Top Fuel Of Japan Top Fuel's pride and joy is an AP1 the likes of which I have never seen before. They call it the "Type-RR Turbo AP1," and its last dyno numbers were close to 630 whp. I know that completely reworking a race car to meet Japanese regulation weight standards is always mandatory. But what I was dying to know is: "How in the hell did they turn their AP1 into a giant carbon-covered Koi fish?" Its vented hood looks like it has flared gills. Its aggressive fins protrude from the car's torso in sharp angles and smooth curves, making it look all the world like an oversized black Japanese carp; complete with carbon scales and a giant caudal fin. The colossal tail fin is manifested in the form of a custom 6 foot, 2 inch wing that scrapes the heavens. Below this downforce filled monstrosity sits the equally gargantuan rear diffuser and that arching center-mounted titanium exhaust port, with its custom downturned mouth. If one were to peer under the car, they would find a completely custom light weight undertray.
These parts were all chosen for a singular purpose: they are both strong and lightweight. A stock S2000 is no wandering hippo at just 2,800 pounds, but Yasuji Hirano (Top Fuel owner) had visions of starving the car down to just 2,000 pounds. Ultimately they would succeed thanks to Hirano and Yuya Nakagawa's (Top Fuel's chief engineer) engineering, paired with a healthy scoop of locally made carbon fiber to shave weight down to just over a ton! The car's widebody-style doors, roof, vented hood, fenders, bumpers, trunk, trays, dash, and center console are all produced in the magic weave. The front bumper weighs only 4.6 pounds and is every bit as intimidating as it is lightweight. Race-spec acrylic windows make the doors as light as a feather and a stripped down interior gives you that "less is more horsepower" feel. The proverbial "cherry on top" is manifested in the form of a (you guessed it) Mugen carbon-fiber hardtop. One final interesting aerodynamic note is that Nakagawa-san did not help with any of the car's aero installation. He contributed his own design advice, but ultimately left the car's aerodynamics to a team of engineers.
It was best that Yuya concentrated all of his energy on the rest of the AP1, because he really had his work cut out for him. Shaving off a half-ton can only do so much for a four-cylinder engine, and these guys still had a long way to go before hitting the 600hp mark. To begin with, Nakagawa-san and his boss decided to increase the engine's overall output to 2.2 liters. With the help of their donor AP1 in the shop next door, they were able to slap together a collage that consists of their very own forged H-beam connecting rods, a reinforced and rebalanced steel crank, and those gleaming high-compression forged pistons. With this monster of a stroker kit residing in the sexy beast's bottom end, the boys decided to port and polish the head to make everything flow 10 percent better in the already potent four-banger. Boost is made possible by HKS piping, BOV, and a GT3240 turbo that keeps oxygen consistently propelled toward the custom bored throttle body and intake manifold. The crew also manufactured a boat-load of custom fuel lines that channel fluid all the way from the tank to the 1,600cc injectors by way of a Bosch fuel pump. To keep an iron fist wrapped around all of this anarchy under the bonnet, an HKS F-Con V-Pro was installed. After installation, this tiny piece of machinery received a barrage of tuning for weeks on end until the 600hp mark began to loom overhead. The finishing touches were made by Nakagawa-san and his kohai (apprentice, Yasushi Morimoto), when they fabricated that 100 percent custom pie-cut titanium center mounted exhaust you see mounted proudly.
But before this paramount number could be reached, Top Fuel had to figure out what tranny configuration would work best with the time attack setup they wanted. They eventually settled upon a gearbox that would make the average Honda enthusiast go nuts. Sometimes, when money fails to be an issue all rational reasoning goes right out the window. During a brainstorming session, with the transmission completely disassembled in front of them, crazy thoughts were soon thrown around at will.
The next morning calls were made, parts fabricated, and the donor car next door had all of its useable organs removed. When the surgery was complete, the guys had a transmission more mixed than Halle Berry, and stronger than her Hollywood sex appeal. It all starts with that funky shift knob. HKS came to the rescue again, this time in the form of a five-speed sequential gearbox from, of all things, a Silvia S15! Not an easy feat, I assure you. The only way they could get it to finally match up was by using a triple-plated OS Giken clutch and a lot of gearbox calibrations. To give it that unique Halle Berry style rearend, the boys decided to try out a limited-slip differential from a Mazda RX-7. This "beautiful abomination" works better than they ever expected, and amazingly, they have had very few problems with the car's transmission over the past three years.
