It's back. Little introduction is needed for this legendary car, as it is without a doubt the fastest circuit racer in Japan. Previously known as the HKS TRB 02, or Tsukuba Record Breaker, this full-carbon bodied Lancer Evolution 8 is back with a vengeance. In February of 2004 this machine, then sporting a bare carbon paint-scheme, lapped the small Tsukuba Circuit deep in the Ibaraki-ken countryside in an unheard of 54.739 seconds. Just to put things into perspective, a stock Lancer Evolution 8 laps the 2.070 m circuit in 1 minute 05 seconds, and this is with pro-driver/living-legend Keiichi Tsuchiya behind the wheel, on a good day. The driver who clocked in at 54 seconds was none other than Nobuteru Taniguchi, official HKS driver and one of the most skilled wheelmen in Japan.
Having already secured the fastest ever tuned car record at Tsukuba, Nob as well as the HKS mechanics knew that the car could go faster. As such, he boldly set off ready to shoot for a time in the 53-second bracket, but then, to everybody's surprise, it went horribly wrong. Coming into the infield hairpin in fifth gear Nob locked up the front brakes and ploughed straight into the barriers, effectively shattering the TRB 02 into pieces. The mechanics couldn't believe what had happened. Looking at the various video footage it seemed like there was some kind of steering arm failure, but since the whole front section of the car was damaged pretty badly in the impact there was no way of finding out the real cause.
With Taniguchi thankfully unhurt it was back to the drawing board. It took HKS almost two years to bring the car back to its former glory, and oh man did they do a good job. Shown for the first time at the Tokyo Auto Salon earlier this year, the new vehicle now sports a catchy new paint-scheme and in typical Japanese fashion, a totally new name. Behold the CT230R.
HKS has invested an unlimited budget in this project, so to find out just how the CT230R was built we headed to a special workshop not far from the main HKS factories in Fuji. As the elevator door slides open it's truly hard to take in what lies in front of us. Not too many people are allowed in here, as this is where all of HKS's special projects are built and looked after. The infamous BCNR33 drag GT-R quietly sits on axle-stands in one corner while Nob's Drift Lexus IS is being finished off for the Motorsportcom D-Games. We are even shown a new IS that HKS is putting the finishing touches on, a more extreme and better prepared car with substantial chassis modifications. But, today it's the low slung, impossibly wide and incredibly aggressive Lancer Evolution 8 in the far side of the workshop we are here to see.
The candy-red and chrome finish is simply outstanding, and is set to be a color scheme that HKS will be using on all of their demo-cars from now on. The quality of work that has gone into this project is really impressive. Basing themselves on Super GT regulations, which is a challenge, the first part of the transformation started with the chassis. In order to have a substantially rigid frame, the mechanics went to work stiffening the platform by welding in extra plating in areas of high stress like the foot wells, door sills and the B-pillars. A full roll-cage was then fitted and welded to the chassis directly or via additional drilled reinforcement plates, just like on Super GT cars. Sticking with the semi-GT-racer feel, some AP Racing pneumatic jacks were also welded into place to help shave precious seconds during tire changes.
The dry-carbon dashboard was molded from the stock item, but was additionally extended in order to push the driving position back. This allowed the Bride Zeta III carbon bucket seat to be mounted in line with the B-pillar to offer the driver additional safety in the event of an impact, but primarily to balance the front/rear weight distribution. As a result, the Momo Race steering wheel had to be fitted to an extended custom made boss, while the stock pedals were rendered obsolete and therefore replaced by a fully adjustable AP Racing pedal-box. Finally, the gear linkage had to be modified and extended in order for Taniguchi to reach the shifter from his new driving position. A carbon transmission tunnel was built to hold all the required mechanisms, which now offers a much more direct, play-free shift quality, thanks in part to the Ralliart gearbox internals.
