Kiwi driver Earl Bamber joined two Aussies on the podium at the no-holds-barred World Time Attack Challenge at Sydney Motorsport Park last weekend.
Bamber, driving a highly modified Nissan Silvia, finished third behind the Mitsubishi Evo IX of Garth Walden and eventual winner, and V8 Supercars enduro driver, Warren Luff, also in an Evo IX. Bamber just made the Pro-class podium in the very last moments of the last session after a fraught weekend.
"Normally, you get eight sessions to set your time but we only managed three," says Bamber. "In the course of the weekend we changed the whole brake package, we had turbo hoses breaking, even on the last run we had a deflating tyre and there was oil on the track. We also had to change the diffs, springs, dampeners and other things to try and get the car to work with the aero parts. We had steering wheels fall off, so it was a full-on weekend including a blown engine we rebuilt.
"It all came down to the last run of the weekend to get a good enough time to be the third-fastest rear-wheel-drive car."
World Time Attack racing is a bit of a one-chance affair in which drivers get very little time to post their best effort.
Although similar to a qualifying lap for grid positions in a normal race, World Time Attack is all about getting it right at that single moment. There's no chance to start mid-pack because of a bad qualifying stint and work yourself up to the front - it's a hold your breath, pull the pin and try to manage a flying lap right on the ragged edge at 100 per cent with no room for error.
"Basically, in Time Attack, you have 15-minute sessions and you have to set the fastest time you can in that window," says Bamber.
"It's different to qualifying because there are very few rules and regulations restricting what you can and can't do to the car. The car had to start as a road car, still have the firewall and retain the four strut points of the original car. Other than that, away you go.
"You can change gearboxes, brakes, suspensions, aero packages and a load of other things in between runs so it makes it a fascinating event. You have to run on road tyres, though.
"There were about five cars from Japan, a car from the UK, a New Zealand car and a few Aussie cars.
"Our car is five seconds a lap faster than a V8 Supercar, that's how quick these things are.
"Can you imagine how much quicker it would go if we could put slicks on it? They're absolutely incredible cars and, at times, they look more like a single-seater car underneath."
Bamber arrived on the local, and shortly afterwards the international scene, with a major hiss and a roar a few years ago and was immediately contesting races at the front of the pack.
His no-holds-barred approach to motor racing brought him a number of admirers along with a few detractors who thought his aggressive style masked his evident talent.
Heading to Asia, Bamber won the Formula BMW championship and, in 2008, he was ranked sixth on a global list of future motorsport stars after winning the Imola, Italy, round of the European Formula Masters.
The following year he raced in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport competing with some of the best young drivers in the world and finishing on the podium.
Bamber was back home in 2010 racing the Toyota Racing Series, winning six races, including the New Zealand Grand Prix, but was kept off the top spot by series champion Mitch Evans.
The past year or so has been on the lean side for getting Bamber seat time but the young man from Wanganui keeps his hand in when he can.
"I raced a couple of weeks ago up in Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, in the JK Series [former BMW series] and finished fifth from last on the grid. I'm also doing a bit of racing around Asia and trying to put a deal together to race V8 SuperTourers, but that's proving to be a little bit tough at the moment," says Bamber.
With that much talent on tap, it shouldn't be long until we see Bamber racing more regularly.By Eric Thompson