The sport of time attack racing is one of the fastest growing types of motorsport around the world. It’s exciting, challenging and accessible and every year it attracts more and more enthusiasts who want to try their hand at this ultimate pursuit of speed.
This article is aimed at those thinking of joining the growing ranks of time attack racers. We look at how to get involved, what types of cars are best suited, the best areas to invest in and how to get your car into WTAC. Keep in mind this is only a guide aimed mainly at the novice enthusiast that wants to get out and have a go.
How do I get involved?
“Racing cars had always been a dream of mine. to race cars. I started with Supersprint as it was one of the most affordable forms of racing. In 2008 I competed at the first Superlap Australia event. I got hooked and I’ve been doing time attack ever since!” – Nik Kalis. WTAC veteran and 2011 Open Class Winner.
The first step we would recommend to all those new to time attack is to join a car club. You will find most of these run “timed speed events” at tracks around the country. Time attack is racing against the clock and as such is considered a “speed event” not a “race event”. This means at the grassroots level the safety requirements are often as simple as long sleeve non flammable (not nylon) shirt and long trousers, covered shoes and a helmet and gloves. You will also need to invest in a fire extinguisher and a few other inexpensive items. But as the speed goes up so to do the safety requirements and in our highest Pro Classes we insist on expensive safety equipment on par with any professional level motorsport event.
“I bought a street registered Evo 7RS and got into the club scene. This eventually lead to the CAMS NSW Supersprint championships. I learnt the discipline of lap dash racing and in 2008 entered Superlap Australia. The event then became World Time Attack putting all of us on the international stage.” – Jason Naidoo. WTAC Clubsprint racer with multiple podium finishes under his belt.
Once you have some track experience under your belt you can enter a number of “timed speed events” like EvoNats, JapNats or the Circuit Club’s Advan Neova Challenge.
“People think that practice makes perfect. But if you are practicing the wrong thing, you will be perfect at doing the wrong thing. Perfect practice makes perfect!” – John Boston. Highly sought-after WTAC pro driver and the owner of Trackschool.com.au
If you want to improve your driving we highly recommend attending a performance driving school. Regardless of how good you think you are there will be many seconds to be found in having someone coach you. You will pick up what you are doing wrong and get into good habits early.
Good instructors will often also be able to advise you on what you car is doing and recommend some setup changes. This will help you to understand your car better or relay the feedback to your mechanic. You will then be able to make suspension, brake or engine tuning changes to suit your driving style.
“Some people go for the massive killerwasps too soon and don’t spend enough time getting to know their car. Do as many track days with driver trainers in order to squeeze the most you can out of your car first.” – Nik Kalis.
What is the best car for time attack?
“When I searched around for a circuit car I had an AWD turbo in my mind, having owned one in the past. Mitsubishi Evo seemed the best option.” – Jason Naidoo.
If you asked ten different people you would get ten different answers. In short any Japanese tuner-style vehicle is normally the simplest and most effective route. The main reason for this is the incredible array of off-the-shelf parts available and large knowledge base allowing easy modification at reasonable cost compared to Euro and Australian cars.
“We have a major investment in the Subaru platform, so rather than bagging out the issues with the EVO, I like to focus on the strengths in the Subaru, like better center of gravity and longitudinal weight balance. The flat four and longitudinal transmission layout, really make for a better balance in the car.” Jason Wright. WTAC Pro Am competitor.
A Mitsubishi Evo is the obvious first choice and there is a good reason why these cars have dominated time attack racing for so many years. Firstly, the vehicle was designed as a rally car with an AWD platform, an easily tunable, 2 litre turbo engine, a robust driveline and well structured chassis that offers good handling.
The Subaru WRX is also a good choice but the early cars suffered from weak transmission issues and the later cars carry a lot more weight.
Earlier Nissan GTRs are also fantastic track cars but do suffer oil issues which unless addressed can see premature failure on the racetrack. The Nissan S platform is an extremely popular choice and with good reason.It’s a great chassis from the factory and the SR20 engine can make good power with simple mods. The later models offer better dynamics, with the S15 having the best chassis from the factory of them all.
Mazda RX7s have also been a popular choice with an exceptional chassis but the rotary engine does need careful specialist tuning.
Toyota also made some great cars with the 86 being the most common choice these days. A nice, RWD platform and a relatively light body it makes a great track car. Supras have also been popular but the heavy and powerful 6 cylinder up front can make them a challenge to drive fast.
Last but not least, Honda Civic or Honda Integra can make a formidable time attack weapon. With a great chassis and plenty of aftermarket parts available, these cars can go head to head with their RWD and AWD counterparts.
“I love the fact that I can drive my car on a daily basis and then go and whip the best of the best at WTAC. Only time attack allows this variety of usage.” – Jason Naidoo.
