Drag racing remains a niche motorsport where the headlines are often dominated by anything with eight cylinders. But in Orlando, Florida sport compact is king.
Orlando Speed World Dragway isn’t where you go to see Top Fuel Dragsters or Nitro Funny Cars. Instead the venue plays host to a suite of sport compact events throughout the year that culminate in a double-header – the World Sport Compact Challenge and the World Sport Compact Finals.
The Challenge takes place in late October and is the bigger event, attracting thousands of spectators who provide an atmosphere unlike any other in drag racing. The Finals are somewhat quieter, but both events are a showcase for the sport compact drag racing world and attract racers from across the globe.
While many events use the ‘world’ descriptor, the World Sport Compact Challenge and Finals are deserving of the title. This year’s feature attraction was a contingent of Australian and New Zealander sport compact drag racers who shipped their cars from the other side of the planet. They were joined by teams and spectators from Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and the USA in what was a truly international event. Even the commentary was bilingual, with announcers taking turns to declare results in both English and Spanish.
The passion of the spectators was without question. Wearing vibrant shirts from their favorite teams, nearly everybody in the bleachers had a phone in hand, streaming out live to their social media platform of choice. Air horns were blasted at favorite moments. Other drag racing events feel like chess tournaments in comparison.
There was early excitement for the World Sport Compact Finals. On the Thursday night before the event, Australia’s Collin Willshire took advantage of cool evening air and posted the quickest four cylinder sedan pass ever recorded – a 6.20-second ET.
Willshire’s Mitsubishi Eclipse is stealthily quick. The billet Mitsubishi 4G63 motor has only 2-liters of capacity, a quarter of the cylinder space found in your typical Pro Mod V8 Hemi, but there’s roughly 2,000hp on tap, meaning that the engine produces a similar amount of power to a Top Fuel dragster on a per-cube basis. The car has run as fast as 229mph. Twenty years ago those kinds of speeds were world-class in Pro Mod.
As the promoter of Australia’s Jamboree sport compact events, Willshire organized the contingent from Down Under. “We had the invitation from [track owners] Ozzy and Maria to come over,” Willshire said. “It wasn’t just the Jett Racing team, we brought five cars from Australia and one from New Zealand. “This is a great event with great track prep. This event and the Jamboree in Australia are the pinnacle of sport compact.”
Willshire also said sport compact drag racing was trending towards performance over win lights, with top 10 lists for each type of engine closely monitored.“We all want to go fast in sport compact right now.”
While Willshire’s fresh ET record from testing held fast throughout the World Sport Compact Finals, his 229.31mph speed record for the world’s fastest four cylinder sedan was knocked off by Muhammad Ali and the Tekno Toyz Nissan 200SX with a 229.55mph blast.
Ali, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, has been trading blows with Willshire around the record marks. Ali was the former elapsed-time record holder with a 6.22-second run at the World Sport Compact Challenge in October. With renowned tuner Shane Tecklenburg on board, Ali’s team is an extremely potent outfit.
After their achievement the previous night, it was bad news for the Tekno Toyz boys on the Saturday of the World Sport Compact Finals. The Nissan got loose around half track and switched lanes, hitting the opposite safety barrier with a glancing blow. The damage was not severe enough to write off the car, but enough to take the team out of the event.
Tecklenburg studied the data and examined the car after the incident but couldn’t find an obvious cause for why the car lost traction. “I think it wouldn’t be any surprise to anybody that I had the car cranked up and we were pushing it harder than we have ever pushed it trying to run the first 6.1-second pass,” he said. “I figured we had a failure of some kind from trying to push the car so hard, like water out of the cooling system or oil out of the engine.”
“We started looking at the car and we didn’t see any evidence of [a failure]. We looked at the steering linkage, looked at the driveshaft, checked the axle and crawled underneath to make sure the wishbone wasn’t broken. The engine was still running and the drivetrain is still in tack. The data indicates that we hit a spot on the race track where we started to spin the tire. That might be something slippery on the race track. It’s a racing incident, unfortunately it happens.”
There was more news from Australian Scott Porter. He set a new world record for Nissan-powered vehicles with a 6.03-second run in the Extreme Pro class. Porter’s Nissan 350Z is the quickest non-Toyota powered sport compact drag car in the world, using the VQ35 engine.
Because Porter is pioneering the development of this motor, he has had to endure plenty of setbacks. Being a V6, the motor has four main caps as opposed to the 2JZ’s seven. This results in the crank flexing and eventually breaking. While he has enjoyed pushing the technology this far, Porter is looking to shift to a motor based on the Nissan GT-R’s VR38 engine.
“We’ve been working towards that pass since we got to Orlando,” he said. “We broke the crankshaft in half so that did a fair bit of damage. That was one of our best motors. It’s a shame that one died, but that is the way it goes. We found after the 6.03 that the wastegate pipe had a big crack in it that may have let out four pounds of boost; that in itself is enough to possibly see us in the fives. The clutch was slipping pretty hard as well through the first couple of gears. In a perfect world those two things will easily pick up three hundredths.”
Fortunately, most racers at the World Sport Compact Finals were able to escape the woes inflicted on Ali and Porter, and a lucky few went through to the final rounds to contest for the trophies and prize money on offer.
Jorge Juarbe claimed victory in Extreme Pro with his fan-favorite Toyota Corolla known as ‘El Humilde’. Perhaps one of the shortest 5-second cars in the world, the 2JZ-powered Corolla is one of Puerto Rico’s most famous vehicles. Joel Olivo took out the Modified win in his Mazda RX-8, which became the world’s quickest 13B rotary-powered vehicle following a 6.33-second run at the World Sport Compact Challenge.
Hector Mendez went to the win in Old School Modified, defeating Australia’s Kelly Bettes – who splits her driving time between a Mitsubishi 4G63 Datsun ute and a Top Fuel Dragster (in which she happens to be the Australian champion). The international flavor continued with Canada’s Paul Bhawan driving to the Pro Front Wheel Drive title, while Trinidad and Tobago’s Larry Ramnath put his 2JZ-powered Nissan Skyline in the Street Rod winner’s circle.
Hardcore drag racing fans have been dismissive of sport compact drag racing over the years, but the scene seems to have found a niche of emotion and diversity. There are few events in the sport that can profess such worldwide following, and that is something sport compact drag racing should be proud of.
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