The air was crisp and clear, and the rising sun had just begun to add a touch of warmth after a long, cold night of White Claws, broken cars, Popeyes chicken sandwiches, and undeterred motivation.
The dozen or so rumbling race machines lining the grid—their rich exhaust gasses condensing in the cool morning air—were crackling to life and scrambling onto the track like a herd of wild stallions taking to the wide Western plains.
At the reins were a group of weary but unwavering wheelmen and women, prepared to fight the clock and their better instincts for validation at the hand of progress in speed and skill.
And as I stood before it all in the dew-soaked Buttonwillow Raceway infield, my cameras at the ready, it hit me: I love everything about this.
Why Time Attack Matters
Think back to the reasons you got into this particular corner of the automotive enthusiast world. Chances are you didn’t dream of winning the 24 Hours of Daytona or the Indy 500. You likely had no affinity for NASCAR culture, or like many, detested it. And you probably weren’t the same kind of straight-line muscle car nut as your dad or uncle.
I’d bet there’s a good chance the underdog idea of building an insanely potent performance machine from a car that was designed to be anything but that inspires you. You might have even looked at it all as a way to better yourself and prove your abilities to a world where, while few might understand it, those who do would respect you for it. Well, surprise! That’s what time attack is all about.
The Soul of Super Lap
Every November since 2004, some of the continent’s—and in past years, the world’s—fastest and highest-performing tuned unibody cars have taken to the California desert in a shared quest to determine who’s fastest around the track in a small number of classes. Unlike wheel-to-wheel racing, time attack competition is purely about man and machine; it’s a race against time, traction, talent, mechanics, and skill. If you can build it, and/or drive it, you can win it.
The whole thing officially started in Japan, with events like the annual Super Battle at the famed Tsukuba Circuit setting a precedent. As one might imagine, Japan’s biggest players were eager to mark their territory here, once we borrowed the idea for ourselves. Sun Auto’s CyberEVO established the first overall high-water mark in Super Lap Battle’s inaugural competition, with driver Tarzan Yamada blasting a 1:48.906 around Buttonwillow’s Clockwise 13-turn (CW13) configuration. Three years later, it was HKS’ turn, as its team dropped the record to 1:43.523 with the “CT230R” EVO, driven by Nobuteru Taniguchi.
Then something happened. We began to get good at time attack. Three years later, it was America’s Sierra Sierra EVO IX and FX Motorsports Development’s NSX battling each other for overall honors, and well below the previous record—1:41.056 and 1:41.949, respectively.
Records overall and in every competition class were reset several times over by several competitors until 2018 when the unthinkable happened: a Canadian driver fielding his 9th-generation Honda Civic reset the overall record by a margin that was widely considered unthinkable from any car, let alone a FWD machine. And that same team—William Au-Yeung and PZ Tuning—continued to break track records and inspire fellow FWD competitors to take over a sport that only several years prior was owned exclusively by heavily funded AWD teams.
It was the perfect reminder of what time attack was all about.
Top-Flight Time Attack Today
Will Au-Yeung’s amazing 1:37.308 overall Buttonwillow record still stands, and competition for the overall fastest time this year wasn’t as fierce as it was in past years, but that’s not to say it didn’t exist.
Overall 2016 winner Mark Jager and Yimisport were looking to improve upon their 1:41.309 best time after adding a new aero package, turbo and sequential trans to their Subaru WRX STI, and looked to be the odds-on choice to take the whole shebang—if not the record—in the process. But Mark’s curse of late (more on that later) would hold, the car mechanically bowed out before completing a lap, showing a freak 77 degrees of timing advance in cylinder no. 4 and refusing to continue.
After that, all eyes were on Dai Yoshihara and Evasive Motorsports. Famous, of course, for his decade-plus of Formula Drift competition and winning 2011 series championship honors, Dai is a great driver around a racetrack going sideways, or otherwise. He’s a regular Super Lap Battle contender, and this year found himself behind the wheel of Evasive Motorsports’ ENEOS Oil Toyota 86 built for Pikes Peak International Hill Climb competition.
Powered by a 900-plus-horsepower 2JZ, with a sequential Samsonas gearbox and buff KW Suspension tuned by the one-and-only Mike Kojima, the car had been turning heads for years and had all the right ingredients to be a champion. The team approached the event with a cautious strategy, gradually turning up the boost, leaning out fuel trims, optimizing ignition timing, and closely monitoring vitals.
Their win was never set in stone—with Dai battling Sean Cagle in the Caliber Customs Chevy Corvette FRC throughout the weekend—but the 1:41.092-second lap clocked in the final lap of the last day turned out to be the fastest of the event, by more than two seconds.
