Man Against Man, Machine, and Time: GTA Super Lap Battle
Text and photos by Luke Munnell
In the inimitable words of Tyler Durden, “how much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” And when it comes to racing, that rule applies to all opponents identified by the literary definition of conflict. After all, how well do you know the driver next to you until you’ve raced against him (or her) and discovered a technique you have yet to master? How well do you know your car until you’ve stayed up all night wrenching it back together because the build you thought to be perfect proved less so? And how well do you know nature until you’ve had to lay all your time, money and increasing margins of safety on the line in a battle against time to clock the single fastest lap in your class and bring home the win?
This year’s Global Time Attack finals and 13th-annual Super Lap Battle at California’s Buttonwillow Raceway saw 82 competitors in 13 classes fight some of the harshest battles we’ve ever seen in the two days of their shared quest for the ultimate stateside time attack honors.
Catastrophic failures, all-night rebuilds, broken records, upsets, and victory — this is U.S. time attack!
Unlimited AWD has traditionally been the class of the fastest time-attack competitors, and after a few unorthodox years of Unlimited RWD, Limited AWD, and very nearly Pro Comp competitors taking top honors, it seems things are back to normal. Mark Jager and his No. 149 Yimi Sport Subaru WRX STI reclaimed the overall win for the class in 2016 and looked poised to do it all again, if not for the perennial threat of the No. 777 Professional Awesome “Fortune Auto” Mitsubishi EVO IX, with longstanding class record-holder Jeff Westphal behind the wheel.
But when both cars threw rods through their blocks early on the first day, Unlimited AWD fans’ hopes began to fade. Jager, Yimi Sport owner Paul Leung, and the team packed up, headed to their Santa Clarita, Calif., facility, and over the course of the next 24 hours built an entirely new engine from scratch, tuned it at the track bright and early on day two, and clocked a best time of 1:42.306.
The Professional Awesome team decided to hunker down in their Buttonwillow garage space for the night, assembling a spare block and dropping it into the EVO IX before making it back out for Day 2 and clocking a just-slightly-slower 1:42.682 best time.
And while neither team took top honors despite some of the hardest, most tireless work we’ve seen any team put in at a Super Lap Battle, the overall win was defended by the Unlimited AWDs when Andy Smedegard and the No. 21 RS Motors / 365 Racing “Gridlife” Mitsubishi EVO IX improved on last year’s winning time with a somewhat unexpected 1:40.051 fastest lap this time around.
We say “somewhat” because Smedegard and the EVO ran best times in the 1:49 range the past two years, and faced off against not only the defending champ and record holder, but David Haagsma in the SP Engineering Nissan GT-R (running a 1:43.176), as well.
Arguably even more hotly competitive in recent years has been Unlimited FWD, led by the Canadian teams of William Au-Yeung and James Houghton. After having won first in class and third overall at last year’s competition, and later earning “Fastest North American Time Attack” honors at this year’s World Time Attack Challenge in Australia, Au-Yeung opted out of SLB finals with his record-breaking Vibrant Performance / PZ Tuning 9th generation Civic this time around, choosing instead to run his Vibrant / PZ Tuning Acura RSX Type S.
Au-Yeung and the RSX’s 1:43.923 best lap this year was nearly as fast as his 1:43.365 winning time in the Civic last year, but James Houghton proved he and his K-Tuned / Lavigne Motorsports Acura Integra Type R are faster than ever, repairing a blown headgasket on Day 1 (having a spare Uber’d in from LA, and then installing it by the light of one flashlight) to clock a spark-spewing 1:42.288 for a new Unlimited FWD record and class win late in the final day of competition.
2015 class winner and record-setter Dai Yoshihara and the Spoon Sports USA Honda Civic Type R returned this year, and improved on their then-record-setting 1:45.585 lap with a 1:44.589 fastest lap, but transmission woes encountered along the way prevented them from improving further. Saying we can’t wait for next year’s competition is such an understatement.
According to the laws of physics and racecar building, the fastest configuration for a four-wheeled vehicle is good ol’ RWD. When Billy Johnson and FX Motorsports Development re-wrote the SLB overall record in 2012 with their Unlimited RWD Acura NSX, we all thought maybe the racing universe was righting time attack. But when Jeff Westphal and the venerable GST Motorsports Subaru L lowered that to 1:38.967 in 2014 from within the Unlimited AWD class competition (still today’s current fastest all-time record), we knew there was much more in store for the sport.
