We have witnessed time attack racing evolve at an extremely fast pace over the past few years. This evolution is very evident at the pointy end of every class and particularly in the Pro Classes.
These cars now run the latest, cutting edge electronics and data acquisition systems. Everything from shock absorber travel to brake temperature along with every detail within the engine’s operation is measured and recorded.
To get the most out of these high tech electronic systems the teams employ a plethora of engineers, many with extensive experience in various forms of motorsport, from WRC to Formula One, Indycar to V8 Supercar all working together to devise a tune, setup and strategy to put their team on the podium.
Where WTAC differs from traditional style racing is that there is not a lot of time to “creep up” on any setup. You effectively have three 15 minute sessions per day to prove your worth. This means pre-event testing is critical.
This was not always the case though because the 2010/11 WTAC champion, Cyber Evo, had no data acquisition whatsoever and all tuning was performed by the owner Mr Takizawa (who is actually a dentist) and Tarzan Yamada from the seat of his pants.
MCA Suspension is one exception though and although they have used extensive engine data they use very minimal chassis data instead choosing to draw on Murray Coote’s 40-odd years of experience and Shane Van Gisbergen’s incredibly accurate feedback to make changes needed. Not many teams have a guy with this many years of hands on experience though.
Suzuki-san has also incredibly ran the past few years with very minimal data but has just last year switched to a full MoTeC system in order to keep up with the competition as he continues to push the envelope.
These are rare insights of how sometimes things can be done in an unorthodox fashion and still achieve a result, particularly when there is a close connection between driver and engineer. These, however, are exceptions rather than the rule.
If you look at other teams such as Tilton Racing, PMQ, RP968 and even Sierra Sierra back in the day you will see sensors and wires on every conceivable component allowing these teams to make accurate changes and dial in these cars on the fly.
Let’s not forget the fact that each team is limited to a certain number of tyres for the event (8 for Clubsprint, 12 for Open, 16 for Pro Am and 24 for Pro). With limited tyres, the top teams cannot afford to waste a set of “green” (new) tyres on testing so getting the setup right prior to the event is of utmost importance.
Strategies also play an important role in the top teams’ overall plans. The drivers and engineers come up with a schedule and decide when they will go for their “full attack” lap in order to put them at the top of the timesheets.
This decision will normally be based upon things such as track temperature, amount of traffic on track, ambient temperature, weather conditions and many more.
As a guide, the track is traditionally fastest very in the late in the afternoon when the temperature drops and is at its slowest during the middle of the day when the track temperature is usually very hot.
This means that the likelihood of setting the fastest time in the Superlap Shootout is very high but in order to get in the Superlap Shootout you need to be in the top 5 in that particular class. It is because of that we often see very fast laps set on Friday afternoon as the teams push to get into the top five in their class.
Once you qualify for the Superlap Shootout you then get one chance to set your best lap with one warmup lap, one full attack lap and one cool down lap.
In 2014 this went down to the wire with Tilton and Under Suzuki coming within several hundreths of a second in the dying stages.
In 2015 the weather put rest to this happening with a downpour ensuring no one went faster than they previously had.
One team that was seriously affected by this was PMQ Racing who had saved their last set of tyres for a “turn everything up to 11” run only to be sidelined by the weather.
Whilst they still won the Pro Am class it was clearly evident they were chasing the outright fastest time and they certainly appeared to have strong pace so we can only wonder what could have been.
In the more restricted classes the strategy can be even more critical. Open Class has a smaller tyre allocation (only 3 sets) and for a top team using soft compound tyres it is critical to pick the right time for your “full attack” lap.
With Open Class times now approaching Pro Class times of a few years ago, the teams have to be very smart with how they used their tyres, especially because Open Class cars rely a lot less on aero focusing instead on mechanical grip.
Many of these teams actually opt for one set of medium compound tyres allowing them a lot more consistency throughout the middle of the day and some “softs” for their full attack lap. Once again, strategies vary from team to team but usually the fastest times are set in the early morning or late afternoon.
The Clubsprint Class is equally competitive albeit a little less affected by the track temperature as this class uses a full road Yokohama Advan Neova ADO8 tyre (non semi slick).
Having said that, there is a strong workshop and tuner contingent that competes in this class and there’s no shortage of planning and strategies implemented, all aimed at putting their team at the front of the pack.
And let’s not forget all the die-hard enthusiasts that travel from all over the country to be a part of WTAC. Though their chances of ever getting on the podium are slim, their dedication and passion should not be underestimated.
If you asked them about their strategy, the reply would most likely be: “I’ll get out there, do my best and have a fantastic time. Just to compete alongside some of the fastest cars on the planet and rub shoulders with time attack legends is a blast!” And this fine by us too!
Yokohama World Time Attack Challenge. 14th – 15th October 2016. Sydney Motorsport Park.
Tickets go on sale June 1st 2016. Don’t miss it!