Yesterday, NASA announced a new competition format for the 2024 season: Time Trial Target (TTT). In short, TTT is bracket racing within Time Trials, awarding podium positions for the most consistent drivers of the day, regardless of which class they participate in.
"The three drivers with the smallest delta among their fastest lap times can qualify for an additional podium finish." -NASA SpeedNews
It is unclear how many laps will be compared and if there will be contingencies for this new format.
Who Asked For This?
Bracket racing is antithetical to the entire premise of time attack. We aren't trying to be consistent. We are trying to set the fastest lap, full stop. The goal is never to set a similar lap time in the next session; it is to change your driving and/or car so that you go faster!
There are already 8 TT classes where you can win a plastic trophy or an ugly coffee mug. Awarding consistency in time attack seems like offering another participation trophy. NASA doesn't need bracket racing, but the concept would be a better fit for NASA TREC endurance racing than for Time Trials.
The comments and feedback I've seen on this new format are mostly mocking and critical. There is a legitimate concern that this format will only create more trouble for the fastest cars (TTU/1 and the like), which already struggle to get in one or two clean laps before catching the back-marker cars. Heck, even the fastest TT5 cars will sometimes lap the back-markers within the first two or three green flag laps at shorter tracks.
"Being consistently slow isn’t an achievement." -AJ Hartman, Facebook
What will stop someone from coasting or braking on the straightaway to achieve a consistent time? It was in jest, but someone suggested they'd use cruise control set to 50mph to achieve multiple laps within 100ths of a second.
If contingencies are on the line, I wouldn't put it past "racers" to do these things, creating rolling roadblocks for the other time trial competitors.
Speaking of negative comments, NASA turned off commenting on the announcement post and deleted the comments that were there (which is never a good look). The last time I saw comments, they were critical but at least constructive and well articulated. They expressed better competition format ideas that align with the true spirit of time attack, such as allowing pitting in the middle of a session to check or adjust shocks or tire pressures. NASA Time Trial rules disallow pitting in for any reason besides exiting the track or going to the black flag station, which means you are not even allowed to check tire pressures until after impound.
"Once a car enters the track, it is not permitted to enter the hot pits except to go to the black flag station or to exit the track. No work, adjustments, or tire checks may be done in the hot pits. . . Tire pressures must not be adjusted until the vehicle is released from impound." -NASA Time Trial Rules, 15.4
If the goal of time attack is to set the fastest time, why not allow us to make changes to go faster, or at least measure tire temps and pressures at their highest (straight off track)? Most other time attack organizations allow this.
This format seems out of touch and does not mesh with the ultimate goal of time attack racing. NASA racing does not need more participation trophies. Every region has at least two TT classes where you can guarantee a trophy just by signing up. We shouldn't encourage a slow but steady pace in time trials.