For the fifth year running, Johnson / FXMD’s Unlimited RWD class record still stands. But progress is being made, and this year 949 Racing’s Emilio Carvantes and Dan Howard improved on last year’s winning time with a fast 1:44.984 — from behind the wheel of a Mazda Miata, no less!
Not far behind them was Cameron Rogers and the Donate Life Racing No. 67 Mazda RX-7 with a 1:45.262, and taking third was Jeff Bader and Casey Dennis in the United Agencies Inc / PayGo 1 No. 75 F82-chassis BMW M4.
For a second year in a row, a professional race team, car and driver nearly took fastest honors from enthusiast aftermarket competitors. “Nearly,” as in “not quite.” Porsche racer Elliott Skeer took the Pro Comp win and placed second overall with a 1:41.853 from the no. 64 Savvy / SP Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, after flogging it around the Buttonwillow circuit for two days straight without a hitch, much like Steven Aghakhani did with the Steven Racing Lamborghini Super Trofeo race car to win the class and Second overall last year.
Say what you will about the undefeated status of aftermarket enthusiasts tuning Japanese econoboxes on relative shoestring budgets (we love it!), but the reliability and repeatability of professional, multi-million-dollar racing efforts is impressive and something we hope our guys attain—and fast.
One of the largest, most diverse and closely competitive classes of the event was Limited RWD. It’s where you would’ve found 16 cars including three BMW M3s and Porsche 911 GT3s, four Honda S2000s, an Acura NSX, a Dodge Viper ACR, a Ford Mustang GT350 … and another Mazda Miata claiming the fastest lap of the bunch, with a 1:48.483 clocked by Ryan Passey and his No. 113 V6-powered Goodwin Racing car.
Taking second in Limited RWD was Formula Drift Pro 2 driver Adam Knapik with a 1:51.426 in the Savvy / SP Motorsports’ second car, the more mildly prepped No. 56 Porsche 911 GT3. Following him were five other competitors all clocking sub-1:52.2 laps, each in cars of different manufacture.
Limited AWD was smaller but similarly competitive, with its top four cars all running 1:51.xxx or faster, led by Roy Narvaez in the No. 50 Narvaez Racing Nissan GT-R with a 1:49.933.
Three Nissan GT-Rs competed in Limited AWD, including Steven Chan taking second in class with a 1:50.336 from the RD Engineering car, followed by Mike Chang in the Evasive Nissan GT-R with a 1:51.794.
But the real upset of the event occurred in Limited FWD racing, with Canadian Chris Boersma and the Boersma Racing / K-Tuned Honda Civic SiR battling through transmission demons of their own to lock up the class win and new class record with a blisteringly fast 1:48.424. That’s faster than the Limited AWD and RWD winners, and nearly 10 seconds faster than Limited FWD’s second place finisher, Formula 1 veteran and GRC champ Scott Speed in the No. 1 Remark / GReddy Racing VW Golf GTI.
Also impressive was the performance put on by Markos Mylonas, when he clocked a faster-than-Limited-class 1:49.353 to take the Street AWD class win from behind the wheel of the No. 555 Snail Performance Subaru Impreza WRX, ahead of Johnny Hernandez with a 1:51.247 out of Lido Labs’ No. 79 WRX STI.
Not far behind was Ken Xu and the No. 88 Diamond Hills Collision / LMR Development Mazda RX-7 with a 1:52.395 to take Street RWD honors, followed by Cooper Pierce in the No. 4 Guess Work Honda Civic Si with a Street FWD-winning 1:56.300.
Close followers of U.S. time attack will note the suspicious absence of GST Motorsports’ record-setting Subaru Impreza, as well as its main rival that year, Lyfe Motorsports’ No. 23 Nissan GT-R. We talked with GST owner Mike Warfield and learned that after 11 racing seasons the car is currently torn down to the metal, awaiting structural reinforcements and a complete rebuild prior to re-emerging hopefully next year. Lyfe’s GTR is also currently in re-build stages, after its unfortunate brake line failure and crash at this year’s Speed Ring event just before SLB.
If the threat of those two returning next year is enough to motivate the rest of this year’s field to hone and once again bring their A-game next year, and possibly entice some of the fastest machines of Super Lap past (UMS Tuning, Limitless Racing, FXMD, this is your call-out!), the best days of time-attack just might be yet to come.