- Words: Ryan Lewis. Photos: Matthew Mead.
We’ve only witnessed three years of racing at the world’s foremost time attack event – the Yokohama World Time Attack Challenge. That’s just six days of track action in total, which is not a long time. But now that WTAC has wrapped up for another year we can’t help but wonder, “Where do we go from here?” For the first time in the competition’s history, first and second place in the top division were separated by a margin of over two seconds, and the previous lap record was beaten by almost four seconds. In racing terms, that is lightyears. Everyone elevated their performance for 2012, but the bar has been set to an unprecedented high. Join us for a close look at what went down at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Apart from the Aussie Formula 1 and Moto Grand Prix, there isn’t much else in the way of down under motorsport that draws an international field of competitors. The World Time Attack Challenge stands out as one of the few events capable of bringing in the best from across the globe.
This year we had teams lined up to roll in from the United States, New Zealand, Great Britain, Japan and Australia. Anticipation for race day was greater than ever before, and with good reason. Not only were we ready to see an elite field of international cars, for the first time us Australians stood a good chance of getting one of our own on the podium.
Nobuteru Taniguchi has seen a lot of success recently, and is regarded by many as the fastest driver in Japan. Last year he entered three different championships (Super GT, Super Taikyu and Civic Inter Series) and won them all. A win at WTAC was next on his hit list. Both Top Fuel/Voltex with their S2000 and RE Amemiya with their ‘Hurricane’ RX-7 enlisted Taniguchi’s driving services despite this being his first time at Sydney Motorsport Park. Taniguchi has a history with both companies, racing for Top Fuel since 2006 in time attack at Tsukuba and racing Super GT for RE Amemiya.
In the lead up, Taniguchi said, “Both cars are 2WD so it will be a huge challenge to beat the 4WD cars, but I will definitely aim to be the fastest 2WD there.” Standing in the way was Under Suzuki and his Scorch Racing S15. Suzuki-san has a big following here in Australia, probably due to his ‘privateer’ status. He built the S15 above with two friends in a shed on the outskirts of Tokyo, including the wet carbon shell and monster SR22VET.
One man who knows about winning at WTAC is Tarzan Yamada, the outright champion in 2010 and 2011 at the wheel of Cyber Evo. This year he was once again booked to drive by two teams, Cyber and Ark Design with their VQ35 R32 GT-R. Unfortunately a shipping problem meant the R32 was stranded in China and wouldn’t make it in time. That left Tarzan with little to do for most of the event, as the Cyber Evo didn’t get any track time on the Friday, and seemed plagued by difficulties on Saturday. A huge disappointment for the fans, and no doubt for Tarzan as well.
MCA Suspension had everyone talking last year when they debuted their ‘Hammerhead’ S13. Development over the last year kept the car looking visually the same for 2012, but many small enhancements had it lapping much quicker. Earl Bamber was threatening for a podium finish right from the start.
All drivers were battling with the huge pressure to produce their best in such a small window of time. Taniguchi was wearing his heart on his sleeve a little more than most. In a blog post after the event he said, “I am very sorry. I was confused and frustrated. Cameras came over to me but I did not want to respond at all.”
On track his driving was attacking. Voltex had spent hours with the car preparing its aerodynamics after the car landed in Sydney. We managed to get up close with it before WTAC, which you can read about here. Taniguchi was pushing the 700hp F20C with all he had.
Crowd favourites, PanSpeed, returned in 2012 with more of their signature yellow paintwork, but this time it was not their popular FD RX-7, but a naturally aspirated, peripherally ported 20B RX-8. Easily one of the loudest cars WTAC has ever seen. After last year the PanSpeed team decided that the FD was no longer competitive, so their formerly street RX-8 was stripped out completely and seam welded for race duties. Those with a keen eye would’ve noticed the left hand drive conversion that PanSpeed carried out to make way for the huge intake and exhaust on the right hand side of the 20B.
