The most famous AE86 in the USA just might be Taka Aono’s Formula D competition car, coated in the signature Falken Motorsports colors. As an SCCA national autocross champion and licensed chiropractor with a passion for drifting, Taka decided to basically shut down his chiropractic practice so that he could compete in Formula Drift, touring the nation with the rest of the FD circus and spend his days doing high speed initiations and roasting tires.
Taka has been driving an AE86 in competitive drifting longer than anyone else in the United States. He is known for his fearless drifting initiations; Taka doesn’t have the luxury of being able to feather the throttle when he’s divebombing into a corner, like many of the big V8 and V10 drivers who coast along, blipping the throttle to keep the momentum going. Taka drives a Corolla for crying out loud – especially when it was normally aspirated, it didn’t have the power nor the torque to keep its drifting momentum going so easily, so he had to rev his engine to hell and fully commit 100% when entering a corner. When Taka Aono is on the race track, he’s driving foot to the floor, revving out every single gear to extract the most performance possible out of his AE86, which he drives into battle versus many higher dollar, higher horsepower cars with more sophisticated suspension setups.
As a driver, Taka Aono is all guts and all heart. He has been pushing himself and his AE86 to the limit since the very first Formula D event, which took place at Road Atlanta in 2004. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost five whole years since we all began traveling with the Formula D tour; those of us who have been there since the beginning, and continue to travel to all the events have seen Taka’s AE86 evolve over the years with different setups.
Starting out with a late model blacktop 20 valve 4AG engine way back when the series started; he also used a 4AGZE (supercharged 4AG) setup in his backup car. Once Falken Tires became more involved with the build of his car, he was able to obtain the “dream engine” of just about all AE86ers – a normally aspirated Formula Atlantic 4AG engine, which was built by Hasselgren in Berkeley CA. However, in its latest stage of evolution, Taka’s AE86 is now powered by a turbocharged Formula Atlantic-based 4AG, which was also built by Hasselgren, which is known to 86ers as one of the top builders of 4AG engines in the USA.
Whether it be on his daily driven JZX71 Cressida or on his AE86 competition car, Taka is also known for his love of hippari tires – also known as tire stretch to those who aren’t familiar. Just look at the rear wheel in this photo! All you see is the massively fat lip from his RS Watanabe Type R wheels protruding, with smoke billowing out of the fenderwell, and getting sucked into the wheel spoke area. You can’t even see the tire in this photo, because the lip is sticking out like crazy. Soooooooooooo COOL!!!
Although it’s kind of hard to tell because of the J-Blood front and rear widebody fenders, from the front to the back, Taka is actually running the same size wheels. They are RS Watanabe Type R 16x9J (-13 offset), wrapped in 205/40/16 Falken Azenis RT-615 tires.
Let’s get down to business; this is what we’ve all been waiting for. This is Taka’s newest engine setup on his AE86, which was built by Hasselgren, thanks to support from Falken. What we’re looking at here is an engine that was based on a Formula Atlantic 4AG, but is now turbocharged and pushing between 380~450 horsepower to the wheels. To the wheels. In a Corolla! This whole setup is controlled by a Motec M800 ECU, and a Formula Atlantic 4AG dry sump system ensures that the engine always stays healthy and lubricated. Taka relies on a twin plate clutch and 7.5inch Super Lock LSD from OS Giken to put all this power to the ground.
Just look at that gorgeous metalwork in the engine bay, by Scott Dodgion at SPD Metal Works. In case you don’t know the name, he used to work for RMR, and he was the builder of both of Rhys Millen’s Pontiac GTO drift cars, and the twin turbo GTO that Rhys displayed at SEMA as well. Just as the RMR team began working on Rhys’s Solstice, Scott left the team to start his own shop – SPD Metalworks in Fullerton, CA.
Outstanding. I just love that fully custom built Griffin radiator, especially with the customized rear shroud and humongous electric fan mounted up to it. Also, see the intercooler mounted just in front of the radiator? The intercooler is mounted a bit higher, so it sucks up air from the grill on top, while the huge radiator pulls air from the big cutout in the lower part of the front bumper. To see another view of how they sit together, check out the first image in this story.
SPD Metalworks fabricated a cool looking sheetmetal airbox, which basically is a shroud that keeps the hot exhaust air in the engine bay away from the Turbonetics GT450K turbo we see here. Thanks to the clever shroud, the turbo gets fed cold air from the fenderwells and/or front bumper area.
By the way, in case you were wondering, that turbo manifold was made by JSP Fabrication. If you need a turbo manifold or custom headers made for your AE86, hit up JSP on Club4AG.
When you pop the fiberglass hatch with integrated wing, this is what you see. Taka’s rear interior has a lot of items that some people might not recognize, so I’ll try to shed a bit more light on them. Other than the Technosquare custom roll cage for safety, you might notice the oil reservoir for the engine’s dry sump setup, which is mounted on the rollcage behind the passenger seat. This reservoir tank holds additional oil, which the dry sump pump circulates through Taka’s high dollar engine to ensure that is always well lubricated at high rpms and it doesn’t face any oil starvation issues. With this extra reservoir and the dry sump system, Taka uses 8 quarts of oil total for his car, with oil changes before every single race event.
