Project X: Ebisu Or Bust
Holy Grail

Like most of you, I’ve known about Ebisu Circuit for many years. The drift complex/zoo nestled in the lush green mountains of Fukushima Prefecture north of Tokyo has long been one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit – a boost-fed, petrol-soaked holy grail of sorts. Speaking realistically though, the vast majority of us will never quite make it out there, and until recently, I figured I was in that boat too.

Well, maybe I’d get to go at some point, but only to visit the facility and watch some driving, perhaps take some photos and generally soak up the atmosphere. Somehow though, early last month, fellow Speedhunter Taryn and I were pulling up to the famous gates of Ebisu at 8:00am on an unbearably hot and humid mid-summer morning in our own car. Ahead of us was two whole days of drifting…

Soarer Ebisu 22

After paying the paltry entry fee – about US$50 dollars for free reign of the place for the whole day – my initial thoughts centered on just how massive this facility was as we drove up the steep hill past the odd tiger, some type of deer and a bunch of really weird looking birds. Yes, Ebisu is a full-blown zoo, which makes the whole experience just that little bit weirder. In the image above, you can see just two of the seven tracks/areas on offer – the school course in front and the famous Minami track, complete with jump, further down the hill behind it.

Soarer Ebisu 01

Coming from a country in which motorsport of any kind is heavily regulated and coddled (not necessarily a bad thing), it took a while to get my head around the fact that you could simply hand over some bills and essentially go do whatever the hell you wanted, all day long. No lines, no classes, no sessions, no marshalls – just open tracks, all the time. This means that you can simply find an empty pit bay, get your car all ready to go at your own pace, and then pick a spot to go destroy some tyres. After doing a fair amount of damage to our Vertex front bumper at Nikko, for Ebisu we decided it would be a better move to whip it off as soon as we arrived. I know it makes for slightly ghetto-looking photos, but it was worth it just to not cringe every five seconds when driving the car.

Soarer Ebisu 21

Although we hadn’t actually planned it, it turns out that we had arrived for the very start of Drift Week, a three-times-a-year, week-long event run by local company Power Vehicles that attracts a lot of foreign drivers and culminates in both the G1GP competition and then the famous Drift Matsuri over the weekend. This meant that we found ourselves in the pits surrounded by a bunch of super-friendly Aussies and the odd Irishman – not quite what we’d expected, but a very welcome change of pace from the usual charades and extensive use of the Google Translate app. These guys were getting their missiles ready for the week ahead, and had all been to Ebisu more than once before.

Soarer Ebisu 02

Our closest neighbor was Josh Robinson, a circuit racer/rally driver/drifter who competes in top-tier drifting in a Holden Commodore Maloo ute back in Australia, and comes to Ebisu as much as he can to get valuable time behind the wheel. Josh was borrowing a clapped-out R32 Skyline from a friend, as his car was meant to be hitting the dyno later that day. With not much more to do than taking the Nissan out for an occasional skid whilst he waited for the dyno runs, Josh kindly agreed to show us around the place and provide a little coaching.

Soarer Ebisu 26

After I hogged all the wheel-time at Nikko circuit earlier in the month, it was only fair that we spent the majority of this first day at Ebisu getting Taryn a little more comfortable in the driver’s seat of the Soarer. So first it was off to Kurukuru Land at the bottom of the park – two big empty areas with complimentary cones for setting up some practice courses.

Soarer Ebisu 04

It didn’t take long for Taryn to start smashing out some big, wide Os…

Before moving on to figure eights. It’s amazing how quickly someone can learn when you’ve got decent equipment, good instruction and a no-pressure environment.

Soarer Ebisu 03

Eventually, the stock handbrake decided it’d had enough of the abuse and lost its bite, so we shot back up the hill to the on-site restaurant for some ramen before swinging past the pits to give the Z30 a little TLC.

Soarer Ebisu 05

I must confess that I’ve never had a proper go at adjusting a handbrake myself, only ever the half-arsed in-cabin version.

