Track-Tested, 2nr Approved Nitto's New NT01 Race TireWhen news wafted our way that Nitto was developing a new road racing competition radial, called the NT01, we knew we were in for a treat. When it comes to supersticky race rubber, there are never enough choices. Designed in the same vein as the NT555R tire, the new NT01 promised to deliver consistent grip at an affordable price. Good enough for us.
Molded with a 6/32-inch tread depth (about 4/32 of an inch less than an average street tire), the NT01 can be further shaved to remove the visible tread, developing into a 3/32-inch race slick with just two grooves running around its circumference. To put Nitto's claims to the test, we went to Vision Autosport (www.visionautosport.com) in Hacienda Heights, Calif., to get our NT01s expertly mounted. We tried out the NT01 tire on two completely different vehicles, a lightweight half-stripped 2000 Honda Civic Si with 205/50-15s and a heavier, modified, turbocharged 2002 Subaru WRX using 245/45-17s. Both cars used the NT01 tires in unshaven form and were taken out to the asphalt at California Speedway. Although DOT approved, the asymmetrical NT01 tire is a true competition tire and comes packing only a 100 treadwear rating. Regardless of how hardcore you really are, the NT01 isn't recommended for street use. Why not? The grippy compound picks up and throws rocks as you drive around; the road noise approaches that of 4x4 knobbies; there is almost no water evacuation built into the tread, and the soft compound wears fast enough from going down the expressway that you'll be burning money if these are your daily rubbers. That's why not.
The track is where the NT01 shines. The tire has a much higher grip ceiling than most street tires, and the edge of adhesion is very forgiving. In the near-stripped Civic, we tore through the cones with more speed than we thought capable. Plus, the front-drive missile is setup to rotate so easily, we were unsure if the sliding rear end was going to overheat the back tires. On the WRX we discovered the NT01 is a very consistent tire, with excellent heat capacity for autocross situations.
Although the NT01 is W speed rated up to 168 mph, our WRX had some engine tuning issues and wasn't able to push up to that speed bracket to test for 170-mph tire durability. Not that we would try that anyway. Although not as outright sticky as a Hoosier racing slick, the NT01 promises to be priced much, much lower and last much, much longer, making it the perfect racing tire for weekend autocrossers and track day drivers. If you're not stinkin' rich, but you still enjoy driving at the limit in sanctioned events like driver education days, the Nitto NT01 is just the tire for you. Check out Nitto's Web site for fitment and pricing: www.nittotire.com.
Houston, We Have Drifting Formula D Round 3Hotter than Satan's bull rompin' on a five-alarm scorcher, Formula Drift Houston provided drifting action as hot and intense as the burning Texan sun. In front of a packed crowd at Houston's Reliant Park, FD Round 3 was newsworthy for one reason: a new winner emerged. Since the inception of the series, there have been only two men on top, Samuel Hubinette, with four victories for Mopar's Viper, and Rhys Millen, with two victories in his Pontiac GTO. This time around, the Big Three manufacturers finally closed their net with the inaugural victory for the Ford Mustang in the hands of Team Toyo's Ken Gushi. A diverse variety of champions will always be a plus for the growing drifting series, and it's only a matter of time before a Japanese car emerges on top. With so many 240SXs, 180SXs, Silvias, S13s, S14s and S15s (whatever you want to call them) around, we bet there's bound to be a Nissan on top pretty soon.
In a strange twist that our female cubicle-mates were happy to discover, male model and drifting fan Tyson Beckford, most known for his role in Zoolander and the Ralph Lauren Polo ads, entered a 2005 Saleen-equipped Ford Mustang. Beckford's car was eliminated early during competition, but Beckford wasn't driving. In the early rounds of eliminations, veteran hachiroku lover and office favorite Taka Aono hit one of the retaining walls and flipped his Toyota onto its side; he escaped through a side window. Inspired by Aono's previous adventures, Formula Drift initiated a new rule, stating only one additional "one more time" round can be called per tandem run.
