Every November for the past several years, America's (and the world's) fastest tuner cars have gathered at Buttonwillow Raceway for a one-day battle in the dusty and fragrant Central Valley of California. Upon arriving at the track, I noticed the paddock appeared a little emptier than past years. Nonetheless, all the top players in the game were present and accounted for. Teams like FX Motorsports, Sierra Sierra, Crawford, and AMS were all ready to fight in hopes of claiming the day's fastest time, and just maybe breaking the long standing track record held by NOB Taniguchi and the HKS CT230R.
For me, a pre-dawn wake up was required in order to get up to Buttonwillow in time for the start of the action. Luckily my transportation for the day would be this 2010 MX-5 Miata on loan from Mazda – making the trip through LA and over the grapevine a bit more exciting. More on this fantastic little car later…
I arrived at the track just before the start of the action to find the usual assortment of STI's, Evo's and the occasional Z or GT-R.
I was also surprised to see the Bergenholtz RX8 drift car on the entry list, running in Unlimited FR. How would this crazy rotary machine do in grip mode?
There was a particularly large showing of R35 GT-R's this year, sporting various levels of modification.
They ranged from lightly modified street cars like these…
To this Unlimited Class car from GoTo Racing. It's certainly one of the most heavily modified R35's I've seen yet.
Despite being new to the scene, the Sierra Sierra Evo was a favorite to turn in the day's fastest lap. Unfortunately a transmission problem sent the car to the garage, with the team scrambling to fix it in time for the afternoon session.
There were several 370Z's entered in the Street FR class – with some of them looking very fast on the track. The Robispec car was equipped with an unusually large wing on the rear.
After showing at SEMA last week, the 5Zigen Accord at the track to compete in the Unlimited FF Class. Japanese Super GT and Formula driver Katsuyuki Hiranaka would handle driving duties.
Another Japanese driver, Tarzan Yamada getting ready to head out in the Crawford Performance Impreza.
As with any top level team, Crawford has made some changes to the Subaru since the last time we saw it, including that strange-looking GT wing mounted on the roof.
Crawford's rival would of course be the AMS/Nos Energy Drink Evo X. The Evo looks positively awesome with its low-slung, ground scraping stance. Hmmm…who says low cars can't be fast?
Compared to the winged Evos and Imprezas, the Limited FF Team SCS Civic had a very understated look. Despite it's simple looks, the little Honda flew around the track at very good clip – it's NA B-series engine screaming loudly the whole way.
The Unlimited FF Class Hasport Civic looks slightly more aggressive with its wide-body front end and fat rear bumper diffuser. This car and the 5Zigen Accord were battling it out all day in Unlimited FF.
Of all the Hondas at the event (and there were a lot of them), I really liked the JHP USA K-swapped Civic Type R. This car represents everything that's great about front-drive Hondas – quick, simple and cool looking.
Tarzan Yamada was also the pilot of the Tomei GT WRX running in the Street AWD Class.
Kip Olson ready to pull off pit lane in the Unlimited Class Driving Ambition NSX.
The Driving Ambition car is a potent machine, but it's not quite the monster that the FX Motorsports NSX is. Billy Johnson drove the car to a 1:45.247 to take the second fastest lap time of the day.
And the fastest? Sierra Sierra. The team managed to fix the car and get it back on the track where it delivered a 1:45.061 lap time with David Empringham behind the wheel.
So, the CT230R's record still stands…for now. Even so, the cars keep getting faster and, the competition more serious.
I'm already excited to see what happens next year.
Stay tuned for more from Buttonwillow.