Tsukuba Circuit, A First Timer’s Impression

Much like Mike Garrett, I too recently spent a day in Japan that I wished would never end. For many of us, there is a tiny circuit just north of Tokyo which is more famous than any large GP circuit on the planet. This track is of course the birth place of time attack as we know it, and the standard by which virtually every serious car is measured. Welcome to Tsukuba Circuit.

It all started at 4:30am, when I rolled out of bed and wiped the crust from my eyes. I felt horrible, my feet hurt from the previous couple of day’s copious amounts of walking through Tokyo Auto Salon and I had that familiar soreness in the back of my throat – the sign of a cold yet to come. But somehow, I knew it would all be worth it; this would be the day I have been waiting for since I was fifteen years old.

“I still can’t believe you’ve never been to Tsukuba!” Dino chuckled as we made our way out of Tokyo. It’s actually pretty surprising to me as well, considering how much I appreciate time attack and that it took me five years of traveling to Japan to shoot before I eventually made my way out there. Nevertheless, I was on my way.

Having logged what must be thousand of laps on the circuit virtually, combined with countless hours of video footage I’ve seen over the years, I felt as if I pretty much knew the track like the back of my hand before ever setting foot through its gates. However, although the layout was certainly familiar, there were a few things that shocked me after seeing the course in person.

Most notable were the elevation changes and the camber built into the track. There are some places, like the infield hairpin, where the camber is evident even in video games, but in person the track has a lot more character than you might imagine. It’s certainly not the tightly sculpted pancake I thought it would be. The surface is also unbelievably smooth, like nearly perfect. I can’t imagine what the Japanese must have thought when they left glassy Tsukuba to visit bumpy-ass Buttonwillow for Super Lap Battle!

But I digress, as content as I might be do so, I obviously didn’t visit Tsukuba just to walk around and take pictures of the circuit itself. My main reason for being there was to catch a glimpse of Battle Evome and get a sense of what it’s like to attend a Japanese time attack event.

The moment we drove through the paddock I was already going berserk. I know I’ve said it before, but these days it takes quite a bit to get me genuinely excited, and this was definitely one of those times. The paddock wasn’t the busiest I’ve seen, but the low car count was quickly overshadowed by the high-level of the builds.

There were some cars I instantly fell in love with, like this beautiful 180sx. I really enjoy seeing these cars built for a purpose other than drifting. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be slid around by any means, but how cool is this? The craftsmanship and cleanliness of the car was unbelievable. I would have shot a feature if we had time, so I really hope Dino can get around to it later, this car needs to be seen in detail to be believed!

Then of course there were the interesting oddballs like this Legacy which myself, Dino and Peter couldn’t stop going back to take another look at throughout the event.

Even the “boring” cars were quite exciting. You know you’re at a Tsukuba event when a Mugen-kitted S2000 and a Vertex-kitted S15 are the most normal cars in the lot! To say that the level of cars is high is probably an understatement.

But aside from some mind blowing builds, the general effort and attentional to detail was also pretty incredible. The Japanese take their time attack much more seriously, especially when you consider this is a “grassroots” event contested by privateers. After seeing some of the ingenuity in the paddock it’s made me giddy in anticipation of the day I can return home and start hacking up my Civic.

Obviously not all of the cars were complete DIY-hack ups though, which is never more evident than Under Suzuki’s record-holding Silvia. While he is still a privateer, there’s a level of development, investment and sponsors that are rare amongst the Battle Evome series.

Nevertheless, this is where his passion began and this is also where he has continued to hone his skills and develop the car into the record smasher it is today. From what I saw that afternoon, it seems that he will relentlessly continue to modify and tweak in the pursuit of faster lap times. He is a man possessed.

Even the less-monied competitors are still very serious about their hobby, as was evident by the fact that nearly every car was rocking a fairly new (if not brand-new) set of Volk wheels wrapped in shaved tires.

Another thing that struck as being quite interesting is the continued popularity of the FD3S RX-7 as a time attack car in Japan. For the life of me I cannot figure out why this chassis isn’t used more in America, especially when you consider that they have been proven time and time again by shops like Revolution, Pan Speed and RE Amemiya to be extremely quick cars.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that the FD is one of the best looking Japanese sports cars ever to roll off the assembly line, but seeing them completely decked out in proper JDM circuit style is a real treat. When I do come across the occasional RX-7 back home, they rarely look anything like this and seldom turn a wheel in anger.

