Tsukuba Circuit’s FF Lap Record Holder Is From North America?!
Photography by Tokyonür / Hiro Murata
I’ve immersed myself in the delicacies of time attack for over a decade now, so it’s hard for me to believe that the fastest FF (front-engine, front-wheel-drive) time attack car at Tsukuba Circuit is not from the origin of the track and motorsport type itself in Japan; instead, it’s from several thousand miles away in the city of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. After years of watching videos, playing video games, reading articles, and otherwise obsessing over the culture of Japanese time attack, it seemed to me like other countries would never catch up.
And none of them did for a long time, until a blisteringly fast lap was recorded on February 23rd of this year, when William Au-Yeung claimed the FF top honor with an astounding 53.071-second trip around the famed circuit. Au-Yeung has made a name for himself representing his Canadian PZTuning business while competing in time attack events using front-wheel-drive Hondas. However, it wasn’t until 2015 when he unveiled his new Vibrant Performance-sponsored ninth-generation Honda Civic fit for use in the Unlimited class of Global Time Attack, that the track records really started plummeting.
Prior to Au-Yeung’s planned trip to compete in Japan at the Attack series’ annual Tsukuba Championships event, we discussed doing an article about his weekend. Hiro Murata, known across the internet as Tokyonür, was on site with Au-Yeung all weekend long to record stunning images at Tsukuba’s TC2000 layout. We caught up with Will afterwards to ask him a couple questions about the experience and preparation leading up to it. We hope you enjoy!
Front Street Media: When did you first decide that you wanted to compete in time attack at Tsukuba? And how long have you dreamed of doing it?
William Au-Yeung: At the PRI show in 2017 I started to approach my sponsors about going back to World Time Attack Challenge (WTAC) in Sydney, and then shipping the car right after to time attack in Japan. I guess I’ve dreamt about racing Tsukuba since way back in the Gran Turismo days—between that and watching all the Option JDM videos. You never really think it can happen, it seemed so out of reach that I really didn’t consider it as a possibility.
FSM: So what happened to solidify the trip happening?
WAY: After having an amazing start to the 2018 season, it just seemed right to bring our best there, and with our sponsors we were able to make that a reality! The hardest part was preparing for two events—WTAC first, then followed by Japan. That was a challenge, as we wouldn’t be able to work on the car much between them, so a lot of preparation was required before packing the container.
FSM: Aside from working on the car, you still needed to familiarize yourself with the track beforehand. How were you able to do that from halfway around the world?
WAY: I spent a bunch of time on Assetto Corsa well before the trip. With a month to go, Sasha Anis from OnPoint Dyno forced me to re-subscribe to iRacing, and we spent the night doing some online racing together. He took that opportunity to provide me some live online coaching, and for the rest of the month I learned to perfect the line.
FSM: What was the biggest change you had to make to the car to make it competitive for the track?
WAY: Well that’s the thing that’s been pretty much the most amazing part of our Civic. I’ve rarely made any changes throughout the season, and run basically the same setup at every track we’ve competed at all year!
FSM: How did you determine what, if anything, needed to be changed to prepare the car specifically for the Tsukuba Circuit?
WAY: The only changes specific to Tsukuba were attaining a new set of A050 tires. We typically compete on Hoosier A7 tires, because our setup is optimized to make full use of them, and we knew that they were compliant within the time attack rules in Japan. However, we also knew there could be some controversy within the traditional community, so we made sure we had a fresh set of the Japanese Advan tires to make a run on (thanks to Fire Ando for that). In the end it ended up being a really smart move.
FSM: Once you got to the track, were there unexpected factors you hadn’t anticipated?
WAY: The biggest concern we had was battery issues due to the shipping of the car, and we didn’t have a replacement on hand so we had to keep a booster pack—well, several haha—on hand at all times. I was a bit lucky as the battery was able to charge back up throughout the event. That proved critical as I spun and stalled on the very last session, and I was able to just start back up. With one lap left, I was able to set my fastest lap of the event!
FSM: Sheesh! Sounds like it was a close call. When you were in the middle of it, could you tell you were on your fastest lap?
WAY: Yes, it definitely felt like a great lap, but my lap timer wasn’t setup for the track, so I had no way of knowing the exact time. After rounding the second hairpin corner, I could see many people cheering in the stands, and I knew it must have been my fastest lap at that point.
FSM: Describe your feelings during the lap and when you crossed the finish line on the 53.071 lap.
WAY: We had to repair an intercooler pipe that broke the session before. Because there was limited time between that and the final session, it was a mad dash to find and fix the problem. Duct tape was the answer… and just as I was crossing the finish line on my final lap of the event I could hear it pop apart! But it wasn’t until I was coming back to the pits that it hit me. At that moment I realized just what an incredible adventure we just finished. The crowd, and all of the fellow teams that clapped as I was driving down pit row, you knew it was something really special and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life!
FSM: How did Tsukuba Championship compare to WTAC? Do you have a favorite?
WAY: Oh, they’re so different that you can’t really compare. I’m just so fortunate to have the opportunity to do both. Ian Baker runs without a doubt the biggest and craziest time attack event in the world at WTAC, but Daisuke Aoki of Attack runs something really special at Tsukuba! The history, mystique, and overall experience of Japan was just incredible. The culture is so different, and the people just love motorsports. I will remember it for the rest of my life!
FSM: Would you like to see more competitors from WTAC take a stab at Tsukuba?
WAY: I think that’s a given now. I’m sure we’ll see many from around the world give it a go. When I first reached out to Daisuke Aoki that I wanted to enter his event, I think he was a little surprised. Not many from outside Japan had ever entered a time attack event at Tsukuba, and to do so as a normal competitor was almost unheard of. Lucky for me a couple really great friends joined us on track, JDMYard of Australia, and Kenneth Lau who I knew from back home. It made for an epic experience for all of us, and I think some great entertainment for the Japanese fans and teams that weren’t familiar with us. In the end, I’m massively thankful for all of them joining us out on track. We had some great times, on and off the track.
FSM: I’m sure there are plenty of people whom you’d like to thank.
WAY: Yes, Daisuke Aoki and the Attack series for welcoming us with open arms to their event. To Kenneth Lau and Fu-san for helping with logistics. Our on track team of Andrew MacQueen, Noreen Au-Yeung, and Takao Ishihara and Kazuaki Sasaki of Hoosier Japan. And of course our many sponsors that made the trip even possible:
Vibrant Performance, Competition Clutch, Hoosier Tires, Borg Warner, Fortune Auto, King Bearings, Brian Crower, Rays Wheels, StopTech, TurboSmart, Sparco USA, OnPoint Dyno, Motul USA, FuelSafe, PTP Turbo Blankets, Radium Engineering, Cometic, LA Sleeves, OS Giken, SuperTech, Project µ (Mu), Ron Davis Rads, Hybrid Racing, Anti Gravity Batteries, Stripping Tech, Evolved Injection, PE Racing, Momentum Motorsports, APR Performance, Ignite, CP Carrillo, and Niko Signs.
FSM: Congratulations on the record and such a successful trip. One last question before I let you go, Will. What’s next on the record bucket list for you?
WAY: Well, the next major event we’re going to do is the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb—never ever done such a thing, so it’s going to be a massive learning curve for sure. The goal is to try and set a new FWD benchmark, but many have told us that making it up the mountain is a win in itself!
FSM: We can’t wait for that! Good luck, and thank you for taking the time to talk with us!