Zeal's Super Function R coilovers headline the groundwork and, with the help of some remote dampers, the RR sits a few inches closer to the asphalt. Following the coilovers is that bucket-load of easily adjustable Ikeya parts that keep fine-tuning points in check during track time. Nakagawa-san was so impressed with this company's products that he slapped on their entire line of undercarriage goodies for the RR. Pillow ball arms sit alongside camber, toe, and roll center adjusters; and together they add all of the extra assertion needed to keep the carbon Koi fish firmly grounded during competition. I was surprised to find that every single one of these bushings from Ikeya Formula is finished with a special Japanese alloy that never seems to crack. Very cool.
Note the RR's brake setup, there's nothing fancy or impractical here; just a solid black setup brought courtesy of Brembo's F50 big brake kit. This ultimate setup was achieved by teaming 340mm slotted Brembo rotors in the front, and two 330mm "mini" versions in the rear. Custom stainless steel lines pump juice from the master cylinder, and the car still retains the factory ABS system. They even rerouted everything ABS related to the cabin, where Hirano-san says it gives better weight distribution. He doesn't care about a few extra kilograms of dead weight and a few lost horsepower in a car that's consistently making numbers in the 600hp range. Sometimes it's small things like having the right combination of wheels and tires, or properly using a factory ABS system that brings about victory in a time attack race. Speaking of wheels, a set of "Mary Poppins white" Advan RGII wheels sit at all four corners. Legendary Advan AO48 sticky compounds ensure maximum adhesion under fire.
When I asked if Nakagawa-san gets to occasionally hit the track in the RR he quickly shook his head and said that he is not a time attack driver in the AP1. The team racing driver is the only one who gets to enjoy the unrestrained power lurking beneath the carbon bonnet of the RR. Cars like this are far from street legal, and in Japan, the authorities are a lot stricter than in most other countries. Even firing the car up for a quick spin-out could be grounds for immediate disqualification from future races!
But nothing lasts forever and as of late, it's looking more and more like the RR will be retired next year. Hirano-san is no fool; he sees what the global recession has done to his profit gains these last few years. He tells me that few things will empty a man's wallet faster than owning race cars and having a family. So they might have to sit out next year to make ends meet, but if that secures the future of the company, so be it. In some ways this recession has been worse for Top Fuel than when the Japanese bubble popped in the early '90s. Business has been trickling in since 2008 and Hirano-san has had to cut corners in a lot of places. But he's an optimist. Yasuji smiles at me, and with that positive look in his eye, tells me that tuning will always bounce back in Japan. "We just have to play it safe right now," he says.
And yet, in the face of potential financial ruin and all of the doubts that go with this fact there is one area where they have achieved more than any other company on the planet! Their Type RR S2000 clocked the fastest FR lap time ever at Tsukuba Circuit in 2008. On top of that, they've won this race every year since, then thanks to Hirano and Nakagawa-san's "Frankenstein." Mr. Hirano's team is a conglomerate that specializes in creating some of the finest engineering and boosted fortitude your Honda could ever hope to experience. True, it all comes at a very steep price, but when you pay for the best, you inevitably get the best. These last 750 days really have been the most grueling and rewarding days for this company.
At this point the heat had become intolerable and we decided to retire to a vestibule filled with iced coffee and air conditioning. As we tramped into the showroom I looked up in awe. A 30-foot ceiling much like Paddock R's sheltered my head, while hard tile flooring supported the goodies spread throughout-and what wonderful goodies they were! Right now his showroom features a wall of their power-chamber intakes to the right upon entering. Exhausts from HKS, Fujitsubo, and A'pexi hang from polished scaffolding, while an illuminated display case shows off their forged wares. While meandering about I found my wife's engine sitting near the intake wall. Yep, that little HKS turbocharged Fit engine had me drooling over the possibilities. And around the corner, various suspension components sat atop display pedestals while Advan wheels dotted the entranceway. We decided to sit at the conference table and I began asking Hirano-san about the surrounding area. Naturally, Matsuzaka beef was mentioned first, and after several minutes of mouth-watering descriptions, I felt it was time to go try this yakiniku and I began saying my good-byes.
As I sat in my scorching car seat, I asked myself if it was worth coming all the way out here just for a single interview. I was literally drenched in sweat at this point and my neck was starting to feel a tad bit sun burnt. Climbing around on scalding hot asphalt just to get some pics of a car's suspension surely must be torture to a lot of people, but not me. I enjoyed myself thoroughly that day. Sure, it was stupid hot out there on that early September morning, but weather aside, I had a great time talking with the Top Fuel crew, and trying some of the most expensive steak in the world. So beautiful! So rare! So expensive! Yes, I am still talking about Top Fuel's RR S2000.