Hot Tuner 2016 is GO!

You are probably familiar with the expression ‘Murphy was an optimist’.

Hot Tuner 2016 is brought to you by Valvoline SynPower

It means, of course, that sometimes things go so wrong that not even the most dire predictions nor the most careful of preparations can allow for it. Which brings me to Hot Tuner 2016.

When it comes to the event in question, Murphy wasn’t just being an optimist. Nope, old mate Murph was off his face on meth and Jack Daniel’s and was driving a V8-powered Leyland Marina on nitrous the wrong way up a freeway, towing a box-trailer full of burning saints. Sometimes things go wrong but stay within normal parameters. Hot Tuner went wrong bigger than that. Rolf Harris-wrong.

Cars driving in wetIt started to go pear-shaped the evening before we were due to kick off at Sydney Motorsport Park and the Western Sydney Dragway. For a start, I’d hitched a ride down from the north coast of NSW (another long story involving people jumping on car roofs and dodgy calamari) to Sydney with Torrens, who insisted we travel in his recently acquired Sigma.

Now, I’m all for low-lining – you know, making large of what little you have – but to get to the Sigma we had to walk right past his V8 Calais. So I dunno…

Anyway, by the time we were rolling into Sin City, the first few drops were being smeared all over the Sigma’s windscreen.

The crew at Sydney Motorsport ParkMuch like a dog, if there’s anything that smells worse than the rubbish tip right next to Sydney Motorsport Park, it’s the same tip when it’s wet. And from the perfume that filled my nostrils as I stepped out of the Sigma at Sydney Dragway next morning, things weren’t getting any drier. Neither was the Sydney Dragway surface, and even though there were two blokes at work with scrubber-dryers, the 400m was still looking awfully slick right through to late morning.

Now, I’m not necessarily the cautious type (God knows), but I have, in previous years, expressed a certain degree of apprehension about driving cars like the ones that turn up at Hot Tuner, what with their horsepower in multiples of 100 and the fact that, while I know and trust some of those tuners present (and, therefore, the quality of their work), some of them I would not know if they stood up in my Weet-Bix.

This has always made me a bit leery, especially since that time a few years back when a hot-rodded Falcon turbo tried to fence itself (and Luffy) at 200-plus when it shat a coolant hose and spun on its own snot.

Aftermarket guysAnd because a lot of these rigs are customers’ cars, some of them are still equipped with manual gearboxes. This is fine if you like that sort of thing (and I do), but the tuners and you and I all know that getting the best time out of these big-power cars usually involves specifying the auto tranny. Which is another way of saying that a good few of these cars were extremely difficult to squeeze a sharp number out of.

In any case, we managed to find just enough dry-track time to run figures on all the cars. Oh, except for one of them. Yep, every time I went near the driver’s seat of the Streetfighter Mustang, Murph intervened, the heavens opened one more time and we wheeled it back to the staging lane. So, scratch the dragstrip, then.

Surely things will be better on the dyno, right? Well, you’d think so, given that the bugger is indoors for a start. But, no, it seems Old Murph was still screaming up the freeway in his Marina. See, in the interests of parity and fairness, we always insist that the tuner cars turn up to Hot Tuner with an empty-ish fuel tank.

Driving the circuitThen, we go and fill them from our own source to ensure that each car is running the same 98RON (or E85) pump-spec juice. In the past, we’ve used both an on-site fuel supplier and a local servo. This time, it turned out to be a bad brew.

The alarm bells started ringing when Rob Herrod’s Mustang wheeled onto the dyno and gave the rollers a quick round trip. Nothing sounded wrong, but when we looked at the dyno sheet, it was clear that all was not well.

In fact, about 100-kiloWatts-down not well. Now I’ve seen the original dyno sheet for this car, and somewhere between 80 and 100kW had just vanished. I quizzed Rob Herrod about it. Was the car strapped down correctly?

Herrod Mustang“Yep. The bloke running the dyno knows what he’s doing. Everything is spot-on, but we’ve just lost a whole lot of power,” came the reply. “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’d have to point the finger at the fuel.