Soarer Ebisu 07

But Josh was good enough to show me how it’s done (very simply, as it turns out). To be honest, although it certainly needed some adjustment, it still wasn’t amazing. While I’ll stop short of switching to a hydraulic setup, which is a very rare sight in Japan, I think it’s time to give the handbrake a proper overhaul, and perhaps a switch to Project Mu shoes, which a few local friends can’t speak highly enough about.

North Course-Bound
Soarer Ebisu 08

After a little more messing around on the nearly-deserted lower courses in the early afternoon, we decided to head towards the noise higher up the mountain. This was the famous North Course, and once we navigated the extremely steep climb up the hill and found the pits, we trundled straight out onto the track for a couple of reconnaissance laps. But halfway around the first corner, it was all panic stations as a gang of screaming Nissans appeared out of nowhere behind us and began quickly reeling us in. If you view this image in full resolution, you can actually see me in the passenger seat looking at the wing mirror yelling “faster, faster, faster!”

Soarer Ebisu 10

At this point, I must admit that I couldn’t resist jumping in the Bride drivers seat. Years of watching in-car YouTube clips of this course had me amped to see what I could pull off, and after a few complete failures on my part, our faithful Soarer was singing as it ripped around the big sweeper. It wasn’t to last though, as I soon learnt that Z30s don’t really like drifting with anything under a quarter tank of gas. Yes, fuel surge. So, after profusely apologising to Taryn for insinuating that she was being a pussy on the switches and there was nothing wrong with the car (whoops), then heading back down the hill for more gas, time was running out before the 4:30pm cut off.

Soarer Ebisu 13

Still, I had about 15 minutes left in which to really wail on the car and see just how much I could get out of it on this awesome little circuit. The whole track is great, but this particular corner rules, because you’re able to slowly build confidence, initiating earlier and earlier each lap, and then carrying the car through the bend at high speed as you circle the pits and the corner shallows out into the downhill section. I would have liked a little more time to try my hand at some faster entries further up the pit straight, but that’ll just have to wait until next time.

I do love the sound of a 1JZ opening up! Maybe we need an external wastegate venting to atmosphere for extra points? The car performed admirably once again, although if I’m to be totally honest, we still had a big issue with the power steering, as mentioned in the last Project X installment from Nikko circuit. We’d spent the time between Nikko and Ebisu trying to get it sorted, and yet, once again, it was cutting in and out with the revs, making for an unpredictable drive. It was something we really needed to get sorted once and for all, and I had just the man to point me in the right direction.

Soarer Ebisu 16

Earlier that day, we’d met Andy Gray in the pits. Together his wife and fellow drifter Emily, they run Power Vehicles at Ebisu. I’d told Andy that I’d swing past the the shop before we left, so we jumped in the Soarer and shot over the other side of the park. Andy has huge amounts of experience with all things Toyota, and it would turn out that one of his workers, Australian drifter Ben Williams (pictured under the bonnet) also competes in D1SL in a Z30 Soarer. Perfect!

Soarer Ebisu 17

Both Ben and Andy confirmed that it wasn’t a quirk of the Z30s, and there definitely was something wrong with the steering despite the recent replacement pump. After a quick call to Shinji Minowa at HeyMan in Tokyo (which you might recognise for its famous steering knuckles, as used by Daigo Saito), the remedy was clear, if not painful. We were going to have to replace the whole system – steering rack and pump (again) included. This wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, but hey, par for the course, right?

Soarer Ebisu 18

Because it was Drift Week, the area around Power Vehicles was absolutely rammed with people and their cars. There were all sorts of vehicles – banged-up missiles, D1-capable competition machines and even a recently-saved ’90s Honda Prelude race car.

Soarer Ebisu 20

I still couldn’t help but wince when looking at some of the battle-scarred machines being readied for action, though.

Soarer Ebisu 19

Just imagine all the now-defunct cars that all this gear came off… With the sun setting, we made plans with Andy and Emily to return later this year, and headed back to our pit bay to pack up the car and head back to the hotel in downtown Fukushima.