Defeating James Bondurant and then Siego Yamamoto, Rhys Millen ended up facing off against Gushi's supercharged V8 beast, which had just sent Chris Forsberg and Tyler McQuarrie packing. The battle between Millen and Gushi was tight, with repeated viewings of recorded replays necessary before the judges deemed Gushi the winner. Millen then defeated Tanner Foust for second place, and Gushi was just able to outdo a very slick Conrad Grunewald for the Houston win. Your top four: Ken Gushi (first), Conrad Grunewald (second), Rhys Millen (third) and Tanner Foust (fourth). Get schooled at www.formulad.com
2NR's Unscientific Body Kit Poll10 Hottest Bodies To Ever Grace These PagesThe votes are tallied, counted, recounted and checked for hanging chads. And it turns out our readers, like us, can't choose the hottest body. You'll remember in our August issue, we listed our 10 favorite body kits of all time, but couldn't agree on which deserved the top rung on the podium. So we left it up to you. While thousands of you voted, no clear winner emerged. Instead, the APR widebody EVO and Mugen RSX tied for top honors, each receiving 19 percent of the total vote.
Bigger and Badder The original is 300 was quick. Now it's fast.Take it from us: When you're doing 115 mph on the downhill straightaway at Willow Springs, don't look down to check the speedo. Or the tach. You might not get set up for Turn Nine, which is where most racers run off the track. Running flat-out on one of the fastest road courses in the country, you need to pay attention. Or you can just do what we did, which was lift the throttle, clobber a cone or two and forget about it.
We confirmed the new IS 250, with the six-speed manual transmission, really is slower than the IS 350 with the six-speed automatic. If it had been the 350, we would have been doing more like 125 mph at the same spot.
For 2006, Lexus split the IS into two cars: the 250 and 350, both rear-wheel-drivers with V6 engines. The 250 will also have an all-wheel-drive option. We figured the 250, with a 204-hp V6 and six-speed manual gearbox, would be the hot setup. And the IS 250 feels great to drive; the action of the clutch is smooth and progressive, and the gearbox is positive-even if the 1-3-6 gates are a bit close together. And the brakes: The brakes are better than we will ever know, because we never had the nerve to use all of what was there.
Driving out to the track, we felt no big difference between the two. But as we drove the six-speed 250 flat-out at Willow Springs-just as fast as we could-every time we checked the mirror, there was a guy in an IS 350 right on our tail.
Both cars have dual VVT-i, and both cars have sophisticated direct-injection engines. But the 350 has the 2GR-FSE 3.5-liter V6, rated at 306 hp at 6400 rpm. There is 30 percent more power; it comes on earlier, and the top end rips.
We prefer the six-speed manual, and you can't get one on the IS 350. But it turns out the A760E automatic transmission-also a six speed-is sweet. It has paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, so you can blip up and down like snapping your fingers. It's also smart: If you have the throttle pegged at 5000 rpm, and you shift into sixth, it will wait to upshift until the fastest shift point arrives, around the 6000-rpm red line. So if you're driving in a straight line, stoplight to stoplight, you never bog the engine. Which means, unless every shift is perfect, the automatic is always going to be faster than the manual. Lexus states zero-to-60 mph for the IS 350 should time out in 5.6 seconds and a quarter mile in 14.2. Top speed is 142 mph for both cars, but 130 mph for the all-wheel-drive 250.
On a road course, the IS 350's secret weapon is Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), an electronic system based on the 350's bigger, four-piston disc brakes. VDIM ties in the ABS and other specialized brake functions with the stability control, traction control, power steering and throttle input. If you are about to run off the road, it organizes an instant fix, beeps once or twice, and that's it. You wouldn't even know what happened. So out at the track, you drive fast and exceptionally smoothly, and the next thing you know, the guy in the IS 250 is in your way.
Compared to the current IS 300/Altezza, this new IS is bigger, faster and way, way smarter-and better-looking by far. It makes the Altezza look like last year's cell phone. It's also quieter, smoother, more comfortable, more fuel efficient and more aerodynamic. The interior layout is sophisticated. The gauges, the shifters, the controls-everything-is driver-focused, like a performance car. Seductive interior mood lighting is orchestrated using an array of hidden LEDs and incandescent lights. There is luxury built into this performance car, so when you're not at the track, you can appreciate the ride.
The electronics and mechanics are well integrated. For example: The tire pressure monitor has a multimode switch that allows drivers to reset the pressure limits. It becomes possible to tune the tires for different uses-cruising, mileage, autocross-and the instruments will understand what you are doing. It will also accommodate an alternate wheel and tire set, in case you have something different in mind, without compromising the instrumentation.
Lexus is still coy about pricing. We guess the IS 250 will start under $30,000-figure $29,999-and the 350 will be more like $35,000 out the door.