See, our engine management system keeps a real close eye on the fuel. If it sees that something’s not right, it doesn’t just wind back the spark, it sends everything into a preservation mode. And that’s what I reckon has happened here. We’ve seen it before at home on customers’ cars who turn up with crook fuel. We drain the tank, refuel the thing and bang, the horsepower is back.”

Herrod’s fears were more or less confirmed within 20 minutes when the VCM C63 – itself with a sensitive preservation mode – lost about the same amount of grunt. We’re having the fuel tested as we speak, but it looks as though it’s low-octane stuff with a few ‘additives’ to make it behave like Premium. Murphy shifts the Marina into overdrive.

Harding Performance AudiSo we had to scratch the dyno and dragstrip parts of the testing, and it was all down to our hot laps. With Luffy AWOL for the birth of his first tacker (a girl! Congrats, Luffster) we subbed in Tony D’Alberto, another pro who knows how to drive a variety of machinery. But constant showers were playing hell with the track conditions and it was only late on the last day that the rain held off long enough for D’Alberto to be satisfied that he had a comparable lap time for each car.

So that’s what we’re going to have to go with here. Not perfect, but still some kind of representation. And if nothing else, it should remind us that Hot Tuner is more about letting you lot know who can do what for whatever car you might own, rather than a duke-’em-out session of tuner versus tuner. Which is lucky, right? Damn straight.

Rent-a-racer

Tony D'AlbertoTee Dee subs in for Luffy
Can you believe it? Our tame racing driver Warren Luff decided he’d rather attend the birth of his first child (congratulations on the beautiful Ivy-Rose) than hang out with MOTOR and wrestle nine modified missiles around SMSP in the pouring rain. Crazy, huh? 

Enter Australian GT and DJR Penske endurance driver Tony D’Alberto. Luffy’s shoes are about as big as they come for this sort of work, but Tony D filled them admirably. The driving is one thing, but by far the bigger challenge is putting up with MOTOR folks for three days straight.

Wrestling blown rear-drive V8s, dry set-up Golf Rs and a mega-power GT-R around a sodden South Circuit definitely qualifies as being thrown into the deep end but Tony was immediately quick and consistent.

Unlike stunt-driving Luffy, sideways motoring doesn’t come naturally to TD, but his inherent car control came to the fore and was soon sliding around the for the cameras enough to get Today Tonight’s attention (which didn’t happen, fortunately).

Welcome to team MOTOR, Tony.

One rainy parade indeed

Grim wet weatherThings don’t always go to plan – welcome to Hot Tuner 2016

IN A perfect world the sun would have been shining, the ambient air temp cool and each of our contenders straining at their dyno ratchet straps with more mumbo than back at the workshop. Unfortunately the reverse was true.

As Morley has alluded, the gods of grunt had smiled upon us too many years a row at Hot Tuner, it seemed, and it was like we had a bad luck deficit to burn through...

First, the fuel. As already explained, with multiple participants concerned over the fuel quality, we took the decision not to include our dyno figures in the outright Hot Tuner rankings, and instead mention them in the write-ups where appropriate alongside workshop figures from the tuners themselves. As they were acquired in totally different conditions, on all manner of dynos and under no supervision by us, they are provided merely for reference and out of interest.

98 RON fuelAs for the drag numbers, you can’t control the weather, even holding the event in a historically ‘dry’ month (August, for median rainfall in Blacktown). You can’t control the rate at which a dragstrip can dry, either (hours). We were lucky to get done what we got done, and even then the heavens opened before we could rocket the Hennessey Streetfighter ’Stang down the strip. So we have no numbers for it at all!

Fortunately the South Circuit developed a very solid, wide and reliable dry line long enough for us to run every car in the same conditions, to our satisfaction, before another downpour. Tony D’Alberto’s comments were from the wet.

Prior to the next Hot Tuner we’ll smear our bodies in Valvoline grease, wear skirts of spark plug leads and do a Shamanistic dance to appease said gods of grunt. Or we could just sacrifice an Ecotec V6. 

Who competed in 2016's Hot Tuner? Here are the contenders

Get your free weekly report from the world of fast cars - subscribe to the MOTOR newsletter!