In building an S2000 to go sideways, one of the most recognized names in drifting, RS-R, gives the Honda faithful something to cheer about. Bob Hernandez sits down with two of the project's primaries, Ben Chong from RS-R USA and Gary Castillo from Design Craft Fabrication, to rap about the S2K's drifting merits and how American Honda warmed to the idea.
:: Gary Castillo
:: Owner and fabricator
:: Design Craft Fabrication
Honda Tuning: How did you become involved with this project?
Gary Castillo: Ben Chong and I used to work together at Dynamic Autosports. He left to work for John Masuda when Mr. Masuda set up RS-R USA. Mr. Masuda wanted to bring drifting to the United States. Since he's a huge Honda fan he wanted to do an S2000, but he needed someone to actually build the car because RS-R doesn't do that in-house. Ben told me they were looking for someone and I told him I could build it because it's all stuff I'd done before.
HT: How familiar are you with the S2000 chassis, the AP1?
GC: I knew the car had a neutral chassis so it would be hard to drift. You're taking something that's engineered to road race and jacking it up so it can drift. As we were building the car we'd take parts off one at a time so we could record their weight. In doing that we'd pull out, for example, the gas tank, and go; they designed this thing so well and now we're going to go screw it up! (laughter) The tank is near the center of the car, plus it sits pretty low, so it makes for a good center of gravity. We pulled it out and wanted to get some good pendulum weight going, so we mounted a fuel cell in the trunk. However, we tried to keep it as low as we could to match the low center of gravity, and it worked well.
HT: Had you built an S2000 to this degree before?
GC: Road racing, yeah, but building a drift car is completely different. We're still learning stuff. For a while we thought we were just way underpowered. In drifting, if you get a car to throw a lot of angle it's going to need a lot of speed or power to hold that angle, and we didn't have the power in the car to do that. The car wasn't making any tire smoke when it was getting sideways. Once we did a preliminary shakedown we realized the steering rack needed to go and the car was low on power.
HT: What was up with the steering rack?
GC: Originally, the car came with a system called EPS, Electric Power Steering, which is speed sensitive. At higher mph when you throw the steering wheel the system actually slows the wheel down, so we pulled it off and used a hydraulic power steering system. We measured the rack from a newer RX-7 and it was almost a direct bolt-in replacement. The RX-7 rack also has more steering angle and no speed changes in steering response.
HT: At what point in the rpm range are you getting useful power from the turbo?
GC: It hits max boost at 2800 rpm. That's another thing Mr. Masuda hooked up. He's buddies with the Garrett engineer who designed the factory SR20 turbo for Nissan and the factory Skyline turbo. He was there giving me information when it came to the manifold construction and how the turbo would work best.
HT: Did RS-R offer plenty of informational resources for you to exploit?
GC: The biggest hook-up that we had was Honda. The Honda guys gave us details on everything from the computer to the factory steering rack. Other than that, when we first started we got a lot of data from some of the U.S. D1 drivers. We gave it to five different drivers and told them to throw it around and tell us what they thought. This is when it was stock and the drivers were telling us it couldn't be done. They were fighting the steering wheel a lot. Everybody's first impression was that the car needed more caster. Only one driver, Calvin Wan, said it was really hard to drift, but that it wasn't a caster problem; it feels like something is dampening the steering wheel. He hit it right on the head because it's the Electric Power Steering system that dampens the steering.
HT: What are the natural strengths of the S2000?
GC: The chassis really makes the S2000 what it is. We found so much reinforcement in the chassis from the factory that it's almost like it doesn't need a roll cage for stiffening. We didn't want to put any holes in the chassis because we were afraid we would mess it up. It's really solid structurally, but on the flipside a lot of the drifters want a chassis that flexes. It comes down to this: when you're in a turn with a chassis that's loose the car is more forgiving, so if you go into a turn screwed up it's easier to fix. If you have a car with a really stiff chassis and you try to get into a turn, it's a lot harder to fix your approach. We started with a chassis that is super stiff, so we were either going to Swiss cheese the crap out of the thing or try to set up the suspension so it would work. It needed a roll cage, so we ended up stiffening the car some more, but we tried to take out where we could. Another strength: the engine that's in the S2000 has really good volumetric efficiency. We pulled out the 2.0-liter and dropped in the 2.2 from the '04 and noticed a big difference. It makes solid torque going all the way across the powerband, which is kind of what you need. On the flipside it just doesn't make enough power to compete against the cars we'd go up against.
