Break It Down
Cost Enkei RPF1: $271 per wheel; Falken Azenis RT-615: starting at $144 per tire; fender rolling: varies on application.
Pros Much more improved grip and stability in turns. Fender trimming allows for a wider selection of wheels.
Cons With all the right parts, I have no more excuse when it comes to slow track times.
Install Difficulty High; take your car to a professional to have your fenders trimmed and the tires mounted and balanced.
Verdict Great setup for daily driving and track use; I can drive up to the track, drive all day and back home, all on the same set of tires.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am into shoes. Now, I'm not one of those hardcore guys who will wait in line overnight to get the newest Jordans or put the latest Nike retro release in a glass box just to stare at it. I have to wear all the shoes I get; no point in buying something that looks good just to have it sit around collecting dust. The same thing applies to wheels; I'm not going to get a set of wheels to put on my car so I can just have it park there and look pretty. I need my wheels to be able to perform and look good at the same time.
As with most cars nowadays, there are a ton of choices when it comes to wheels, and because this is my daily driver/weekend track car, I had to narrow down my selection to wheels that are lightweight, durable and can stand up to the abuse of crappy L.A. streets. After weighing all of my choices, I decided to go with a set of Enkei RPF1s in F1 silver. For those of you who aren't familiar with Enkei, it's one of the largest wheel manufacturers in the world. Besides being the wheel supplier for many OE car companies it is the supplier of McLaren's F1 team. You can't get more legit than that. The Enkei RPF1s employ something called M.A.T. technology, which uses a casting process that allows them to reduce wheel weight, but at the same time increase structural integrity. Long story short, these wheels are light (only 15.9 lbs) and are more than strong enough to handle the biggest potholes out there.
In choosing the right wheel size, I looked to what the popular track setup is in Japan. Looking at the top tuners in Japan, the majority I found were running a non-staggered setup. After talking to Elton Lo of Raceline and Mike Chang at Evasive Motorsports, both assured me that a non-staggered setup is the way to go. Mike suggested I go with a little more aggressive sizing that would allow me to run up to a 255/40-17 tire all the way around, so I went with 17x9 +45 RPF1s.
The non-staggered setup is the choice for the fastest time attack cars in Japan and the U.S.-but those cars are all driven by pretty accomplished drivers. Talking to Robert Walker, one of our favorite Super Lap Battle drivers and fellow S2000 owner, I found out one of the benefits of a non-staggered setup is that it gives you more control under braking, but you have to be experienced enough as a driver to be able to control oversteer. I know I don't have nearly enough track time to warrant this setup, but I wanted to have something that I could still use as I become better. An easy solution to this came in my tire selection.
Since I help coordinate the Super Lap Battle series, I know which tires perform well. One of the consistent performers is the Falken Azenis RT-615. At a 200 UTQG rating, it is one of the best tires out there to be able to drive everyday with and be ready for track use at a moment's notice. For my novice level driving abilities, I decided to go with 235/40/17 for the front and 255/40/17 for the rear. Once I get better, it will be easy to upgrade to 255/40s up front.
When I first got the wheels and opened the box, I immediately knew these wheels would look sick on my car, but after seeing how wide they were, I was worried that I would have some trouble fitting them under my stock fenders. This was a short-lived concern after I gave Mike Huie and James West at Pit Crew Motorsports a call. When it comes to getting fenders rolled or trimmed, James West is the best in the business. He's rolled the fenders of numerous Ferraris, Benzos and Bentleys, so doing a little work on my Honda was going to be a piece of cake for this pro. After talking to James, he suggested actually trimming the rear fenders instead of rolling them so I can get the most clearance possible; he also recommended this because Hondas have a thinner rear quarter panel that has the propensity to crack when rolled.
The whole process of James trimming the rear fenders only took about 30 minutes, and that includes him relocating one of the rear bumper bolts. He mentioned that this is important to do because if you don't relocate this bolt, you'll end up with a rear bumper flapping around like those rice boys you point and laugh at on the freeway. The front fenders were a quick fix for James as he only had to bend a tab back to ensure enough clearance. When I step up to the 255/40s for the front, most likely I will need to get the fenders pulled to clear, but I'll need a lot more track time before that happens.
The fun part about putting all these parts on the car is being able to see how well they work. Luckily for me, I was able to get feedback from a top tuner in Japan, Shinichi Kobayashi of MCR. Kobayashi may not be a well known name in the US.. but he's a legend on the streets of Japan. He started off as a street racer working on friends' cars on the side; he eventually got so big he had to open up his own shop. In a touge battle for Best Motoring, an S2000 he built went head-to-head with a JUN-built Prelude. Although the MCR S2K wasn't able to pull off the win, his S2K was more of a true street car with a full interior, stereo and AC, while the JUN Prelude had none of these.
Kobayashi was in the U.S. shaking down TEIN USA's cars for our Super Lap Battle Finals, and Phillip Chase from TEIN had an extra spot open at an upcoming track day and needed another car for Kobayashi to drive so he could get more track time. Not only was he gracious enough to give me the spot, but he offered to have his head engineer Nakai on hand to check out my suspension setup for me. After driving the car home I knew it felt good, but the next day at the track would be the true test. We were running the same configuration as our Super Lap Battle Finals, so as a comparison, the S2000 record there is held by Rob Walker in A&J's S2000 with a 1:54.8. I had only driven on Buttonwillow once before in the Super Street Project STI, and I wasn't being timed then, so I really didn't know what kind of times I could pull. For the first session I just wanted to familiarize myself with the track which, being the case, I ran a VERY slow time of 2:49. I knew it handled great but I just needed more time on the track. For the second session I had Phillip from TEIN ride with me to give some pointers. With his advice I was able to drop my times down to a 2:37.404.
Before my last session, Phillip recommended I ride with Kobayashi in my car to see how he drives the track. Sitting in the passenger seat of your own car is always a different feeling but that soon went away as Kobayashi took the first turn. The control he had over my car was amazing, he would take turns and double the speed like it was nothing. He was passing twin turbo Porsches like it was nothing. Immediately after riding with him, I was able to go out for my last session of the day. After seeing what could be done with my car when driven correctly, I could tell I was improving. On the last lap I got a little overzealous and got to experience the snap oversteer the S2000s are famous for and spun out. Luckily I wasn't going too fast and didn't damage anything, but I knew it was time to call it a day. After driving into the pits I ran to check out my times; imagine my surprise when I saw that I had run 10 seconds faster than my second session with a 2:27.484! Just riding with Kobayashi was the reason for the drop in lap times, but his fastest lap was 13 seconds faster than mine at 2:14!
Talking to Kobayashi later about my setup, I was proud to find out that the car setup was perfect. He recommended changing the brake pads and adding a little more camber in the front. He also said to add a rear wing as I improve, do some front aero by adding canards and change the front tire setup to the 255/40s that I was planning on already. At the end of the day I learned that it is not the individual part that makes the car perform; it is how all those parts work together as a complete system. The TEIN Mono-Flexes and Enkei wheels are a perfect match for the Falken Tires. Most importantly, though, all these parts are a great match for a beginning track junkie like myself.