Ten short years. That’s how long we’ve been glued to screens and streams, and those lucky enough to visit Sydney – enjoying the spectacle of physics-defying speed at World Time Attack Challenge first-hand.
While it may sound like a long stretch of time to some readers, in reality, it’s little more than a blink of the eyes compared to the better established forms of motorsport.
Think back and try to list the achievements and limitations of your 10-year-old self. Now make a comparison to your life’s accomplishments as of today. That’s exactly where the development of time attack sits right now, and as the interest in the sport continues to grow, expect the pool of money, drivers, engineers, materials, and technology able to be pulled from it to expand, too.
While there’s plenty of scope for fans to argue about what lays within the rulebooks of such a radical sport as it grows, everyone involved should feel fortunate to live through this ongoing evolution of such an extreme and exciting form of motorsport. I’m almost excited to get old and grey, just to point out to the young whippersnappers that I was there back when time attack was in its formative years.
Sure, the future may indeed be bright and glorious, but that’s not where I’ll be looking. Focusing on anything other than right now and all the battles, the victories, the defeats, and even the surprises aimed at sending us off course along the way just seems like a waste.
How often do regular people like us have an opportunity to participate in shaping the future of motor racing? Not bloody often is the answer.
Reflections aside, let’s all refocus and get busy on making sure the next decade is the best decade.Sparking Debate
As always, there was plenty going on at the pointiest end of the WTAC formula to keep the hardcore time attack fans affixed in the 10th year of the event.
Following Under Suzuki’s unfortunate retirement after an engine failure in practice and then a high-speed crash, PR Tech Racing’s RP968 dominated the top of the timesheet with Barton Mawer once again at the wheel. Compared to 2018, the Porsche looked even more sorted around Sydney Motorsport Park, with none of the squirminess or fragility of previous years. If it weren’t for the fiery trail of sparks generated by the titanium skid plates, you could be mistaken for thinking the car wasn’t even driven at its limit.
Occasionally it can seem that the one thing in common between these time attack cars is their unreliability, but with this second win, PR Tech Racing have proven that there is a dependable formula for success.
Undeniably, a large part of that is sufficient funding. How much? If the rumours are to be believed, the total development bill for the car is now nudging the four million dollar mark…
But money alone doesn’t create these results; the PR Tech Racing team is incredibly professional, and they’ve been able to refine their design year-on-year to iron out the issues. Many cars have been undone in the past by having the latest and greatest improvements made too late and without testing – not so for RP968.
Rod Pobestek (the RP in RP968) and aero whiz Sammy Diasinos are like our own Australian Ron Dennis and Gordon Murray duo. Lurking around the chaotic pit garage, you can’t help but feel a bit of the magic that defined the glory years of F1.
The MCA Hammerhead S13 piloted by Andre Heimgartner secured 2nd place outright, but was over 2.5 seconds behind RP968.
The Queensland-based team unofficially took the outright lap record at their local circuit in the run-up to WTAC, but according to Heimgartner are trailing RP968 and the Scorch S15’s absolute downforce figures by up to 30%.
The Hammerhead represents the pinnacle of the last generation of WTAC Pro class cars and still has the benefit of one of the best power-to-weight ratios in the competition, but Diasinos and Andrew Brilliant continue to push the downforce envelope with underbody tunnels and active suspension.
The other Nissan competing in the premier category was the Lyfe Motorsport Nissan GT-R, piloted by Cole Powelson.
Although the R35 GT-R is an undeniably quick road car, the pace is harder to find at the pointy end of WTAC competition due to the high weight and large cross-section of the car, hampering high-speed efficiency. The all-American team managed a best of 1:30.02.
The team had their hands full over the weekend, pulling double duties with a Pro-Am entry in the capable hands of Rob Parsons, better known as Chairslayer. With hand controls, Rob wrangled a 1:34.18 out of the GT-R, a seriously impressive effort.
One of the other great international stories of the weekend was the WTAC debut of Swedish team Revline Racing in their Porsche 968.
Sweden and Australia couldn’t be much further away from each other on a map, but for lovers of speed, Sydney Motorsport Park is effectively the centre of the earth for one weekend in October.
The team was coming in hot after Alx Danielsson set a new production-based car lap record at Mantorp Park, but at a completely new track far away from home would be a completely new challenge for the ace driver.
Thankfully, they had Andrew Brilliant in their corner – a man who knows this 4.5km circuit better than most. Although Andrew wasn’t in Sydney over the WTAC weekend, he was glued to live data feeds from his base in Japan.
The team’s 1:25.6 fastest lap is the quickest a car has ever gone on a WTAC debut, and owner and 2nd driver Gustaf Burstrom was rightfully ecstatic with the result. Had their engine block not cracked, Alx feels the car may have had even more pace in it for the colder and faster conditions of Saturday morning.
It’s rather fascinating that there’s two Porsche 968s at the top of time attack in 2019. The 968 for most of its life was one of the more forgettable Porsche models (except of course to its enthusiastic owners), and existed more of a quirk of history than a bonafide performance icon, but here we are.
It’s impossible to talk Pro class without mentioning the Tilton Evo. Kosta Pohorukov’s Mitsubishi Lancer has been a regular at the event for many years, and the local expertise proved its value once again.
After last year’s big Turn 1 crash, the team had a complete rebuild ahead, and four weeks out from the event the car was little more than a bare shell. Tilton’s first shakedown wouldn’t take place until just one day before competition at WTAC’s official practice day.
Although the team weren’t able to break their previous best lap time, Garth Walden’s 1:23.86 was enough to secure third step of the podium in front of the Revline 968. Kosta’s 1:26.32 was blisteringly fast for an amateur driver, and also sealed the Pro-Am class victory for Tilton. We’re sure these guys will be even quicker in 2020.
However, the Tilton Evo was looking slightly scarred on Saturday after a tyre failure on the front right blew the carbon fibre fender to pieces.
In pit lane this gave us a bit more insight into what the new Tilton car looks like under the skin (still suprisingly simple – lots of stock sheet metal and King springs), but more importantly, a close look at the failed tyre. Surprisingly, the tyre still held air; the exterior layer had delaminated off the core leaving it looking like a slick.
If you’ve been following the WTAC news you’d know by now that this wasn’t the only failed tyre of the weekend – the RP968 experienced one too, and we’ve already touched on what happened to Under Suzuki.
There’s a few different theories on the tyre situation, but the two most prevalent are A) that the aero loads are too high for the tyres at this track, and B) the outer tread of the tyre is overheating relative to the internal core. But rather than subscribing to ‘They Say’ magazine, we’ll be waiting for a theory that comes with some tangible data to support it.
The fact that these cars still run on a DOT-approved (read: street legal) tyre is much of the appeal of time attack. It’s also undeniably appealing to sponsors as it draws an important link between the competition vehicles and what enthusiasts are actually driving, something that most modern motorsport categories fail to do. The fact that these semi-slick-wearing tin-top cars are within two-tenths of Nico Hulkenberg’s slick-shod A1GP car lap record at Sydney Motorsport Park is – to us – one of the most exciting facts in motorsport today.
However, around pit lane everybody seemed to have an opinion on what needs to change. Whether that would be a change to slicks or restrictions on power or aero is yet to be seen. Frankly, it’s an issue we’re glad someone else has to face, and we’re confident there’ll be some design rulebook changes in 2020.