Well there's nothing like leaving it to the last round!
The Time Attack grand final took place at the world famous Donnington Park circuit. This was the climax of the 5 race series and over 6 months of competitive action. The Litchfield team were one of only a few teams that competed at every round.
With a relatively open rulebook, the cars competing were some of the most extreme and professionally finished examples to be found anywhere in the world. There was huge diversity in the competitors. They ranged from 700bhp+ Nissan Skylines to an 840bhp Short Wheel based Mitsubishi Evo. Competitors arrived from across Europe including Ireland, Holland and Greece.
Over the last five races, the race car has evolved into a 600bhp version of our Subaru Impreza Type-25. Based on the motorsport-derived, Japanese-only, Spec C, the car was fitted with an FIA approved roll cage, race 3-way adjustable AST suspension and an engine developed jointly with Cosworth. Once again the Racecar was expertly driven all year by rising GT star Phil Keen.
Testing was difficult on the day as strict noise conditions meant we were unable to give the car full throttle down some of the straights without running the risk of being black flagged. However when Phil did open the car up away from the noise monitors it sounded incredible.
When we first started the championship back in April the race car was running a version of the road car engine and sounded relatively relaxed and quiet, especially compared to some of the other mad creations taking part. It was still fast enough to win the first event but at each event the engine has slowly evolved. By the time we got to Donnington the combination of the High revving Cosworth engine and turbo screamer pipe made for a whole new sound. Now the car literally ripped through the air with a clean crisp - much louder - sound which was only halted by the sharp bang as Phil used the full throttle gear change. Compare the in-car sound from the first round at Rockingham to the Donnington footage and you can clearly hear the difference. The revised engine had the power to light all 4 tyres up in the dry through the first 4 gears, "the engine is mega, it just keeps pulling" said an excitable Keen.
While we were working on these improvements we also decided to concentrate on reducing temperatures down Donnington's long straights. To help maintain a nice cool water temperature it was decided to remove some of the strain from the standard Spec C water system and give the Turbo its own separate water feed. A new water pump was installed which supplied water from the red hot turbo down into a new mini radiator in the inner wing. A temperature sensor allowed constant monitoring of this from the AIM dash. It worked perfectly with the turbo water temperature never going over 70 degrees and reducing the engine water temperature significantly.
Keeping to the temperature improvement theme, we even managed to install a fuel cooler to help bring down the fuel temperature. We used an adapted Spec C oil cooler, which fits perfectly in the rear number plate aperture and uses a small duct under the car to force the passing air through it. We also fitted an intercooler water spray system to spray a mist of water across the intercooler while on load - all controlled by the Motec ECU.
Peak water temp at Castle Combe was around 100 degrees but with these new changes and despite running considerably more power and at higher rpm the coolant never went over 88c degrees!
The tense final battle took place in front of packed stands on Donnington Park's 1.9mile National circuit. I can't remember being so nervous before an event. So much time and effort has gone into the Race car over the last year we were determined for it to fulfill its promise.
Like the previous rounds we chose to go towards the back of the Tuner group so we could get a feel for the time we would need to beat. Despite the sunny weather, rain was forecasted and heavy clouds were beginning to gather. To make the tension worse one of the other tuners lost control of their Subaru coming out of the first bend which lead to a lengthy delay as the marshals towed his car from the gravel trap.
It was clear that the main competition would again come from the experienced Evo tuners of RC Developments and Norris Designs (fresh from his latest suspension setup). Both cars were immensely fast in a straight line but we felt that our new power would be able to match them down the straights and the Subaru's chassis would be able to find some time through Donnington's challenging bends.
As ever Phil opened the car up out of the pit lane, blasting into the first bend as he tried to get tyre temperature as fast as possible before disappearing out of sight. Then followed the agonising wait as we watched for him to return at the top of the start-finish straight. What an entrance! The car flew out of the chicane and onto the straight in a huge 4 wheel drift using every bit of tarmac available.
As the race car tore past us on the pitlane wall it appeared visually faster than any of the other competitors and the nerves began to turn to expectation. As he came back around to finish his flying lap the circuit tannoy announced his time and the mixture of excitement and relief was incredible. You've got to love motorsport!
The recent changes had worked and the improved performance shone through with a fantastic time of 1:17:025 beating the nearest rival by 1.217secs and taking the Championship victory. The time was made even more pleasing given the limited setup, traffic and especially as these cars must run on road legal tyres. The Subaru's impressive laptime also managed to beat all of the open wheel competitors (by over 0.8sec) who were running lightweight Atoms and turbo charged Daxs. The last cars managed to complete their laps before the heavens opened and the circuit was soaked.
Later in the afternoon with the rain only just ending and the circuit damp we were asked to enter the final Superbattle of the year.
Despite the spent dry tyres Phil was told to go out an enjoy himself. Ever the professional, Phil always kept his driving smooth and consistent through each of the rounds. This was his chance to just go have some fun. By the time he got to the end of the pit lane he was at the back of a large bunch of cars. No matter, by the end of a few laps Phil had overtaken everyone power sliding his way around the 1.96mile circuit. Judging by the state of the already worn tyres he really enjoyed himself. Throughout the year Phil has been eager to play with the car on the circuit "the chassis balance and power delivery is just so smooth I reckon we could give the drifters a run for their money in this thing".
The video below shows the Championship winning lap and then some of the Superbattle session. You can hear how quiet the engine is until it produces over 1.6bar boost and the screamer pipe starts to bleed air off.
So our first season of Time Attack is over and it has been a very successful period for the Litchfield team as earlier in the month we took victories, for the second year running, in the 2006 Tuner GP. All of our Time Attack aims were met, we learnt a great deal about the car and most importantly had a fantastic time. The team looks forward to more motor sport success in 2007.