Time Machines: World Time Attack Challenge 2016
Time attack might be rooted in Japan, but it’s thriving in Australia. Returning to Sydney Motorsport Park for its ninth year, the World Time Attack Challenge has become the go-to place to watch the boundaries of road-going cars being pushed, with ever-closer battles for the podium finishes and plenty of giant-killing builds to keep it unpredictable. With cooler temperatures than last year’s event and the reigning champions out of the running, 2016 showed no signs of slowing down.
Held over two days, the WTAC hosts a huge variety of cars between timed sessions, and it’s becoming a high-profile line-up. Pagani used this year’s event to demo the lighter, track-tuned Huayra BC, giving the keys to "Drift King" Keiichi Tsuchiya with instructions to give its sonorous 750 BHP twin turbo V12 a workout.
There’s as much talent for drifting in Australia and New Zealand as there is for time attack. Friday evening’s International Drift Challenge is a growing and competitive part of the event. This year’s line-up included world-class drivers such as Chris Forsberg, “Mad Mike” Whiddett and Diago Saito in his Liberty Walk kitted Murcielago, as well a grid packed with local talent.
There’s no soft option at WTAC, with the Open Class now producing builds as wild as the Pros. This year’s podium was closely fought, with only a second separating the fastest three cars. In the end, it came down to a mistake in the final shootout, with early favorite Matt Longhurst and the Integrated Motorsports R34 GT-R narrowly missing out to Nathan Morcom in the Royal Purple x Spartan Evo 9.
With three-time winners Tilton Interiors out of this year’s event, the Pro class was thrown open to a new champion. Cooler weather helped all three podium finishers beat the 2015 record, with an overall win from WTAC regular MCA Suspension in the "Hammerhead" S13. An unlikely-sounding win in a class dominated by four-wheel drive, and no doubt helped by the front-end aero that gave it its name.
Between making its own legends, WTAC brought a few past masters out for laps of Sydney Motorsport Park. Looking and sounding as good as it did when it rolled out onto the starting grid at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1988, the Calsonic-liveried Nissan R88C put in a solo session of hot laps on Friday lunchtime, howling and banging around the circuit to huge crowds.
A newcomer in 2015 with almost no track testing before the event, Porsche specialist PR Technology had everything to prove after a year of fine-tuning the "RP 968" for its second WTAC entry. With Endurance GT driver Barton Mawer at the wheel, it put in a 1:23.0380, almost four seconds faster than 2015 and enough to put it in second place overall.
Rob Pobestek, the owner of the RP 968, talks tactics with driver Barton Mawer. Developed following a change in regulations which allowed Porsches to enter for the first time, it’s one of the most distinctive cars on the grid. Aerodynamically perfected by an ex Toyota F1 engineer, the original 3.0-liter turbo engine features a spun head, separating the inlet and exhaust manifolds to control temperatures and improve efficiency.
Brisbane-based 101 Motorsport returned to take on the Pro-Am class with its giant-killing "Mighty Mouse" Honda CRX, winning the shootout at the end of the event and finishing only 0.2-seconds behind class winner PMQ Design in its mega dollar carbon fibre Evo. Consistently putting down some of the fastest cornering speeds on the grid, despite being front-wheel drive, the team recorded the fifth quickest time of the event, shaving more than two seconds off last year’s performance.
2016 had looked like it might be Japanese driver Under Suzuki’s opportunity to take his position on the top of the podium. Built in his spare time — he’s a dentist — the S15 has competed every year since the event started, but has never quite taken the lead. This year was no different, a 1:23.1310 best time putting him in third place overall despite beating the 2015 record. Close.
Persistence does pay off. MCA Suspension’s owner and chassis guru Murray Coote has spent most of the last decade perfecting the "Hammerhead" S13 at his workshop in Brisbane. With V8 Supercar Championship driver Tim Slade at the wheel, 1:22.1920 was quick enough to set a new WTAC record and make this the second-fastest car around Sydney Motorsport Park, behind Nico Hulkenberg’s A1GP car. And, unlike all the other competitors, that’s on road tires, not slicks.
(Author: Alex Grant; Photos: Alastair Ritchie)