All of the stock instruments were relegated to the trash and replaced with a line-up of HKS DB Meter RS dials. Nob can now keep an eye on the engine revolutions on the large-diameter rpm meter that is positioned on the center console. Interestingly, the gauge is rotated so that the 8,000 rpm shift-up point is on a vertical position. Next to it sits the HKS EVC boost controller module, which is connected to the red scramble boost button on the steering wheel for that extra punch of power when Nob requires it. The HKS Knock Amp Meter just below the EVC keeps an eye on the performance of the combustion in this prototype engine. Three additional gauges - water temperature, oil temperature and oil pressure - are only a glance away while a fourth dial displays the pressure from the ACD unit. Exhaust gas temperature and fuel pressure readings are given by the final two gauges on the passenger side of the main dashboard. The most important instrument on this car is the HKS circuit attack timer, which has found its home right where the stock instrumentation would be.
With almost two years at their disposal since the crash, HKS has had plenty of time to fix things up in the bodywork department. Reusing all of the old molds from the TRB 02, every single body panel was recast in dry-carbon and then painted in the new red livery. This is where you can really admire the painstaking attention to detail. The fit and finish of the custom carbon panels is outstanding to say the least. Every mounting point has been fabricated from scratch and features race car-like quick-release attachments making it extremely easy to remove any part. The front bumper design has a lot in common with the stock shape of the Evolution 8, but HKS has elongated the nose section to allow for a more aerodynamic profile. This, coupled with the thick carbon splitter and diffuser, not to mention the canards, adds substantial front-end downforce - just what you need to maintain a tight trajectory in the final right-hander at Tsukuba. The hood features an almost identical split air-outlet as on the stock car but has been bulged higher in order to generate more turbulence, therefore aiding in extracting hot air from the engine compartment. The front wide fenders help push the wheels out further, which, thanks to extremely large spacers, manage to fill the arches nicely.
The carbon work continues to the four doors that weigh a few pounds each while the rear fenders are riveted to the C-pillar and rear bumper. The trunk lid has been cut in order to separate the horizontal panel from the vertical one. The latter has then been made an integral part of the rear structure, and bonded in place to the chassis and rear bumper. So if access to the trunk area is required, only the top part of the lid can be removed. Not good for holding groceries, needless to say. Inside the trunk lives the fuel system, which is comprised of a tiny Wiseco racing fuel tank and Bosch fuel pumps, all neatly aligned. Hard to miss is the subframe which has been constructed to take the high levels of aerodynamic loads that the rear wing generates. Unlike on streetcars, the loads are directly transmitted to the chassis rather then to a body panel like the trunk lid.
The piece de resistance is the 560 PS, 65 kgf-m 2.3-liter 4G63. This green-topped monster is what propels this lightweight Evo to 54-second laps around Tsukuba and, as the HKS team is hoping, into the 53-second territory sometime this year. At its heart lies a host of prototype one-off components like the counter balanced crankshaft, H-section conrods and nickel-plated forged pistons. The head has been machined to insure optimal breathing while the 272 degrees duration cams make sure the valves stay open enough for the 820cc injectors to spray copious amounts of hi-octane fuel into the combustion chamber. The job of compressing the intake charge is up to the HKS GT3037S turbine, which is managed by the GT-II external wastegate and the EVC boost controller solenoids.
Because keeping an engine like this cool is no easy feat, it has been fitted with a custom oil cooler and a large-core radiator with an air-separator system. Everywhere you look in the CT230R's engine bay there is something to admire. Just take a look at the carbon intake pipe, or the custom exhaust manifold. It has all been put together with extreme care, and it certainly shows. Last but not least is the full titanium exhaust system, which pops out from the rear bumper.
The car's shakedown test at Tsukuba circuit in March proved that everything is working as it should. Taniguchi took a few fast laps to test different suspension set-ups and tire compounds. Even if just practicing, Nob managed to lap in 56 seconds. However, a big question remains: Is there enough there to make the CT230R break into the 53s? We're sure HKS has enough mechanical know-how to build a competent car, and no one is going to doubt Taniguchi's capabilities as a driver. Therefore we know it will set a very fast time, the question is how fast.