I have probably never covered as much drifting as over this past year. It has been a real blast seeing pro drivers battle it out in D1-GP or up and coming young stars shine at more grassroots events like MSC, not to mention the craziness that is the Drift Matsuri, but I have well and truly missed more conventional kinds of motorsport. I am of course talking about grip. I'm not going to deny it, this is where my passion lies, so you can understand why I have been eagerly awaiting for what is in my opinion the best event of the year in Japan, the Tsukuba Super Lap Battle.
Rev Speed magazine has been organizing this event for the past twenty years, and it has always attracted the fastest cars Japanese tuners have to offer. Shops spend the whole year building cars specifically for those few laps they get each December around the 2,070 m of Tsukuba, and competition is as fierce as ever.
The paddock was teeming with a broad mix of cars, some new some old, but yet again, just like at the Nismo Festival there was a total lack of modified R35 GT-Rs. I'm beginning to really wonder what is going on now, as tuned new-gen GT-R's have been plastered over the pages and covers of Japanese tuning publications since the car hit the scene back in 2007, but here we are 2 years later and there are none blasting around the track. Even MCR and Mine's didn't show up, and again the M-Speed R34 was nowhere to be seen.
But despite this, what did show up was outstanding as always, just like the seemingly unbeatable Cyber Evo. This car continues to get faster, with Eiji Yamada managing to dip below the 55-second barrier with a event-winning 54"925, over thee tenths faster than last year.
This is what everyone had their eyes on, the all-carbon Revolution FD3S, a car that resembles more a Super GT racer than a time attack machine! With a set-up that could potentially make it the fastest car in Japan the Revolution team were still not getting close to the full potential of the car, but still managed to better last year's time by a smidgeon over a tenth with a 55"915 sec lap.
No it's not Kumakubo's drift car, but the new Koyama Racing Labo demo car. Built by Koyama-san, ex chief-engineer of JUN, this CZ4A was the second fastest EvoX in the Open class with a best time of 58"368, behind the Varis EvoX which posted a 57"963..
Here is Takahiro Nakamura with his Car Service Hiro chopped-roof GDB, who was struggling with poor traction throughout the day. Not able to put power down efficiently when exiting corners meant he was unable to dip below that all important 1-minute barrier, an achievement which separates fast cars from blistering quick time-attack monsters!
Despite the event being mostly JDM oriented there ware quite a few imports trying their hand at posting some decent times like these two supercharged Exige's, the white Garage Shimaya and the silver Outer Plus demo cars. The silver car, managed a best lap of 59"712, thanks to the extra weight saving the full dry-carbon body brings.
K&M Speed joined forces with spring manufacturer Swift to build this Time Attack F360 Modena. I really loved the aggressive lines of the GT-style bodykit, punctuated with nice carbon detailing. The Ferrari managed a best of 59"386.
The affordable side of the spectrum was far from forgotten and the little GReddy Suzuki Swift Sports we saw earlier in the year at the Hyper Meeting was back at Tsukuba for some serious time attacking. The supercharged engine allowed it to post a best time of 1'07"110.
The Open Class session is where records are broken and I'm really glad to see the Tomei/Cusco Impreza back from the US and tackling all those lovely corners Tsukuba has to offer!
Checking out all the juicy technical aspects of each of the cars is something I always enjoy doing, and the Tomei/Cusco Impreza certainly doesn't lack behind in this department! On top of all the custom suspension arms and revised geometry the front is fitted with Brembo Racing magnesium-alloy calipers, which help Tarzan Yamada shave speed off efficiently.
With this being the car's first official outing at Tsukuba it did really well, even though due to regulations it was not running the same stickier tires it was using in back in the US. Despite this, Yamada-san managed to get the times down to 56"667 making it the third fastest of the day behind Cyber Evo and Revolution.
Despite years of continuous development…
…it's the 4G63 that manages to give that extra edge over other cars. In the back straight the Cyber Evo tops out at 140 mph (226 km/h) before getting on the brakes for the last corner. That is over 6 mph (10 km/h) faster than the Revolution FD and over 9 mph (15 km/h) faster than the Tomei/Cusco Impreza. Check out that beautiful new exhaust manifold the car is now running!
One car that was undoubtedly going to be right at the top with the very best was the Panspeed RX7. Unfortunately the car developed a problem with the Hewland sequential transmission, which meant it skipped two of the three allowed sessions. After the mechanics worked on it for the whole day it was able to go out once and lap in 56"715, an excellent time despite the problems the car had. It's a shame for the whole Panspeed crew but I'm sure they will be back next year with an even faster car!
The TVR-looking Fujita Engineering FD3S participated in the Street Class and managed a 58"897 sec lap thanks to the use of semi-slick rubber. To make it more fair cars in the same class, but running street tires, were in their own group.
HKS ditched their white Time Attack CZ200S in favor of their new demo car, based on a dual-clutch transmission (SST) version of the Evo X. The Video Option film crew was capturing each outing of the car as well as some behind the scenes stuff in the pits. With Taniguchi at the wheel the car managed a best of 1'01"753 making it the fastest of the three SST CZ4As present. This obviously tells us HKS has began working on developing possible upgrades for the Getrag dual-clutch transmission, something owners of SST Evo X's will be very happy about. We will have to keep an eye on this car in 2010 and see how it develops.
The Z was a big favorite this year, well represented in both Z33…
…and newer Z34 shapes. This rear-wheel drive class was the most fun to watch as drivers struggled to keep their cars pointing straight exiting the in-field hairpin, like the blue Garage Car 370Z above.
The mighty FD2 from Honda Twin Cam came very close to posting a sub-minute lap, but for this year they will have to make do with their 1'00"322.
As one class came out it was on to the next…
…which meant the action never stopped on track.
Techno Pro Spirits boss Spirits Taro, as always, was the driver of his own car, the little ZZW30 MR-S. He managed a 1'02"760 which is very fast for the little Toyota.
When it comes to new cars the Evo X really takes first spot in the popularity side of things and very happy to see it has been so well received by tuners. This is the Blitz/Dunlop machine.
Walking around I checked all of the Evo X engine bays to see how everyone is going about modifying the all-aluminum 4B11. This is a snap of the Original Runduce CZ4A. Every car in the Open Class was running upgraded engine internals and externally-gated turbochargers to get considerably more power than stock.
This makeshift tire-warmer really made me laugh. It entails wrapping 4 stacked wheels/tires with heat-reflecting material and sealing it off at the top. The heat is provided by a hairdryer stuck in the center. Might look silly but it really works apparently!
Parked up close to where I dropped my car off I spotted Taniguchi's ride, a Nissan Elgrand, the biggest minivan Nissan builds. To enhance the toaster-on-wheels look of the big V6-powered people mover Taniguchi fitted massive Advan wheels and, as you can see through the thin spokes, upgraded the braking with a massive front and rear Project µ brake kit. Inside the stock seats have been replaced by four Bride racing bucket seats!
This 3-series BMW is owned by Kikuchi Yasushi the Super GT driver Revolution hired for the day to drive the RX-7.
I've got tons of pictures to sort through from Tsukuba so make sure you check back for Part 2 for more action and behind the scenes snaps!
-Dino Dalle Carbonare