Stephan Papadakis has won a lot of races, and he's done it with one hand tied behind his back. Not literally, of course—drifting is a ferocious form of motorsport that keeps both hands thoroughly occupied—but in the engines that have powered his rides. Unlike the brunt of the Formula DRIFT field, wielding big, 8-cylinder'd power plants, Papadakis has consistently, and successfully, made big power with small-displacement packages.
His team's latest drift machine, a 2018 Toyota Corolla hatchback driven by Fredric Aasbø, has been tearing up the Formula D circuit, and despite being one of the smallest engines in the field, is stone-cold reliable. The Corolla is powered by a highly modified Toyota 2AR-FE engine that cranks out an impressive 1,000 horsepower through a combination of nitrous and 30, nonchalant psi of boost.
We follow along as Papadakis tears down the engine after a 4-race stint to learn the genetic make-up of this this high-strung 4-cylinder. Follow along for an inside look at Papadakis Racing's engineering expertise, some speed secrets, and what to look for when tearing down a performance motor.
The 2AR-FE engine displaces 2.7 liters, with the help of a longer stroke crankshaft, and powers Fredric Aasbø's 2018 Toyota Corolla hatchback in the Formula Drift series.
While normally front-wheel drive, Papadakis Racing has rotated the 2AR-FE engine 90 degrees to a longitudinal position for drifting.
With the engine out of the car for a refresh, all of the front accessories such as the water pump, alternator, etc. are removed. Next, the engine will be broken down, bit-by-bit and inspected.
Papadakis removes the huge, 2,000cc fuel injectors from the intake ports, taking care not to scratch their respective bores as that could cause them not to seal.
Next the valve cover is removed. This is a stock piece that contains oil spray bars to lubricate and cool the valvetrain.
Under the valve cover is a pair of re-ground factory camshafts, custom rockers, Supertech valves with oversize stems, and PSI valve springs; all of which are necessary to produce a whopping 250hp per cylinder at 9,000-plus rpm.
Papadakis removes the engine's front cover with a pry-bar making sure not to bend it. Underneath are the timing chain, tensioner, and cam sprockets.
The timing chain is factory, as is the variable intake cam sprocket, but the exhaust cam sprocket is a custom, fixed piece. Due to problematic harmonics, it was determined that locking out the exhaust cam was better for valvetrain durability despite a minor power loss.
With the timing chain removed, the valvetrain and cylinder head are next. Here you can see the custom rockers that transmit lift from the cam lobe to the valve stem. The retainers are custom pieces made in-house by Papadakis Racing.
The cams and cam girdle are removed, exposing the rockers, valve springs, and lash adjusters (lifters). Papadakis says the factory valvetrain is a bit of a weak point, but the custom touches they have added allow it to work really well, even at 9,000rpm.
Shown from left to right is a custom rocker arm, a factory rocker arm, and a custom, solid lifter. The factory rockers are known to slide off the valve stem if valve float occurs so Papadakis custom designed a billet rocker that has a deeper groove to keep it located on the valve stem. The lifters are custom, solid pieces (factory units are hydraulic) that are adjusted using small, disk shims.
Papadakis removes the cylinder head after loosening the custom, ARP 625 head studs, which are torqued to 150 ft-lbs. Sealing boost is a constant challenge with the cylinder pressure this engine sees so quality fasteners are paramount.
With the head off, the custom JE pistons are exposed. This engine has four, hard weekends of high-rpm, high-boost, drift racing on it. Each cylinder of the engine produces an incredible 250hp with boost and nitrous, making the piston's job a tough one.
The cylinder head, also four races deep, is also holding up well. You can see the outline of the MLS head gasket, which hasn't been leaking coolant, though this is a common problem on this architecture due to the insane boost and cylinder pressure required to make quadruple digit power.
Papadakis removes the oil pan sump and lower block girdle, exposing the crankshaft.
The bottom end of the 2AR-FE is extremely stout—it has to be—featuring a factory, forged steel crankshaft, sourced from a 2.7L 1AR-FE engine, H-beam connecting rods, and ultra-strong, custom, forged JE pistons.
With the engine inverted, Papadakis removes the JE pistons from their bores. Note the oversize ARP 625 head studs.
The rods and bearings are inspected. A rod bearing tells an important story of engine operating condition and is a dead giveaway for oiling issues. This set shows some wear, which could possibly be from oil starvation during a high-g corner.
Papadakis has been using JE Pistons in his drift engine since the mid 2000s. The set in this engine is made to his specs from forged, 2618 aluminum, and features a full-round skirt design for maximum strength. Thick ring lands, crowns, and wrist-pin walls all ensure the engine will be able to handle 1,000-plus horsepower.
Papadakis removes the crank, which is—amazingly—a modified OEM piece sourced from a production 1AR-FE, a similar engine to the 2AR but with a longer stroke. The crank's rod pins were machined wider to accept a small-block Chevy bearing, which allows for more custom connecting rod choices, and also increases the load-carrying ability of the bearing. Calico Bearings makes the custom bearings for the engine.
Here is another shot of the modified crankshaft. The main journals remain the same and only the rod journals are altered for the Chevy bearings.
The bare 2AR-FE block will be hot-tanked, checked for critical measurements, and reassembled for further drift duty in Aasbø's competition-besting machine.