Featured: Here’s Why The 911 Makes Such A Perfect RallyCross Car

Here’s Why The 911 Makes Such A Perfect RallyCross Car

Andrew Golseth By Andrew Golseth
February 23, 2017
1 comments

Photography by Justin Famularo and Paul Ritchie

One of the Porsche 911’s greatest attributes is its ability to look like it belongs there in any guise. Whether it’s all stock or a custom outlaw, a safari build, rally spec, or track car, you name it and the Stuttgart sports car can pull it off and look incredible doing it.

When we came across Braid Wheels’ adrenalized 1984 Porsche 3.2 Carrera with its Rothman’s-inspired livery, we had to know more about the build. Turns out, the car was built by Paul Eddleston, lifelong rally fanatic and founder of Team Illuminata Motorsport, a Michigan-based grassroots racing team.

Paul was kind enough to share his motorsports story with us: here’s how he turned his hobby into a business, and how he came to own one of the coolest “company cars” we’ve seen.

Andrew Golseth: Paul, what made you start Team Illuminata Motorsport?

Paul Eddleston: Honestly, it all started from my love affair with rally as I was growing up in England in the 1980s—I’m that old. (laughs) It was Group B. I was really into that as well as Group 4, for the Mark 2 Escorts.

My childhood friends and I were all into rally, so every year we’d go to watch the RAC rally, the WRC championship, always following along in the woods. It was great, and then Group B showed up. Then it got really, really great.

My first sight-and-sound experience of a Group B Quattro left me speechless. It honestly changed my life. It’s why I have this business now, it’s all because of that Audi Quattro.

AG: It’s clear that rallying influences your business and what you sell, so what exactly is your connection with Braid Wheels and how did that relationship come about?

PE: We are the Braid Wheels North American importer and distributor. They contacted me about seven or eight years ago to see if we’d be interested in getting involved in some rally stuff using their wheels. Braid was looking for some dealers in the United States because of how massively popular rallying is over here.

America is huge so I thought it had to be a good idea at least fiscally, right? I thought, yeah I can sell those they’re great wheels, so we started selling them. At first, I was only interested in selling the rally wheels but then we started getting calls about their other offerings. Initially, I dismissed all of those because I thought, you know, $200 per wheel I can sell no problem. But $500 per, no way, no one’s going to buy them.

Then the Porsche community discovered the Braid Fuchs replica, and that’s when we started getting an overwhelming influx of orders. I began to think there was real demand, so we started thinking of ways we could promote the Fuchs replica in their catalog.

AG: That’s how the RallyCross 911 came to be?

PE: Yeah, my good friend Dick, who works for me now, has an ’85 Carrera. He’s a bit of a Porsche guy, so, naturally, he floated the idea that we should get a Porsche and RallyCross it, instead of our Subaru Outback that we’d been racing.

AG: Going from an all-wheel-drive sedan to a rear-engine sports car must have been quite the swing across the spectrum.

PE: Very. Dick was the one who made it seem viable. The seed had already been planted. I was working in a European auto repair shop for a few years before this, and they had a 924 track car that they’d built; they just put a cage in it, set it up with some sticky tires, and stripped it. And they were selling it for $7,500. I said, “Oh! You can buy a track-ready Porsche for $7,500? I could do that.”

So I started looking around for a 924 to build, but I realized what I really wanted was a 911. That’s stupid, right? Because that just wasn’t going to happen in my world. In my reality, I don’t own a 911. It’s just never going to happen, or so I thought.

Then Dick says, “You should buy an SC.” This was in 2012. “They’re really cheap right now.” That’s right around the time we started getting calls for the Braid Fuchs wheels, so the two things sort of came together.

AG: The Carrera was a great choice, can you tell me how you ended up with this particular car?

PE: I’d like to say we found it after an arduous search on eBay or the Pelican forums, and after testing loads of cars, but that’s not how it happened in reality. You know all those rules about never buying the first car? You know how you’re never supposed to buy a car that you haven’t driven, especially an old Porsche? And, of course, how you shouldn’t buy any car without a pre-purchase inspection…

AG: I’m guessing you didn’t follow the prudent car buyer’s checklist.

PE: Yeah. We didn’t do any of that. We wanted to, we should have, but we didn’t. I had never even driven a 911.

AG: Go on…

PE: I mean, I’d been around a lot of Porsches, but I didn’t know the difference between a 996 and an SC. They all looked the same to me. I knew there were differences, but I couldn’t tell you what they all were. I wasn’t up on the nuances. And it took me a while just to figure out what an SC was.

So, Dick was over at my house and we were talking about Carreras, and he suggests poking around eBay, “Just to get a sense of pricing, to see if this actually makes any sense,” and a piece of me was hoping that it wouldn’t so I could just blow it off and forget about it.

