Racewars 2019: One to Remember

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Year after year, I have managed to somehow consistently miss the annual Racewars pilgrimage held in Albany, about 4 hours south of Perth in Western Australia.

When writers Ash & Andy returned last year to brag about their weekend of speed and no-holds-barred media action, I made it my absolute mission to ensure the March 2019 long weekend was locked in early enough so I could finally lose my Racewars virginity.

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So here we are, days after returning to the grind, I feel nothing but withdrawal from such a truly epic weekend. It was one filled with highs and lows as limits were tested, and in the some cases, exceeded, but the magnificent character of grassroots motorsports shone throughout.

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For those unfamiliar with Racewars, it is Australia’s only 1000m speed trial and runway racing event, held on the immaculate surface of Albany’s 1800m long asphalt airport runway. Racewars provides an opportunity for drivers to go head to head, VMAX their vehicles or settle grudge matches to see who has the quickest machine, all in a safe and extremely well managed environment. If that’s the headline summary, here is my experience of popping the Racewars cherry.

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The migration from Perth to Albany immediately sets the tone for what’s to come. Not only does the 450km road trip offer some of the more interesting driving roads of WA, but some of the metal encountered on the pilgrimage really gives you a taste for what’s to come on the airstrip. Trailers loaded up with spares parts, sets of fresh drag radials and enough corn juice to kickstart a dying star back into life sit alongside dedicated racing machines, built with the sole purpose of going as fast as possible down the airstrip.

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For some, the use of a trailer is optional, with a few competitors taking on the challenge of driving from Perth to Albany, competing with multiple passes and then driving them home to earn bragging rights as the ultimate Racewars Streetcar. Simon Richards in his R32 GTR was one of these daring souls, made even more impressive by a few wins in the 400m and 800m roll ons, as well as finish second overall in Monday’s Racewars Sprint up Mt Adelaide in the heart of Albany’s town centre.

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Arriving on Pitlane on Saturday morning, spectators and fellow competitors are instantly made aware of the sheer diversity and involvement from all kinds of enthusiasts. Racing machines that were once World Time Attack Challenge cars or champions of going sideways in various Drift leagues, now converted to pursue the need for speed. Anything from a heavily tuned LS-Powered Volvo 240s to a HSV Maloo with the tray converted solely to carry a Turbocharger the size of Westwood’s forehead.

After the cars are unloaded, the drivers sign in and are given the briefing of the day’s racing and the importance of safety. There is a sense of community that has been built up after years of social media debates and friendly competition. When one car fails, other teams and drivers are there to help fix and provide support to make sure everyone has the tools and resources to set as fast of a time as their car, or thier nerve will allow.

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The atmosphere before the first pass is already electric with competition between teams as each speed chariot is topped up with a liberal dosage of E85 and a dollop of NOS. First on the agenda is 400m Rolling Head-to-Head sprint. This event is all about speed and battling your mates on track - see who can reach the ¼ mile trap first. Run after run; friends, acquaintances, enemies and racers, put their foot to the floor for bragging rights or a fine-tuning shakedown for the more demanding later events.

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This is the part of the day where diversity is the spectacle, seeing a Barra Powered F-truck squat and launch as it races an immaculate FD RX-7 which looks fresh from the floor of Tokyo Autosalon. Intermissions are broken by the thong of a nitro powered monster truck launching 20 meters into the air, or an impromptu drag race battle between a VN BT1 Police Car vs the modern day VF Highway Patrol equivalent. It's an exciting fast paced day that sees some truly fantastic personalised rides get sent down the runway.

In between the on track shenanigans, I decided to take a break and check out Albany’s best beaches with a bit of altitude. Heli-West ran tours throughout the weekend and the flight over the bay was a nice break from the smell of burnt rubber and methanol. If being suspended in a glass bubble hundreds of feet above the ground isn’t your thing, Racewars also offered laps in the dirt in the back of a Monster Truck to satisfy your inner redneck, or alternatively Wilson’s Brewery specially brewed a Head-2-Head Session Ale which was served at their 1000 person bar, where you could sit back, put your feet up and enjoy a tinnie while watching the hours of speed roll by.

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Saturday’s final run was called with a showdown between the event organisers in their boosted Intech 4.0L Ford Falcon AU, and the largest racing team of the weekend, WTF Auto, in their also turbocharged Toyota Camry. A long fostered battle over social media had been brewing for months prior and with a scheduled race of the Burgundy Bunkies, the AU reigned supreme. Despite the single cam 4.0L sending an absolute hail mary down the runway, we have a feeling this isn't the end of this debate.

