November is truly a great month for the automotive industry. It marks the end of the heavy event season but it also brings two really important gatherings for our segment, SEMA and the world famous Super Lap Battle Finals. This event has always been known to bring the fastest cars from both sides of the Pacific for a time attack session of epic proportions.
This year I made the trek out to the dilapidated freeway offramp that is the town of Buttonwillow slightly more prepared than last year. Although the hotel outlook was just as grim as ever at least this time I had packed my own sheets! Accompanying my sleep apparatus were four huge cases of photo gear, all necessary to ensure I was able to capture the kind of shots that would actually do justice to the automotive spectacle I was about to partake in witnessing.
When I arrived on Tuesday afternoon to catch the practice sessions I took a quick survey of the cars that were already out at BW gettin' busy. I was quite surprised not to see the Team Tarzan (aka Cusco)STI that came dangerously close to breaking HKS' overall track record last year. It seemed as though the team was only a new gearbox away from taking the whole thing but alas the car was nowhere to be seen.
That's not to say there weren't any highly-anticipated cars huddled up in the paddocks. One of the first sights that blasted my retinas upon rolling into the pits was Sierra Sierra Enterprises' massive vehicle hauler, a telltale sign that their infamous Evo VIII I had only seen in pictures must be lurking somewhere nearby. The nearly all carbon-fiber exterior of the car only begins to hint at the level of engineering that went into it. The chassis and electronics setup is at a level I've never witnessed in American time attack builds, but it comes as no surprise since these guys are versed in racing not only Formula Atlantic cars, but jets! Regardless, for any team to come out with something this gnarly on their first ever road-going car build is extremely impressive.
On the other end of the spectrum, I was stoked to see Ken Chitwood's S2000 freshly outfitted in its only-one-in-existence prototype Voltex aero kit. Looks aside, the car is very timid but extremely well-balanced, everything a time attack car should be. To say this car was popular amongst point-and-shoot camera toting pit goers would be a severe understatement. The car drew crowds around it so large that I eventually gave up on attempting to photograph it until it was on-track and bystander free. The new look is really sharp and led to some incredible times.
After finishing some staged photoshoots I went back to the pit area and chatted with a few of the teams until the BW trademark pink evening sky faded into night. Spending a night in Buttonwillow always leads to one thing, dinner at a certain BBQ restaurant that will remain nameless. The dinner has become a staple of SLB for what I can only assume to be two factors: it allows enough room for everyone to sit at the same restaurant and it's essentially the only non-fast food option. The menu in front of you is poised to deliver culinary empty promises. Imagine flavorless beef jerky served at room temperature with some BBQ sauce slathered on it and you've virtually experienced WRBBQ.
After waking up malnourished at the crack of dawn I was only a Starbucks stop away from heading the track. When I arrived, the teams were already well underway preparing, tweaking and fine-tuning the cars to get every last drop out them for the single fastest lap. The competition was sure to be fierce and there were many records placed on the chopping block for the cars to slash away at. Unfortunately some mechanical failures took out two class front-runners early on. Loi Song's Sportcar Motion EG hatchback, recently rebuilt to Unlimited class specs, suffered an engine failure and an off-track excursion that left little of the front end intact. The previous Unlimited FR record holding BC/C-West carbon S2000 also was unable to come out to play as Tyler McQuarrie had to stand by idly watching his record being stabbed at.
Four teams looked like they had a fighting chance at nearing the overall record of 1:43.523 set by HKS in 2007. Sierra Sierra, FX Motorsports, Crawford and AMS all looked like they would get very close. The fastest three cars were separated by less than a half of a second! Unfortunately none of the teams were able to break into the 1:44 zone, Sierra Sierra being the closest and taking top honors with a time of 1:45.061. The overall record would stand for another year, but nearly every other record was destroyed in 2009.
Billy Johnson piloted the sinister FX/Cricket NSX to a blistering time of 1:45.247, the second fastest time of the day and broke the old Unlimited FR record held by BC/C-West by over 1.5 seconds! In Street FR, Rob Walker tore up BW config 13 in the Evasive S2000 (featured just before this article) blowing away the old record of 1:57.711 with a fastest time of 1:56.762. Not only was the blue S2K the fastest Street FR it was actually the fastest Street Class car period, coming within one-tenth of setting the outright Street Class record!