So we’re looking around, and I see this car. “There’s a purple one in Tennessee, 100,000 miles. Owner says it’s mechanically sound, has a bit untidy interior, and the body isn’t perfect. Could be a good track car.” Of course, being so impatient to get a 911, I thought it was perfect.

We called up the owner and asked him about it, and he seemed dead straight honest, so we thought, “Wow. We shouldn’t do this, should we?”

AG: Almost too good, right?

PE: Yeah. It was ridiculous. I said, “Okay. Let’s put in a stupidly low bid and then we’ll just ignore it, walk away. If we get it, great, because that’s what we’re willing to pay for it, if we don’t, that’s probably the best thing that could happen.” So Dick spent all day following the auctions, and I just totally ignored it.

AG: How’d that pan out?

PE: Dick kept calling me, telling me things about the car. And I went, “No! I’m not listening. If we don’t get it, we don’t get it.” We thought it would go for around $15,000, but we ended up winning it for just $11,300.

AG: Must’ve been a real creampuff, huh?

PE: (laughs) We thought it had to have been a total heap. Then it hit me, the whole, “Oh shit. I think I own a 911.” Then I realized I had to get the car shipped from Tennessee to Michigan and I thought, “Oh God, it’s already costing a fortune.”

AG: Already spending money on it, and you didn’t even have the physical car yet!

PE: That’s pretty much it. And then when the car does show up, we get it off the truck and Dick is driving, because I’d still never driven a 911, turning it left, right, left again, trying to get a feel for it, and then suddenly there’s this loud bang from the rear, and the suspension just drops to the ground!

“Oh shit.” It turns out we broke a torsion bar in the rear suspension, after just a mile of test-driving the thing. We’re like, “Damn, no wonder it was cheap.” But I talked to some people, and apparently there’s no way that anyone could have known that it was about to break. Pure coincidence.

It was fortunate at least that the suspension gave out then, and not on track or in a RallyCross. The previous owner had just been tracking it at Barber Motorsports Park the week prior. If it had broken then, it could’ve thrown him off the track and gotten pretty ugly.

So, on my second day of 911 ownership, instead of trying to figure out how to make the radio work and how to operate the heater controls, I’m stripping the rear suspension apart, saying, “What’s this part? What does this do? How does this work? Torsion bars? I don’t know what torsion bars are.” Totally thrust into the fire.

AG: Did you guys get straight to prepping it for RallyCross after getting it roadworthy again?

PE: Yeah, that was the goal from the get-go. We figured if we RallyCross a 911 it would wind up all the Porsche aficionados and also grab the attention of the rally folks.

AG: Is this an official Braid-sponsored car?

PE: Yeah, it was always going to be. We have our retail company, Team Illuminata Motorsport, but the 911 is also here to promote Braid. It was always going to be run under that banner to promote both businesses, but mostly the wheels.

We knew people would love it, right? We knew if you brought a 911 to RallyCross, it’d get a good reaction from people who would appreciate seeing a Porsche getting sideways and getting some air.

AG: The beautiful Rothman’s-inspired livery, how’d that come about?

PE: I’ve always loved the Rothman’s cars, no matter what they were. It just sort of turned out that we adopted some of the colors; we changed the blue to our Braid blue, and our stripes—they’re supposed to be red, gold, and white in the middle—are the Team Illuminata colors instead, which are red, yellow, and gray. So it’s really our colors applied to the Rothman’s livery layout.

AG: It looks awesome.

PE: It does, right? Of all the cars with that livery, I think the 911 wears it the best; it just works. Every time I see the car, which is quite a lot, I’m still blown away by how good it looks.

AG: You’ve mentioned RallyCross a few times; why not full-on rally the car?

PE: Personally, true rallying is a little too extreme for me. I’m a bit of a chicken, if I’m honest. I like my motorsport in second gear. (laughs) I get scared when I go into third. That’s the maiming speed, third gear.

AG: (laughs) That sounds about right.

PE: I do track days, autocross, and RallyCross. I’ve spent my entire life trying to get as close to rallying as I could without actually doing it. Because it’s just nuts. Have you ever heard someone say they wish their friends had gotten them hooked on cocaine because at least there was a program to get off it?

AG: That’s how you feel about going down the rally path?

PE: More or less; I know I don’t want to get into it. So the intention was always to run it in RallyCross and hopefully win the Detroit Regional Championship, because it’s a massive program, one of the biggest in the country.

We’d actually gotten close to winning in the Subaru, in the all-wheel-drive Modified Class. We thought, in the two-wheel-drive Prepared Class, entering a 911 would be like cheating. It’d be like bringing a gun to a knife fight, which turned out to be pretty much true.

AG: Walk me through the build. What did you guys do to prepare the car for RallyCross?

PE: The first year, we decided to enter it into the Prepared Class but we ended up switching some stuff up and entered the Modified Class the following year. So we did the livery, stripped the interior, put in a full bolt-in cage, skid plates, muffler delete, mud-flaps, rally lights up front, and a fixed bucket. That’s really it. It’s actually pretty stock, mechanically and suspension-wise.