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As dawn broke Sunday morning, it was clear that the Saturday head-to-heads were just an amuse-bouche for Sunday’s hour of Power. The 1000m V-Max Sprint event is the signature dish from the Racewars weekend degustation. This being the only 1000m speed run event in Australia, it is one not for the faint hearted. Watching the various hyper powered street cars roll off their trailers, spectators are exposed to the overwhelming engineering it takes to send a streetcar from a standing start to over 300km/h in under 1000m of tarmac.

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The figures alone on each vehicle are eye watering all in an effort to reach that next kilometre per hour. Not only do the cars require final checks and preparation but the drivers themselves. This isn’t simply a run down a straight, drivers are seen physically psyching themselves into the moment ready to launch 1400hp through the ground. Seeing these drivers mentally prepare themselves remind me what it must have been like for pilots testing new crafts or breaking the sound barrier.  

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With only a slight crosswind, serious contenders were eager to get trackside, already staging up at the startline before the event had even officially begun. The day’s benchmark was set early with a record-breaking pass by Jose Jardim’s ITP Toyota Supra VMAXing at 338.51km/h over the 1,000m. Smashing a national record for the 1000m VMAX and beating the previous year’s grand champion Ed Tassone’s time of 334.94km/h.   

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Rival contenders Willall Racing in their highly modified R35 GTR from South Australia soon matched Jose’s time and further extended it to 351.48km/h, setting the bar for a new Australian record in the process. Pass after pass from other contenders saw an additional nine cars hit their +300km/h targets with the audience wondering when reigning 2018 champion Ed Tassone would show face - after already posting over 330km/h during the previous day’s 800m run.

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Ed’s first pass was unsuccessful after the reigning champ struggled to put 2400RWHP to the ground in his all-billet, twin turbocharged Active Automotive HSV GTO. This pass was immediately followed by a re-appearance from Jose in the Supra as Jose almost matched his first run with a 337km/h. The impressive result however was immediately overshadowed by the cloud of tyre smoke and dust on the horizon as spectators worried for the Racewars veteran.

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Jose’s parachute had failed to deploy and resulted in the tuned Toyota exceeding limits of the track and coming to an abrupt halt in a catchment ditch at the end of the airstrip. The Supra suffered substantial damage after a heavy hit to the rear axle, though thankfully Jose walked away from the accident with only minor whiplash from the G-Force of the impact. With one of the top contenders now out, the VMAX was now truly showing the gravity of commitment and risk embedded in the competition.

Highlights from the morning session included veteran racing wizard Steve Jones piloting previous winner Anthony Scali’s monster R32 GTR to over 310 Km/h despite a broken ankle, and Christie Family duo Dave and Ken both cracking 320KM/H in their Turbo VT & VX Commodores, the heat was really turning up. Other competitors got closer and closer to the magic 300km/h-club target, with crowd-favorite Backdraft only just missing out with a 299KM/H result.

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At 11.30am however tragedy struck with reports of a freak accident where a vehicle had exceeded the track limits and crashed. What followed days after was news that rocked the Motorsport and Racewars community. It is the result absolutely no one in the community wants, and the weight of the loss was felt by all. Our deepest sympathies go out for the family and friends of Brody Ford, and hope that wherever Brody is, he is at peace.

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Following the incident, the VMAX and remaining events for Sunday were suspended out of respect and marked a heartbreaking end to a truly wonderful weekend. It is an event unlike any motorsport series I have ever witnessed and harks back to the glory days of straight line speed and Australia’s own ‘speed-fever’ all whilst remaining absolutely true to modern safety standards.

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The scale of the weekend is addictive, mesmerizing and speaks to all car enthusiasts far and wide. Calling out for those that really want to test their cars limits in an arena surrounded by others with the same passion, but what really makes the event memorable is the people. Not only did I get to hang out with four of my best mates, shooting cars and watch records break, signing the drivers and their cars into the pages of history, I got to meet countless competitors, spectators and staff, all just as passionate for the sport.

Whether you are a drive, crew member, media team, volunteer or there to just share an experience with some mates, Racewars 2019 was about celebrating a love for cars with others. It's an embodiment of why Grassroots matters and why all should be extremely proud of what Racewars has achieved and continue to support it in the future.

Thanks to everyone that made this weekend so special, the Racewars team, the volunteers, the spectators, the drivers, the crew teams, the media, Heliwest & ofcourse the Amazing South Coast of Albany.

Garage Journal will be back.

Patrick Stirling.