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Thursday 19th July 2012


TIME ATTACK UNCOVERED

What do you get if you mix a track day a sprint and a race series? Riggers finds out in a very unusual Vauxhall VX220


One of the main problems with motor racing is that it is an unavoidably expensive business. So unless you have the talents of Sebastian Vettel, or a more-or-less bottomless bank account, the Holy Grail of motorsport is maximising your on-track fun while minimising your outlay.

Time Attack is a broad church...
Time Attack is a broad church...
How to solve a problem like motorsport
There are several solutions to this conundrum: karting, grass-roots club racing, track days or sprints and hill climbs. But these all have their flaws. Karting quickly becomes competitively expensive, club racing involves a reasonable possibility of somebody else denting both your motor and your wallet, track days don't have any sort of competitive edge, and sprinting involves days of furious tinkering for a few minutes of track time.

But there is a solution for those with (relatively) shallow pockets and a deep desire to go out and play with cars on a track - it's called Time Attack.

What's that, then?
If you don't know what Time Attack is, it's essentially a mixture of a track day, circuit racing and hill climbing. Basically the aim, as the name suggests, is to get the best individual lap time, much in the manner of a sprint. Unlike with a sprint or hill climb, however, the way you achieve that is via your best flying lap during a timed multi-lap session, where you share the track with multiple cars from multiple classes. A bit like a track day, ya see. Or possibly a qualifying session for a race series.

A really broad church
A really broad church
Whatever you liken it to, Time Attack sounded like something we should investigate a bit more. Fortunately PHer Mike Cantelo has spent some considerable time, energy (and OK, the odd bit of cash here and there - we never actually said Time Attack would be cheap) on creating a rather unusual Vauxhall VX220, and foolishly actually offered us a go.

Meet our test subject
Mike's car started out life as an ordinary naturally aspirated 2.2-litre 2001 VX220, but it now has a supercharger attached to it and around 280hp. But it's not just a bolt-on supercharger. In the spirit of Time Attack, Mike's car has been thoroughly and extensively fiddled with.

So as well as the supercharger, the 2.2-litre Ecotec has low-compression Wiseco pistons, Eagle H beam rods, a ported head, Piper cams and a custom exhaust manifold to help up its power output. Then there's the chassis, which gets Gaz Monotube dampers, SuperPro poly bushes, Kumho V70A tyres, Performance Friction brake pads and AP calipers. Inside there's a proper racing seat, harnesses and a full roll cage, while the outside is treated to the most obvious modifications: a Thorney Motorsport Wing, splitter, diffuser and engine cover.

A bit wet for Riggers
A bit wet for Riggers
It does, in short, look and feel like a pukka racing car. So what does Time Attack feel like? Well, pulling out into the Brands Hatch pit lane in the VX220 during the Saturday practice session that Mike has kindly given up for us it feels very much like proper racing. It's perhaps more like Britcar or some other endurance series than one-make racing, though, as there are so many variations on the theme of 'car', ranging from lightly breathed on front-drive hatches to four-wheel drive multi-turbo monsters via mid-engined sportsters like the VX220.

Some like it wet
This being the British summer in 2012, the Brands Indy circuit is mid-rain shower and, even with wet tyres on the car, I am acutely aware that a 280hp, 900kg mid-engined machine is unlikely to be the most forgiving thing to drive. So this is not about trying to drive the wheels off what is after all somebody else's car; it's more about getting a feel for the unique motorsport hybrid that is time attack.

Looking forward to it?
Looking forward to it?
Most of the 'pro' cars (TA is divided in to 'club and 'pro', with the Club sub-divided into Club Pro, Club 4WD, Club FWD and Club RWD) aren't out for this session, but even with the likes of Gavin Renshaw's 900hp Mitsubishi Evo and Mark Pollard's twin-turbo Metro 6R4 absent from the track for now, there's still some pretty lairy cars out there.

Anything goes
Essentially, aside from the fact that spaceframe silhouettes, or open-wheeled formula cars are banned, there are no restrictions to what you can do to your car, and so 700hp or more is not uncommon. Heck, there's even a 400hp Mk4 Astra in the front-wheel drive category. As a consequence I'm looking in my mirrors as much as I am out of the windscreen since the VX220, although very much a front-runner in Club RWD, is a seriously prickly customer on a wet track.

Pit lane could be a Britcar event
Pit lane could be a Britcar event
It's clearly a seriously good car, though. the closely stacked gear ratios combine beautifully with the low-down torque from the supercharged motor to give you surging acceleration even beyond three-figure speeds, while the upgraded brakes are strong and the handling balance deliciously pivoty (if that's a proper word). In the dry I've no doubt it would be a riot, but in the wet it's too easy to snatch the brakes, the turn-in gives you the distinct impression that it's only luck that prevents you from spinning and all that supercharged torque makes wheelspinning fun an inevitable result of exiting a corner. But then that's what makes motorsport such a challenge.

Plenty of the other competitors are struggling with the conditions, too, as a Skyline proves by locking up in front of me and sailing serenely into the Druids hairpin gravel, while the Mk4 Astra drops it into the gravel at Paddock, although it seems later that this was more likely down to a left rear puncture than the conditions). It's fun, though, and definitely better than track days and a more satisfying type of competition than sprinting.

Conditions not the easiest...
Conditions not the easiest...
The art of Attack
As Mike explains to me later, the art is finding enough space to get a clean flying lap in. And staying out of the way of other cars on a hot lap. The fact that people have to rely on one another to be sensible on the track engenders a real sense of camaraderie off it, too, and everybody mucks in if somebody has a problem. That's not to say there isn't the odd bit of gamesmanship, of course - this is still a competitive sport...

Come the following day, and it's finally dry. In the end, Mike comes second in Club RWD to his series nemesis Ronnie Amis and his Sierra Cosworth by just a tenth of a second and just a second off the pace of Mark Pollard's crazed 6R4 from the Pro class final (admittedly set in the wet).

It's not going to give you as much of a thrill as full-on circuit racing and we're not going to pretend that money isn't an issue (you only need to look at the obvious funds ploughed into some of the Pro entries to realise that). But if you want a series that'll let you take part no matter how tight your budget and yet want more time behind the wheel in one weekend than the average hill climber will get in half a season, then look no further than this.

Somebody at least has found a point to the Lotus Europa...
Somebody at least has found a point to the Lotus Europa...
Gavin Renshaw's epic Evo IX has 900hp
Gavin Renshaw's epic Evo IX has 900hp
Author: Riggers