The Quest for the Perfect Lap – A Look at Time Attack

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In the last 7 years or so, Time Attack has grown to become one of the most popular and engaging forms of motorsport in the world. Each year it inspires more and more enthusiasts, individuals and tuning shops alike, to build and refine their cars for one purpose – to set the fastest lap time they possibly can. Even if you are a car enthusiast who isn’t familiar with Time Attack, it’s very unlikely that you haven’t seen a video of some Japanese sports car sporting crazy aero, being driven at the absolute limit around a track, seemingly by itself (we’ll get to that in a moment). In this post we will look at what makes Time Attack different from other forms of motorsport, why it has become so popular and why it is important for the enthusiast community.

What is Time Attack?

Time Attack originated in Japan in the 1980s as track event where tuning shops would bring their street tuned demo cars and compete to see who had the fastest car of all. However, the way drivers compete is different to traditional circuit racing, in that it isn’t really racing at all. Rather than competing against each other for first place, drivers fight against the clock to set the fastest lap time of all. Think of it as qualifying rounds in traditional circuit racing, only lap times determine the winner of the event rather than a grid position. Also like in qualifying rounds, drivers try not to impede each other from setting a flying lap time. Hence why in that video you’ve seen, it seemed like the car had free room to go as fast as they could. Drivers not on a flying lap move off the racing line to avoid impeding the lap time.

Another major difference between Time Attack and other forms of motorsport is that outside of safety regulations, the rules give almost total freedom in terms of modification. This has led to the creation of some absolutely crazy machines in recent times, boasting extreme aero and suspension packages capable of putting 900+ horsepower to the ground and around a track at mind bending pace… on street legal tires.

The MCA Hammerhead S13 currently holds the WTAC lap record and is the ultimate example of an all-out Time Attack machine…at least until October.

Today many countries around the world have at least one national Time Attack series with Australia, Europe, Japan, and the USA being the frontrunners. In 2010, Superlap Australia invited Japan and the USA to bring the best cars they had to compete against Australia’s best. This marked the beginning of the World Time Attack Challenge (WTAC), currently the biggest Time Attack event of the calendar year and the only international event. Anyone the world over is welcome to enter, as long as you can meet the regulations for the competition.

Why is it so popular?

The main reason Time Attack has exploded in popularity worldwide is how accessible it is. Every Time Attack series is made up of multiple classes ranging from an entry-level street car class to a full on, Pro level class. This means that everyone – from the casual enthusiast who brought his/her daily driver or weekend toy, to the tuning company or race team with a highly sophisticated racecar – has an opportunity to compete and even take home a trophy.

Whether you own a pure street car or an all out flying lap machine, anyone can compete in Time Attack.

Because Time Attack is so accessible, the field of cars competing tends to be very diverse. Old or brand new, JDM, Euro or American muscle, any car can be built to compete in Time Attack (As this article was being written, a SR20 powered Suzuki Jimny ran a 1:06.431 at the Rev Speed Time Attack meet at Tsukuba). This is the reason for another big factor in the popularity of Time Attack, it’s relatable. It is easier for an enthusiast to develop a vested interest in a motorsport if he/she sees a car on track that is just like theirs, being driven by a gearhead just like them, and achieving fast lap times with the help of modifications that they could make to their own cars.

Why is it important?

The all-inclusive structure of time attack events offers tuning shops a relatively inexpensive outlet to advertise their services on a big stage from the outset. This is especially important for new, relatively unknown shops. Take Global Time Attack for example. Every team, from Enthusiast entrants to Pro entrants, are able to demonstrate what their tuning shop is capable of producing, at the same event. This differs to the league system used in drifting, where rookie teams must first compete and win in smaller, less publicized competitions in order to move up to the highest level (Formula Drift). Snail Performance is a good example of a company that has made full use of Time Attack to demonstrate their services, running a 4 car strong team in Global Time Attack. Their performances have aided in their development into a well-respected tuning company, with two shops in California and Arizona.

Snail Performance’s all-Subaru Time Attack Team. A number of other non-Subaru competitors make use of their services as well.

Time Attack is also an important outlet for performance part manufacturers. While motorsports at the highest level (e.g. Blancpain GT Series, WEC etc.) are dominated – usually via contract with the car manufacturer – by large, well established performance part manufacturers (Reiger, Sadev, Ohlins, Magneti Marelli etc.), smaller companies have used Time Attack to develop their products and become established names in the performance aftermarket industry.

Fortune Auto, for example, has risen in a few years to become one of the finest builders of street and motorsport coilover suspension kits in the USA, offering levels of engineering and customization usually associated with premium motorsport coilover brands, at a comparatively affordable price. Much of their success is due to their involvement in Time Attack series in the US and Canada, with many drivers using their kits with great success and providing invaluable data for further development. They are also gaining a strong presence overseas, with a number of Time Attack teams in Australia, Japan and New Zealand opting for their kits, most notably Andy Duffin’s rather mental sounding 20b powered, 3 Rotor Racing RX7.

Fortune Auto’s custom coilover kits can be found on many record setting cars in Global Time Attack. Overseas, the fan favorite 3 Rotor Racing RX7 has been flying the flag for Fortune Auto at WTAC, the biggest stage of all. (Side note: Expect at least two of the cars shown above to make a WTAC appearance this year).

Over in Australia, Topstage Composites has become a highly respected developer of custom carbon fiber aero packages. They are known especially for their dominance in the WTAC Open Class, with cars running their packages finishing 1-2-3 in 2014 and 1-3 in 2015, proving that they can rub shoulders with the likes of Voltex and AMB Aero. These companies then see success in the performance street car market, as consumers can buy their products knowing that they are quality, motorsport proven parts.

Topstage Composites created this wild aero package to help the JDM Yard Civic put 550hp to the front wheels as efficiently as possible. The design worked well, as they won the WTAC Open Class in 2015, becoming the first Honda and also the first FWD car ever to win Open Class.

 What does the future hold?

Only time will tell how well Time Attack can maintain its reputation as an easily accessible entry into motorsport, but if it can maintain its all-inclusive structure as well as the freedom for competitors to find their own unique formula for the perfect lap, I expect it to go far. I personally would like to see continental competitions reach the point where they can offer live coverage on the same level as WTAC. Maybe the level of interest in Time Attack in the Caribbean can rise to the point where we can have a regional championship, or even enter cars into Global Time Attack events. What about you? Would you like to see Time Attack develop into an established form of motorsport in the Caribbean?

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