Dai also wheeled the personal A90 Supra of Sam Du, Super Street magazine editor-in-chief. A conflict between Sam’s dual spoilers and the GTA rule book forced the car into Unlimited-class competition, where—despite running an impressive 1:57.616 in its first official outing—it placed dead-last. Meaning Dai somewhat amusingly took the first and last places in class.
The Real Knife Fight: Limited and Street Classes
The fight for the Limited class podium was every bit as impressive as the Unlimited competition. VTEC Club co-founder and local driving guru Amir Bentatou and Subie hot-shoe Cody Miles put on the most anxious battle, Amir, behind the wheel of Ryan Castro’s V8-powered E36 BMW M3 and Cody in his venerable Air Lift WRX STI.
Both finished the day in the 1:47s (Amir with a1:47.050 to Cody’s 1:47.966). But Steven Chan in the RD Engineering / PIT Garage GT-R emerged as the leader, clocking a blistering 1:45.692 lap.
Similarly, Street Class competition saw a fierce battle among Johnny Hernandez in the Lido Labs WRX STI, Thomas Smith in his own Thomas Smith Racing WRX STI, and Jackie Ding in the quickest A90 Supra of the event, with the three finishing second through fourth, respectively, within just over one-tenth of a second of each other!
Shawn Krebsbach took the win in the RS Motors EVO IX by just over a second, with a 1:48.629. For context, that’s faster than Tarzan’s best overall time that set time attack’s New World on fire back in 2004, achieved today in a Street Class vehicle. Insane.
The Year of the Supra … Until Next Year
Anyone who caught even a glimpse of SEMA coverage this year understands the thoroughly saturated market penetration of the new car in enthusiast show circles. Well, I’m happy to report that the same is beginning to occur on the racetrack.
I first saw Jackie Ding’s A90 Supra at this year’s Gridlife South, where it was lapping Road Atlanta to an impressive time of 1:35.088-seconds in mostly stock form. His Supra was one of two A90 Supras in competition (along with friend Chinchi Chiang’s car).
Less than three months later, I’m happy to report that there were no fewer than eight A90 Supras present at this year’s Global Time Attack Finals, led by Mr. Ding with that blisteringly fast 1:50.059 Fourth-Place finish in Street Class.
VTEC Club ace Matt Rojana temporarily traded the keys to his Ballade Sports S2000 for the Art of Attack A90 Supra at BW, and laid down the next-quickest time among the new Toyotas, with a 1:52.021-second lap in Street Class.
In fact, all A90 Supras in attendance ran best times in the 1:57s or quicker, with the ironic exception being HKS’s flared machine, managing a best time of only 2:03.656 in its track debut, no doubt navigating some new-car kinks and wanting to preserve its show-floor finish just a little longer.
Mark Jager Gets His
Mark hasn’t been in the game as long as some, but his raw driving talent, refined skill, and ability to build a world-class car quickly ranked him and his Yimisport Subaru WRX STI among time attack’s quickest. And ever since, he’s had to fight tooth and nail to earn every victory.
Regular readers will remember 2017, when Mark and Paul from Yimisport broke on Saturday, drove back to Los Angeles, built a new engine from scratch, drove back on Sunday, and nearly won the race. Or their painful mechanical failure last year that kept them out of contention altogether.
When Mark’s car suffered that freak timing event this time around—currently, a faulty cam sensor is the suspected culprit—his good bud Rick O’Donnell offered Mark a seat in his crazy Opel-bodied, V8-powered, S13 Pro/Comp-class car. Mark took advantage of the opportunity, driving the car to the class win with a 1:54.407 pass, just under a second ahead of Justin Bayliss in his own equally crazy Honda S2000-powered VW Rabbit.
We love sportsmanship like that. And for obvious reasons, we love the zany things that show up for Pro/Comp class competition, too.
The next time the thought crossed my mind wasn’t until the end of the long, final day of competition, in the closing moments of the event. I had taken my usual sunset position at the opposite end of the Buttonwillow infield, catching the last rays of daylight as they danced over the cars roaring out of Riverside and into Phil Hill. This moment was the last, best possible shot for Group A (the fastest) competitors to give it their best shot. Dai and the 86 flew through my viewfinder for the last time, and as he crossed the finish line seconds later, I heard wild cheers from his crew celebrating in the distance, signifying a great end to an awesome year for all of us.
“Yep,” I thought, “This is exactly what I signed up for.”
But Wait, There’s More!
A total of 87 cars entered Global Time Attack’s five competition classes this time around, and we’ve barely touched on a dozen of them. There were fires. There were crashes. There were broken transmissions, midnight trips back to L.A. for more transmissions, slightly less-broken transmissions, and respectable finishes from drivers who refused to give up (Amir, we’re looking at you and that awesome NSX). And there was more awesome stuff than we could ever cover in a single article. Thumb through our gallery below, and follow Front Street Media and Global Time Attack on social for more of it all: