Evasive Motorsports and Dai Yoshihara's victorious assault on this year's Pikes Peak with their 2JZ-powered, widebody Toyota 86 didn't come easy. There are simply moments in life where the world straight-up tells you, "It's not meant to be. Impossible. Forget it." We've all been there before and it's a gut-wrenching feeling. For the crew at Evasive Motorsports and pro driver Dai Yoshihara, they experienced these moments not once, not twice, but nine times at the 98th running of Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The team however, persevered and finished the 12.42-mile, 156-turn mountain road course with a 10:05:006, good enough for first place in the Unlimited Division and ninth place overall. While standing on top of the podium was a glorious feeling for Dai and the entire Evasive crew, it was overcoming the challenges, frustrations and even the thoughts of defeat that really showed Evasive CEO, Mike Chang, just how strong and relentless his team really is, and how much more this year's race meant.
NOT EVASIVE'S FIRST RODEO
This year's climb marked the sixth Pikes Peak outing for the Evasive team. They finished the race twice but didn't podium. Last year was the first crack at Pikes with 2011 Formula DRIFT champ Dai Yoshihara behind the wheel of their purpose-built hill climb Toyota 86 that's powered by a stroked 2JZ-GTE inline-six. The car was on pace for a high 9-minute time, but the rear differential gave out and ended their day. The 86 would go on to redeem itself at Global Time Attack/Super Lap Battle clocking the overall fastest lap at Buttonwillow Raceway; however, there was unfinished business on the table. Defeating the mountain was the endgame and they were determined to finish this year.
UPDATES TO THE TOYOTA 86
DRIVETRAIN. Evasive addressed the rear diff as the last thing they'd ever want to see is 2019's problem strike again. The team upgraded the rear diff and also got it cryo-treated to withstand more abuse. The axles were also rebuilt using stronger shafts and components.
TURBO. The 2JZ is built tough already and didn't need any major changes with it having components like a 3.4-liter stroker via Brian Crower crank, JE pistons, Carrillo rods and more. The main difference took place with the turbo, ditching the Garrett GX3582II T4 for a G42-1200 turbo. According to Mike, the GTX turbo was too small and built a lot of heat and back pressure. The new G-series turbo is a significant jump up in size which sacrifices responsiveness and increases lag but helps with reliability. It's not a decision Dai agreed with, but when it comes to going full send for 10-minutes straight up to a finish line at 14,115ft., it was a necessary precaution.
WHEELS & TIRES. New for 2020 are Titan 7 T-S5 forged two-piece prototype wheels, along with prototype slicks from Toyo Tires.
AERO. Last year, the Evasive 86 sported Rocket Bunny aero. This year's exterior has been updated with a much more modern Artisan Spirit widebody. Evasive further developed the aero package with a massive front splitter, fender extensions, louvers and a bigger rear wing to engineer the perfect balance of downforce.
9 BIG OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME
1. ECU HICCUPS. The Evasive team arrived the weekend prior to get comfortable with their surroundings, check-in to their AirBnB and begin prepping the car for practice and qualifying runs. Monday is tech inspection which was perhaps the only day things went smoothly, and Tuesday is the first shakedown. The team started out on the highest section of the course, which also just happens to the bumpiest, coldest and toughest part of the track. With a wake-up time of 3:00AM, the team was one of the first to run and Dai was already not feeling very comfortable. At elevation above 10,000 ft., Dai noticed the throttle not being responsive and the turbo struggling. The team did their best to adjust the ECU mapping via MoTeC standalone, but there was only so much they could do before the day was over. They would have to try again the next day.
2. ALTERNATOR. Wednesday's practice was set on the middle section of Pikes Peak. After a clean and conservative first run, the second run was cut short when the car shut off on Dai due to the alternator failing. It ended up being a simple fix with only a new alternator wire needing to be replaced; however, the day was done.
3. THROTTLE LINKAGE. Thursday was qualifying and things looked to be optimistic on the first run. Three-quarters of the way up, Dai's pace was good until the throttle stopped responding. The car rolled to a stop and just sat at idle. After towing the 86 back down, the team determined the linkage that sends throttle inputs to the drive-by-wire slipped off. It's was just one of those things that happens and you don't know how—it's just a part of racing. A new set of tires were mounted and Dai headed back to the starting line for his second qualifying run.
4. SEQUENTIAL TRANSMISSION. Like clockwork, three-quarters of the way up the mountain, the car stopped again, a result of something much more serious. Initially, the Evasive team thought it might be the rear end, like last year. Dai couldn't shift properly anymore and all they could hear was a loud clunking noise coming from the car. At this point, their qualifying day was over, and it was time to go back to their AirBnB to diagnose the problem.
The hope was that the 86 just needed a new rear end and the team had a spare on deck, ready to swap over. Turns out it was an issue with the Samsonas sequential transmission. The gears were off and would skip second gear altogether on downshifts. Here's where the story gets interesting...
5. TECH SUPPORT. A race-spec sequential tranny isn't something even a highly skilled mechanic can diagnose or repair. Samsonas Motorsport is based in Lithuania and getting any dedicated technical support nine time zones away was going to be next to impossible. Mike decided to go to their website and call the North America distributor's phone number (there's only one distributor in North America) to see who he could reach. Someone picked up and it just so happened to be the cell phone of Paul Ferreira of Fercomp; the only guy in America that could legitimately give support on the transmission! It just so happens that he just got off the plane in Colorado Springs to support another race team at Pikes and was going to be able to inspect the 86 in-person in a matter of hours. A miracle, right?
