With the World Time Attack Challenge only a matter of days away we sat down with the man himself Ian Baker, the creator and organiser of this world class motorsport event to find out how it all came about, and what Ian would like to do in the future to continue to build this Juggernaut.
Speed Nation (SN): Flash back to 2008, the first Superlap event – how did it come about?
Ian Baker (IB): Well in 2007 we took Mark Berry’s car to Tsukuba circuit, I had been to time attack events in Japan before and I asked myself why it wasn’t here (in Australia) and set about bringing a national style event to Sydney. I went and saw Nathan Luck who was the editor of Fast Fours magazine and he introduced me to Yokohama Tyres, and that created the relationship that exists today.
SN: What was your original goal? Or what would have made the event successful in your eyes?
IB: We’ve always had a big vision, and because I come from the tuner industry we have always had the goal in mind to create business for business’s, workshops, tuning houses and so on… That was always in our original plan. That and to grow the event into what it is today. We always had a bigger vision than what Oran Park was. I just didn’t know at the time how I was going to pull it off.
SN: So you pretty much answered my next question, you always anticipated it was going to this successful… or were you still not sure how the people would respond to the format?
IB: I always had the larger vision, so when Oran Park closed in 2009 we had two options. Sydney Motorsport Park or Wakefield Park to utilize for the 2010 event. Obviously we wanted to host it at Sydney Motorsport Park but it all hinged on whether or not we could get the international cars to come to Australia to make it a viable option. We needed big crowds to hold the event here, otherwise it would have had to of been run as a smaller event. We could have never grown at Wakefield Park. You just couldn’t run an international event at a regional venue because of the lack of resources in place. Travel, crowds, accommodation. It just wouldn’t happen.
I convinced the Yokohama Tyre marketing manager to come to Japan and America with me to hunt for cars for an event that didn’t exist. We presented ourselves with not much more than a one page document on what we wanted to create. It was a LOT of a hard work for sure.
The first cars to commit were the Panspeed Rx7 and then Tomei. Next I told Sierra Sierra that if they won the Superlap Battle event I’d would ship their car to Australia for free, when they won he came up to me and said “I am going to hold you to that, where are we going? Austria?” that’s how little everyone knew about it back then.
It was a struggle to get it of the ground, especially when I had so many people telling me that Time Attack is not a spectator sport. I had to ignore that because I knew in my mind that once the cars got fast enough, it would be.
SN: I remember shooting from under the Sydney Motorsport bridge, watching Nemo go around the long left after the bridge at full throttle without lifting. It defied physics. It took me seconds to process what I had just seen.
IB: Nemo was what we like to call the new generation Time Attack cars which are basically all about aerodynamics and everything else is built around that. Nemo was certainly a game changer in that it made everyone stop and think. To keep up everyone had to completely rethink their approach. This was a pivotal point in Australian and in fact world time attack racing.
SN: What do you think made the event so successful, do you think it is just the cars going fast?
IB: No not at all. I have always said if I paid $50 at the gate, what would I want to see? So the cars are a major part of it but we also put a lot of effort into the show as a whole. We don’t see ourselves as in the motorsport business, we see ourselves in the entertainment business. We always try to make sure we cater for anyone walking in the gate, we want everyone that walks through that gate to want to come again next year. The success of the event is basically built around this principle.
SN: How do you think the sport has changed from the original plan?
IB: In the early days it was all about the pro class because everything else was such a long way from what it is today . The pro class were in a league of their own and they were a hook to come and see the event, but now all the classes are at insane levels so there is entertainment from the top to the bottom. Also bringing the international drift component into the night gives the spectator two events in one, three if you include the show and shine which is now an event in itself.
SN: On one hand the rapid development brings excitement through lower lap times, but the flip side is that the expense makes it difficult for some teams to be competitive.
How do you and your team manage the line between development and trying to put a cap on it so it is still accessible?
IB: Well that’s a very good question. You will see now that the top end of the field is getting more minimal because it is very expensive to build a top pro car, hence why we have moved some of our focus back into the open class, although they are still expensive we are talking about hundreds of thousands whereas the top pro cars are in the half a million up, and that’s why you will see less and less of them but the top guys will be fighting it out between themselves, while the open and club sprint class continue to grow. This year you will see the top open class cars are basically what the top pro cars were five years ago, and there isn’t four or five of them, there are 30! It not just about the pro class anymore its all about the whole spectacle of the event.
SN: Do you think the sport is becoming too expensive for up and coming teams to transition through the categories as they get more experience?
IB: That’s an interesting question. The reality is I know quite a few cars sitting in garages around the world where the guys have tried to build pro cars and ran out of resources while they should probably have built an open class car. If they planned their build around Open class maybe they would have built a winning car. I think it is all about planning, and people need to look at the management side of things and just keep talking to engineers that end up pulling them into categories they cant afford to be racing in.
SN: Most people had their first experience with time attack in 2010 when you held it at Sydney Motorsport Park, being at a bigger venue, with international teams, it was no longer tuning house against tuning house, it was country against country & mate vs mate. Was that the bigger intention from the start?
