It was a challenge that would be momentous for anyone to achieve: take down a prepared car driven by a longtime professional driver at a course that requires bravery and skill to drive fast. For this automotive version of Pro vs. Joe, it would be the HKS Nissan GT-R driven by long time Super GT and D1 Grand Prix driver, Nobuteru Taniguchi, on Auto Club Speedway’s full roval configuration. If anyone could beat his fastest time set that day in the Unlimited GT-R Class, that person would take home the $20,000 grand prize put up by Motovicity and HKS USA. Of course, what they didn’t plan on was the USA bringing their best Nissan GT-R to The Speed Ring powered by HKS and driven by Cole Powelson, who would take home the cash and the LYFE Motorsport GT-R would take the title of fastest GT-R in the world.
Now, there aren’t many of you who are going to be unfamiliar with Nobuteru “NOB” Taniguchi. If you’ve been involved with the sport compact scene even 10 years ago you couldn’t escape his name. His motorsport career started out in minibikes but got his start in four wheels in drifting. Of course, the stereotypical starting car for that would be a 1986 Toyota Corolla AE86 and it was for him as well. He’s also involved with Car Make T&E with Takahiro Ueno. However, what he’s come to be known for is being a very, very fast driver, and the first time HKS saw him in 1999 at a Suzuka Clubman Race they knew they had to sign him as a test driver. From there he’s been in the D1 Grand Prix, starred in Best Motoring International videos, raced in Super Taikyu, Super GT, World Touring Cars, Endurance Racing, and, where he’s most well known of all, Time Attack. That’s what brought him here to the US for The Speed Ring at Auto Club Speedway.
Our challenger, however, isn’t a driver as a full profession. Cole Powelson’s day job is building and servicing race cars with LYFE Motorsport. His partners, Doug Nephew and Kyle Schick, founded the shop in 2014 and it’s progressed as much as their R35 GT-R. Like many, it started out life as an amazing street car from Nissan’s factory floor when it was bought by Schick. At first, Kyle didn’t really buy it for Time Attack racing but the bug bit him and he wanted Cole to drive it. Today, it’s doing exactly what it was reset to do: become the fastest time attack GT-R in the world. Around the world it’s been, too. Cole and the LYFE GTR have been up Pikes Peak twice, ran it at Global Time Attack’s Super Lap Battle twice, and both he and the car were shipped out to Australia for the World Time Attack Challenge. This GT-R has world pedigree that not many GT-Rs see. The only other is the HKS GT-R driven by NOB Taniguchi.
If we’re to be honest for just one moment, neither of these GT-Rs are close to what you would buy off the showroom floor at your local Nissan dealer. At the same time, that’s also what makes time attack so unique. While the Unlimited GT-R class was the one to watch that weekend thanks to the big prize money offered, there were other time attack classes with big (for US Time Attack) payouts as well. Global Time Attack (GTA) ran the Time Attack portion, so the normal classes of Unlimited, Limited, and Street were also in attendance. There were other big names on hand thanks to all of these facts, as well. Mark Jager was in both his Yimi Sport Tuning STi for Unlimited AWD and the Narvaez Racing GT-R for Unlimited GT-R. Mike Essa, who normally drives the Loud Mouth Exhaust BMW in Formula Drift, was in the Essa Autosport Porsche Cayman in Unlimited RWD. Ken Suen was also pulling double duty in his Street Class FWD Honda Civic and the Bobby Lane Racing Unlimited FWD Honda Accord Coupe. LYFE Motorsport even did some double duty with Kyle Schick driving a street R35 GTR in the Limited AWD class.
To say this was a big event in US Time Attack would probably be an understatement; in fact, it was a historic moment and is what the future of Time Attack needs in the US. At the very least it was an injection to get interest back into the sport. Super Lap Battle will still be recognized as the original US Time Attack event but it also has been put on notice. If we as fans of this motorsport want it to survive, we’re going to need another Speed Ring.
Well, enough hemming and hawing, let’s get to those results! First up is Street Class FWD with the win and record going to “The Legend” Ken Suen in the Godspeed Project Honda Civic SI. His record time was 1:51.544, which would have allowed him to score a third place in Limited RWD by nearly two seconds just to give some metric to how fast his street Civic went. Ken took home $1,000 for his win.
In Street RWD, Andrew Neir in the Hillbank Motor S195 Ford Mustang took home the win with a 1:50.992 and $1,000 cash, but it wasn’t easy with a brake change being required before race day. The Hillbank Motor S550 brought home second place with Michael Doscher driving it to a 1:51.332 before a clutch issue took him out of competition. In third place was Yokohama Tire’s Matt Johnson in the Apex’i Peformance Lexus RC-F with a 1:55.255.
In Street AWD, Cody Miles in the Air Lift Peformance – and yes, it’s running airbags – Subaru STi took home the win with a 1:45.469. It’s an incredible performance and proof that air bag technology is quickly becoming a performance option for street driven cars. Ken Kasitz in the Feal Suspension/Yimi Sport Tuning WRX took home second with a 1:49.033. For a frame of reference, these guys would have been number one and number three in Limited AWD and three and four in Unlimited RWD just for their times alone. These are a pair of very fast street cars.
Limited FWD represented the three major Domestic Markets, but it would be a Euro win thanks to Derek Tantisalidchai in the Dar Industries Volkswagen Golf GTi Five Door with a 2:01.064. Duane Bada in the R Compound USA Honda Civic brought JDM a second place with a time of 2:05.025. Steven Hemphill gave the USDM a third place finish with a 2:07.767 in the Team Analog Ford Focus ST.
