It's one thing to build a supercar for the street
but quite another to test its mettle in competition. Especially when that
competition is the car-eating event called Targa Tasmania!
Tom Rabold, co-owner of Bullet Cars Australia,
decided to enter one of his Lexus V8 powered beasties as the ultimate test of
handling, performance and reliability. If there were any shortcomings, Tom
wanted to know about them. The Gold Coast team began assembly of
the dedicated competition machine in mid-late ’04 with the intention of entering the Bathurst 24 hour race. You can imagine Tom's frustration
when the event was cancelled. But with the car well under way, Tom channeled his energy into finding a replacement event – and Targa
Tasmania was the obvious choice. The only problem was there was minimal time to
prepare, so the team burnt the midnight oil building the car and squeezing in 20
laps around a local track before heading south.
“The car we built is, with very few exceptions,
what a customer can buy from Bullet Cars,” says Tom.
“We chose to race the naturally aspirated version
of the Bullet rather than our supercharged SS because we felt that the engine’s
power delivery suited that kind of event, would be easier to drive and probably
wouldn’t be much slower overall.”
Like all Bullets, the Targa car is built on a
space-frame chassis combined with a Mazda MX-5 ‘tub’. However, being built as a
competition car, the opportunity was taken to integrate the CAMS-spec roll cage with the frame. This achieves a neater result than fitting a cage
to a pre-built car.
The Bullet flies on MacPherson front struts and a
double wishbone rear. Everything remains as you’ll find in a conventional Bullet
except there are double adjustable Koni dampers and firmer front springs.
Interestingly, it was also discovered that the Bullet showed better handling by
disconnecting the rear swaybar (a change which Tom is passing on to many Bullet
Tom rightly predicted that Targa is tough on
brakes so he specified the optional Bullet SS brake package. The SS brake
package comprises Brembo 4-pot front calipers with 330mm discs and RX-7
single-pot rears with 294mm discs. The Targa car was also equipped with braided
lines and a dual circuit master cylinder with in-car adjustable bias. The vacuum
booster was also deleted.
Tilt the nose forward and you’ll see a
Toyota/Lexus 1UZ-FE 4-litre quad-cam V8. The engine is factory rated at 194kW
but you can expect a fair amount extra given a high-flow twin 2 ½ inch exhaust,
K&N filter (mounted directly on the throttle body) and Bullet spec upgrade
camshafts. Controlling fuel and ignition is an Autronic programmable ECU which,
for this application, is tuned for Elf race fuel. The radiator and lubrication
systems remain standard for the purpose of testing the off-the-showroom package.
The 1UZ is always factory fitted to an automatic
transmission but the Bullet ties it to a Supra manual ‘box. Tom says this was
one of the elements of the Bullet he was keen to test in motorsport. The clutch
assembly is unchanged from standard Bullet spec - the only driveline alteration
is a slightly tighter LSD.
The body of the Targa car is the standard Bullet
hardtop which uses a combination of fiberglass, Kevlar and carbon fibre panels.
There were no spoilers added for the event and Tom points out they’ve never
really done much in terms of under-car airflow development. This will be
something that’s addressed in future models. Standard size lightweight rims were
bolted on in conjunction with Kuhmo street-legal slicks measuring 235/40 17 at
the front and a huge 275/40 17 at the rear. Tom says this is definitely the
biggest you can squeeze in.
Final preparations included fitting race seats, a
dished rally-style steering wheel and harnesses to the otherwise standard
interior. Unfortunately, in the first day of competition it was realised that
the driver’s seat and steering wheel were mounted too close to let the enlisted
driver – former Bullet engineer, Robert D’Ercole – do his thing. (Robert has
raced in the UK and US and knows how to extract speed from the Bullet.) Making
matters worse were the near-useless brand of brake pads.
During the following four days of Targa, the
Bullet hauled itself up from 45th to 24th outright despite
treacherous wet conditions that saw even AWD machines spear off the road.
Finishing 24th in a field of 250 cars is no small achievement and
everyone in the Bullet camp recognises the potential for an even better ranking
with the car set up properly from Day One and with more favourable weather.
But nobody from Bullet will be pursuing that. They
achieved everything the set out to – they threw their machine into competition
and it performed faultlessly even when pushed to its limit.
We can only wait to see what the all-new
replacement Bullet will be like!
Driving the Targa Bullet
was kindly handed the keys to the Targa spec Bullet.
a brief drive in the vicinity of the Bullet factory we were impressed by the
flexibility of its performance – the combination of V8 grunt in a lightweight
body is an awesome package. The cam’d 1UZ offers a very linear power delivery
and it’s damn quick when kept on the boil. The steering is quick without being
nervous and the suspension taut but not solid. The brakes feel strong after a
couple of applications but, certainly, you need to be aware there’s no brake
booster. Unfortunately, we were unable to really test the car due to the very
cramped driving position (we could barely get in!) but we get a
seat-of-the-pants understanding how the car managed its competitive stage