo parts, though for actual races and not test sessions like this one, the team has a lighter aftermarket set.
Honestly, this all has me wondering how competitive a near-stock, front-drive 2001 S60 can really be here in 2010 with a pack of very serious, high-horsepower competitors. It doesn’t make any sense. It can’t be. But assumptions are silly things.
After shoehorning me in a temporary passenger seat, the team pushes the S60 out of the garage and the engine fires with a modest roar. It isn’t visible through the full-face helmet but it’s obvious Josh is smiling wide as he asks if I’m ready. Of course I am — I’m dying to see what this car is capable of.
Weight is always the enemy of speed, and that’s where this S60’s secret lies. The factory race prep guys must have known where the weight could come out, because even with the full roll cage and fire suppression system added on, the car weighs an incredible 2700 pounds, or about 500 pounds less than Volvo’s smallest current production model, the C30. We’re waved out to pit lane and start on our way, then Josh lays the hammer down. His five-cylinder grabs hold of the hollowed-out body structure and flings it down the track. With each shift, I can feel the car’s urgency sending shockwaves through the floorboards. This car is stupid fast, but the more impressive thing is the endless grip provided by a combination of race slicks and a competent limited-slip differential. If they left any room for slip, the smoothness in Josh’s right foot has ironed out the last bit.
Fine. The car is quick. But it’s going to understeer; Volvos always understeer. Josh downshifts and goes wide — I realize quickly that he loves using all 105 percent of the track, and the battered front bumper shows how comfortable he is pushing the limits — then dives into the first fast corner.
Somewhere along the way between the Volvo Motorsports team and Josh’s own professionals, someone managed to give this S60 balance to match its speed. After a few corners of warming up the tires, Josh starts inducing a touch of lift-throttle oversteer. Not so much that he’s screwing around, but just enough to rotate nicely through corners, keep the stress off the front tires, and sure, show off what both he and the car can do. Within the first lap we’re already passing a guy in his 911 Carrera 2. A last-generation Mustang race car is more stubborn, but eventually the Volvo shoots past him on the inside of a corner, too.
There are few better rushes than the one delivered by a good racing car and driver combination, but when the car is especially surprising, it’s all the better. This is one of those experiences, and as I crawl out of the passenger door with my tan Swedespeed shirt wet with sweat around the edges, I’m thinking back to when I first showed up at the beginning of the day. The heat isn’t bothering me so much now, and it definitely isn’t getting in the way of my own big smile, one just like Josh was wearing when I saw him climb out of the car. Who needs air conditioning when a car is thrilling enough to make everyone inside forget about the weather?
After a few more races TKi’s season will end right back here at NJMP, though on the smaller Thunderbolt track. The team continues to get the car dialed in and Josh is consistently at least near the front of the pack. My own ride leaves me quite confident that the team will do nothing but improve, but Josh is already thinking that the car will need to be replaced with something newer soon. Of course, he also doesn’t want to leave the brand. He’d love to get into a smaller C30 and is trying to figure out how to make that happen. Anyone have one to donate? It’ll go to a very good cause, we swear.