Earlier this month I had the opportunity to head down under for the World Time Attack Challenge in Sydney. This is a popular motorsport event where competitors race against the clock for the fastest lap time. There were no Singaporean drivers, but there was one car built by a Singaporean.
Henry Lim, owner of tuning company Cosmic Performance, has been working on cars since he first got to Australia 12 years ago. He started his own automotive business in 2009, providing tuning services, engine building, importing and distributing of parts, as well as developing his own line of in-house products. Prior to that, he held a full-time job as a project manager in manufacturing, while providing tuning and consulting services to workshops outside of office hours.
The Subaru WRX he built for Peter Fuller to run at WTAC this year unfortunately fell prey to some parts issues and failed to make it out of the pit. He then spent the rest of the event managing the Cosmic Performance booth which was kept busy with the crowds.
Having driven up to Sydney from Melbourne where he is based, Lim was telling me about the Australian automotive aftermarket and motorsports scene. He said, "In Australia, we are consistently challenged by professional builds and huge horsepower with the time and passion to research and developed newer, safer and more reliable products. Tuning can vary from all sorts, from better emissions upgrading to fuel efficiency savings to professional race cars."
"Making the investment to be part of WTAC was worth every dollar. Beyond running a car in the competition, setting up camp at the exhibition grounds for the event was really a great experience. People who come for the event, be it driving out in their modified cars or taking a flight out, are genuinely passionate about cars and motorsports and WTAC is like a place for all us enthusiasts to gather. Connected by the same interest, the atmosphere is amazing," Lim added.
Echoing the same sentiments as Lim is another Australian-based Singaporean Leonard Lee, who made the effort to get to WTAC from where he lived, 170 kilometres away in Newcastle at New South Wales.
He said, "I've been going to WTAC for three years now and each year the atmosphere at WTAC keeps getting better, thanks to the international competitors as well as having the freedom to roam into any garage to get upclose and personal with the mechanics and race cars. I also sit down with the mechanics when I can and they share their knowledge, which helps a fair bit on helping me decide on the design and types of ground effects to use for my own vehicle."
A strong enthusiast in cars and motorsports too, Lee participates in drifting and circuit racing, is a qualified scrutineer and a panel member with the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport and teaches drifting too.
The open concept that Lee mentioned is something that Lim also feels strongly about.
Lim feels that Singapore can do with a less closed-door attitude and take a leaf from the Australians in "being more willing to share, so as to encourage growth and progress of the entire industry". Another suggestion he has is in having "more events for enthusiasts to participate in".
Ideally, it would be good to have more motorsport events in safe, controlled environments for enthusiasts to exercise their passion actively, but the various constraints in Singapore make it hard to do so.
As Lee put it, "Straight up, the biggest disparity between the Australian and Singaporean scene will boil down to their capability to host events at all levels. Australia has a lot of space to spare and because of that; there are many clubs that hold grassroots-level events on a regular basis. This allows the scene to maintain its velocity as well as supply sufficient skilled drivers to move up to the national and then international levels."
Elaborating further, Lee said, "The other difference will be the cars — Singaporeans tend to spend money to get their cars to certain levels, Australians tend get their hands dirty and do the work themselves. It can be attributed to the ease of access to tools and materials as opposed to Singapore. Australians do tend to have a track car which they tow to events. This allows them to have a work in progress as well as a daily vehicle to commute to work. The vehicle ownership regulations and high prices don't do anything to assist the growth of motorsports back home in Singapore."
Enthusiast Ben Wong, 26, a student in Singapore and founder of local automotive blog The Right Wrong, flew to Sydney just to attend WTAC. During his trip there, Wong observed a few things about the Australian car culture.
"I am a big fan of WTAC and this was my first time attending it. I happen to be a huge fan of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions (I drive one myself) and the Cyber Evo, WTAC 2011 winner, was said to be making its last appearance so I wanted to see it perform for myself. You can say that is my dream car to follow in terms of modifications.
"Extending my stay in Australia a bit more since I was already there, anyone would notice the difference between the Australian and Singaporean car culture. It's a very, very, very big difference. Firstly, car prices in Singapore are a lot more expensive. The regulations for modifications in Australia are very strict too, but because the cars are cheap they can afford to have second cars, which they use as their track cars and hence can build it to their liking. They then attach trailers to their daily-driven cars and tow this track car to the circuit."
Wong is already making plans to return to WTAC next year.
Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.