Every November there is a day that every import enthusiast looks forward to. No it's not Thanksgiving, it's that faithful Wednesday after SEMA that is home to the greatest time attack event in the US - Super Lap Battle. It is here that mind-blowing cars are debuted. It is here that Japan brings their finest machines to prove their authority. It is here that records are set and broken- on grooved tires, not slicks. It is here that magic happens.
It was at 5:30AM while I sleepily stumbled my way back to my car, coffee in hand, before the drive to Buttonwillow that it hit me - HKS' long-standing overall record was going to be broken. But there was more to it than that, something just seemed different this year. Maybe it was just that I had left all my sanity back in Las Vegas a few days prior but I had a sneaking suspicion that this was going to be a much different Super Lap Final from years gone by. When I arrived at the track I realized I was right.
Buttonwillow Raceway is typically synonymous with bad food, unruly heat and notoriously open skies. All of that was missing this year, well except for the food that is. Standing in the pit lane I was trying to decide if I was still dreaming when the wind screamed over my windbreaker - nope I'm definitely awake. The sky was completely cloaked with a non-threatening layer of clouds. And it was cold, bizarrely it felt nearly freezing and the Weather Channel confirmed a low of 42 degrees. Aside from the wind this was the perfect forecast for breaking records.
Desperately trying to wake up and stop feeling like crap I watched the competitors practice from the upper patio of the timing and scoring tower. There was no doubt about it, everyone brought their A-game today. A slightly decreased field meant lots of open track space giving everyone a better chance still of setting a personal, class or overall record. And a quick look at the talent roster showed several vehicles that looked very capable of finally knocking NOB Taniguchi off the top step.
The first candidate being the all new AWD monster that could only loosely be described as a Scion tC piloted by the talented Chris Rado. Sponsored by Need For Speed and built by World Racing, the same guys who made the FWD car that lapped this very track in 1:49.703. Everyone, myself included, was very anxious to see what the bigger and badder car could do in its debut event. The other two record-smashing hopefuls, Sierra Sierra and FXMD need no introduction. Both of these already successful cars had undergone major development since last year's race and setting the new pace seemed likely.
After the practice session I found my way on track and dug in by the grapevine corner and waited for cars to appear. The first car to come into the viewfinder was a very familiar black and red Evo. Then the next car to come around was... another black and red Evo? After the first ten minutes Dave Empringham was still the only vehicle on track and I had to check with the corner marshall to see if the session had actually started. As it turned out, Emp was the only driver ready at the start of the session so he had the whole track to himself and seemingly absolutely loved it.
The car looked amazing out there, to the untrained eye it actually appeared somewhat slow, a common result of a well setup car. There were no obvious dramatics at all, the car looked almost completely flat in the corners and showed little sign of traction issues in any circumstance. As the flogging continued other cars did eventually file into the session but the few moments of empty track proved to be enough for SSE. Just before lunchtime the first session times were posted and they didn't lie - at the very top next to car #1 was a time - 1:41.046
It was official, after only one session the Mitsubishi from Nevada had demolished the track record. The only question now was would they or another team better it? Billy Johnson recorded a 1:45.051 in his NSX which surely wasn't representative of the car's full potential and the car had been in the garage just before the first session, so maybe he was babying it. Chris Rado on the other hand didn't make the first session, the result of an unfortunate testing session so the triple-header was now a two-way battle. But records weren't falling only for the unlimited boys.
In the limited AWD class, JC Meynet drove his AQ Motorsports Subie to a new class record with a time of 1:48.550, beating his closest competitors, 034 Motorsport and Evasive, by a decent margin. In limited FF, the FX Motorsports Eclipse took top honors while setting a new record of 1:55.375, the first time in recent memory that this class record was held by something other than a Civic. Things got very interesting in a hotly contested battle for the street AWD record between AMS president Martin Musial and, well, himself. Driving both the AMS Evo X and GT-R Martin was able to set a new class record of 1:55.810 in the Evo on ContiSport3s, narrowly faster than the GT-R by less than half a second.
Martin wasn't the only man piloting more than one machine on this day as several drivers were spotted ride swapping. If we had to pick a multi-tasker of the day though we'd have to give honors to Japan's Tarzan Yamada who rode no less than three whips including the Tomei WRX, C-West Supra and Import Tuner's project S2000. Sadly none of the cars were up to Tarzan's record breakable talent; maybe next year we can see the Cyber Evo or Cusco STI (or both, crosses fingers) make a return.
As the day progressed many cars did improve on their lap times, but bizarrely this wasn't the case for Sierra Sierra. Had they strategically put everything on the line in the first session while the track was clear and cold? With FX getting faster and faster it seemed like SSE might be in dire trouble if they didn't step it up. But the struggle was all for naught as the black NSX ran a fastest time of 1:41.949, fast enough to set a blistering unlimited FR record, but not fast enough to eclipse the Evo.
