Speed Ring: Where Racing Is LYFE
It’s not often you get a large, iconic aftermarket company to sponsor a time attack event in the US. HKS USA set the stage at the world class Auto Club Speedway for Speed Ring where they brought their 1000 HP HKS Nissan GTR and welcomed anyone to challenge Japanese racing legend, Nobuteru "NOB" Taniguchi.
With multiple titles under his belt, it would have been very intimidating to set foot (or tire, I suppose) on the same track as NOB, but HKS USA dangled the ultimate bait – $13k in total class payouts! To make things even more interesting, an additional $20k was offered up to any GTR unlimited class competitor who thinks they have what it takes to put down the fastest overall time AND beat Taniguchi.
The topic of this event has been discussed for years, but it wasn’t until about three months ago that dreams started to become reality. Motovicity and Formula Drift stepped up to co-host the event with the assistance of Global Time Attack and over 30 other vendors. With HKS USA being in the industry since 1973 and an icon since my childhood, I had to nab the offer of shooting it as soon as I heard about it.
Some of the drivers we’ve been following – like Roy Narvaez, Mark Jager, Stephanie Cemo and Alex Rodriguez to name a few – stepped up to the challenge to see if they could earn the bragging rights. There was definitely plenty of competitive buzz going around on who was going to beat Taniguchi, but in the end, there was only one true contender. Taniguchi and Cole Powelson of the LYFE Motorsport Team clearly separated themselves from the pack, with third place trailing at least 6-7 seconds behind first. What a battle it was!
I caught up with Cole to get an inside scoop on his insights of the race.
Talk about a humble person; you got to love the man. He’s been following time attack since he was a teen and that foundation has driven him to where he is today. His team at LYFE Motorsport out in Salt Lake City, Utah, operates a small shop that mainly competes in Global Time Attack and Pikes Peak. As the rumors of Speed Ring started to spread and Cole caught wind of it, he immediately had to see if what he was hearing held any truth.
"Once I was able to confirm the validity of the event from a reputable source," Cole says, "it was full steam ahead."
The team had to scramble to prepare for the HKS USA event since they only had a very limited time after just finishing up competing at Pikes Peak in late July. Even Cole admitted, "We barely met the deadline of qualifying for the $20k cash a day prior to the event."
Anyone that knows time attack, knows that this high of a cash prize is unheard of. But for Cole, it wasn’t all about the money; it was about seeing if he and the LYFE Motorsport Team had what it takes to compete with a legendary driver, NOB Taniguchi, and an even more legendary company, HKS USA. The magnitude of the challenge was overwhelming, but this was the moment of truth, or "H-hour," as people in the military would say.
One and Almost Done
With one engine, one transmission and one set of tires, the LYFE team drove out to ACS and hit the tarmac. By their second session, the team had experienced a blown tire and scrambled to get back in the game. With everything on the line, Cole reached out to his connection Jose Mendes and was able to get a hold of Formula Drift driver Michael Essa to source another set of tires from Anaheim. Luckily, a set of tires was found and delivered 30 minutes before the final session. At this point, the team was well over budget and couldn’t get the tune just right; the engine was getting soft. As they pulled into their final straights, they lost the engine.
The Dramatic Finish
With seven minutes still on the clock, HKS and LYFE were frantically trying to improve their times. LYFE gave it another go, but the motor was completely done with no chance to improve their time and all their hope hinged on their previous lap times. As if scripted in a movie, the suspense built as the final lap times came in.
Cole Powelson and the LYFE Motorsport Team took the win by clocking in a new record and fastest overall with a 1:32.534, while Taniguchi came in at a very close second with a time of 1:33.386!
So What’s Next?
Will there be another return of HKS USA? Is this the new era for time attack to go mainstream like Formula Drift? Rumor has it that HKS USA viewed the event as a success and plans for another event. This year’s event set the foundations for international teams to come in and compete, but will Auto Club Speedway become the new standard when the international community recognizes tracks like Buttonwillow more? For the masses, Auto Club might be the choice since it can facilitate the “mega” events (car shows and track events simultaneously) and is more poised to host family-friendly events along with its prime location.
So many questions, but only time will tell.
I’m optimistic and grateful to have had the opportunity to capture a legendary moment in time attack history. Congrats to Cole and the LYFE Motorsport Team, and kudos to HKS USA and Motovicity for going all in to make this historic moment come alive. Keep your eyes and ears peeled after the New Year, if not earlier, for more word on the next Speed Ring challenge!
Browse the gallery below for more epic shots from this epic event.