Fastest Lap Competition

Streets of Willow

There's no doubt that while the dyno competition is interesting and informative, it's simply a delaying tactic before we get to the track. This is where everybody wants to win their class, if not outright on the technical turns at the Streets of Willows racetrack in Rosamond, CA.

Although the weather was unseasonably hot, a strong wind helped stifle the heat somewhat, but engines, brakes and those Continental tires were definitely feeling the 90? temps by the afternoon.

The day started early with cars split into run groups, each getting three 20min practice sessions to set-up the cars, learn the track and scrub-in the tires. This was followed by three timed laps per car after lunch. While teams knew their practice times, we kept the final laps secret, so you're discovering how they did in the same way they are. And believe us, there are some very happy teams out there right now. This was the fastest event we've ever run, the cars setting some spectacular times on high-performance street tires...

Practice

With only Bluewater missing from the roster, we had a full field for the morning sessions. The drivers' briefing was followed by some intense preparations as drivers gave feedback and teams fettled damper rates, ride height, tire pressures, boost, aerodynamics and more.

There was a stark contrast in the paddock between the race teams and the tuners, between those with a pro driver and the ones who were having a go themselves. On the whole, every team acquitted itself well, having prepared the vehicles for the impending battle.

For cars like the Mercedes CLS63, GSR's greatest asset would be drift racer Michael Essa behind the wheel. As a co-owner of the shop, he knows his way around a racetrack but was clearly struggling with the car's weight. "It's like driving a boat. The brakes are great but the car is really heavy, so they're getting hot. And I can't switch off the traction control fully because it becomes undriveable with 800 lb-ft. So I'm running it in Sport mode that allows some slip but, at the end of the day, it's a 4200 lb car on street tires..."

The Kazanjian brothers from Euro Sport Accessories were again sharing driving and wrenching duties, delighted with the new R32 Turbo's track manners. "The car is perfect," exclaimed an enthusiastic Raffi. "The power and handling are good. What more could we ask for?"

The guys from Platte Forme were delighted nothing broke on the dyno and were making big adjustments to the suspension to cope with the bumpy track. However, they forgot to fit the timing transponder, so had no idea what progress was being made in the early sessions.

The electric M3 from EV West was very entertaining to watch on the track but was oversteering wildly. Car builder Michael Bream told us he was fighting against the electric motor's phenomenal torque while learning the track and tires at the same time. "If I get the line wrong, it's easy for me to kick the tail out and push the car wide to avoid going off," he explained.

LTMotorwerks were having fun in their two cars. The E36 sounded incredible but the E90 was struggling with its auto 'box. It was throwing up codes and having shifting issues in the first session, so it wasn't looking good.

HPA had set its sights on the Euro Sport R32. "They're our benchmark," explained company owner Marcel Horn. "We have similar power in our Golf R and shaved 3sec of our laps times in the first session as our driver learned the track. With their track knowledge, we'd be happy if we could match them at the end of the day..."

Results

As the only electric-powered vehicle in the field, EV West had the class win assured, but we were curious to see how it would stack up against the LTMW E36 M3, for example.

Unfortunately, with the batteries draining and a steep learning curve for the team, it was the slowest competitor by virtue of only enough charge for one timed lap. As it stands, 1min 32.581sec is a respectable lap around the track and their fastest of the day, but about 4sec slower than the conventional E36 M3.

AWD

Traditionally, all-wheel drive cars dominate the road course but RWD was in the ascendency. So we were fascinated to discover how the class would fare this year.

One of the big battles was between the two VW teams, with Euro Sport Accessories setting the bar with a best time of 1:28.959 with some precise driving, but it wasn't as as good as the 1:27.7 they recorded before the lunch break.

HPA Motorsports didn't fare so well. The first lap was way off the pace and only built to 1:32.035 on the final lap. This was their fastest of the day but hard driving in the morning had accelerated the tire wear. It's more impressive considering the car was in full road trim and it's stage 2 tune was (perhaps optimistically) called a DIY build. Afterwards, the team rued the decision not to bring an R32 turbo as well, as originally planned.

The two remaining AWD cars were more closely matched, with GSR Autosport taking the class win in its '08 Porsche 911 Turbo. The crew had been fettling the sway bars and Moton damper settings to suit the street tires, but they seemed to be struggling to get the relatively narrow 285/35 R19 rear tires to hook up.

With Essa behind the wheel, the best time of the day was set in the morning at 1:26.5. This translated to 1:26.855 in the timed sessions, with Michael only pushing the first and third laps, using the second to cool everything down.

Fractionally behind the 911 was the Porsche-green Audi S4 from Eurocode Tuning. As former GP winners, the company knew what was required and its quattro system was being put to good use on the track, with the car being driven very hard in the morning sessions. Any doubt that you couldn't get an S4 to oversteer was soon silenced as small changes to the KW V3 coilovers and tire pressures started to bring the numbers down. However, a rubbing tire caused sidewall damage, meaning the driver couldn't push as hard as he wanted in the afternoon. The fastest timed lap was 1:27.095, which was agonizingly close to the Porsche. It was a valiant effort, but a couple of seconds off their best lap last year with APR touring car driver Ian Baas at the wheel of a similar S4.

RWD

With LTMotorwerks taking gold on the dyno, all eyes were on the BMW 335i four-door automatic to see what it could do. With a driver gifted to them by Bluewater's absence, who was unfamiliar with the car, and the transmission not happy under duress, lap times were inconsistent. Acceleration was strong but its cornering was hampered by gear selection issues, so a best time of 1:28.748 was its fastest of the day and not representative of its engine output.

Sneaking ahead of the 335i was the '95 BMW M3 from LTMotorwerks. With owner Ivan Madrigal at the wheel, he pushed it round with a best lap of 1:28.327. This was his best time of the day but it seemed to happily run similar times all day, despite fears of a head gasket problem on the previous day.

The RWD class winner was the E92 M3 from european auto source. Fitted with its VF supercharger and possibly the world's largest rear wing, it skated the line between street car and Time Attack classes. Since it's still street-driven, we gave it the benefit of the doubt.

The crew reported that power was good, the brakes were strong but they were dealing with some heat issues. This was reflected in the laps, with a best time of 1:26.1 coming in the morning. By the afternoon, the car had slowed to a decent 1:26.811, which snuck them in front of the GSR 911 by 0.04sec. This represents a good improvement over the same car's best time of 1:27.7 that it recorded last year.

That only left the GSR Autosport Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG flailing in last place with a time of 1:28.801.

In reality, that's impressive for such a large car on a tight track, and we're confident it would have climbed the ranks if we'd been on a faster circuit.

As it was, Essa again only used two of his three laps to set a time, opting to cool the engine, brakes and tires in between. It's a tactic that worked because the fastest lap was about 2sec quicker than anything in practice, but I think we all learned the CLS63 isn't a Tuner GP car...

By , Alex Bernstein
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