Our first event out, we hadn’t even figured out how to make the heater work—two weeks after we got the car, we entered our first RallyCross.

AG: Wasting no time.

PE: Yeah, and I still hadn’t really driven the car. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Michigan, but there’s not much good driving to be done on the street. It’s all straight lines and grid patterns, so you don’t really get to find out how cars handle. I should’ve been a bit concerned, but I hadn’t thought about it. I really should’ve been more nervous.

AG: Your excitement sort of masked the intimidation until it was too late?

PE: Yeah. Until the first corner! We were so excited that it actually got off the line because the course was on a horse farm, and it’d been raining; everything was just really goopy. A couple friends of mine were harping on about my “Beetle” and how their cars had perfect weight distribution.

These jokers went before us. When it was their turn to go and they launched, there was a lot of noise, but they didn’t go anywhere because it was so slippery. I thought, “Oh God. This is going to be so embarrassing.” But surprisingly we got moving faster than they did.

Granted, not very fast, but at least we were moving. I was so excited that we were getting traction, that by the time we got to the first corner, I realized, “Oh shit. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I turn the wheel.”

I thought it was going to understeer, but I turned the wheel, and it just, turned. From that moment on, I was totally smitten with the car. This thing is a weapon. It is ridiculous. It works so well it’s like cheating.

AG: Sounds like a good first outing.

PE: Everyone loved it and it didn’t fall apart, it didn’t blow up, and it did really well overall. It was kind of amazing because I’d just gotten rid of this Legacy Outback that I’d had for 12 years. I spent thousands of dollars on that Subaru to get it to do what this 911 did, essentially, right out of the box.

After the first day, I started telling everyone that RallyCrossing a Porsche 911 is a bargain. They’re like, “What do you mean?” Well, you barely have to spend any money. Put some decent tires on it, then you go drive it and it just works.

AG: What do you think makes the 911 such a good RallyCross car?

PE: It’s just so capable, so easy to drive fast, and so rewarding—mostly because of the engine layout. The distribution with all that weight on the rear wheels gives it so much traction, and that’s one of the keys to RallyCross.

It’s a sports car, but it’s also very robust and reliable. Apart from breaking the gearbox, which was half my fault anyway, it just keeps taking it. Bring it back to the shop, wash it a little bit, put it away, take it out the next month, and do it all over again. It doesn’t mind that kind of abuse. Plus, it just looks so cool and makes a great noise.

AG: What’s your favorite aspect of driving the Porsche?

PE: The first time I ever felt it dig in, mid-corner, when I hit the gas. It’s addictive, and I’ve never experienced that in another car. Most cars, if you give them gas through a turn they’ll start to oversteer, right? It’s traditional with front-engine, rear-wheel-drives.

Especially coming from all-wheel-drive cars, it was totally alien to push the accelerator harder through the turns, which took some getting used to. The first time I felt it happen, I immediately had this epiphany, “Oh, this is why they’re so good.” Of course, 30 seconds later, I found out there is most certainly a limit and there is no going back once you lose it. But it really is faster when you drive it with confidence.

I look at it like this: snide people always say, “Oh, the engine’s in the wrong place.” It’s actually in the right place though… 90% of the time. And when it isn’t in the right place, the car’s aware of that and tries to fix it by turning around and becoming a front-wheel-drive car. If Porsche had just figured out a way to turn the seats around at the same time, it’d be perfect. (laughs)

AG: You’d never have to stop. And speaking of, are you still RallyCrossing with this?

PE: It’s kind of semi-retired now. We ran it for two and a half seasons in Detroit RallyCross, and then the transmission gave out. After that, it wasn’t such a bargain anymore. (laughs) It’s done its thing, did what we wanted to do with it, so we’re taking it easy now.

Though, I still take it to RallyCross events sporadically. These days we’re doing a lot of Cars & Coffee meets and car shows with it. It’s funny, we started getting invited to concours events and other more prestigious things because of its look.

AG: Having bought the Carrera at the right time, what do you think about the air-cooled craze that’s been building up since?

PE: To some, I may have “ruined” the car, but I’m just so happy with it and what it’s capable of. It was all worth whatever I’ve spent on it. Of all the things I’ve ever done, of all the projects or whatever I’ve embarked on in my life, this is the one that gives me the most satisfaction.

This car is it for me because it panned out exactly as I’d hoped it would, and more. I had this ridiculous idea, and I thought, “This will never work,” but then it just did. Not only did it come to fruition, it works incredibly well. It’s totally exceeded my expectations.

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Jim Goodlett

Paul is great and his Braid wheel offerings have gotten superb traction with plethora of Porsche 911 Safari, Safari Rally, and Rally owners…more can be seen of that international crowd on the Facebook group page, PORSCHE RALLY GRUPPE!

Thanks for the article on Paul and spreading the love of offroad Porsches!