I have been attending WTAC as media for four years now, and my first ever experience with drifting was at the WTAC International Tectaloy Drift Challenge back in 2010.
Privateer Tomohiko “Under” Suzuki and his Scorch Racing team are in fact the only international car and team that has competed at every event since 2011. So I have known of Under for many years and naturally with my love of drifting came my love for the Japanese which included a soft spot for Under Suzuki and his s15.
Over the four years attending the World Time Attack Challenge my understanding for this time attack race has deepened. Especially last year, rather then trying to capture track photos the whole event my focus was on pit vibes and capturing the teams hard at work. This is where my understanding and appreciation hit a whole new level. I spent a considerable amount of time in Unders' garage alongside the Lyfe Motorsport's GTR driven by Cole Powelson, observing the true meaning of a team! The bond found between the Scorch Racing team is one like no other, even in the most stressful moments they still manage to pull a smile.
Under is very hands-on in every aspect from engine building to fabrication. On top of that he is self taught with no formal engineering qualifications. This may well be why his team is so tight, rather than the team working for a driver they work with the driver.
Last year the s15 encountered engine issues that saw the team working around the clock only to find themselves out of the race when they ran out of time and spare engines (unfortunately I managed to capture the exact moment Under lost one of his engines, leaving him sitting trackside in disbelief, I felt the need to comfort him in what would have been an extremely difficult moment). Fortunately the 1.25.8 laid down on the Friday was luckily good enough to secure third place for himself and his dedicated team.
Coming into 2016 Under had organised two Australian made billet SR20 blocks that should save them if they encounter any engine issues again. The car has also undergone a few slight changes to the aero with the help of none other than Andrew Brilliant, who has been working with Under for a few years to create an aero downforce set up like no other!
Being a privateer Under can only work on his car in his spare time after work, (fun fact: Under Suzuki works full time as a pharmacist back in Japan) which he must attend to pay the hefty build costs. I wouldn't even want to try and guess how much money Under has put into his s15. I think this fact alone is another reason why I support Under Suzuki with a great heartfelt passion, he reminds me of myself. (I too was there supported by myself, working for myself, funded by myself).I'm sure he has been offered sponsorship and help, he is one of the most recognised time attack drivers in the world. Yet he works hard and plays even harder. Imagine becoming a champion all on your own, not because someone else did the hard work for you... But because you did it yourself, you become a real champion! That would be a very proud moment indeed, one I feel Under is pursuing, he does not want to win for anyone else but himself!
This weekend saw only minor issues for the team, though these minor issues took time to fix meaning getting seat time was scarce and did not allow many opportunities to lay down a decent lap time.
On Thursday they dealt with throttle body issues, Friday seen the team face some Intercooler pipe issues and the s15's alternator decided it didn't want to take part anymore which meant the whole front end needed to be removed enabling the team access to replace it as quick as possible.
With the sun shining bright Saturday the team arrived all smiles, ready for the final shot at victory. Though moments before the shoot-out I had noticed the bonnet was not quite functioning properly, one of the hinges malfunctioned and needed immediate addressing. At this point Under had a look on his face probably quite similar to mine, disbelief, that his race could end due to a dodgy bonnet hinge....could this be the end of his weekend, this one piece of metal bracket...
With under and his team quick on the tools they had the issue resolved and it was time to strap in and prepare the mind for the next job at hand, his one last opportunity to take the win, once and for all. Surprisingly under this kind of pressure he still managed to laugh with his team and did not seem at all phased. He shows a lot of gratification just being there with a fairly problem free weekend, the only thing that could let him down now was himself.
Rolling out of the garage, dad watching on, it was all down to this one lap, and one lap only. Eyes glued to the livestream the team was anxious, dad filming every passing second, no doubt for Under to analyse at a later date.
Sector by sector things were looking promising but a few wide lines let those valuable seconds go and unfortunately he didn't manage to lock in a winning time. Though his new PB record of 1:23.13 landed him in 3rd position in the Pro Class of wtac 2016. Another interesting fact you may or may not know, Under should actually be in the Pro-Am class due to the simple fact he is not a professional driver, but rather considered an amateur... Meaning he would have won Pro-Am by over 4 seconds!
The genuine humble personality that Under possesses is contagious, he exited the s15 with a crowd pleasing smile and wave of achievement, he did not win the event but inside he still won something...
With many teams from all over the globe attending this year as spectators, looking to return next year with competitive cars, was this Under's last chance or will he come back and face the new competition head on with his years of experience, track knowledge and dedication to take the win he deserves in 2017?
I hope to see Under and his team return in 2017 fighting for that number one status...
Under Suzuki’s WTAC results to date:
2011: 5th place 1.31.45
2012: 4th place 1.28.32
2013: 4th place 1.27.95
2014: 2nd place 1.24.88
2015: 3rd place 1.25.84
2016: 3rd place 1:23.13
Enjoy some more great photos captured from the event below: