Every year, Sydney Motorsports Park (formerly Eastern Creek Raceway) plays host to one of the most anticipated events in the time attack world. An event that decides the most sought after titles in all race classes across the globe. It’s an event that is reserved for the most dedicated drivers and teams from almost every continent active in motor sports. The financial, mental, and physical toll it can play on individuals ensures that only the most dedicated of teams show up to play their hand at becoming the fastest in the world. Given that the teams based in Japan have been involved in this event in some form or another since the beginning, I thought it was long due for a visit to Sydney to support our Japanese constituents.
WTAC has provided a platform for time attack that not many other venues have. The next closest event in media exposure would have to be the Attack series in Japan that we so religiously cover on the website. As of the last few years Attack has stepped up their media in terms of video and compiled laps for top contenders, Option Magazine even produces a short video released with their magazine for the Attack Championships. It still has a long way to go when it comes to global exposure though; part of that is due to the elusiveness of Japan in itself, but they’re definitely working in the right direction. The exhilaration that comes along with time attack is something that marks it’s uniqueness in motor sport. When your opportunities to succeed are limited, the consequences of each performance increase dramatically. Needless to say, I was excited to see what the world had to offer. WTAC had set the global stage – it was time we paid it a visit.
My first experience with WTAC was nothing short of remarkable. Not only was I in great company for the entire duration of my visit to Sydney, but I got to experience first-hand the passion and enthusiasm that the Australian people have for time attack and motor sport in general. World Time Attack Challenge successfully incorporates all the high tension, fast paced excitement of the Japanese events I am accustomed to but is able to successfully stretch it out over a 3 day period; and then invites the entire world to participate. It is truly a global event that celebrates the niche, albeit growing, motor sport that we enjoy so much. The fact that Ian Baker has made an event like this a reality for time attack is incredible in and of itself, let alone have it span past a decade in existence. Australia may be a trek for most people coming from international destinations, but after meeting the people involved with the both the creation and running of the event, I came to realize that part of why this event is so successful is because Ian is one of the few people who actually followed through with a vision. Be it his Australian tenacity, or just a pure love for the sport, he made it happen. Sure, you’d be able to host an event like this in almost any country that has existing infrastructure for automotive racing. In fact, I’d love to see the sport advance to such popularity that that is even a consideration to have multiple locations. For now though, the event has thrived simply because the people behind the sport are passionate people – a trait that I think all fans of motor sport possess, but is very visibly mirrored among Australian enthusiasts. This particular WTAC will be remembered for a great many things, above all though would be the challenge presented by the weather. At this level of driving it is an unspoken acumen that track conditions are often the great decider; if a track is off, you can’t expect to be competitive. There were very, very small windows during the weekend where the track presented itself as optimal for breaking records.
Our journey started when David and I touched down at Sydney International Airport on Wednesday morning. David runs the website Battle Driven and does a lot of the media for the popular VTEC Club series. I invited him along under the guise of NDF so he could help cover the event. WTAC is a bit more extensive than what I’m used to, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for David to expand his portfolio; he is a very talented photographer. You can look forward to a few guest articles from him on the site. Our friend Rhys was flying in from Melbourne and his scheduled arrival coincided (for the most part) with our landing into Australia. The three of us met after David and I cleared customs, grabbed our rental car, and gave Yonas at JDM Yard a call. The team was at the shop working on their flagship EG and he had invited us to stop by for lunch and to discuss the logistics of Thursday’s practice event at the circuit.
When we arrived, Adam and Kit were fitting on a new AP Racing brake kit. I guess Adam has been fighting with the previous brake setup for too long and they pulled the trigger on a long needed upgrade. Due to the custom nature of their suspension and hub, they were running back and forth to the machine shop to machine the included brackets to work with their current setup. There was a very casual urgency to the whole situation. There wasn’t much that needed to be done to prepare the car for practice tomorrow, so while they went through the motions confidently we were able to chat for a bit.
