More than the noise. More than the atmosphere. More than body-stretching aero and lunatic horsepower. If there's one thing that makes the World Time Attack Challenge at Sydney Motorsport Park worth spectating, it's unpredictability. Still accessible (by motorsport standards, anyway), it's one of the few sports where an amateur team can turn up, take on world-class names and, with some clever engineering and driving talent, walk away with some silverware.
Of course, getting there is a learning process, and for South Australian team Integrated Motorsport, that process has been steeper than most over the last 12 months. The second-place Open Class trophy on the roof of the GT-R was hard fought—the result of endless testing and refinement of a concept that brought an 8-second improvement in lap times since its first WTAC outing the previous year in '15 and put them within two tenths of a second of the class leader. Results that get even more impressive when you realize owner/driver Matt Longhurst first came to the event five years ago as a spectator.
Pulling him aside from the swirl of post-race checks taking place around the still-warm Nissan, it clearly left a lasting impression: "I remember being blown away by the cars, the aero, and the incredibly fast lap times, and just wanting to be part of it," he tells me. "That trip totally changed the build on this car. I started getting into sprints and Time Attack in South Australia, and it's gone from there."
Matt wasn't new to Nissan's high-tech muscle car in '11, though in hindsight the string of lightly modified R33s had barely scratched the surface. This car, an early V-Spec, had plenty of potential, Matt says: "It was in very good condition when I bought it, though I probably should have started with something much cheaper! I thought 600 bhp would be enough, but with other priorities getting in the way, it took four years to get it ready for World Time Attack."
Even with the backing of serial motorsport builders Solid Engineering and Mechanical behind him, this would not be an easy ride. Open Class is the biggest at WTAC, positioned between the heavily restricted Clubsport class and the totally unrestricted Pro cars, but it's no soft option. With unrestricted engine modifications, but limits on the aerodynamic upgrades, the entry list is broad and the times are often not far off the pace of the Pros. Winning here means finding a balance.
"The weight of a Skyline is a negative, and the sheer size of the car doesn't help from an aerodynamic point of view," Matt explains. "However, the ability to make huge horsepower and put it down through four-wheel drive makes them a great Open Class car, where mechanical grip is more of a factor than aerodynamic grip. But it didn't take long to pass the point of no return with the build."
Overcoming packaging issues and adding strength was priority number one. The team at Solid stripped the Nissan back to its bare bones, ready for a rollcage and tubular front end, designing around the cooling pack and the downward pressure of the planned aerodynamic upgrades coming later on. Glass windows were replaced with polycarbonate and steel panels made way for a one-off, lightweight wide-arch kit. That blank-sheet approach to the build means that underneath the Bayside Blue paintwork, you can't buy much of what you see here at your local Nissan parts department.
"The wide-arch kit was loosely designed around the record-breaking Mspeed GT-R, as I've always loved that car," Matt explains. "All of it was built in Adelaide, and the panels are composite, which saved a lot of weight. It's down to 1,350 kg (2,976 pounds) with the 'cage. I've still got the molds, so we can duplicate panels or, if needed, modify them after testing."
Mechanical grip was a job for Supashock, known for supplying chassis parts and expertise to the V8 Supercars series and, as a result, no stranger to making relatively large cars, like the GT-R, as sticky as possible. The custom aero package comprises front and rear diffusers, now paired with a redesigned dual-element rear wing, pressing the Advan control tire into Sydney's tarmac through Supashock's own pro-spec adjustable dampers. With Malalla Motorsport Park not far away, regular testing had allowed man and machine to be honed for the main event.
Having long since abandoned any idea that 600 bhp would be plenty, the R34 has had a healthy dose of extra power to put the rest of the upgrades to work. The 2.8L RB straight-six was built by Develo Pro and puts out more than 900 bhp with the help of a race-spec BorgWarner turbo sucking air in through its passenger-side headlight and a custom mapping session by TZee Tuning. Engineering from V8 Supercars made its way into the driveline, too—an Albins sequential 'box based on the hardware used in that series, but re-engineered for Time Attack use and designed to fit the Nissan's transfer case. It's not only proven reliable, but it's also tractable.
"It's easier to drive than people think as the car is so well balanced," Matt says. "But it's insane to drive, it builds speed incredibly quickly, the cornering speeds are next level, and it stops incredibly well, too."
He's not kidding; the R34 arrived at Sydney fresh from its first full season of Time Attack, taking the South Australian and Victorian titles before Solid put in a couple of months of all-nighters to ready it for its return to Sydney. And the work hasn't stopped yet. Not even loaded back onto the trailer, Matt's lined up PMC Race engines in Melbourne to dial in an even more brutal RB28 and take the power into four figures. All part of the package that'll fend off new and old Open Class entrants at this October's WTAC.
So, in six years, could Matt go from spectator to class winner? He's feeling confident: "It's got the pace to win and it's always evolving. It never goes to the track without making a change or upgrade of some description. We're always trying to make it lighter, faster, more reliable, or easier to work on. And that's what we need to keep on doing."