Chipped paint, bruised bodywork, bug splatter, and a dusty interior. Not typically the words we lead a feature with, but if James Li’s AP2 Honda S2000 doesn’t capture the Speedhunters essence I don’t know what does.
James‘ Honda has seen a variety of colorful iterations over the years, and now in full aero trim with a Petronas-inspired livery it’s a car that you might only expect to see at one of Southern California’s many race tracks. However, when I met James at the 2018 Purist Group Winter Drive, he seemed to have no qualms about driving the track day-suited S2000 around SoCal’s shoddy roads for our shoot afterwards, and I know he still enjoys the car outside the confines of a racetrack.
However, James has drawn a very clear line in the sand when it comes to ‘enthusiastic’ driving these days. But, as is the case with many of us, it wasn’t always this way.
Growing up, James and his father were the Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi and of dragsters and muscle cars, James soaking up tons of hot rod-tinted knowledge from his dad. But like young Skywalker, James enjoyed forging his own path and became heavily involved in karting.
Over time he found himself attracted to an S2000 that he passed on the way to class every day. Eventually, James purchased his own S2000, which would be his first properly-quick street car.
Only, the car James had years back wasn’t this one. Rather, it was an early AP1 model that he enjoyed for many spirited miles cruising with friends on the fantastic backroads outside Los Angeles.
One night, James was the last link in a chain of drivers attacking a mountain pass, just any other late night. But when his friends reached the meet-up point they waited. And waited. James never arrived.
It turns out the Honda outmaneuvered its driver and tumbled off the side of a cliff, flipping a good seven times – sans hardtop or roll bar – before settling below, thankfully, top side up. James was a bit sheepish to point out this story, but he hopes that others that find themselves in his position — young, passionate, but relatively untrained behind the wheel of a quick car — can learn from his mistake that night.
He admits that there was likely driver error involved and his tires probably weren’t the best, but more importantly James simply states: “There is no point in reckless canyon driving. It’s dangerous and we have tons of tracks around here to go to instead. [Streeting] is not worth it, even if it’s a money thing.”
James was eager to get back on the saddle, but with his newfound wisdom he wanted to make sure to do things right. He acquired another S2000, a 2006 AP2, and over time he has honed it into a potent track weapon, one whose boundaries he explores on track.
Starting out, the cabin has been fitted with a 4-point roll bar along with Bride Zeta seats paired with Takata Racing harnesses. Other features include a carbon fiber center console delete, Polk Audio door speakers (remember, it’s still occasionally a street car), a Sabelt steering wheel, and a J’s Racing lightweight shift knob.
The 2.2-liter F22C has been Hondata-flashed and remains largely stock, save for a Mugen header paired with a Berk test pipe that exits through a custom-made single exhaust. The stock 6-speed gearbox routes power through an OS Giken Super Lock 1.5-way limited-slip differential with a 4.44:1 final drive, and the powertrain mounts have been replaced with Hasport units along with J’s Racing differential collars.
More importantly, the suspension has been tuned for the track with a set of Öhlins shocks paired with 16kg (front) and 14kg (rear) Swift springs, SPC offset front ball joints, a J’s Racing bump-steer kit, Spoon Sports front braces, a J’s Racing roll center adjuster out back, and the list goes on…
A custom-made splitter (which has since been updated) and dry carbon dive planes from Wasp Composites up front are complemented at the rear by a Voltex swan-mount GT wing and a Voltex diffuser. Willwood 4-pot front calipers are mounted on Acura TL Type S rotors which were milled to fit, and color-matched Advan Racing TCIII wheels tie it all together. James does have a set of RAYS Volk Racing ZE40s in classic Bronze Almite which I suspect would look great as well, but they weren’t on the car the day we shot.
Aesthetically, it’s easy enough to see where James has drawn inspiration for the most recent livery. It’s specifically an homage to the successful Super GT GT500 Lexus RC F that wore the same colors, and as a fan of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team as well it carries a bit of a double meaning for its owner.
Supremely more significant than the hardware found in James’ S2000 is the mindset he now has behind the wheel. And, he’s been rewarded for it.
In summer 2019 he found himself with a seat in US Racing Dynamics’ Ginetta GT4 for the SRO America race at Portland International Raceway. Proper racing has always been the goal for James since his unfortunate but enlightening night in Moreno Valley, and while 2020 has thrown a monkey wrench in those plans for now, James is currently setting up a program called The Driver’s Edge to offer private track day coaching.
It’s awesome to see how James has come full circle on his experiences behind the wheel, from karting, to canyon drives, to tracking, to racing, and now, working with others. Just like driving a fast car fast, you chip away at things, you make corrections, but you can always do better. We all make mistakes sometimes, but if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that there are many more to be made.
It’s been a bit of an odd year, to put it lightly, but don’t let that keep you from continuing to set new goals and grow as you can.