Before we get to carried away, let me first say that it’s great to be back. Back behind a lens, back to stealing your valuable time, and most importantly, back at the race track. It all feels like home.
Even if it’s a just reprieve, it feels amazing to finally start stepping away from the black hole of existence we’ve been lingering in for longer than I’d care to remember. It’s been a challenging time for all of us. Some more so than others.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel though. Last weekend, Aus Time Attack not only reminded me of how great it is to spend time around race cars, but it also gave a glimmer of hope for how quickly life will return to normal at the end of this global clusterf**k.
I say ‘normal’, but of course, I’m referring to the ‘new normal’. Yes, we had our temps taken as we entered the circuit, and yes, we were encouraged to socially distance (a juxtaposition I still find amusing for some reason). Handshakes and high fives were also noticeably absent in pit lane.
At times, adhering to these new (hopefully temporary) changes were awkward, but they’re a small price to pay to enjoy our freedom, our machines, and the sweet smell of E85.The Grass Roots Of Time Attack
Like so many other major motorsport events, the World Time Attack Challenge has been forced into hibernation for 2020, hopefully to awaken again in 2021 or 2022. Fortuitously, Aus Time Attack was positioned perfectly to give us poor motoring enthusiasts starved for action our first meal in quite some time.
While Covid-19 cases continue to spiral out of control across the globe, including other areas of Australia, New South Wales was up until quite recently almost Covid-free. Aus Time Attack had been given the green light to run, albeit without a good number of interstate competitors.
Wakefield Park is a small track located in the vast, featureless plains two hours south of Sydney. Despite most racers opting to stay in
sunny freezing Goulburn the night before for an early start, the track didn’t open until closer to 10:00am due to poor visibility created by a heavy (and cold) fog. Did I mention it was cold? Because it was. Bloody cold.
Once that lunchtime sun cut through the fog it was quite pleasant sniping from the sidelines behind the tyre walls and Armco fences.
Still, the event managed to book out with a healthy mix across all classes.
Beginners and weekend warriors went toe-to-toe in their daily drivers and street sweepers.
Likewise, supercars and exotics were given a chance to stretch their legs and clear out some cobwebs.
Finally, the more serious track-prepped monsters, including the record-smashing Tilton Racing Mitsubishi Evolution, were given time to push to their limits.
Well, maybe it’s fairer to say the limits of the track conditions. In more favourable conditions, it would have been possible to see how much potential remains locked away when these cars race on their restricted semi-compound rubber. Oh well, perhaps next year…
Word had gotten out a few weeks before the event that Tilton was prepping their Evolution IX with aspirations of dethroning the current outright Wakefield Park lap record set by Harrison Jones in a Dallara F3 open wheeler in 2018. The number to beat was 53.7405 (only 18 seconds faster than Project Nine‘s best lap), a blisteringly quick time to navigate the 12 corners of Wakefield’s 2.2km (1.7mi) layout.
Talking to the team, prep was relatively simple. The car was given an extended rest after WTAC in 2019, and aside from some minor bodywork repairs using donated parts from the previous chassis, preparation was as simple as draining the fluids and topping up some oil.
Brad Shiels had agreed to attempt to steer Team Tilton into the record books. The Evo had earlier made a sneaky appearance at one of Wakefield Park’s open-pit track days to give Brad a feel for the car, and on his first day out he’d managed to secure a 54.4-second lap using the engine’s lowest boost setting. The numbers confirmed what the team had thought was possible.
Without an official timer, there was no point pressing the limits to set records, so Kosta Pohorukov (team owner/WTAC stalwart/time attack godfather) approached the guys behind Aus Time Attack to see if an attempt could be made at their event. Being a sanctioned race event, times would be officially recorded using Australia’s standard timing, Natsoft.
On paper, the Wakefield Park lap record was well within reach, but as a mate of mine once so eloquently put it ‘motorsport is a cruel mistress’. Quite literally, anything can happen even with the very best team behind a car. The smallest error or misjudgement, poor weather or a cold track, hell, I even remember a few instances when bold/stupid wildlife had wandered on to tracks with disastrous effects.
But if anyone was in a position to understand the fickle nature of auto racing it’d be Kosta and the entire Tilton team.
On the morning of the record attempt, track temps were freezing and visibility was reduced to the point that racing was postponed for a few hours while we all waited for the heavy fog to lift. A fresh oil spill during the first session wasn’t helpful either.
Nerves were high in pit lane and a buzz raced through the crowd as the carbon-clad Evolution fired up and made its way onto the track.
After an easy out lap that brought the vehicle and tyres up to temp, Brad mashed the go-fast pedal along the back straight and roared down the main straight past the crowd of eager racers. He looked fast and sounded even faster. But would he be fast enough?
Fortunately, we wouldn’t even have to wait a full minute to find out. I’d only ever seen the Tilton Evo perform at Sydney Motorsport Park before, so it was awesome to watch it tear across a very different landscape and negotiate and entirely different circuit. I’d wondered how the car would handle the rougher surfaces of the older track. Apparently, pretty damned well; well enough to set a new outright lap record of 0:53.0600.
From a spectator’s viewpoint, it was almost anti-climactic. Before anybody had blinked, this angry little carbon and billet monster had rewritten the record book. Still, you couldn’t help but to be impressed with the technical aspect and precision in which the record was won.
It’d be interesting to test what would be possible in some more favourable conditions, and after Brad has a little more seat time. Who knows, maybe if all this Covid-19 crisis ever sorts itself out we’ll get to find out.
For an initial comparison though, here’s the Wakefield Park lap records as they stand today:
25/07/2020, Brad Shiels, Tilton Mitsubishi Evo, 0:53.0600
08/09/2018, Harrison Jones, Dallara F308/11, 0:53.7045
18/10/2015, Jack Perkins, Audi A4, 0:56.2669
Formula Race Cars
9/09/2018, Nathan Gotch, Dallara F307, 0:55.7452
07/09/2019, Alexander Kenny, Juno CN2015, 0:56.1459
20/06/2015, Tim Berryman, Radical SR8, 0:56.7805
18/10/2014, Roger I’Anson, West, 0:56.8120
25/02/2007, Ty Hanger, Reynard 95D, 0:57.5504
5/04/2008, Aaron Caratti, Porsche 911 GT3, 0:58.9927
6/04/2008, Steve Owen, Holden VZ Commodore, 0:59.0351
Records aside, it was great to feel ‘back to normal’, even it was a temporary fix for now. Judging from the high spirits of everybody else trackside I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. Hopefully, a similar opportunity is coming to your city soon. If you get even the smallest window of opportunity in current times, I’d urge you to take it. Hope exists. It’s at the race track.