World Time Attack Challenge (WTAC) has graduated from a tuner sideshow to an annual motorsport and car culture event.
The centrepiece of this event-cum-motoring festival is mega-kilowatt, nitrous-sucking, boost-gulping race machines, purposely designed for war with the Sydney Motorsport Park tarmac. Built by tuner heroes, their panels are festooned with delicate carbon-fibre aero and enormous diffuser packages that make GT3 racecars look just a bit quaint.
In the hunt for one perfect lap, the cars are turned up to 11. Strategies are devised, with preservation secondary to finding another tenth. In each of the seven years since the inaugural 2010 event, Pro Class has broken the Gardner Grand Prix Circuit’s tin-top lap record, such is the rate of progress.
This year was no exception. The MCA ‘Hammerhead’ S13 Silvia with Supercars’ wheelman Tim Slade took the event’s top step with a record-shattering 1:20.97. At Supercars’ Sydney SuperSprint in August, Slade’s fastest qualifying lap was 1:28.9 and Scott McLaughlin earned pole position with a 1:28.3.
Time-attack cars contend on road-legal semi-slicks, a fact eagerly repeated by the category faithful. “Its extremely tricky compared to any other circuit racing,” a champagne-drenched Slade said. “The cars have a huge amount of potential with the grunt, and more so the aero grip.
"You don’t get a whole session to build up. You only have one lap before the temps are through the roof. You have to have a lot of trust.” His finish is an immense 1.23 seconds faster than his record-setting, event-winning effort in 2016. More importantly, it narrows the distance to the outright lap record.
He’s now 1.83 seconds away from Nico Hulkenberg’s (Formula 1 driver) 1:19.14sec lap, set in an Lola Zytek during the 2007 A1GP.
Blistering times are but one aspect of the WTAC event. In the evenings the stopwatch is set aside. A drift challenge attracting a contingent of international talent keeps the party going.
With enormous lock and unreasonable horsepower, the drifters ensure the track is appropriately rubbered in for their grip counterparts as they vaporise tyres and hug clipping points.
A WTAC favourite, Sydney local Beau ‘The Show’ Yates and his 2JZ-GTE Toyota 86 stomped to the win, out sliding ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddet, Daigo Saito and Supercars champ Shane van Gisbergen. WTAC as an event seems to have overcome its niche, attracting interest from OEMs and major brands.
New models were revealed – Volkswagen had their apprentices build a V6 Amarok time-attack car, a dual-cab successfully designed to lap the circuit faster than a Golf GTI’s 1:59. Drawing an atypical motorsport crowd, the event is studded with special guests and iconic cars.
The Drift King, Keiichi Tsuchiya posed for selfies all weekend, in between drift judging duties and track sessions in his Hot Version N2 AE86 and the Taisan GT-R. Dori kin’s track special wasn’t the only JDM icon in town.
Ex-JGTC GT300 cars, namely the Unisia Jecs S15 and BOMEX FD RX-7 that once dueled on Fuji Speedway have made their way to owners in the Southern Hemisphere. The pair spent lunchtimes tic-tacking down the front straight. The only noise to drown out the RX-7 was the wailing howl of the recently restored Mazda 767B.
The cult Le Mans rotary racer, lovingly restored and supported by a fastidious Japanese crew, silenced the crowd. Grown men ran between the railings on SMSP’s pit building roof seeking better vantage.
The Flying 500 kept punters entertained during lunch. Roll-launching cars built for ETs, the Precision Automotive Racing Nissan R35 grabbed the top speed with a 270km/h pass, tearing pieces of the 1800 horsepower car’s floor off in the process. The show and shine event ‘StylizeD’ has become its own spectacle.
Opened at a reveal party on the event’s Friday evening, SMSP’s skidpan was heaving with more than 100 extensively modified cars. The builds defied categorisation, and in some cases, belief. Crazy engine swaps, widened arches, tarmac-scraping bodies and plenty of custom plates all competed for attention.
The level of detail was intense, hinting at an Aussie show scene that sneers at the local constabulary and is not only alive, but setting international trends. For the spectator, access to pit garages, teams and drivers remains unprecedented. The daily pit walk delicately balances bespoke, low-slung aero-aids with passing shins.
Thus far, there have been no reports of snapped carbon fibre from access to pit lane as the public chatted with drivers and scrambled for shots of their favourite cars.
The hero of the weekend was Rob Nguyen.
Recipient of the CAMS Spirit of Time Attack award Nguyen steered a supercharged, K-swapped CRX nicknamed ‘Mighty Mouse’ to victory in Pro-Am Class. His experience and the team’s pedigree was evident. He dominated in an international field including a Finnish Audi R8 racer pushing 300km/h, and the Vibrant Performance Civic from Canada.
Nguyen set the front-wheel drive lap record with a time of 1:26.27, pulling more than two seconds on the next best finisher. Open Class saw a tighter mix of times as serious privateers went up against the bigger tuning houses.
A battle between a Civic, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and an R34 GT-R saw the Adam Casmiri handled Honda top the 23-car field. Internet sensation Jordan Cox, known for slaying dragons in his humble red EG Honda Civic, took out the ‘street’ Clubsprint Class.
Winning by almost three seconds in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, Cox demonstrated his circuit chops on his first WTAC outing and tore chunks out of the 33 cars in class, which was a very impressive effort.
Starting grass fires on run-off areas around the track all weekend, Pro-Class quickly turned to a three-way battle.
WTAC regular Tomohiko ‘Under’ Suzuki and the Scorch S15, PR Technology’s RP968 driven by Barton Mawer and MCA’s Hammerhead were the talk of the event. MCA grabbed an early lead, but late on the warm Friday afternoon Mawer and the Porsche took a bite out of the Hammerhead, with the lead lasting all of 30 seconds.
On a flyer behind him, Slade immediately reclaimed the lead by two tenths. With cooler temps on Saturday, the wick was wound up and Slade stretched the car to a live-timer topping 1:20.97. Mawer and PR were forced into retirement with engine issues, as Under Suzuki continued his NOS-fuelled assault to no avail.
Can Time Attack dip into the teens? Despite massive gains on last year and a strong outright victory, Tim Slade isn’t sure. “If I get it all together, there might be a few more tenths in it. Maybe like a mid-20. At the moment I don’t think I could crack a 19,” he said. What is certain is that WTAC 2018 will continue the event’s growth and evolution.
“It’s really awesome to see the event as a whole ... It’s a credit to [Ian] Baker for what he’s created. It’s interesting because it’s a completely different crowd to a Supercars’ event,” Slade said. “It’s really cool to see a much younger audience.
The majority of other cars here, it’s achievable for anyone here to be out and go on to the track. There are cars here with bits and pieces from all of the trade stands, turbos and wastegates and rims. It’s a cool event to be a part of.”