Driving the RX-8 was another first timer to WTAC, Naoki Hattori; a Super GT driver and Best Motoring journalist/presenter; who has raced Indy and even tested in Formula 1. Hattori-san had his work cut out for him in the relatively underpowered RX-8 but still managed a respectable best lap of 1:35.575.
Representing Europe for the very first time at WTAC was British team Redbrick Racing. Their Voltex-equipped Mitsubishi Evo IX was easily one of the most immaculately presented cars of the whole competition. Driver, Gareth Lloyd, got in a few practice laps behind the wheel of a Radical before competition started, but seemed to struggle on race day including a big off at the first turn on Saturday which shot him through the sand trap at high speed.
Homegrown Aussie talent was a big drawcard for the local crowds this year. The Sutton brothers wheeled out a fresh S15 in Open Class that had us gazing in awe. Almost entirely built by the small family team, they achieved fourth place in their class with a 1:34.275 best lap.
Strong winds weren’t ideal for spectators, but the forecast rain stayed a safe distance away so traders had promo girls out in force.
Attendance seemed to be up yet again this year, a great sign for the event’s future at Sydney Motorsport Park. There was so much action in the pits that we found ourselves spending most of our time there.
By far the most highly anticipated entry for WTAC 2012 was Project Nemo. No other car has generated the same sort of hype that this Evo has. Owned by Chris Eaton and based out of Queensland, the car was built by a brains-trust of motorsport gurus, many from a Porsche Carrera Cup background. Aerodynamicist, Andrew Brilliant, was a chief consultant and no doubt key to the car’s success. Team owner, Chris, said, “Andrew’s single goal is for Nemo to be the test bed to produce the highest downforce car that has ever been created, not just in time attack but in any form of motorsport or otherwise.”
Of course having the most capable machine at the track is nothing without a capable driver. Nemo’s controls were handed over to Australian racing driver, Warren Luff, an experienced V8 Supercar competitor and son of driver training advocate, Ian Luff. With Nemo’s gull-wing door open, you can plainly see the epic bar work going on inside. At Thursday’s practice session we spotted the Scorch Racing team having a good look inside Nemo while they waited side by side in the line up for scrutineering.
Open Class has hosted a handful of insane Hondas over the last couple of years, and 2012 was no exception. Robert Nguyen placed seventh in class with his CRX smashing out a blistering 1:35.126 lap. No other FWD car has placed higher or come close to that time. The fastest at WTAC previously was Luke Ryall in 2011 who went 1:40.013 in his Civic, almost five seconds slower than Nguyen managed this year.
Quick R35 GT-Rs were something we thought we would see more of this year. In 2011 there were six R35s entered, this year only three – one of which didn’t run. Nevertheless, Marek Tomaszewski ran a 1:41.245 to take out fastest six cylinder in Clubsprint Class in the Whiteline Performance R35. In this shot he’s shown exiting the tight right hander, now numbered turn eight under the new layout. Extra tarmac added at the exit allows drivers to get on the throttle earlier and push wider.
Leading up to WTAC, Aussie hopes were pinned on Garth Walden and the Tilton Interiors Evo for victory. Running the same Voltex aero package as Cyber Evo did last year, and powered by a brand new Cosworth motor, the car seemed to have the potential. Garth works for Radical Sportscars who are based at Sydney Motorsport Park. It’s safe to say that Garth has done more laps of the Eastern Creek circuit than anyone else on earth. Unfortunately some driveline issues got in the way and Garth spent a handful of sessions with the car only running in front-wheel drive mode. On-the-fly repairs sorted that out and Garth was pushing into the record-breaking 1:27 bracket straight away.
Despite big developments by Pro Class teams and their super quick times, the Open Class overlap continues to gain ground. Steve Glenney wheeled the Dominator Evo 6 to a quickest lap of 1:30.726 in Opens. That was enough to take out class victory by almost three full seconds, and would have even knocked Mark Berry out of seventh place in Pro Class!