As you can see there is plenty of choice with any of the cars listed making a great starting point. That’s not to say you are limited to just those cars we’ve listed. You might want to go a completely different route but make sure you can source all the necessary parts for your project. You may find that many performance parts may need to be manufactured as a “bespoke” product and the cost of modification can skyrocket very quickly.
|Mitsubishi Evo 1-7||Light weight, awd, turbo, cheap||getting rare, old tech|
|Mitsubishi Evo 8-9||great chassis, robust engine||can be pricey|
|Mitsubishi Evo X||newer, better chassis than 8 or 9||mechanically complex, pricey|
|Subaru WRX/STi||great factory combo, awd, turbo||weak transmission, later models heavy|
|Nissan GTR/T R32-34||great chassis, awd, turbo||poor oiling system, can be pricey|
|Nissan S13-15||great chassis, reliable engine, cheap||getting old now|
|Mazda RX7 FC-FD||lightweight, brilliant chassis||needs a rotary specialist|
|Honda Civic/Integra||lightweight, capable engines||fwd, getting hard to find|
|Toyota 86||good chassis, rwd, fairly new||heavy, can be pricey|
|Toyota Supra||good chassis, 2JZ||heavy, old tech|
What areas to spend your money on?
“Drive to match your car’s limit not the next bloke or next car! They may have spent 2 or 3 times more than you so be happy with your own results!” – Nik Kalis
No matter what type of racing you do and no matter what level you’re at it’s very easy to blow your budget. Costs can get out of control very quickly and it’s very important to plan your mods and maintenance costs, prioritising those that will keep your racing first and help you get faster second.
Starting with a standard road car the first area we recommend looking at is the driver’s office. A good racing seat and harness are some of the best investments you can make.
Next thing to look at are tyres. The Yokohama AD08 Neova is the WTAC Clubsprint Class control tyre for a reason. This is an actual road tyre with near race tyre performance meaning you can use it to drive to and from the track and they will last a reasonable amount of time of you use them every day. Semi slick “R type” tyres such as the Yokohama AO50 are absolutely exceptional in performance but whilst being road legal are in no way practical to use on a day to day basis due to their soft nature and high wear rate. Running “true semi slicks” will require a second set of rims to mount them on and change back to road tyres for everyday use.
“If you’re not sure of what your car is capable of, stick a pro driver in in and then try to match their time using your logged data.” – Nik Kalis.
After tyres come brakes. Upgrading to racing pads and using a higher boiling point brake fluid can make a considerable difference to the car’s braking performance.
The next area we recommend looking at is suspension. This will require some advice as every vehicle is different but a decent suspension setup can make a huge difference. It may be as simple as some stiffer springs and heavier sway bars but generally a premium set of coilovers are worth their weight in gold.
Next is the engine. As a start a decent exhaust and air filter along with an ECU remap will uncork your engine and unleash some much needed horsepower. Another big necessity here is a good synthetic oil. Your engine will normally see much higher oil temperatures and be under a lot more stress on the racetrack than it ever will on the road so this is a must.
You may ask why we left the engine until the very end. Think of it this way; if you can increase your corner speed you will finish up with a much faster laptime than if you were to increase your straightline speed. It’s simple math really: there are 12 corners at Sydney Motorsport Park and only 2 straights. If you can go 1 second faster through each corner you’ll gain 12 second faster lap. Yet if you go two second faster down each straight (which is actually quite a bit) you will only be 4 seconds a lap faster.
This is one of the reasons why the full aero Pro and Pro Am cars are so much faster than anything else. The aero pushes them down through the corners resulting in a far greater corner speed. In fact, many are now slower down the main straight than the fastest Open Class cars.
How do I get into WTAC?
“Be passionate and love what you do. Surround yourself with positive people and challenge yourself by racing people faster than you. I got better by racing against the best.” – Jason Naidoo.
For many people competing at WTAC is their life-long dream. While the event has provisions for the new up-and-coming drivers, it’s not a place for beginners. WTAC is considered to be the pinnacle of time attack racing and with a live stream and TV coverage reaching over 10 million sets of eyes it’s run to an extremely tight production schedule.
You’ll need to have quite a bit of track experience behind you before you can get accepted. Having said that, every year we see new players and last year Daniel Meredith took the outright Clubsprint win in his rookie year after a few months of tuition under Benny Tran. So keep in mind that WTAC is very unpredictable and everything is possible!
“You must try be disciplined and stick to what you really can afford. Especially if you have a family, leave something for them too!” – Nik Kalis
This is the hard one but then again it always has been as accountants and race engineers have never seen eye to eye! It is also one of the most important parts of this adventure.
We know of garages all around the world littered with half-finished Pro style builds that never quite made it. This is normally due to poor initial calculations as to the real cost of what the finished car would be. The result is a costs blowout and eventually hands get thrown up in the air with a declaration of surrender: “I cannot afford to do this anymore”. In many cases it would have been much better doing something a lot simpler and successfully running one or two classes down the ladder.
“I have always kept budget and goals very close to one another. I run Clubsprint because that is where my budget lies.” – Jason Naidoo
Starting in Clubsprint Class and ending up in Pro Class is also an expensive way of going about things but often the lessons learnt over the years are invaluable and part of what makes it fun.
Below is a rough cost estimate to build and enter in each class. Keep in mind these are meant as a guide only as all the costs are extremely variable and depend on your own skill set, your team’s capabilities and your connections within the industry. The costings don’t include the initial purchase price of the car.
|Clubsprint||Entry Level||less than $10,000|
|Clubsprint||Mid Level||approx $25,000|
|Open||Entry Level||less than $25,000|
|Open||Mid Level||approx $50,000|
|Pro Am||Entry Level||less than $65,000|
|Pro Am||Mid Level||approx $125,000|
|Pro Am||Podium||approx $150,000|
|Pro||Entry Level||approx $200,000|
“It’s healthier than recreational drugs but just as addictive.” – Jason Naidoo.