The Limited AWD class was a three-way battle between Ryan Gates, Tim Kuo and JC Meynet. Although the Evasive Evo did best its old record, Gates would take the crown with a time of 1:49.805 setting the new record. Another of Evasive's records went to the wayside, this one uncontested. Windspeed Motorsports must have done a lot of work in the last year to knock almost five seconds off last year's time setting a new Street FF record of 2:00.256, annihilating the previous record by more than three whole seconds!
The "most epic record-smashing award of SLB '09" (if there were such a thing) would have to go to Chris Rado and the World Racing Scion TC. Chris came into this event with a monkey on his back and had his sights set on breaking the record. The last two years Chris suffered from classic episodes of bad luck. This year Rado and his team implemented a few new weapons. The "Fwing" on the front of the car might be questionable looking but the performance gain over last year's setup is unquestionable. Rado would also debut Continental's newest tire, a collaboration with Hoosier. The result? An unfathomable 1:49.703, making it the first FWD car to break the 1:50 mark. With this time Chris also broke the longest-standing record in SLB history, previously held by a GM Factory backed Cobalt.
Even though HKS and the Japanese seem to have the upper-hand in time attack it's clear that the US teams are getting more serious about this motorsport. With teams like Sierra Sierra, AMS, FX Motorsports, Crawford and BC pushing the envelope in their respective classes, next year is sure to be intense. The competition keeps getting closer and more exciting. It's only a matter of time before someone takes a slice at the HKS record. Could 2010 be the year that the US takes over?
Playing Catch Up - SLB's Ten Hottest Laps
Time attack, just like drifting, originated in Japan. Therefore it's no surprise that the Japanese are at the forefront of the sport. However, in the US' limited involvement, we have already made some astonishing advances. Here's a look at the 10 fastest cars to ever run the Super Lap Battle finals. Take note that nine of these top times were counted in the last two years, proving that the community as a whole is moving in the right direction.
|1||Sierra Sierra Enterprises||Mitsubishi Evo IX||David Empringham||Unlimited AWD||1:45.061|
|2 *||Cricket/FX Motorsports Development||Acura NSX NA1||Billy Johnson||Unlimited FR||1:45.247|
|3||Crawford Performance||Subaru WRX STI GRB||Tarzan Yamada||Unlimited AWD||1:45.552|
|4||AMS/NOS Energy Drink Time Attack Team||Mitsubishi Evo X||Paul Gerrard||Unlimited AWD||1:46.829|
|5||Driving Ambition||Acura NSX NA1||Kip Olson||Unlimited FR||1:48.072|
|6||Dell(tm) Equallogic/GOTO:Racing||Nissan GT-R R35||Brian Lock||Unlimited AWD||1:49.366|
|7 **||WORLD Racing||Scion tC||Chris Rado||Unlimited FF||1:49.703|
|8 ***||Gates311.com/AMS||Mitsubishi Evo X||Ryan Gates||Limited AWD||1:49.805|
|9||Evasive Motorsports||Mitsubishi Evo IX||Tim Kuo||Limited AWD||1:49.977|
|10||Harmonmotive/AQ Motorsports||Subaru WRX STI GDB||JC Meynet||Limited AWD||1:50.202|
|11||HASport/Ksport||Honda Civic EG||Tage Evanson||Unlimited FF||1:53.002|
|12||TEAM 5ZIGEN||Honda Accord Euro-R CL7||Katsuyuki Hirakana||Unlimited FF||1:53.422|
|13||LIC Motorsports||Subaru WRX STI GDB||Dr. Russ Warr||Limited AWD||1:53.835|
