When you want to win an SCCA Solo championship, driving matters, and the Miata can help
Andrew Canak has a history of winning. From his home near Milwaukee, Wis., Canak has collected five SCCA Solo National Championships in the last 11 seasons. Like most SCCA champions, Canak got involved because he loves to drive.
“As embarrassing as it sounds, I was looking for a place I could drive fast and not get in trouble,” Canak admits. “My cousin was autocrossing, and he gave me a ride in his Miata. That turned me into a Miata guy.”
Canak quickly bought a 1991 Miata and outfitted it for SCCA’s Street Touring Sport class. “Street Touring Sport is pretty extensive when it comes to suspension,” Canak says. “You can lower it, put springs on it, and put on any shocks and sway bars you want. Wheels and tires are open. Engine-wise it’s pretty basic, with just some bolt-on parts like exhaust, intake, and pulleys.”
That Miata carried Canak straight to the winner’s circle. “I built the car in 2006 for STS, and I won the championship that year,” he recalls. “Then I sold the car. About three years later, the new owner contacted me to say he was selling the car. Long story short, I bought my old car back.”
After making some updates to keep the car current, Canak went back to the SCCA Solo National Championships. “I was fortunate enough to win again in 2010 and 2011,” he says. “I campaigned it a few more years, and I won again in 2014 and took second in 2015.”
For 2016, Canak was looking for a different kind of challenge, and he found it in another Miata and SCCA’s E Street Solo class. “It’s a 1999 with the Sports Package,” Canak says. “It’s kind of a unicorn.”
The 1999 Sports Package was available on the basic manual transmission Miata, and included a sport suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, a rear spoiler and front air dam, 15-inch alloy wheels, a Torsen limited slip differential, a front strut bar, and a special Nardi 3-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel. It’s a lightweight car with no frills, made for competition.
“This Miata was available locally, and the guy selling it was a local autocrosser who had already done a couple of things that I would also have done,” Canak says.
The E Street class offers very limited opportunities to modify the car for competition compared to Canak’s previous class. “You can do shocks as long as you keep the same ride height, and you can do one swaybar,” Canak details. “It’s up to you whether to choose the front or the rear, but you can only do one. On the Miata, you want to put a big front bar on it to control total body roll.”
Going from a class with extensive tuning and modification options to an essentially stock class posed some challenges, even for an experienced driver. “I wanted something different,” Canak admits. “Going to the Street class meant going from a really stiffly sprung Miata with no body roll to a street car. At first it felt like driving a jet ski.”
Yet even without the high-performance add-ons, Canak won the 2016 SCCA Solo National Championship in E Street because the car allowed him to focus on his driving rather than the extra parts on the car. “It’s a fun car and a different challenge, because everything happens so much later,” he explains. “You have to make your inputs so much sooner [than in STS] and you have to have a plan. It’s learning how to change my driving to match my car.”