Nathan Cicio says, “I’ve built a lot of cars, but this one has my heart. I can’t even explain the emotional connection and excitement.” Some of that connection no doubt comes from the fact that 70 percent of this build was performed by Cicio’s own hands. And the reason why he’s built a lot of cars is because he owns and runs TopSpeed Motorsports, a performance shop based in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Inspired by the R8 Ultra racing machine, Cicio made a decision: “I wanted to build a car that looked so crazy-radical, most people would not believe it was street legal. But if you were to hop in and drive it down the highway, you would feel it was nicer and more luxurious than stock.” The idea was also to use fewer off-the-shelf parts than usual.
He wanted to start with a V10/six-speed manual model in red, which turned out to be a mission of its own. “From all the documentation I could find, there were only 20 or so ever shipped to the United States in that configuration,” Cicio says. “So it was going to take some digging.” In the fall of 2013, the right candidate turned up at a small Texas dealership. Cicio pounced. He only had the car for a month before breaking out the wrenches. “The goal was to leave absolutely no stone unturned. We wanted to address everything.”
The first thing was the body, which is 5.5 inches wider than standard. Right away, this became a major challenge. Every carbon-fiber part, except for the rear wing, is a hand-built one-off. Although many of this car’s custom components were designed and built in-house, Cicio had some outside help along the way. In this case, it was from Bryson Richards of Classic Livery in nearby Atlanta.
“The body was a work of art, to be honest. Bryson is more of an artist and visionary than a body man,” he says. Cicio, Bryson, and good friend Leh Keen (racing driver, more on him later) thrashed out the concept. Then came four months of multiple revisions on the hood, front lip, canards, side skirts, rear fenders, and rear bumper. Cicio describes the process as “interesting.” He uses that word quite a bit, usually in places where most of us would say “problematic” or something less printable.
“I cannot tell you how many times Leh and I would say to Bryson: ‘That’s not 100 percent what we had in our heads. Cut it off and start again.’ Bryson, being the perfectionist he is, continued to push through without one bit of complaint to deliver a car that was not only perfect in his mind but also exactly what Leh and I wanted. The design had to follow performance, the performance I knew I had to have.”
Which was when TSM went into overdrive with a twin-turbo setup, keeping things modular to test various options. The trusty Garrett 35R eventually got the nod, along with Tial wastegates and blow-off valves, plus a special cooling system. “There were some tricks to this part of the build. We decided on an air-to-water intercooler that not only increased efficiency but combined the water tank and the intercoolers in the same unit. This design of pushing water up through the intercoolers and letting it drain back through a completely integrated tank before getting pushed through the heat exchanger was not only innovative but eventually proved to work well on the track.”
Measured at the wheels, Cicio claims 750 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, the latter with a flat graph from 3,000 to 8,200 rpm and still making more than 500 lb-ft in those upper reaches. In someone else’s hands, this could have been the opportunity to turn up the boost and go for even bigger, brag-worthy numbers. Cicio settled on just 6 psi of boost to make sure the car didn’t run into a heap of heat-related issues.
Another happy outcome of low boost is that the car doesn’t have any split-personality induction shenanigans. “The turbo hit is almost non-existent,” Cicio says. “It feels like a huge-displacement NA engine that never stops pulling all the way to redline. The car drives like stock as far as throttle response, tip in, linear WOT pulls, and all. TSM tuned the car using only the factory ECU with no piggyback, so the throttle, fuel, and timing controls are extremely fluid and work seamlessly.”
This was important, because the R8 had a job to do. “Everything we build, we race,” Cicio says. “This car was never going to be a garage queen or a show car.” So the next step was to get the aerodynamics completed.
“For the wing, I called the people at GoodAero (of Columbus, Ohio), who have a great design built by Crawford Composites. I’ve used their foil in the past and it has proven itself to be a high-downforce piece with a low drag coefficient.” Outwardly, the car was done. “The final product combines absolutely stunning lines with the functionality of air flow, downforce, and the ability to fit a ton of tire for maximum grip.”
Cicio puts the sprint from zero to 60 mph at 2.9 seconds and top speed above 200 mph.