Needless to say, I left Tsukuba with a renewed interest in the chassis and found myself wanting one badly. While I’m sure with time the craving will once again subside, it was really nice to be reminded just how powerful and beautiful of a tool these cars can be.

It was also pretty cool to see some of the guys from Option Magazine out at the circuit documenting the cars and their owners. I remember I used to flip through the pages and think to myself, “my god these guys are everywhere” and as it turns out, I was right!

They seemed to be doing some special coverage on this particular car considering they spent a lot of time shooting the engine bay and I believe they even did a video interview with the owner along with placing a few cameras inside the cockpit.

Elsewhere in the paddock cars had begun to line up for an event that would take place once Battle Evome had commenced. I found this particularly choice Sunny which looked ready to rip up the TC2000. As it turned out, it caught the eye of one of the Option editors as well! By this time the track was just about to go hot so I made my way to the circuit…

And almost immediately I had my breath taken away. I mean is there anything more quintessentially “Japanese time attack” than a white FD carving its way through the infield hairpin of Tsukuba? I think not. I was on cloud nine.

It was pretty incredible to watch the machines navigate the course I “knew” so well. Even though I had never placed a tire on its surface, I knew exactly what the cars were going to do before they encountered a turn, like how scarily light the Exceed Moat S14 was going to be in this high speed left hander coming out of the Dunlop arch.

It was certainly a “pinch me” moment. This couldn’t possible be real life, could it? Once the cars starting making their way around the track I immediately forgot all about the cold and my oncoming sickness. All I could think about was filling the frame with all of this awesomeness that surrounded me.

I moved as quickly as I could to try and shoot from as many different view points as possible. I knew that Tsukuba was a very short track, but since the event only lasted two hours I knew I’d need to get a move-on if I wanted to see it all.

Unfortunately, there were certain areas of the track that were locked, so I’ll have to save my “I’m going to shoot from every possible corner” ambitions for another day. Luckily, unlike most of the time attack circuits back home, Tsukuba is a fairly photogenic place.

When you place some badass machinery on top of it, it’s pretty hard to take a bad photo. I was grinning from ear to ear.

But as fun as shooting was, I also tried to spend some time watching the cars without a camera in front of my face. It took me years to finally realize it, but it’s quite easy to lose a great memory of an event if you’re too busy trying to document it. It used to be quite common that I’d spend a day at a track, taking thousands of photos, only to barely recollect having been there a few days later.

This was a day I certainly didn’t want to forget, but beyond that I also wanted to analyze the driving style of the Japanese. I have to admit it was pretty eye opening seeing just how hard they attack the circuit. Not only do they give each hot lap 100% effort, but their discipline to alternate being a flying lap and a cool down lap is incredible.

It’s likely for that very reason that I can’t remember seeing a single car with a mechanical problem. I think that the states could learn a lot if they just enforced a little more self-control, there probably wouldn’t be nearly as many engine-fires and other catastrophic failures.

But when the Japanese push, they really push. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such tail-happy AWD cars that weren’t on a rally stage!

When it comes to pushing, Suzuki-san is in a league of his own. I don’t think I ever saw him exit a corner in a civilized fashion, there was always some sort of drama, either in the form of a slide or straight-line wheel spin. While he didn’t break his record on this day, we have no idea what items he was testing and what he may have learned to put to better use another day.

Even still, walking away with a 53-second lap is nothing to scoff at. Dino was telling me that Under Suzuki has future plans of installing a race traction control system in the car one day, which he estimates should shave off another second or so from his personal best. The thought of a 51-second lap is mind blowing stuff most definitely.

The next thing I knew the track went cold, and just as quickly as it had begun, Battle Evome had sadly come to an end. I made my way back to the paddock from the far end of the track, but not before taking a quick peek at some cars that were getting ready for the next series like this mental R33 from Auto Boy.