IB: Absolutely! We always set out from 2009 to make it an international event and it has been that every day. Because of what we are doing, Australian cars are advancing much quicker than other countries at a rapid rate of knots. This year we’ve got some of the Japanese drivers driving Australian cars because there is simply nothing at that level over there, except for the likes of Suzuki Under, however I do know of two new builds in Japan that you are likely to see next year that are going to be on a similar tier to the top cars, and that’s just Japan. There are also builds in the UK and the US that I know of so it will continue to evolve.
We’ve just have had one of the Japanese teams fly out here to meet with us to ensure the event will continue before they start pouring money into a full carbon fibre build.
SN: Having been to every event, I have seen the cars go from fast to ridiculous fast, I’ve seen the development grow exponentially. Do you think convential motorsport ie, V8 Supercars see you as a threat?
IB: In terms of crowd attendance, probably every motorsport event at Sydney Motorsport Park would see us as a threat, we have smashed the crowd capacity out of the ball park. I don’t know that the V8 Supercars see us as a threat because we aren’t a series, we are a one off event. It would be like saying does ALMS see Pike’s Peak as a threat. We certainly love having some of the Supercar guys driving with us, we have Tim Slade this year and have had Shane Van Gisburgen in previous years, we dont see anyone as a threat, we like to work in parallel and harmony with everyone else. We have created a spectacle and they would have their eyes on us for sure.
SN: One of the things that draws people to World Time Attack, besides the cars is the personalities that come, without taking anything away from the smaller teams, how important is it to have the likes of Suzuki Under, Tarzan Yamada, and Shane Van Gisbergen fighting it out?
IB: The bottom line is, everyone loves a celebrity and it doesn’t matter if it’s in motorsport or music, people want to see celebrities and those guys are the celebrities of our game, so I guess it is important to have people like that involved. Moving forward you will see new celebrities created each year, when we bought Mad Mike here in 2011, he was not the celebrity he is today. Now he is the most famous drifter in the world with over 2 million followers on his social media. He is a humble, good guy and I really believe you will see more celebrities created out of what we are doing.
SN: For someone that is reading this that has never been to a time attack, how would you describe the event.
IB: Intense! If you are into cars, there is something here for everyone and everything here for someone. We have cars way outside the normal engineering bounds of normal motorsport, so if you like looking at crazy, way out there, exciting things, this is it. The whole spectacle is about rock and roll, drifting Lamborghini’s, top show cars that are basically going to do formula 3 times on street tyres. It is excitement!
SN: This year is shaping up to be pretty big. If you had to pick one thing, what has you most excited about this year?
IB: The complete deal! This year from the top drift guys, the Lamborghini to the top pro cars, the line up in the open cars, the Japanese superstars. I couldn’t pick just one thing! Certainly being able to get Keichii Tsuchiya here is a big deal, he has been on our hit list for many years, and to have him here driving the Pagani Huayra is pretty up there! There are so many things this year, it is so hard to put my finger on just one but that’s going to be pretty special!
SN: If you had to choose from all of the many memorable moments you’ve had over the years, what is your all time favourite memory?
IB: There’s a few, certainly the top ten shoot out in 2014 with Suzuki Under, Garth Walden, and Shane Van Gisbergen that was right to the wire with 4 thousandths of a second between first and second (Walden and Under).
The first time we did the drift at night in 2011 when Mad Mike had the flame thrower, no one had seen anything like that in this country before so that was really good! Also even the first year, when Tarzan won in the Cyber Evo and the battle between Sierra Sierra and the Cyber Evo. There are so many great memories that its hard to pick just one.
SN: Can we ever expect to see Time Attack at other venues?
IB: We never say never, we have another year of commitment with the NSW government who have been very helpful. Also Sydney is my home and I am very proud to be able to bring this event to my home. We have met with American companies and looked at doing this overseas but it has never been able to go anywhere. The hardest part now is moving it out of Australia, you have to start that whole development stage that we started in 2010. We have 7 years of advancement in cars, there are so many cars in Australia that are on another level now. To try and create that nucleus somewhere else without manufacturers being involved is going to be very difficult. My gut feel is that World Time Attack’s home is in Australia and I hope moving forward, in Sydney.
SN: So we are at the end, who are the people you want to thank, the people that deserve credit and the people we may not know about.
IB: Over the years there has been many. Jeff Boulous, he is the guy I walked into all those years ago in Oran Park and told him I wanted to run a time attack event. He is still my race director and has worked every single year with us. Obviously Renato Loberto who is the operations guy that runs everything. Greg Lysien runs the whole marketing/media side. Amy Boatright and Yoshi have helped me for many years. Micheal Zomaya for the car show, and Linda Long and Inga Whitman who look after admin. There’s a whole bunch of people, Renato’s team, there’s to many to list! We have an operations staff of over 70. Five years ago it was me and Nathan Wellend doing this. When you look at how much it has grown, it is a big deal now.