The Horse Thief Mile is the newest circuit at the Willow Springs Motorsports Park in Rosamond, Calif., and literally is carved into the hillside overlooking the complex's other tracks. For a mile-long course, relatively short by many standards, it's packed with an abundance of challenges: 11 turns, many fairly tight and stomach-turning elevation changes. When regulars to Willow Springs first saw the narrow, snaking tarmac being laid down, no one could believe it was for cars.
Of course we now know better, in small part because of the "American Touge" series of DVDs produced by Hot Version International, an offshoot of JDM video purveyors Best Motoring. The Mile was the circuit of choice for the first 2 chapters, and on December 20th hosted the third and most recent entry.
For the uninitiated, the first "American Touge" ran as a segment in HVI's volume 3 in 2004, and its original objective was to test the overall performance of some prominent US-tuned Japanese cars in a touge (pronounced "toe-ge") environment, that is, on winding, mountainous roads. The team battle format pitted 2 cars against each other, with one leading while the other followed. At its conclusion, the Comptech NSX was crowned the first American Touge Monster, with special props going to Top Setup in Chicago, which brought out an EG Civic hatchback that really wowed the judges (speaking of, Charlie from TS, you still owe us a story).
AT1 generated much interest, so for number 2, producers dedicated an entire 90-minute video to the contest. The open casting call was whittled down to 33 vehicles, of which the XS Engineering Skyline took the top honor of Touge Monster.
For the third installment, Hot Version returned to a scaled back variety of the event, inviting just 8 cars. As luck would have it, though, 5 were unable to make the taping for an assortment of reasons. In full stopgap mode, the crew was able to cobble together a couple more late entries for the contest, and the final field looked like this:
Additionally, Charlie from Top Setup made the haul yet again, but sans the famed hatch this time. He accompanied the owner of a del Sol, ostensibly another TS car, that didn't appear to make the competition but still got track time.
Of course the regular on-air talent was in attendance, namely drivers Keiichi Tsuchiya and Yasuyuki Kazama, as was lovely umbrella girl Kazumi Kondo, plus American model and wrestler Bobbi Billard, we're guessing for some added appeal. In addition to the vehicles and pseudo-celebs, about 100 spectators came out, including the HT staff.
This being another media outlet's event, we didn't get a whole lot of special behind-the-scenes access, and indeed had to absorb the spectacle from behind a fence just like the rest of the audience. We were able to see plenty from our vantage point, however, and Brian Gillespie from HASport and Joe McCarthy from Prototype helped us piece together a picture of how the judging went.
It was a mixed bag of news for Honda fans. After hearing that its entry was "so powerful it's scary" in AT2, and that Tsuchiya couldn't even reach the pedals, which incidentally precluded any judgment, the HASport crew attempted to improve on its 4th place finish from last time. The made-over CRX arrived with a slightly de-tuned motor, aero mods entailing a wing and splitter, front fender flares for wider tires, Nitto meats at all 4 corners, and a seat moved closer to the pedals, but to no avail. Again Tsuchiya couldn't reach the pedals (how short is that guy?), which prevented a fair assessment of the Rex. Gillespie tells us next year the seat will be moved up another 3 inches, plus the car will have a turbo and power steering.
The remaining Honda hero, Prototype's K-motivated Elise, had a decidedly different run of luck. Without giving too much away, it seems both drivers had a kick-ass time in the whip. But was it crowned AT3's new Monster? Guess you'll have to go get the video to find out.