People approach goals in different ways. Some like to keep them hidden and only tell the world once they have achieved them, perhaps in fear that they will never quite get there. Others, like myself like to make goals known. For me, it adds an extra level of accountability that pushes me to follow through. It’s especially useful when times get rough or the original motivation wanes. I told you I was going to do it, so now I’d bloody well better do it!
I’m going to share with you my biggest motorsport goal for 2017: I plan to race in the 2017 World Time Attack Challenge.
Ever since attending the 2016 event it’s been in the back of my mind. I actually looked up the rules & regs while still sitting in the media suite on day two of the event during a small break in the action. I found that my current turbocharged MX-5 track car fits quite neatly into the clubsprint category.
Is it a quick car? Sure, it’s definitely no slouch. The real question is, is it a Time Attack quick car? The answer to that is a little more complicated; in short: not yet, but I believe the potential is there with a little bit of work.
Over the course of the next twelve months I hope to share with you the journey in getting myself and my turbo MX5 to World Time Attack Challenge 2017. When I floated the idea of actually entering to my Speed Nation team mates they were instantly on board, and suddenly the MX5 had become the Project Speed Nation Racer.
I’ll be sharing practice and development stories, my thoughts on various go-fast bits that make their way onto the car and hopefully provide a coherent documentation on what it takes to turn a decent track car into a time attack machine. Do I plan on winning the clubsprint class? Of course not, I think that goal is a tad lofty for 2017, but would I like to rattle a few cages? You bet I would!
In order to get a bench mark for the next year of development I headed to Sydney Motorsport Park for one of their private practice days, after all I’ve never even driven the GP circuit before, so perhaps I should start there? I have slowly increased my seat time over the past few years, driving a fair amount at Marulan Driver Training Centre, Wakefield Park as well as the SMSP South Circuit, taking part in private track days, club track days, sprint days and MX-5 Cup . However the GP circuit had always eluded me, other commitments had always got in the way, but not this time.
We arrived early in the morning and to my slight dismay found well over thirty cars registered for the L2S class. Not a huge issue, but less cars does make it easier to learn a new track and gain some consistency. I went out for my first session and managed to do a 1:55.77 on my last lap of the fifteen minute stint. I was quietly chuffed, sub 2-minutes on my first ever attempt. New track, heaps of traffic and old tyres, it could only get better from here.
Over the course of the day I altered my lines and focused on being consistent, the car fought against me with some minor technical glitches, but it got to the point where I was ready to bolt on some new tyres and have a better crack at a time. The brand new set of Yokohama A050’s were strapped on then given a gentle warm up lap. After letting all the other cars pass with a large enough gap for a (hopefully) uninterrupted lap I pushed the angry pedal and I really got stuck into it. I saw 210 km/h down the main straight, then a big lift off before the gradual left bend that is the infamous SMSP turn one. Foot back to flat once the car was settled before late braking for turn two. I gritted my teeth and pushed faster and deeper than I felt comfortable with on every corner before crossing the line in a 1:52.42. A time that would actually be enough for a 43rd in the 2016 event.
We were happy enough after our first hit out. My thoughts now turn to the best course of attack to shave those precious seconds off the clock. We did well for a first attempt, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, both the car and the driver if we want to finish with some more respectable numbers. Power is one avenue that will be looked into, however handling and aero are key factors that will make or break the car in 2017. Considering the car has no real aero at the moment and the suspension isn’t quite right for the GP track layout yet I firmly believe that the car is capable of a mid 1:40’s time; is the driver up to those sort of times? Well that’s what we are here to find out.
Before we delve too far into the various changes and upgrades that will be done to the MX5 race car before the 2017 World Time Attack challenge, it’s important to gain an understanding of exactly where the machine currently stands.
Since the first time you saw this car here, the only thing that has changed on it were tyres and the fuel system. SB Auto installed a custom fuel system including a 20L auxiliary tank mounted in the boot to feed the hungry 1.6L’s requirements.
Why the 1.6L? In short, because it isn’t done. The vast majority of Mx5s that are competitive in motorsport run the larger 1.8L motor, or have even larger motors swapped in. Both SB Auto and myself get a kick out of doing things differently, taking the the road less travelled.
Many people disbelieve the power figures that we have managed to pull out of the little 4 banger, and truth be told we are right on the limit of what the motor is capable of in stock form. Hopefully by the time the 2017 Time Attack Challenge rolls by the motor will be bolstered with forged internals so that we can really rev it hard, and pull even bigger numbers.
In addition to a ‘built’ motor with forged internals there are a huge number of upgrades and modifications that will hopefully make their way on the car. The turbo itself is a prime candidate for an upgrade, as a new motor could handle even more boost
Keeping up with fuel delivery requirements is always a concern when motors start pulling bigger power, so the standard fuel rail will be changed to a bigger unit and converted to dual feed. This should tie in nicely with the newly installed auxiliary tank.
The diff is still a standard torsen unit from the NB series of MX5, and while it’s a good unit for spirited street driving, it’s far from scratch for track oriented car. The torsen will end up in the bin with a nice locker type diff taking its place. The exact unit is still to be determined, however a spool diff is currently the favoured option.
Suspension will also have a serious magnifying glass cast over it, as handling is by far the weakest aspect of this MX5. Whether the Ohlins end up in the bin for another unit remains to be seen, but at the very least some after-market control arms will be installed to give more control over suspension geometry and settings.
Unfortunately the WTAC regs don’t allow for sequentials gear boxes in the clubsprint category, which is a shame because it would have been one of the first things to be installed had it been legal. Instead the current plan is to persist with the 6-speed mazda unit.
Aerodynamics are another huge aspect of going fast at time attack and with the car currently sporting nothing but a Garage vary front lip, there is a tremendous amount of room to grow here. Front and rear splitters will be added, as well as a rear wing. This should help keep the car planted at high speed and really put the power down.
If all these elements come together the potential for a very fast car is well within reach. its going to be a hell of a year, and there will be setbacks and plans may change, but the irresistible call of WTAC 2017 will keep the Project SN MX5 Racer going.
I welcome you to: The Road to World Time Attack Challenge 2017.
Photos by Dave Oliver