Under Suzuki had his podium efforts crushed last year due to gearbox issues. The twelve months between events have been spent sinking every spare dollar and minute into developments on his S15. The old Holinger H6S sequential gearbox was replaced with a newer and quicker RD6S, and Super GT style aero was added to the under body. He said, “Many people say that a 2WD car will not compete with AWD but I don’t believe this, especially on a big track like Eastern Creek. Provided the weather is good, we will be competitive.”
Scorch Racing seemed to have a podium finish in the bag. MCA were chasing hard, but major technical issues had them dismantling their engine and trying to get a broken intake plenum welded up with enough spare time left to make the closing session.
Here you can see the kind of hardware being run at the pointy end of Pro Class. This is the Top Fuel/Voltex S2000 with humungous two-piece rotors and those mighty Endless calipers.
Taniguchi-san mustered everything he had and gave the car a proper thrashing in his last attempt at a podium finish. He came away with a 1:29.052; enough to clinch a respectible fifth place in Pro Class, albeit far from what he was aiming for.
Martin Notaras has been racing his Evo for longer than we care to remember. Based out of Canberra, Notaras Motorsport called upon another Canberra native, Rick Bates, to take the wheel at WTAC. A brand new motor for competition this year was built by the team in house, featuring a 2.3L stroker bottom end and custom T04Z turbocharger for a peak output of 780hp at the flywheel. Early sessions seemed shakey for the team, but Rick managed to get a timed lap on the board and take out ninth spot with a 1:32.447.
Hankook have become heavily involved with World Time Attack Challenge over the last two years. This year the winning cars in all three classes were running Hankook tyres, something they were justifiably pleased about!
In the last couple of Pro Class sessions caution was thrown into the wind as drivers scrambled for whatever they could get out of their cars. Cyber Evo was the notable absence. Their day was done after poor crankcase ventilation caused their new motor to pressurise and blow the rear main seal. This smokey and public display of failure is not what they would’ve wanted.
All remaining cars tried to capitalise on the last opportunities. For a number of them their best times were produced in the final sessions.
The Nemo Racing team were very confident in the two second lead that Warren Luff had earned them. So much so that owner, Chris Eaton, strapped himself into the hot seat and did a few laps of his own in the final sessions.
The MCA team made a remarkable effort and got their S13 back on the track. Incredibly, Earl Bamber produced his best lap of the whole event in the dying stages and made it three Australians on the podium. His lap of 1:27.808 is the most staggering of all as far as we’re concerned. Given that the car’s chassis is over 20 years old and a RWD platform, it’s a properly impressive achievement.
But there was no catching Warren Luff’s time in Project Nemo. Crowds had gathered around as he clambered out of the car following that unbeatable record lap of 1:25.020; achingly close to a 1:24. Warren is a world class talent, and he has pushed the boundaries at WTAC further than ever before. His ability was equal to the tremendous potential of Nemo itself.
Taniguchi gave his all, but it wasn’t his year. He was visibly rattled and hugely disappointed. On his blog after the event he said, “Over the last attack of the evening in an attempt to catch the other cars I did not have luck and flow. I think the potential of the machine is still hidden. I was tired. It was three days of intense emotions. Japan, you have lost to Australia. I am full of feeling frustrated. I want to win WTAC! Someone please lend me your power to go after these monsters. What tuning car wants to prove that Japan is No.1?”
We’ve never seen anything like Nemo in Time Attack before. Who knows where its development will take it as they tour the car and go for records in Japan and North America. For another team to now win at WTAC will require something that I can’t even imagine. Something unlike anything else currently racing, but who has those resources? Regardless, we saw something special at WTAC 2012 and it resulted in three Australian teams tasting champagne.
Who knows what next year will be like. How many teams can answer the call, and how many actually will? It seems inevitable that rules will be rewritten before WTAC 2013 comes around. Perhaps that will provide clarity about what the future holds. For now we will sit tight and wait for the news to come in. 2013 is going to be very interesting.