Words and images supplied by Paul Bartolo
So, motor sport. It’s a pastime many of us have fallen for over the years, yet sadly so many people fall by the wayside – a combination of lives, wives / husbands, kids, mortgages and various other life events conspiring to get in the way of having a good time out on track. I mean seriously, who didn’t want to be a race car driver when they grew up?
I’d previously run in Improved Production, some 15 years ago. This was back in the day when a Mazda RX-7 was the “weapon of choice” and being wet behind the ears (in motorsport terms) one of my best mates (Pete Harmston) and I bolted together a couple of RX-7’s in his single car garage to take on the world.
I gave up after about 5 years, a couple of Top 5 placings and some 70k spent. Harmo went quite a few years further (and with far more success !) so I spent time crewing on his car and other mates various cars, all whilst harbouring a desire to one day get back out there myself.
The old motorsport adage is simple – fast, cheap, reliable. Pick any two. This alone was the main hurdle for me getting back into the sport, but I was always hopeful something suitable would come along. Enter APRA….
Around 2013 I noticed a class referred to then as the “Pulsar Challenge”. It seemed like a pretty basic class, and numbers weren’t great (5 to 10 cars max at race meetings) but the recipe resonated and I’d always had a soft spot for the Nissans after spending plenty of time thrashing a Bluebird TRX as a teenager on my P plates…
I kept a keen eye on the class and was in constant contact with one of the founders, Marty Rodgers. In early 2015 we and a few others got together and decided that to make the class effective it needed more people involved and to become a State based series in order to grow the number of competitors – a Championship running between NSW & Victorian tracks wasn’t sustainable.
In late 2015 the Australian Pulsar Racing Association (APRA) was born. With a board of Directors strictly focussed on a not for profit member orientated club we kicked off the 2016 season with a massive 30 car field for Round 1 at Sydney Motorsport Park. The APRA season covers separate series in NSW and Victoria, with plans for a potential Queensland series currently gaining momentum.
So, how did I get involved and end up building an N14 Pulsar? Basically Marty tipped me off of a relatively quick car that was on the market and a deal was done. Harmo jumped on board and bought an N14 as well, so I had someone to hold hands with. My first time out on track was at one of John “Boz” Boston’s popular Trackschool track days and I was horrified at how slow I was – nearly 4 seconds off the pace. It was soon revealed through “Pulsar Whisperer” and serial Pulsar racer Geoff Fear that our new locked gearbox had the wrong ratio in it, and the car had a few other areas that needed work (namely panel and paint, along with a mechanical refresh) – so the decision was made to start all over again.
Around the same time Harmo offered a drive of his N14 to a mutual mate, who promptly binned it at Wakefield Park. A decision was made to re-shell the car, so I jumped in and bought the $400 shell and leftover bits from the race car with a handshake agreement that Harmo would get it up and running. To this day I’m sure he rues this decision just quietly…
The car was shipped off to Craig Wildridge at Zero Tolerance Motorsport for a full 6 point welded cage. The APRA rules allow for approved bolt in cages, however I decided that a welded cage just made more sense safety wise and for the extra $1000 or so for me it was a worthwhile investment.
After the cage was fitted it was off to ClubRacer Engineering in Wollongong where owner Justin McMahon had agreed to make workshop space and a hoist available as Harmo pieced the car back together. The standard spec SR20DE 2.0 litre motor and standard 5 speed gearbox were retained, as per APRA rules. Justin prepped the body and carried out some minor panel repairs before Harmo picked up the spray gun and laid down the “Group A Brock” formula blue paint. He’d never painted a car before – not a bad job for a guy who works 9 to 5 in a sales gig and runs a clothing / race apparel business in his spare time !
In went the control suspension kit (Yellowspeed coilovers all round available from MX5 Mania for just $990), the interior was stripped and painted, and Cobra race seat, harness, steering wheel etc fitted.
APRA rules allow 15 x 6.5 or 15 x 7 rims, so a set of Rota Slipstreams were selected in 15 x 7, and the control tyre for the series (Toyo R888R’s in 195/50/15) were fitted when they arrived.
Our first shakedown was simply to turn a few laps at Goulburn’s Wakefield Park and ensure nothing fell off and the car was mechanically sound having undergone literally a bare shell build. We then did a Toyo test day for the new (for 2016) control tyre, and as I was unable to take a day off work we put John Boston in the seat – “Boz” rolled out an easy 1.11.5, an incredible time for a stock engined, basically standard N14 Pulsar. (Current APRA race lap record is 1.10.15 held by Matt Boylan, although on the same day Matt did a 1.09.6 in better conditions during qualifying)
In my first event in 10 odd years at SMSP we qualified 15th in a 30 car field, and were in 11th position in the final race when another competitor made contact with wall at Turn 1, causing the race to be red flagged.
The number of cars running in APRA in NSW has been nothing short of incredible, with 30+ cars at most rounds – Victoria is currently going through a rebuilding phase, with many of the NSW competitors not traveling, yet there are well over a dozen of our “Mexican” friends with cars either built or recently purchased and ready to roll.
In 2017 APRA became CAMS affiliated, which opened up opportunities to run at SMSP, Phillip Island and Sandown in addition to our previous Wakefield and Winton circuits under AASA
A massive thanks to the following people who have supported me and assisted with the car –
- Pete Harmston – Liquid Clothing Company
- Justin McMahon – ClubRacer Engineering Wollongong
- Geoff Fear – Fear Motorsport
- Terry Denovan – Motor Racing Australia (MRA) for his support of the APRA series
- My wife Sharon and daughter Ella for all their love and support !
What is APRA ?
- A tightly controlled series low budget race series which features N14 and N15 Nissan Pulsars
- All cars must run stock SR20DE engines
- Standard gearboxes, with locked or LSD differentials
- Controlled suspension (Yellowspeed Coilovers – $1000)
- CAMS approved welded or bolt in roll cages (range from $1350 to $2500)
- Standard brakes on N15, N14 allowed to upgrade to N15 spec (pads free)
- 15 x 6.5 or 15 x 7 wheels
- Toyo R888r tyres, 195/50/15 ($190 each)
- Add race seat, harness, external electrical cut out switch and go racing !
What does it cost ?
Race ready cars sell for anywhere from $7500 to $12,500 depending on specification and condition. Check out the APRA Classifieds page on Facebook which has cars and equipment for sale.
If you wish to build your own and retain factory paint then cars can be built for as little as 6 to 8k.
Mechanically the cars are extremely reliable, and tyre wear is minimal meaning some competitors manage to do a whole season on just one set of tyres.
Where do we race ?
The NSW Championship in 2017 runs at Sydney Motorsport Park (on both the Gardner GP and extended Brabham circuits) as well as Wakefield Park. Highlight is the two day Wakefield Park enduro event which includes qualifying, a Top 10 shootout, and a one hour enduro each day over two days – a co-driver can run at this event if you wish.
The Victorian 2017 Championship sees events at Phillip Island, Winton and Sandown raceway. The competitor base in Victoria is growing rapidly, with the APRA series running in parallel with the Under 2 ltr Sports Sedans which provides great diverse fields.
Currently there is a strong push for APRA to begin a Queensland series, this will be dictated by numbers over the summer break with several cars currently in the build. Although early days South Australia has also expressed an interest in joining the APRA family…
My beloved N14 recent changed hands and headed to Victoria. A back injury and upcoming surgery meant I’ve taken some time off and will now commence the build of the N15 currently occupying garage space… J