One of the most famous time attack battles in the world is held in Japan at Tsukuba Circuit, a short drive outside of Tokyo to the north. Tsukuba circuit is likely the oldest circuit in Japan, having not been redesigned in the last 30 years or more. It is also quite short, being only a little over 1.2 miles long. These factors make it the most popular of circuits in Japan for the time attack format, as virtually every professional driver in Japan has driven the track extensively. The time attack format itself has been around for a long time in one format or another. It is a simple contest that pits a car and driver versus the clock in a single lap, with the fastest lap bringing home the prize.
RevSpeed has used this format for 17 years to see which aftermarket tuners can build the fastest, yet slightly street-legal vehicle. These are not all-out race vehicles, as that would make it less of a showcase of tuner parts, and would simply turn it into the usual contest of who has the largest budget. Most of these vehicles have more than just a passing resemblance to road vehicles, with some of them being daily drivers owned by customers of the shops in question. There are more than a few that spend most of their time on a trailer, but in their defense, it's illegal to drive on public roads in Japan with S-tires. I've seen the Japanese do it anyway, of course. I may have done it myself once, come to think of it. But after spending a year preparing for this contest, you don't want to risk having your car impounded right before the race of the year!
The RevSpeed Super Battle was held under grey skies early in December. It's the cold time of the year in Japan, with temperatures hovering in the 40's. Snow is not out of the question in the Tokyo area of Japan, but it still feels quite cold thanks to the ever-present humidity. There was also a constant threat of rain during the entire day, something nobody wanted to see. But the weather held all through the day, with the only touches of rain coming after all had finished. The upside was that all that cold air was very kind to the turbocharged cars, allowing for more power to be dialed in during this contest for bragging rights. In every pit and paddock space, you could see the expert computer tuners adjusting the ECUs on the cars to take the best advantage of the conditions. Alongside them was the suspension experts, making last minute tweaks to compensate for the cold track, which was quite slippery at some sections. Especially on the newly resurfaced 2nd hairpin. The hairpin has always been a tricky section of Tsukuba, with an exit line so well-defined that the dirt on the side of the track had been dropped into so many times, there had been a wheel-swallowing rut there. With the slight change and resurface, the apex and exit had changed quite a bit. Combined with the cold, it became the scene of more than a few spins, some at low speeds. Lose the rear end there and it just keeps going round and round. There was also one big off by a white STI that lost it on the exit when the driver tried to put down the power too early, which brought their time attack ambitions to an end for another year.
Oddly enough though, times also felt a bit faster this year, possibly due to both the slightly colder conditions than last year, and the changes to that particular 2nd hairpin. When approached a bit slower and riding the inside deeper than in past years, competitors could exit it a bit faster and gain a bunch of speed towards the next fast section. This appeared to help the RWD cars a bit more than the AWD cars, though, as the AWD vehicles were always the best choice for exiting tricky corners. That white STI notwithstanding. The next off-camber right after that hairpin is quite entertaining at speed, and if you can carry the momentum through there 'til the final hairpin, you can make up quite a bit of time. After the last hairpin, it becomes a pure horsepower battle as you get up as much speed as possible before the last long sweeper.
The big favorite for winning the battle again was the CyberEvo Lancer Evolution that had won the contest last year. And quite a few of the previous contests as well. Things didn't quite go their way this year despite a blazing quick 55.864 second lap time that was only 1 tenth of a second off of its best time last year. While that was enough to give it 2nd place, it was not enough for the gold. That belonged to the M-speed Skyline GT-R with an ice-cool 55.230-second time! These are times that used to be only seen by dedicated race cars! More big news came up right behind them; only a tenth of a second (and some change) away was the CyberEvo Lancer. Not only was it the only Mazda in the top 15, the R Magic RX-7 also laid down an incredible 55.914-second lap and was the fastest rear-wheel-drive car of the day.
The rest of the positions were filled out by a variety of Skyline GT-R's, with the closest Subaru placing 19th. This was the Tomei/Prova car that actually did fairly good compared to last year with a 59-second run. The reason for the poor showing by the Subaru contingent was due to a lack of cars in contention-CyberEvo didn't bring the Cyber STI, and their main competitor, the ZeroSports STI, turned in a quite pathetic 6-minute lap due to engine troubles. This also qualified the ZeroSports car for the coveted last place position, behind the Overdrive RX-8 with it's 1m09sec lap. Needless to say, this took quite a bit of drama out of the usual Subaru/Mitsubishi showdown, which will now have to wait till March of 2007.
Another record was also set on this day by the ASM Honda S2000. Naturally aspirated, with no turbocharger or supercharger, it cranked out an amazing 57.398-second lap. ASM managed this by redesigning the outer body entirely to increase handling. The aerodynamic changes did such a good job that, despite having one of the lowest top speeds on the circuit at 188km/h, they placed 7th overall, a fantastic placing for a car that probably had 200-300 less horsepower than the other competitors. They accomplished this by having to slow down the least in the corners, keeping their average speed up quite high as they sliced through the circuit. Originally built back in 2003 under the direction of Shinichiro Kanayama, and with a goal of breaking the 1-minute barrier by a naturally aspirated car, the ASM S2000 is slowly climbing up towards the top of the overall lists. ASM, by the way, is the short name of Autobacs Secondhand Market, which is famous for selling second hand parts across Japan. There is a separate division within ASM that was created by Kanayama that creates and sells the ASM S2000 parts. Which are not secondhand, and are actually famous for their high quality and, well, high prices.
Finishing it all up was the traditional five-lap battle. The top competitors from the different classes were put together for a five-lap, wheel-to-wheel contest. While it was probably just for fun, it was possibly a good excuse to see if the cars could run more than just one fast lap. Given that this ranged from the pure street FWD classes to the AWD-with-over-800hp dominators, it was a bit of an unbalanced battle. After a rolling start it was quickly decided that the M-Speed GT-R was going to own that contest as well. It easily walked away from the nearest competitor, which itself was quite a ways ahead of the 3rd place vehicle. Everything was a bit more interesting mid-pack, which quickly became more interesting to watch as the drivers did all they can to place higher than their natural competitors. It was especially interesting to watch the two last place cars, a Honda S2000 vs. a Honda Civic, with the Civic managing to hold the S2000 off for the entire race.
A great end to the year, and possibly the last time for the traditional Skyline GT-R's to hold the top spot. For next year, we will see the introduction of the all-new Nissan Skyline GT-R, which should be even faster than the R32-R34 series that made the name so famous internationally. Which means that Mitsubishi and Subaru will really need to step up to the plate with even better models soon as well. Next year promises to be quite interesting!