HT: What about weaknesses?
GC: The rear end housing on it is prone to breaking. It's really fragile, and in a drift car when you sit there and try to sidestep the clutch, every once in a while you clutch kick it, and the first thing that's going to go is that rear end. Mr. Masuda sent it to Comptech and had the techs there reinforce it. The next things I see breaking are the axles. Those aren't the strongest for our application. And the upper control arms look weak. They're cast, but they look like they're made of #2 pencil.
:: Ben Chong
:: Director of
:: RS-R USA
HT: Who approached whom about this project?
BC: Initially we approached American Honda Motor Co. We noticed most people using Nissans and Toyotas for drifting, so we wanted to show there's more to drifting than those two manufacturers.
HT: How closely is Honda working with RS-R on this project?
BC: Honda gave us the car, additional parts, and offered us tech support. We asked for an '04 engine because of the larger displacement, but Honda gave us an '03 and later ended up giving us an '04 engine, transmission, ECU, whatever we needed for the project.
HT: Did you get the sense from Honda that it was looking to get into this market?
BC: When we talked to Honda about a sponsorship, it was already following Nissan and Toyota's involvement in drifting. Honda also knew the cars being used were older ones. Some of those cars are 10 years old, and some of the newer rear-wheel-drive cars aren't affordable. We see the S2000 as the new-generation Corolla. There's a lot of technology behind the car, and in 1985 no one thought people would be drifting Corollas; it just happened. But for it to happen people had to take the car apart, play with it, learn from it and figure out what it takes to drift it. The S2000, being so new, hasn't reached that level yet, but it will. I'm sure when this thing is done everyone will be amazed. Since we put on our drift event last year, we've watched the market grow. This means people are interested in more than horsepower. They're interested in handling and suspension characteristics, which is good for us, a suspension company.
HT: We understand the car's already been involved in a couple of accidents.
BC: Yokohama, our tire sponsor, invited us to the International Drifting Shoot-Out at the Road & Track U.S. Sports Car Invitational, a three-day event held at Laguna Seca. We figured since a lot of car junkies were going to be there, why not take the S2000 and show them you can take a highly tuned road racecar and get it sideways. During the competition portion of the event, our car collided with another one and the whole front end had to be replaced. The full carbon-fiber body kit that C-West gave us was ruined.
HT: And something happened at a Formula D event as well?
BC: Yes, it was the second round in Houston at the Reliant Center. During testing the car lost control and sideswiped a concrete barrier, breaking the rear shock, bending the suspension in the rear and cracking both rims on the driver's side of the car. We spent the whole day getting new rims on the car, fixing the shock, trying to get the alignment as straight as possible, and then finish testing the car as best as we could.
HT: How practical is what you're doing on this car to the average drift enthusiast?
BC: With a couple thousand dollars investment the car is capable of doing it. But being able to drift a car as easily as a 240 or Corolla, that's not what this car can do. That doesn't mean somewhere down the line someone will figure out an easier way to drift the S2000.
HT: Will any of this research go toward developing RS-R products for regular consumers?
BC: We're already developing a suspension. We're developing products that will work both on the track and on the street.
BOLTS & WASHERS
RS-R 2003 Honda S2000
F22C 2.2-liter long block and transmission; RS-R custom carbon-fiber 80mm exhaust; TMR steel-braided lines, fittings; Garrett GT28RS "Disco Potato" turbocharger at 7 psi, custom manifold, downpipe, intercooler by Design Craft Fabrication; Blitz boost controller; AEM fuel pressure regulator, Engine Management System; Ogura Racing clutch; Rick's Signature Accessories ring and pinion; KAAZ limited-slip differential; Comptech reinforced differential housing; Koyo radiator
BOLTS & WASHERS
Rims & Rubber:
Enkei RPF1 17x7.5, +48 offset (front), 17x9, +20 offset (rear) wheels, Yokohama 225/45-17 AVS ES100 (front), 255/45-17 AVS Sport (rear)
RS-R iShock coil-overs w/Ti2000 titanium springs, iStabi adjustable anti-roll bar
RS-R Dorio brake pads, Orido drift spec; TMR custom steel-braided lines