Later in the afternoon Philip Armour from Armour Motorsports stopped by to install Motec’s new GPS and live data logging unit so the team, and the spectators, would be able to see where Adam’s location was on the track at any given time. It’s a very cool feature, and one I think is almost necessary at this level of racing. Earlier in the month I had discussed an opportunity to put together a profile on the car and team’s final WTAC season in the EG. It has been such a large and successful part of WTAC, and since the team is retiring the car after this year’s event and I thought it would be appropriate to highlight it in depth. That will be coming shortly, so if you have an interest in the car hang tight.
After we had eaten lunch together, Rhys, David and I left the crew to their work and headed downtown. Wednesday evening would be our only real chance to do some sightseeing and be actual tourists so we didn’t want to is out on seeing some iconic places.
First stop was, of course, coffee. While Rhys is adamant that the coffee is better in Melbourne, we still enjoyed some great brews throughout the week. I was a little surprised though, that the norm in Australia is to drink coffee with cream. Whereas when we order coffee in the States or Japan, the norm is a black drip coffee; in Australia it’s a Flat White (espresso with milk). It took me awhile to start ordering a ‘Long Black’ which would be the equivalent of a pour-over or just a black coffee. It made for some awkward transactions, but quirky things like that are part of what makes traveling interesting.
The Sydney Cenotaph in Martin Place is right in front of the old post office, it is one of the oldest World War I monuments in the city (can’t say you didn’t learn anything from this website now). The architecture of the post office, as well as many of the buildings in Martin Place, is very cool.
The weather that evening was being very sporadic, albeit cooperative, as the skies never really cracked open and let us have it; we would get some light rain on and off, but nothing that was too bothersome. I was pleased to have such cool, overcast weather after being inundated with the scorched earth back in California. The low hanging clouds even served to make the mood a little more dramatic which benefited us in taking some touristy landscape pictures. Some ice cream and a $40 pack of cigarettes for David wrapped up our only experience as tourists in Sydney – it was quick, but I’m glad we did it. It was nice to have some time to stretch our legs after the long flight, especially since the next 3 days would be spent working at the race track.
Thursday morning we woke up a bit late, and after a nice breakfast at a place called The Usual Cafe, we headed out to Sydney Motorsports Park. Practice was already underway when we arrived, but the weather wasn’t particularly cooperating with the foreign teams hoping to get in some actual track time before the weekend. Heavy rains the day prior ensured that the track had a plethora of standing water at all the critical points, and as the rains continued sporadically through the morning and afternoon, it was apparent that the teams weren’t going to be getting in any laps at the limit. Rain and all, however, the majority of cars present at the track still took advantage of the open track (even the locals); hard to pass up test time if it’s available – even if the conditions aren’t ideal. With the assumption that the rain would pass over night, everyone had high hopes that Friday and Saturday would be mild if not perfect conditions – needless to say we would be slightly disappointed with what we woke up to the next morning.
The Pro Class was the thinnest it’s been in any WTAC event to date. I understand this to be because of the massive competition and financial strain it takes to operate a Pro Class team, we see a lot of teams dropping into Pro-Am or Open Classes. I hope to see more people stepping up to take on the challenge in the coming years. Despite the low car count this year though, we still had a very exciting class race.
Ando and the Escort team, their car and equipment being delayed due to the typhoons that had been pelting Asia throughout the previous week, finally had time to stretch their legs on Friday’s first session. The cars arrived Thursday evening, but the teams were not able to get any real work done on the cars until Friday morning. Setting up the garage and getting the car into a driveable state took them a surprisingly low amount of time considering the amount of equipment they had. It’s a good reflection on the caliber of the team.
The new reiteration of this Evo is nothing short of spectacular. Building off the Voltex aero, Escort took it upon themselves to both improve the efficiency and increase the amount of downforce of the car using their own methods; most notably the rear end setup.
Massive wing end plates are now incorporated into the rear bumper and diffuser, and include among themselves minituare diffusers as well. The shark fin that stems from the roof to the wing element is another distinguished difference from the prior reiteration. It also looks pretty darn amazing.