Soarer Ebisu 24

Once we left the park however, we couldn’t resist going for a blast on some of the great touges that snake through the hills in the area. Sure, we’d had our fill of driving for the day, and yes, we had to get up pretty early in the morning, but imagine if you saw a sign that read ‘Best tacos in the world inside’ – you wouldn’t just walk right past it, even if you’d just left a restaurant serving the best pizza in the world, right?

Kawabata Drift  13

So, why did we have to get up so early? Well – and I’m not quite sure how I managed this – but thanks to some local contacts at Toyo Tires Japan, we were coming back to Ebisu the next morning to meet up with one of my all-time favourite drivers, the great Masato Kawabata. Kawabata-san was doing some testing in the GReddy/Toyo R35 GT-R on Minami, and had agreed to take us for some passenger runs in the morning, before spending the afternoon in the passenger seat of our Soarer, where he’d be imparting some of his driving wisdom upon me. A new contender for ‘best day ever’? Find out in the next installment of Project X, coming up very soon!

Peter Kelly
Editor-in-Chief
Instagram: speedhunters_pedey
pedey@speedhunters.com

Additional images: Josh Robinson
www.joshrobinson.com.au

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48 comments

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1

Finally an Ebisu Article :D

2

the stuff dreams are made of….

3

Seriously, $50?!? My  local autocross is more than that...and that's only 3 short runs and the rest corner work! Sometimes it really sucks living stateside...

4

@Phil Dirt Similar deal in New Zealand where I'm from. The other track days in Japan that I've been to were considerably more - like $80-120, but it was open pit lane, so just go out whenever you want, all day long. Totally worth it!

5

Damn take me with next time! Looks like it was one crazy experience!

6

Sooooo peanut butter and jelly lol.
But glad things have turned around for you two, you took the risk and are getting a seriously awesome reward.
Also thanks again for letting us lazier folks join in the adventure

7

#1 Woo it works and it's drifting yay everybody wins.

#2 I would dive right into that pile of discarded parts upon arrival and look for Evo differentials.


#3 Its bad enough this site makes me want to go out and drive every day, I see  pimp frames on Ice-T like damn I gotta up my glasses game. Ha serious first thought was those are really nice frames...

My Armani frames are about as clean and transparent as NYC subway windows and almost as old...Gotta up my frame game I'm going for the Bobby Womack/ Robert De Niro (in Casino) look.

8

@Phil Dirt Don't forget we just got SCCA's Track Night in America for $150 at plenty of road courses just none you'd be familiar with!  Road America ain't playin that shiz... sure would be nice though.

9

@Phil Dirt Try UK, £80 teeside, £70 Santa Pod and you get to sit in queues all day!

10

I am so far beyond jealous! Sounds like you guys are really getting to enjoy the hell out of your stay in Japan, so awesome!

11

Sarlaccsurvivor Thank you for reading, much appreciated.

12

Just curious, is the placard in the window your registration for the event? I don't remember seeing it before. Props to Taryn, another girl in a guy dominated world! Awesome.

13

That supra made be yell "DROOL" in my head when I first saw it.

14

Absolutely loving this series of articles! Can't wait for the next part :)

15

Very nice, it looks like a very safe track to drift on which is good. Hopefully you guys didn't go too crazy on the touges though, I assume that SH encourages readers especially the younger ones that public roads are not the place for that.

Also I hope Taryn keeps inspiring ladies to become car enthusiasts. It really is worth it, ladies!

As someone who prefers racing to drifting, videos like this remind people like me that drifting is cool too, and most likely more fun. Ain't no harm in having a casual drifting blat!

16

You summed up Ebisu so well! No restrictions and everyone is so friendly there. I never knew there was a Zoo there until I went. Was super random and so Japanese. 

I was lucky enough to go there earlier this year but never knew how steep the hills were to the different tracks. Me and my mate had no car so had to walk around the whole thing. Not the most fun, but was so worth being at Ebisu!

17

HeatherSabin The card is just something they give you when you come through the gate. I guess it's a way of making sure you have paid to get in if someone sees the car on a track, as there's no event as such. It's like this seven days a week.

18

DinoSawr No rental car either? Brutal! How did you get there in the first place out of interest?

19

CharlesChris15 Will have another awesome Ebisu story coming in a couple of weeks time!

