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Improved Touring is a category of racing cars designed to provide opportunities for relatively affordable road racing, and sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America, or SCCA. If you want to go auto racing, and you aren't rich, IT is probably the place.

Improved Touring began as existing Showroom Stock racing cars began to age, and threatened to become ineligible for SCCA Club Racing competition. Recognizing that many competitors had substantial investments in their cars, and could not -- or would not-- afford new cars it was decided to create IT as a place for them to race. Creating an IT category car from an existing street car is relatively easy. At the bare minimum you must :

That's all it takes to go racing, provided you don't mind finishing last. IT rules permit substantial modifications, provided you remember that if the rules don't say you can do it, you probably can't do it. Which doesn't mean some people don't try. In racing, creative rules interpretations are quite common.

Engines and stock flywheels may be blueprinted and balanced. All pollution gear may be removed and the exhaust system may be replaced. Either the stock or an approved intake system installed. Engines may be overbored a maximum of .040 inches, and intake and exhaust ports matched to within one inch of the manifolds.

Now we get to the suspension. IT cars may use any shock absorber that does not have a remote reservoir, any bushings and any sway bar. Springs are stock, but may be trimmed. A panhard rod may be mounted and camber plates installed. Any brake pad may be used, but the brakes systems and major components are as stock.

The car may be lightened by removal of the interior except for door panels, and dashboard. The driver's side door internals may be removed to make space for NASCAR style door bars. The idea is to help the few people who actually drive their race car to and from the track, like it was in the good old days.

Fuel cells are not required, but recommended. I had one in my car, and it may have saved my life.

A finished IT car is very different and much faster than than it was from the factory. However, unlike GT or even Production type race cars many of your parts can be purchased at the local auto parts stores. IT cars are pretty affordable as race cars go. It is possible to race IT for $600 per weekend, including towing, fees and food. Provided you don't bend the car.

Wheel and tire sizes are strictly limited. Aftermarket wheels are allowed within the approved wheel sizes. Rim width is limited. All tires must be DOT approved. This does NOT mean they are street tires. One favored rain tire, the Hoosier Dirt Stocker will last about ten miles on dry pavement. If that. But they go like hell in the wet. All DOT approved tires have at least some tread, even if most IT tires aren't something you'd like in the rain.

Improved Touring cars are recognized only for regional racing competition, but they are popular nationwide for their relative affordability and close, competitive, wheel-to-wheel racing. A good used IT car can be had for as little as $3K, and a decent car built for under $10K, which is quite affordable. Building a winning car can easily cost $30K. $10K should buy a front running car, with spares. Budget for dents, because the IT boys "rub" a bit. This may sound like a lot of money, but a competitive GT engine can easily cost $25K. They blow up a lot, too.

There are five basic classes of IT racing

ITC is for very small displacement cars like the Fiat X1/9, Volkswagen Rabbit and the 12 valve Honda Civic.

ITB cars are similar with slightly larger engines. The 8-valve Volkswagen GTI, Volvo 242, Toyota Corolla with the 3TC engine and Suzuki Swift are popular

ITA cars are slightly faster still. The Honda Civic Si is the dominant car, but the 1.6L Mazda Miata, 4A-GE powered Corollas. the 16-valve head GTI and 12A powered Mazda RX-7 are popular. The Chrysler Neon and base model honda civics now compete in ITA, and just might supplant the old Si's.

ITS cars can be quite fast. they include the early Nissan Z-cars, RX-7s with the 13B rotary, 1st generation BMW 325's, Olds Achievas and Porsche 924's are competitive.

ITE is a class for cars prepared to the specifications of other series but still eligible for IT type safety rules. Corvette and Mustang Challenge cars participate, as do Porsche and BMW Club cars. Speed channel touring and Viper club cars come play. These cars can be very fast and the class exists to give those people a place to come and play.

A recent trend is to take selected IT class cars and move them into the much more heavily modified Production class car racing, partly because the British sports cars that dominated production racing are becoming very scarce. Cars prepared to IT engine and suspension rules but running Prod tires, fiberglass body parts and other weight reduction methods are permited under the 'limited prep' rules. This gives good IT drivers a place to race their cars in SCCA National Racing, and chance to compete in the Runoffs. These cars have proven quite competitive, without dominating production based racing.

Recently the SCCA Competition Board has faced a different problem in classifying card for IT competition. Many older showroom stock race cars are running out of their eligibility, such as the Dodge Neon. These cars are much more advanced, and thus faster, than their predecessors. The Neon in showroom stock condition is quite competitive with ITA and ITB cars. Modifying the Neon to the limit of IT rules would make it much faster, Touring class cars are also losing their eligibility and are really, really fast. At the same time no new cars are being introduced which are slow enought to fit into ITC. Eventually the class structure will have to be adjusted to fit changing technology.

Noders are advised to visit the IT website: www.improvedtouring.com there you will find cars for sale, techical discussions and lots of cool in-car videos. Which can give you a good idea what it's like to drive one. Also to spin one. Which I have done.

Although no one likes finishing in back, remember this, It is better to have raced and lost than never to have raced at all.

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