The interior is all business with a Motec control unit, and the Motec M800 front and center. A Holinger Engineering sequential transmission gives Ando the quick gear changes he needs. It will be interesting to see if he upgrades to paddle shifters eventually following the rest of the Pro Class contenders.
There was never a doubt about Escort’s ability to build a high power, reliable motor. Although the car didn’t get much track time during WTAC this year, the car ran well throughout the entire event after some minor tuning adjustments right out of the container.
The engine bay looks fairly simple for a 800+ horsepower motor. Also interesting to point that the suspension points are pretty much all OEM, a trait that all other Pro Class cars have modified at this point. Pro Class regulations say that the original shock towers in the front of the car must be retained, but its interesting to see Ando still utilizing them. I would imagine, if he continues to campaign this car, that will change. That’s actually part of the reason Under’s car wasn’t able to make it in time – the suspension changes he was making took much longer than anticipated.
And behind every great looking (and performing) car, is a great team. Escort is without a doubt among the highest caliber group of mechanics, engineers, and drivers coming out of the privateer sector in Japan.
Unfortunately, this would be Ando’s only chance to drive at Sydney Motorsports Park this year. A health condition compounded by travel had compromised his ability to drive the car properly, and safely. Waking up Saturday morning, it was apparent that he wasn’t going to best his time from Friday; good weather or not, he just couldn’t drive the car…
Reviewing data from Motec’s data logging software, the team started making the necessary preparations to pack up the garage. That was until Ian Baker had the amazing idea that Under Suzuki take Ando’s car out to see what he could do behind the wheel of the Evo. In a tremendous showing of international comradery and Japanese spirit, Ando agreed, and the team rushed to prep the car for the last session of Pro Class.
Under didn’t have any of his safety equipment, aside from his race suit (for photo-ops), so he had to make due with Ando’s helmet, HANS, and gloves. It was rushed, but the spirits were high, and the crowd absolutely loved it. It really was a special moment.
Ando giving Suzuki some last minute tips on how the Evo handles.Surreal to see Under behind the wheel of the Escort car. We all know Under to be an extremely skilled driver, but imagine the trust the team would have to have to hand it over to someone who has no experience driving it.Off he goes, into the rain! The entire time they were getting prepared the sun was shining and the track was drying, but the second he pulled out into the hot pits the skies opened up and let us have it. Dramatic, but not ideal for Under’s situation!
Ian giving Ando a high five right after Under spun the Evo exiting a corner mid-circuit. It was comical, but also a little bit stressful.The whole ordeal really put a positive spin on the fact that Under couldn’t get his car done in time. This is the first time Under hasn’t been able to compete at WTAC in almost since it’s inception and to see him be able to drive was huge. The fans clearly were pumped about it.It was a fitting end to the unfortunate turn of events for the Japan teams. Under was able to clock a 1’27.558 in the Evo resulting in a 3rd place podium finish (out of 3, but it’s worth mentioning).
MCA – The Hammerhead. Reigning champion. Riding off last year’s lap time of an insanely fast 1’20.971, MCA had nothing but confidence that they would retain the title. A car built at this caliber is difficult to improve upon year over year, but the team had some ideas of where to shave time during the off-season. Weight reduction in the form of a new carbon brake setup was one of the more larger changes done to the car. However, according to team principal Murrary Coote they really just focused on what they had:
“With the changes we do every year, we never get a chance to fine tune. I mainly rely on sound design to get a result. So this year I am focusing on tidying up and maximising what we already have. We have been doing some work on the power delivery, traction control, some more weight reduction with carbon/carbon brakes as well as optimising the aerodynamics using the existing components.” (WTAC)
Due to contractual obligations to the Asia Le Mans series, Tim Slade was unable to once again pilot the Nissan this year. Driving the car instead is hired gun Warren Luff; seasoned veteran in V8 Super Car Championship Series, as well as several other GT and Production car series. No stranger to WTAC either, Warren piloted the NEMO Evo to victory in 2012 with a 1’25 flat.
