Tom Wilson
June 1, 2006
Photos By: E. John Thawley III

The engine accessories are the usual racer's polyglot. Ignition comes from an MSD box, a Crane PS2 coil, and Autolite spark plugs, while the exhaust exits via 1 5/8-inch BBK long-tubes and Dr. Gas pipes.

Behind the 331 is a triple-disc McLeod 7 1/4-inch clutch that will change to a double-disc configuration in case NASA pulls a standing start on the AIX field. Behind that is a souped-up Tremec 3550 TKO 600. It's "not a totally dog-ring transmission, but 10 times better than stock," Ernesto says. An aluminum Griggs and soon-to-be-carbon-fiber driveshaft connects to the Griggs Racing 8.8-inch "hybrid" rear axle that has been cambered and fitted with a Torsen T2R limited slip and 3.90 gears. All this is controlled by a Pro-5.0 shifter.

For Ernesto, however, the real horsepower is in the chassis. Sitting on Hoosier 315/35-17 race tires and Forgeline 17x11 wheels at all four corners, the whole thing is pure Griggs Racing chassis stiffening and suspension, along with what Ernesto classifies as another significant performance enhancement-Brakeman brakes.

For the Griggs equipment, Ernesto has run its gear since the earliest street-car days and now has everything the company makes, up to and including the relatively new SLA front suspension. He can't say enough good things about the SLA, reinforcing our impression of the A-arm front end, which, combined with the 315 front tires, produces superb front-end bite and control. "I guarantee the SLA will put one to two seconds on a strut car," Ernesto says. "It just works so much better when you push it really hard."

Besides the SLA, Watt's link, torque arm, K-member, World Challenge control arms, and so on, Ernesto is also running Griggs' custom-valved Koni aluminum race shocks. These are seriously expensive at $1,300 a pair, but they're what the all-out suspension wears these days.

Ernesto is such a suspension fan and, because of Griggs' tutelage, he's become a freelance Southern California chassis-setup specialist to other racers and hard-core street types. "I set up the Griggs or Maximum [Motorsports] suspensions alignments, bumpsteers, set corner weights, squaring axles, and K-members. There are a lot of hokey alignment shops that don't have a clue what they're doing. If you install a Griggs Watt's link and other stuff, you have to put all those things right. Many don't know how to install a Panhard bar."

As Ernesto's chassis tuning has progressed, he says it "doesn't feel like I'm going that fast because the car is so easy to drive." But he is going fast-turning 1:28s at Willow Springs.

Controlling that speed are 13x1.250-inch Brakeman brakes. Ernesto says these brakes are much smaller and lighter than competitive brands-the latest rotors from Brakeman are 4.1 pounds lighter than its old rotors, for example. Yet Ernesto says caliper stiffness is excellent, as are stopping power, pad wear, and brake longevity. The price is competitive.

Finally we reach what probably caught your attention in the first place-the bodywork. Much of the original Cobra's skin has been shed to the racing gods, and when Ernesto is finished prepping for this year's championship fight, little original steel will be left save for the rear quarter-panels. The goals are twofold-one is aerodynamic, the other is an aggressive weight-reduction program. Ernesto would rather not advertise his weight goal, but everyone associated with the car noted it was "seriously light" or "really light." Look for plenty of ballast in strategic places on this car after the carbon-fiber bodywork program is completed.

Some of those carbon parts are already in place, of course, especially at the front where the aerodynamics are aimed at increasing downforce. A Griggs nose and splitter, Tiger Racing front fenders, and dive planes (the swoopy tabs between the headlights and wheelwell) help plant the front end. In back, Ernesto categorizes his rear wing as "ultra wide" for maximum downforce. It isn't, he noted, the fastest car in a straight line, thanks to his high-downforce strategy.

More weight reduction is in the glass. The front and rear windows and windshield are Lexan supplied by Griggs. Coated to resist scratching, they're standard Griggs Racing offerings.

With a bit of luck, all of this will result in a big national trophy to decorate Ernesto's cubicle. Keep an eye on Mid-Ohio race courses this fall to find out.