20
Gianluca FairladyZ

Did not read the entire article, had just a quick look at the pics! Cool to see the big whit whale drifting! Enjoy it guys!!! Good to see you!

21

We went summer last year with no power vehicles support
Took a Factory 25DET neo R34 (low Km mint condition) removed rear muffler and gave it a bit more boost 

Did Gearbox work on the R34 in the Cainz home center carpark of Hokida then our mate did a clutch on a C35 in the pits of Kita Course (north course) before he slamed his C35 into the walls of Minami circuit
If i was to do this again would go powervehicles support but at the same time not every day you get to say you worked on a car in a home center lot

22

*Looks out window at FWD Golf*

*Closes curtains*

23

CameronGalloway Love the commitment, and I know exactly how you feel. A friend and I spent a whole day working on my JZX on the third story of some home improvement store's parking garage in Tokyo.

24

Glad to see this article finally up, you two must have had a blast! Hard to find what exactly to comment on as there is just so much to love here. The picture with the encroaching Nissans is a definite favorite though, haha.

25

Paddy McGrath RWD convert it! ;)
/likeitseasy

26

Oh I think I saw you guys! My brother and I were thrashing this thing:

27

Love every article about Soarer. Love that car

28

Caspaa Ah yep I think you guys were at Power Vehicles when we were there? Are you looking to head back soon? We're going back in November.

29

Peter_Kelly Caspaa I'd love to go back again but it won't happen this year. I'm living in Fukuoka and I'm on a working holiday visa so I won't be able to afford it until I go back to Australia :(

30

Glad to see some JZZ love! And power steering has been a pain in my ass as well! Finally I think I solved the problem once and for all but only time will tell. Keep the SC/Soarer love going though! Hoping to get mine featured one day!

31

Paddy McGrath You and me both, buddy.

32

Peter_Kelly DinoSawr We had a rental car on a different day so we had no car during our whole-day trip to Ebisu. We stayed in Tokyo and had to catch 2 trains (one was a bullet) and then we caught a taxi which took about 15 to get to the track. 

Lots of walking around in 25 degree (celcious) weather up those steep hills all day haha Definitely dont regret it though!

33

SchmittaMane What did you do to solve it out of interest?

34

DinoSawr Peter_Kelly I hear you - when we were there it was 35-40 degrees all day long, even walking up a short hill killed.

35

Peter_Kelly SchmittaMane Yeah, I also wanna know...

36

I pretty much replaced everything in the power steering system. High pressure line, pump, the little filler neck that connects from the resovior hose to the pump itself, which I think ended up just needing a new O ring between pump and neck, and the hose that goes from pump to resovior. The high pressure line was the last thing I replaced, probably a week or 2 ago now, and it's been fine ever since. But again, time will tell but I don't think there's anything left to go wrong at this point haha

37

I also did replace the steering rack last year I believe it was, if not early this year.

38

This should help.... it is based of the American Sc300 but I have 1j in mine and it's basically all the same

39

Peter_Kelly DinoSawr Yeah! It was only after some research I realised Japan had some really hot summers, so we decided to go in Spring to get the nice weather without the crazy heat. Too used to it in Australia so I know how bad it can get. 

Been loving the project X build as well as all the other content!

40

SchmittaMane What is the reason of that small electric motor in the steering rack in the Soarer? It is a reliability issue there or not?

41

Keep it up you two! I really enjoy the articles where I can follow the progress of a build and of peoples skills.

42

greenroadster SchmittaMane From memory it controls the speed sensitive aspect of the steering, and it can be a problem, but according to Shinji at HeyMan, not our particular problem.

43

SchmittaMane Thank you for the info sir!

44

Peter_Kelly greenroadster SchmittaMane You mean like Active Steering in a BMW? Who controls it? I have a swap BMW engine in my track Soarer and this little motor is connected to nothing...

45

Peter_Kelly SchmittaMane Also, I completely forgot, I heard the electric power steering from a MR2 is the best solution, its just a tad bit expensive but from what I understand if your continually having issues it is 100% worth the extra coin

46

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