So, would Warren be able to retain the title of the fastest in the world? The short answer is no. The track was just not cooperating with the MCA team this year, and they were only able to run a fast lap of 1’21.398 – almost a half second off their 2017 pace.
A look at the new front brake setup, and the front upright and push-rod suspension setup that is now the norm in the class. MCA takes a very sparse approach to their setup which I think gives the car a very minimal appearance as a whole. It’s very representative of Murray’s apprach to tuning in general.
On track the car looked solid. After Friday the teams fast lap of 1’22 had stood as the fastest in Pro Class. However the weather was much worse Friday, and Saturday would leave more open windows to best it.
After the last session on Saturday though, the team would be unable to best their 2017 time, nor were they able to top the PR Tech’s unbelievable time. With the shootout being rained out, the times would stand, and MCA would be taking a step down on the podium for a second place finish.
PR TECH RP968
If there was one car that everyone had their eyes on this year it was the PR Tech Porsche RP968. At one point, dubbed the ‘Dark Horse’, this car would be the car to eventually lead an assault on all of WTAC, challenging our definition of what fast really is. Rod Pobestek (the RP in RP968) had a vision of building this car to showcase the superb balance of front-engine Porsches. It quickly snowballed out of control, as most projects like this do, soon after it began in 2015. Looking back, Rod thinks its humorous that the $30,000 dollar Albins transmission is now one of the least expensive components of the car. With Australian based Porsche tuners PR Technology behind the build, there was a clear path to success with this car.
The car was originally slated as an Open Class car, but the plans Rod had for it wouldn’t fit into the regulations so they had no choice but to move to Pro. The car in itself has been an evolution in time attack, and a sort of ‘pushing of the envelope’ of what can be done within the technical regulations of class racing. To see what it is capable of today is nothing short of amazing. The original iteration of the car was finished in time for the 2015 WTAC, and even back then, 4 years ago, the team at PR Tech was under the assumption that the car would be able to sub-20. In fact, they had a more specific target in mind; the lap record held by Nico Hulkenberg in an A1GP car a time of 1.19.1. Incredible how close they came to meeting that goal this year.
The engine of this car is a work of art in and of itself. Built by Finish engine gurus Elmer Racing Engines, ‘Thor’, the engines name, is actually a package the company now sells (if you have a cool $150k to spend on a motor). The 4-liter, fully billet setup has been tuned by PR Tech to put out a healthy 1,300 hp. While the motor is capable of much more (rumored to be twice that), the team has detuned to achieve an ideal balance in the car.
Despite having a bullet-proof motor, the team had been struggling with mechanical issues throughout the weekend. After his drive Barton had mentioned:
“After official practice I wasn’t that confident. We had major engine problems, but we pulled through and to get that time is a massive reward, not just for this year but for the years and years of having a go…we didn’t run as we did a valve spring and bent a valve in the last run. It was repairable but not in the time frame that we had – it is lucky that we got the time in this morning when we did!” (WTAC)
Carbon/ceramic front brakes and custom upright suspension. You can imagine, that every part of this car has been customed made, or hand chosen and is a very accurate representation of what needs to be done in order to be truly fast.
During the late morning session on Saturday, the track conditions allowed for a small window of good track. The rain had stopped for long enough for the track to dry, it was still cloudy keeping temps down, and Barton prepared to make history.
We all watched the lap from the pit lane on the live feed, and the crowd erupted when timing came back with a 1’19.825. I can’t even fathom how it was done. Amazing driving, amazing car, and a whole lot of cutting edge technology.
A feat that truly redefines what is fast in the entire sport of time attack. A drive that has everyone questioning what’s next. Weather permitting, we have the opportunity to witness a time attack car that can outpace an open-wheeled race car. With the team only 7-tenths off the overal track record, it is a very real possibility.
My experience witnessing these Pro Class cars for the first time has left me with a newfound mindset on the sport. To see people pursue the motor sport that we love so much at such an insane level makes me believe that the sport is very much alive and growing.
We will continue coverage of 2018 WTAC throughout the coming week.