You might notice the strange catch can-looking thing mounted up on the roof. That’s a ventilation canister, which is used to keep oil from sloshing out of the main oil reservoir when the car is cornering or drifting at high Gs. When I asked Scott Dodgion from SPD why it was mounted on the roof, he replied, “you want to mount it as high as you can get it so there’s more resistance for the oil. If it’s mounted up high, the oil has to travel farther, and actually has to make its way up the oil line to the ventilation canister, which is more difficult because of gravity. It basically prevents the excess oil from puking out of the main reservoir. Man, even though we had this system already in place, it actually puked out of there at Irwindale this last year, because the engine’s boost levels were turned up so high, and there were so many G forces affecting the car.”
I’m sure everyone is curious about the big, flat sheetmetal container riveted to the trunk of the car. This is actually a secure covering to house the Fuel safe system, and was designed by Howard and Richie Watanabe from Technosquare in Torrance CA. The riveted metal sheets act as a firewall for the fuel and oil, with hinged access panels to reach the fuel cell, differential oil pump, fuel pump, and fuel filters. It is important to keep all these items separated from the driver for safety, as the mixture of hot oil and fuel could easily ignite into a deadly fire in the event of a big crash. I suppose the Technosquare team decided it’s a good idea to keep Taka safe, because, after all, he does occasionally ride walls and flips the car as if it were a skateboard. Look out, Tony Hawk!
Inside the cockpit, you’ll notice the normal Sparco seats, belts and steering wheels present on all the Falken cars, as part of their marketing deal. The doors are fiberglass, but the door crossbars on the Technosquare cage offer good protection, so Taka doesn’t need to worry. Some people with attention to detail might notice the AIM MX Pro Gauge sitting in the dash. This is a higher level build than what I’ve seen on most AE86s; this even includes many of the Corollas I’ve seen in Japan.
Sitting below the dash where the climate control and radio center console would normally be, Taka’s AE86 has a custom made carbon fiber switch panel, with relays mounted on the side for electric fans, headlights, taillights, the driver’s cool suit, fuel pump, diff pump, and stuff like that.
In case you were wondering about the two stainless steel braided lines with AN fittings that go to the engine bay through the passenger floor, those are oil lines for the dry sump system, which help oil recycle quickly from the rear mounted reservoir to the engine.
Instead of normal Japanese OEM kouki taillights, Taka opted for these tinted black crystal kouki tail lamps from Japan. They’re actually cheaper than the OEM Japanese tail lights too.
Here’s a closer shot at the big lipped RS Watanabe Type R wheels, which were obtained from Takumi Project in Southern California. Notice that the wheels also have long lugnuts and elongated wheel studs.
Sitting inside the fenderwell, Taka’s suspension consists of Tokico HTS shocks, custom coilovers with 8kg (front) and 6kg (rear) Swift springs, a Battle Version AE86 suspension arm setup, and a few other suspension pieces.
These silver AN fittings looked pretty cool in my opinion. I like the way they look better than the red and blue fittings you normally see. I’ll have to get the contact info of the shop that sells these from Scott at SPD; I want to buy them for my TE27! The fittings on the left lead to the remote oil filter, and the fittings on the right are connected to the aftermarket oil cooler.
This Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator keeps the psi high for optimum engine performance.
The heat from the high rise turbo manifold is separated from the brake master cylinder and clutch master with this small heat shield. One thing I found interesting about this setup is the fact that the steel hard lines for the brake and clutch master cylinders have been removed in favor of flexible stainless steel braided lines and AN fittings. Possibly this is because the car no longer uses a brake booster? I’ll need to ask Taka about this in more detail next time I see him.
I was wondering what the bracket attached to the valve cover above the exhaust cam was for, so I called up Scott from SPD. Scott explained that it’s a simple bracket that holds up the weight of the turbo and piping. According to Scott, the way this engine runs, the turbo manifold actually gets so hot sometimes that it glows red. That little brace connected to the valve cover holds up the turbo’s weight so that the piping doesn’t droop down when the manifold gets super hot.
There’s also a thin metal heat shield covering the timing belt and the adjustable exhaust cam gear, to prevent the heat from the turbo and/or turbo manifold from heating up the timing belt, which could lead to disastrous results. Just think – if the timing belt heated up, it could expand, removing the tautness of the timing belt and causing it to slip a tooth on one of the gears. That definitely wouldn’t be good.
Here’s another shot of the remote oil filter and oil cooler setup, but what I want to draw attention to is how the wheel and brake setup can be seen so easily through the engine bay! The inner fender apron is apparently removed, because you sure can’t see the wheel and brake setup like this in a normal AE86! By the way, those are Wilwood four-piston calipers up front. Taka uses the OEM rear brake system in the rear, but added a Wilwood caliper for the e-brake to aid him in locking up those rear wheels!
I think the build quality of Taka’s AE86 is outstanding. However even more outstanding is the way he fearlessly pilots his car; full throttle, full lock, full commitment. It will be interesting to see Taka and his AE86 during the 2009 Formula D season, now that he is no longer a works driver with Team Falken. I just don’t think I could imagine this car wrapped in any other tire company’s livery than the blue and teal that it’s been wearing for the past few years. I guess we will see this April in Long Beach!