Back in April of 2018, a week before Formula Drift Long Beach, I took a trip to Buttonwillow Raceway Park with the Hoonigan Grip Brigade. As I’m sure you all have seen in previous "Field Trip" episodes, the crew is usually there in November for Global Time Attack’s Super Lap Battle. An event seen as the largest time attack event in North America.
After the Super Lap Battle in 2017, the guys, and gal, of the Grip Brigade felt there was room for improvement. Especially for Brandon, that was his first time driving his Suzuka Blue Honda S2000 around Buttonwillow. So with GTA’s season opener happening at the same track, the guys figured it would be a great idea to fix up their cars and try to shatter their own records.
Vin and Alex (aka Bernoo), had their goals set on a sub-2 minute lap time around Buttonwillow’s 3.1 mile, CW13 layout. Sally, was aiming a little higher, and looking for a podium in the Street AWD class. The team at Snail Performance put some considerable work into the WRX during the off-season, it's now making a comfortable 510hp. Markos, also from Snail Performance, came to join Sally for the event, in attempt to break some records in his Subaru as well.
I initially went into the day planning on turning some laps and shooting. At first, I was pretty hesitant about getting on the track, I really just wanted to focus on taking photos. Let's be real, my 1998 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS makes well less than a third of the power that Sally’s WRX makes. However, after some talking with the guys, I finally decided to just go for it. This would be my first chance to drive around Buttonwillow, and the GC8 was running perfectly.
Back to the guys, with four sessions throughout the day, Vin and Bernoo were both eager to get accepted into the prestigious Sub-2 Club. Sally on the other hand easily walked through the holy gates during her first session out, leaving the rest of us in the slower of the two groups.
While it might not seem like it, both BMWs are relatively similar in performance, Vin’s M3, and Bernoo’s 135i. The two didn’t mention it but I think deep down, they were trying to see who would break the 2-min mark first, giving them infinite bragging rights over the other.
Back in November, Brandon left Super Lap Battle with a 2:14.8 and was absolutely looking to 1-up himself. However, his lap times were not improving throughout the day, and I could almost see his passion slowly die. Then in the last session, his frustration morphed into some crazy sort of determination. He went full tilt and cut 3 seconds from his SLB time, ending with a 2:11.6. Back in the pits he hopped out of the car with a smile so enormous, it looked like it hurt.
Meanwhile, Sally continued to drive immensely better than the rest of us, consistently running times below 2 minutes. However, she was not able to improve on her personal best time from SLB of a 1:56.7. As she continues to get accustomed to all of the changes on her car, and plenty of seat time at various events throughout the year like Gridlife’s Track Battle. I have no doubt she’ll be able to beat that time when she arrives back at Buttonwillow later this year.
Bernoo was on a roll on his third session out, hitting each sector perfectly until he came around "Sunset," Buttonwillow’s last corner, there he went off into the dirt due to understeer, only a hundred feet from the finish. He still completed the lap with a 2:02.6. He spent the next hour punishing himself to the limit aiming to beat his time. At the end of the day, his personal best stands from SLB of a 2:00.6.
Vin didn’t have the best of luck on his side either. But unlike Bernoo, Vin’s issue was mechanical in nature. His clutch was locking him out of gear at high RPMs, which set Vin to end the day with a 2:05.7. An improvement from his SLB time of 2:06.7, but still not enough to join the Club of Clubs.
While Vin ran a softer tire compound at the SLB, he was able to run a better time with his new G-Force tires this round, which means that while he didn’t fulfill his goal, he improved on his driving immensely. Super Lap Battle will be interesting for these two as their cars and their driving are both capable of bringing them straight to the doorstep of a sub-2 lap, but for now, they’re stuck in the slower group with Kado and I.
Out of the four sessions, I was able to get on track for the first three. However, the first session was black-flagged due to a Fiat 500 that went off Sunset and literally flipped his car over. On the second session, I went out on my first ever few laps around Buttonwillow and ended with a mediocre time of 2:28 after 5 laps. I feel as if I let myself down since I watched so many Buttonwillow instructional videos on Youtube. That's how you do this, right?
The third session was finally better, I got a good grid and was able to run clean and consistent laps. I finished with a 2:19, and while it’s no record breaking 1:37 that William Au-Yeung battled to in his Unlimited FWD Civic, I was content with it. I had no real baseline to work off of, so now I know to make sure I don’t drive slower than 2:19, haha! I know there is plenty of room for improvement and I’ve set 2:15 as my goal for the next time at Buttonwillow, whenever that will be.
If you guys want to see fast when it comes to this track, take a look at Markos’s blistering 1:48.2 lap around Buttonwillow.
Not only did Markos improve on his time, he also broke the Street AWD record around Buttonwillow and the overall Street record as well. I’m fairly sure he’s going to come back for SLB and destroy that time. We’ll see.
Shooting an event is one thing, but driving and shooting that same event is definitely a challenge. Luckily for me, I enjoy taking photos just as much as the driving. So while I kick myself for not getting more seat time, I’m happy capturing images of my friends.