Y’know, in the dictionary, under the word ‘futile’, there’s a picture of us doing this,” mutters Morley, as MOTOR staffers bow to the insane wishes of the art monkeys, chamoising the 2016 Hot Tuner field in the pouring rain. It’s cold, it’s wet, and we’re trying to dry cars with leather towels.
Honestly, though, I’m not surprised it’s come to this. As events go, calling this one ‘easy’ is like calling Deadpool ‘wholesome family fun’ – cars missing in action, a fickle weather forecast and a set of escalating dramas that wouldn’t have looked out of place on an end-of-season ep of Neighbours. Even the cops showed up. Sort of.
DAY ONE: The MOTOR posse rolls into town early, and it’s time to convince editor Campbell of the charms of my big, bad Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Night presser that we’re using as Hot Tuner’s unofficial shuttle bus. “Can I do a story on it?” says I. “Please… just… no,” says Campbell tiredly. I tell you… kids these days. No eye for the finer – ie, gnarly V8 – things in life any more.
A gloomy day has settled as we await the arrival of the 2016 fleet at Sydney Motorsport Park. Nabbing the South Circuit (the building, at least) for three days is a stroke of genius; there’s a comfy pit facility, a large, lockable garage, and a short but twisting little circuit that, thanks to myriad surface changes, cambers and corner radiuses, is pretty much spot on for our party of power.
The Tunehouse MX-5 is the first to arrive, with mechanic Tony straight back under the bonnet to tidy up a few things. It’s a common sight; like a plumber, there’s never enough time to sort your own pipes, as it were, and last-minute fiddles are all par for the course. Once the competition officially starts, of course, all such shenanigans are off the table, but for now, spanners and laptops are flying.
As the tuners arrive, paperwork is issued and old friendships – and rivalries – are renewed. These guys make their livelihoods doing this stuff and are very passionate about what they do, and in more than a few cases are chasing the same dollars from the same customers. It’s also fair to say that opinions on tuning are like boulders in a stream and often just as immovable; it’s fascinating to watch the human dynamic at work.
Our field finally filters in: an evil black HSV and GT-R from Hi-Torque, a couple of Mustangs and a brace of European talent are tucked away in the shed for the night. Nine weapons that will be tested come hell or high water.
DAY TWO: It’s overcast, but the rain holds off as we send cars to the Fast Torque dyno and up to Western Sydney Dragway to begin the process. I’m assigned shuttle duties to top off the cars with fuel (no, it wasn’t me...), and the Hennessey Streetfighter Mustang nets me a marriage proposal within the first two minutes of driving it. It’s certainly the kind of thing you wouldn’t want your offspring bringing home – it’s loud, lumpy and totally alluring in a very primal way.
Newman and Morley, meanwhile, are doing their level best to eke out a set of times before the greying sky turns the drag strip into an ice rink. Lounging with intent is our ring-in racer, Australian GT and Supercars endurance driver Tony D’Alberto, standing in for our man Luffy who’s on first kid duty this week (and a massive congrats to Wazza, his partner Emma and little Ivy-Rose, too).
“A straight line? How hard can that be?” D’Alberto wonders, before taking the VCM C63 AMG for a spin. And by spin I mean wheels, as the supercharged V8 neatly turns its rear tyres into elemental particles instead of forward motion. “That’s tougher than it looks,” he opines. He’s right; the tuned cars all have their own peculiarities and peccadillos that need to be accounted for to get the best from them, and the boys are working hard.
The first signs of trouble arrive at almost exactly the same time; the Hi-Torque GT-R grumbles up to the line as the skies darken, with a mysterious miss giving Hi-Torque’s Kent Dalton some concerns about the status of the GT-R’s eye-wateringly expensive engine.
A sprint down the strip quickly reveals that even after winding down the boost, the problem hasn’t gone away, with the GT-R popping and banging like it’s Chinese New Year. As it cruises back and the bonnet goes up, the first drops of rain start to fall, bringing the drag testing to a halt an agonising two cars short of a box set. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow, right?
DAY THREE: Wrong. Wet, dark, and foreboding doesn’t just describe the state of Dave’s wardrobe; it sums up the final day of Hot Tuner 2016. It also sums up the mood of the crew; misbehaving engines and lower-than-expected dyno readings are starting to firm up as a fuel supply issue, while the rain is making track testing challenging.
D’Alberto’s keen to give every car a lap in the same conditions; hey, if he wants to drive a 500kW GT-R in the rain, who are we to stop him? We wait until things are less completely wet, then send D’Alberto out to play. He’s a neat, quick steerer – you don’t get to drive for DJR Team Penske if you’re a dill – and he quickly comes to grips with the treacherous conditions. Some cars are nicer than others, but at least there’s some data in the bank.
It’s a similar story with the drag strip. The morning rain has eased, and a solid breeze is giving Morley and Newman a sniff of a chance to… no, wait, it’s raining again. The shower passes quickly, though, so D’Alberto jumps in again to set laps on a drier track.
It’s time for the journos to try their assigned rigs out… oh look! It’s raining again! And this time it’s no shower – it’s here to stay. Cue some very nervous-looking owners as the MOTOR noters grab helmets and tentatively head out on the streaming circuit.
It’s a reasonably pointless exercise, though. If the cars aren’t spinning rears in third gear, the fronts are even worse, making a proper assessment nigh-on impossible. Bah. The day is brightened by a visit from John Q Law in a tarted-up Mustang, though oddly enough, Morley was nowhere to be seen… Ford legend Rob Herrod is helping the NSW coppers get the ’Stang up to speed, but the track isn’t in good enough shape to test some new toys.
The cold and bleak carpark, though, is good enough for us idiots to take a bunch of chamois and make things slightly less wet for a couple of seconds at a time. It’s unfortunately a fitting epitaph to a tough edition of the Hot Tuner story.
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