While walking the pits at the event's end it finally dawned on me what the real difference was with the 2010 Finals - the vibe. The shroud of mystery was gone from the event, and with it I think a little of the hype. Everyone knew that SSE and FX would break the record, it was simply a matter of by how much. There was no halo machine from Japan, no totally new American teams - just well sorted vehicles that were expected to out perform on this day. But it wasn't until Elliott made the announcement at the awards ceremony that I realized this is the first time, ever, that a team from the states holds a record on our turf. It sent a slight chill running down my spine.
We're no longer the red headed stepchild of the time attack world. We're no longer chasing after seemingly impossible goals; we are now at the forefront. When you really think about it it's pretty astonishing what FX has done as well, although they didn't set the overall record they came damn close and there is no doubt in my mind that it is the fastest RWD time attack car in the world. Combined with World Racing's ludicrous FWD tC the US likely has the fastest machines, in every class, on the globe. And with that thought, I'm calling you out Japan. Come back to SLB. Come get some!
|1||Sierra Sierra Enterprises||2005 Mitsubishi Evo||Unlimited AWD||1:41.046|
|2||FX Motorsports Development||1991 Acura NSX||Unlimited FR||1:41.949|
|3||GST Motorsports||1996 Subaru Impreza L||Unlimited AWD||1:44.586|
|4||AQ Motorsports||2006 Subaru STI||Limited AWD||1:48.550|
|5||034 Motorsport||Audi A4 Quattro||Limited AWD||1:49.875|
|6||Driving Ambition||1991 Acura NSX||Unlimited FR||1:50.190|
|7||Evasive Motorsports||2006 Mitsubishi Evo IX||Limited AWD||1:51.034|
|8||N1 Racing||1999 Honda S2000||Unlimited FR||1:51.055|
|9||HASport / Ksport / TTM||1995 Honda Civic||Unlimited FF||1:51.653|
|10||AFI Turbo||2005 Honda S2000||Unlimited FR||1:52.396|
|11||AE Performance||2008 BMW M3||Unlimited FR||1:53.079|
|12||UMS Tuning||2003 Mitsubishi Evo||Unlimited AWD||1:53.086|
|13||Rennspec||2001 BMW M3||Limited FR||1:53.481|
|14||Top Setup||1988 Honda CRX||Unlimited FF||1:53.525|
|15||Igloocase.com||1995 Toyota Supra||Limited FR||1:54.497|
|16||FX Motorsports Development||1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse||Limited FF||1:55.375|
|17||AMS||2008 Mitsubishi Evo X||Street AWD||1:55.810|
|18||AMS||2009 Nissan GTR||Street AWD||1:55.990|
|19||Tomei/GT||2002 Subaru WRX||Street AWD||1:57.159|
|20||C-West/Garage GT||1994 Toyota Supra||Unlimited FR||1:58.042|
|21||Ren Motorsport / trackHQ.com||2001 Honda S200||Limited FR||1:58.668|
|22||GMR Racing||2000 Honda S2000||Unlimited FR||1:58.840|
|23||Cobb Tuning SoCal||2008 Mitsubishi Evo X||Street AWD||1:59.050|
|24||Rufast/Insane Racing||2003 Mitsubishi Evo||Unlimited AWD||1:59.621|
|25||Snail Performance||2003 Subaru WRX||Limited AWD||1:59.652|
|26||GST Motorsports||2006 Mitsubishi Evo IX||Street AWD||2:00.109|
|27||Ksport||Acura RSX||Unlimited FF||2:00.146|
|28||AQ Motorsports||2005 Subaru STI||Street AWD||2:00.571|
|29||Fswerks||2005 Ford Focus||Street FF||2:01.699|
|30||Windspeed Motorsports/||2004 Dodge SRT-4||Street FF||2:01.758|
|31||GT Channel / GTI||2006 Nissan 350Z||Street FR||2:01.937|
|32||Evasive||Honda S2000||Street FR||2:02.040|
|33||iL4 Racing||2000 Honda Civic||Limited FF||2:02.239|
|34||Modified Magazine||1999 Acura Integra||Limited FF||2:02.364|
|35||Evasive Motorsports||2008 Honda Civic||Street FF||2:02.635|
|36||Hasport / Tri-Tech Motorsports||1994 Honda Civic||Limited FF||2:03.633|
|37||G Spot Civic||1992 Honda Civic||Limited FF||2:03.900|
|38||FF Squad||1997 Acura Intergra Type-R||Limited FF||2:05.656|
|39||Modified Magazine||2003 Dodge SRT-4||Street FF||2:08.612|
|40||Crawford Performance||2011 Scion tC||Limited FF||2:14.676|
|41||Honda Tuning||2011 Honda CR-Z||Hybrid||2:18.016|
|42||Eibach Springs||2011 Honda CR-Z||Hybrid||2:20.319|
New Overall Record