Once back inside the gates I saw a few of the BE guys filling up at the on-site Shell station. I was stopped in my tracks by the Wacky Mate R32, another car that might not look like much on the surface but is stunningly good once you get a real peek at the details. This is a build that unquestionably needs further investigation.

This particular vignette was just too beautiful to pass up. #iamthespeedhunter after all.

When I finally made my way back I discovered that someone had moved this GT3 into the paddock. The car wasn’t on course for Battle Evome and I can only presume that it was patiently waiting to go out in a later group. It was a very simple build, with a Recaro bucket, wing risers and TE37s being the main mods… quite close to Porsche perfection if you ask me.

Next it was time to pack our things and head off to Mt. Tsukuba to do some more shooting with our BMW M6. Battle Evome was a breathtaking experience and a great beginning to what I’d call the best day I’ve ever spent in Japan… and by this time it was only noon. I left with a renewed sense of wonder for time attack racing and I’m sure it won’t be my last visit; mark my words Tsukuba Circuit, I will indeed “see you again!”

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X2R Coutts
X2R Coutts

can anyone tell me where there is a link to the article or more pictures of that gunmetal gray r32 with the white te's pleaseee



I don't know if I could go there without trying to jump into the first unattended FR car I see and take off like a crazy field crasher.


Great circuit+great grassroots/privateer motorsports+ great coverage=great Speedhunter post

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

I felt the same about the elevation changes when I saw this place for the first time in 2006.


I always wondered why the wood village s30 never ran headlight covers. From windtunnel testing, it was found to reduce lift and drag at the front. Maybe help pick up an extra mph down the straight. Then again he is running a sub minute lap so maybe he knows something we dont haha.


Stunning cars at this event and my most favorite track!  When I play forza4/gt5 and I'm testing a car I go straight to Tsukuba haha--I would love to check it out in person some day! 

function over form
function over form

The comment "I think that the states could learn a lot if they just enforced a little more self-control, there probably wouldn’t be nearly as many engine-fires and other catastrophic failures."

Come on guy if we all operated in the same way shit would be boring.


Sean you showed some amazing cars, but the S14 fender hack really intrigued me.  This is a style four wheel drive guys have been doing for years, so the cross-over is interesting.


Will it be possible to take a more in-depth look at that white s13? As someone who's building his s13 for TA I'd absolutely be fascinated by it.


Great pictures as usual Sean, Tsukuba is totally the Mecca for Time Attack fans. 


Ok , when the full feature on that legacy wagon is coming? You guys know that everybody wants it



Legendary track, happens to be even more legendary when the action starts in it. One of the place I really wish to visit in the future...

Andy D
Andy D

Will do Dino !!!! Wasn't being rude, I was up on the roof of the pits and I think you were at the project Bandoh 86, was going to come down to say Hi but got distracted by the jet engine sound of the garrage g force evo coming down the straight, then didn't see you again !!!! Need to make sure a trip is booked in for first 3 weeks of December each year !!!!!

Andy D
Andy D

I went to Tsukuba for the first time in December for the Super Lap battle after about 14 years of going to Tokyo and your descriptions of the track mirrored mine to a tee Sean !!!! I can't believe it took me so long to get there but the Super Lap Battle was the perfect way to start, so many good cars, great weather, a perfect time attack day !!!!! Saw Dino there but he was busy taking pics when I saw him and to be honest I was too busy running around looking at the cars and the track hahaha


Normally this is where I would say MOAR. But, SO, MANY, PICTURES!


Great article!


Black FD is Craft Company Demo Car. It has evolved over many years.


I don't know how you do it. whenever I go to something like this, i end up with a hundred pictures of cars where all the important parts are out of frame. I cant keep my attention on one thing long enough to get a good picture. Im like a dog or gopher with adhd in a toy store.Its hard to take good pictures when your smiling ear to ear. I commend you good sir.

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @Andy D Ya I've absolutely got to see the Rev Speed event one of these years, that's been on my bucket list for some time. 


 @sean klingelhoefer True story, the first time I went to Japan a friend took me. Waiting for him to do paper work for our Shinkansen passes I wandered out into the parking lot. It took him over an hour to get me back into the airport to get us on a train. Now the same thing happens to me when friends come to visit me and see Japan for the first time. Karma.