6. FULL SERVICE FACILITY. Taking apart a transmission isn't something that the Evasive crew wasn't prepared for, but definitely not equipped to do out of their AirBnb. Thanks to some major support from industry friend Eddie Lee of Titan 7 Wheels, Evasive was put in touch with Freedom Honda, a local dealership in Colorado Springs who understood what the team was battling and gave them full access to their service center—even after business hours. This would come in handy as late nights ensued...
7. HANDCARRIED PARTS. That night, the crew took out the sequential at the dealership, tore it apart and waited for Samsonas rep Paul to swing by and take a look. Paul determined all the replacement parts the trans needed. All the parts were items that he had in stock, but there was just one problem... They were all in North Carolina. The earliest the parts could ship would be Friday morning using Next Day Air and even then, ran the risk of arriving too late on Saturday, if at all. Cut to early Friday morning and Mike at Evasive begins driving to the airport booking the next flight to North Carolina on his phone. The plan was to fly there, pick up the parts himself, and take the next return flight back to Denver. On his way to the airport, a friend of a friend who lives in North Carolina had heard of the dilemma and was willing to pick up the parts for Evasive and take the next flight out. A grateful gesture from a stranger that the team had never even met, Evasive booked the volunteer's flight and accommodations, and by 4:00PM the parts had been hand delivered. It took the Evasive crew until 3:00AM Saturday morning before the 86 was finally fired up again at Freedom Honda. A sigh of relief... On Saturday, the team spent four hours tuning the transmission as they determined the sequential shifts weren't optimal and the current transmission tune was putting a lot of shock on the system, which eventually broke down its internals
8. STARTING LINE SCARE. Sunday's race day arrived and with no qualifying run, Dai was the last competitor to go, which is very disadvantageous at Pikes Peak. The later in the day, the higher the probability it will rain.
One hour before the 86 was supposed to roll up to the starting line, they fired the car up to warm up and the throttle stopped responding. A feeling of hopelessness could be felt throughout the entire team and Mike explains that he and his team were moments from mentally breaking down and possibly packing up the car. Everyone had been through so much already to get to this point, only for another issue to arise less than an hour from go-time and just a few car lengths from the starting line. The ECU was giving them trouble, but luckily there was a MoTeC representative nearby from a competing Porsche team that offered some advice. After some fiddling around which included rebooting the system and reuploading the tune, the car was back to normal.
9. INCHES FROM ENDING IT. Lining up to go as the final competitor of the day, bad weather was beginning to creep in. As mentioned before, it tends to rain towards the end of the day at Pikes Peak and this meant more dangerous driving conditions. Dai took off safely and the team cheered him on. For the majority of the day, there was a helicopter broadcasting the race live; however, due to weather, live coverage was suspended and the chopper was grounded. There were areas on the mountain with light drizzle, which in turn presented the last obstacle for the team to overcome. A third of the way up, Dai spun out and hit the guardrail and was left in a complete 180-degrees downhill. Severe damage was incurred by the right rear fender, and the destruction was only inches from puncturing the tire. It could've easily taken the car out of competition, but luckily it didn't, and the car didn't stall, either. Dai was able to turn around and head back up the mountain. The whole incident took off about seven seconds total and Dai crossed the finish line at 10:05.006—six seconds faster than their nearest competitor in the Unlimited Division.
Claiming a first-place finish brought everyone immense joy and the team much recognition, but the real story is behind-the-scenes. There were so many unknown problems and disasters that happened that could've contributed to another DNF, from not being able to get support for the sequential transmission or get the parts in time to fix it, to getting access to a capable facility 1,000 miles away from home to rebuild the tranny, even coming inches from popping a tire... The crew at Evasive Motorsports and driver Dai Yoshihara had been through a week of emotional highs and lows. Relentlessly busting ass and holding on to hope, in the end, resulted in a victory they'll never forget at one of the world's most difficult and dangerous racing events.
INTERVIEW WITH DRIVER DAI YOSHIHARA
How did you feel about Pikes this year going into the race?
Since I did PPIHC last year, I already knew what to expect and I've already driven the mountain, so I was a lot more comfortable in that type of aspect. But we tweaked the car from last year and we had only one testing. So, I wasn't familiar with the car and we weren't sure about the car setup either, so a lot of worries going into the event.
How did the week go and how did race day go?
The week went really rough for us. The car had a lot of issues and I couldn't get that much practice. The team worked super hard to get ready for race day and so many people helped us as well. The team made the car ready, but we had to take a chance and try some new settings. So, I had to adjust my driving but still push.
What does it feel like to have finally conquered the mountain?
I was soooo happy to take the car to the finish line! It was our number one goal and it was my first time to finish PPIHC. But... we were aiming to finish sub-10 minutes and I was bummed that I couldn't make it happen, especially since I made a mistake on the track and lost a few seconds. It was such a mixed up feeling to be honest, but the team was extremely happy when I drove down the mountain and winning the Unlimited Class was so great!
For more on Dai's winning run, check out this video from his VLOG.