The biggest class was Limited RWD and it had great representation for all three markets as well. However, just like Limited FWD, it would be a European mark taking the top spot with Casey Dennis in the Racewerkz/Hoonigan Porsche GT3 with a time of 1:45.486. Roy Narvaez took out his brand new Narvaez Racing Dodge Viper ACR to bring home second place with a 1:46.027. Ken Xu in the RE Tuned Mazda RX7 rounded out the top three with a 1:53.986.
Then in Limited AWD it was a GT-R sandwich with a Subaru STi in the middle. Taking the top spot was Peter West in the Bulletproof Automotive R35 GT-R with a 1:48.090. Rob Campbell in the Yimi Sport Tuning/Feal Suspension STi brought home second with a 1:50.517. Rounding out the top three was the debut of the LYFE Motorsport Limited AWD R35 GT-R with a 1:51.652.
Now we come up to the big boys and girls of the weekend in the Unlimited Categories. First up in Unlimited FWD was Ken Suen in the Bobby Lane Racing Honda Accord Coupe with a 1:52.709. He took home $1,000 for a total of $2,000 for the weekend for winning two classes. Cory Wells in the WRD Racing Honda Prelude came home in second with a 1:56.486. Then, as a last-minute entry, Jared Reyes took home third place with a 2:06.254 in the Eibach Honda Civic. While that time doesn’t sound impressive, this is actually the debut run for this car designed as a wheel-to-wheel race car. To add to that, an axle had to be replaced the night before and the team dealt with transmission seal issues the entire day.
In Unlimited RWD Stephanie Cemo in the Stephanie Cemo Racing Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 brought home an all American win with a 1:41.265. Will Wattanawongkiri in the WWR Racing Nissan 240SX came home in second place with a 1:44.265 despite turbo oil seal issues. Finally, in the Essa Autosport Porsche Cayman, Mike Essa took home third with a 1:50.195 in its debut run.
In Unlimited AWD, Mark Jager took home the win with a 1:38.307 in the Jager Racing/Yimi Sport Tuning Subaru STi. Tony Szirka in the UMS Tuning Mitsubishi Evolution was able to bring home second place with a 1:40.885, though not without a scare in practice on Saturday. While going out on to NASCAR Turn 1, the right front tire exploded and Tony nearly made contact with the wall. Fortunately, he was able to bring it down and onto a safe area just before turn three that lead into the infield. Then on Sunday, with smaller but usable tires, his day was done just after a few laps but not before setting that 1:40.
This all led up to the final laps at Auto Club Speedway for The Speed Ring powered by HKS. Earlier in the day, Taniguchi and the HKS GT-R set a time of 1:34 and held on to that lead time with LYFE just behind them with a 1:35. LYFE wasn’t so good, either, as they had lost a tire going into the final chicane before leading back up to the oval of NASCAR 4. They struggled but were able to find a replacement Michelin slick but as they did, NOB’s times had begun to drop. Leading up to the Unlimited GT-R Top 5 Shootout, Taniguchi in the Yokohama slicked HKS GT-R had set a time of 1:33. When Cole and the LYFE Team heard that, they felt disheartened but knew their final chance was during this shootout.
If there was ever a Hollywood movie where Time Attack was the subject, the GT-R Shootout and The Speed Ring would have been it. With the LYFE Motorsport GT-R set out, everyone knew they just needed one fast lap. It was going to be make or break and quite possibly literally. Both they and the HKS teams took an initial out lap to scope out the track and then brought their cars back into the hot pits for some adjustments. With time ticking down, LYFE went out first. The pace looked blistering. They knew they had a chance and took it, setting a 1:32.534 and knocking Taniguchi to second place. Everyone was shocked; they just knocked the HKS GT-R with NOB, No One Better, down a peg. It was also all the LYFE GT-R had, as the engine had let go just after that lap. It gave all it had and that was it.
There was also still time left on the clock and with three minutes to go, the HKS GT-R went out for one more lap. Taniguchi just needed one more perfect lap – one lap, even if it was only faster by .001-second, would be what this longtime racer was looking for; one who doesn’t know the meaning of good enough or fast enough, one who only knew the meaning of being faster, better than other drivers in a car prepared with the best parts that HKS and Japan could create for the GT-R. The car showed it on his timed lap; Taniguchi was going for it. He pushed for everything his GT-R and its Yokohama tires could give him. Every move was controlled, every slip of the tires just enough to power through the infield portion, the speed was tremendous, averaging over 110 MPH. That’s an average with all corners combined, a theoretical top speed of over 180 MPH. When he crossed that finish line, there was only one result.
Cole Powelson in the LYFE Motorsport GT-R took home first place, $20,000 and bragging rights to say he beat Taniguchi and the HKS team with a time of 1:32.534. NOB lost by only .852-second with a time of 1:33.386. “It’s indescribable,” says Powelson just after taking the $20K in cash. “He’s a childhood hero of mine and I’ve looked up to him as a driver and competitor for a really long time. Just having the opportunity to compete with him is pretty special.”
Kyle Schick, co-owner of LYFE Motorsport, said this after the realization set in that they won, “Oh, man, it was an adventure the whole weekend! When we came down to that final shootout and knew we were down by less than a second, it was just a nail biter. I didn’t know what to expect. We got new tires and Cole laid it down and he did an awesome job and, wow, it was really cool.” Cole went on to add, “I have a lot of faith in our team. We’ve had some bad luck but I knew if the stars aligned, we had a really good shot at winning. We did it and it was enough, but it’s still a pretty surreal feeling.”
Ever the racer, even in defeat, Nobuteru Taniguchi stated that he was bested that day and promised that he and HKS will be back to take the crown of the Fastest GT-R from LYFE Motorsport. With that, you can rest assured that this won’t be the last time you see the HKS GT-R or The Speed Ring powered by HKS; both will be back for 2017. We’re sure everyone will come back bigger and faster than 2016.