|14||JHPUSA/AQ||Honda S2000 AP1||JC Meynet||Limited FR||1:55.024|
|15||Forged Performance||Nissan GT-R R35||Sharif Abdelbaset||Limited AWD||1:55.583|
|16||Fair Enough Competition||Mazda Miata NA6||Matt Andrews||Limited FR||1:55.763|
|17||Eastside Muffler||Mitsubishi Evo IX||Joe Santiago||Limited AWD||1:55.985|
|18||UMS Tuning||Mitsubishi Evo VIII||Anthony Szirka||Unlimited AWD||1:56.434|
|19||BuddyClub/APR/trackHQ.com||Lotus Elise||Manly Kao||Limited FR||1:56.640|
|20 ****||Evasive Motorsports||Honda S2000 AP2||Robert Walker||Street FR||1:56.762|
|21||Tomei-GT||Subaru WRX STI GDB||Tarzan Yamada||Street AWD||1:57.188|
|22||HB Speed/Cobb Tuning/Robispec||Mitsubishi Evo X||Jon Drenas||Street AWD||1:57.630|
|23||Stop Tech||Mitsubishi Evo X||Stephen Ruiz||Street AWD||1:57.699|
|24||Fair Enough Competition /|
|KBR Performance / ROBISpec||Mitsubishi Eclipse II||Matt Andrews||Limited FF||1:58.027|
|25||Trackspeed Engineering||Mazda Miata NA6||Andrew Kidd||Limited FR||1:58.119|
|26||NASA||Toyota MR-2 SW20||Jeremy Croiset||Street FR||1:59.768|
|27||Bergenholtz Racing||Mazda RX-8||Edward Bergenholtz||Unlimited FR||1:59.776|
|28||OctaneReport.com/M1FD/TTech||Mitsubishi Evo IX||Russ Warr||Street AWD||1:59.789|
|29||TEIN/Import Tuner||Nissan 370Z||Tyler McQuarrie||Street FR||1:59.829|
|30||AFI Turbo||Honda S2000 AP2||Jeremy Renshaw||Limited FR||1:59.830|
|31||Forged Performance||Nissan GT-R R35||Jared Stoops||Limited AWD||1:59.963|
|32||ZielSports/JIC||Nissan GT-R R35||Jon Kaneda||Street AWD||2:00.162|
|33 *****||WindSpeed Motorsports/Continental Tire||Dodge SRT-4||Douglas Wind||Street FF||2:00.256|
|34||Pizza Factory/Robispec||Nissan 370Z||Robi Fuller||Street FR||2:00.585|
|35||TEIN /AMS/C-West/HB Speed||Mitsubishi Evo X||Robert Walker||Street AWD||2:00.908|
|36||Evolution Racewerks||BMW 135i||VJ Mirzayan||Street FR||2:00.994|
|37||Team SCS||Honda Civic EF||Darin Nishimura||Limited FF||2:01.139|
|38||Berk Technology||BMW 135i||Mike Bonanni||Street FR||2:01.534|
|39||Team SCS||Subaru WRX STI GRB||Paul Yim||Street AWD||2:01.772|
|40||Honda Tuning||Honda Civic EG||Dylan Huig||Limited FF||2:02.884|
|41||Team SCS||Subaru WRX STI GRB||Jonathan Gih||Street AWD||2:03.605|
|42||DoubleDownMotorsports.com||Nissan 370Z||Mike Bonanni||Street FR||2:04.205|
|43||GT Channel/GTI||Nissan 350Z||Dai Yoshihara||Street FR||2:04.872|
|44||Raceline USA||Honda Civic Si FG||Elton Lo||Street FF||2:05.733|
|45||Sparco||Mitsubishi Evo X||Emile Bouret||Street AWD||2:05.794|
|46||SPEC Clutch||Porsche 911||David Norton||Street FR||2:06.051|
|47||HASport||Honda Civic EG||Gabe Ortega||Street FF||2:07.298|
|48||Honda Tuning/JHP USA||Honda Civic Type R EK9||Ryan Novak||Limited FF||2:07.394|
|49||SR Motorsports||Nissan 240SX S13||Steven Rogers||Street FR||2:08.217|
|50||Modified Magazine||Acura Integra DC2||Peter Tarach||Street FF||2:08.322|
|51||JSP Performance/Circuit Hero||Acura Integra DC2||Reza Yaghoubi||Limited FF||2:09.895|
* new Unlimited FR record, beating old record of 1:46.893 held by C-West/BC Honda S2000
** new Unlimited FF record, beating old record of 1:51.318 held by GM Performance Division Cobalt
*** new Limited AWD record, beating old record of 1:50.003 held by Evasive Motorsports Evo IX
**** new Street FR record, beating old record of 1:57.711 held by Yokohama/ Boost Logic Toyota Supra
***** new Street FF record, beating old record of 2:03.557 held by Evasive Motorsports Honda Civic