The car affectionately known as ‘Hachi Roku’ (eight-six) had its day in the sun at Okayama International Circuit in rural Okayama, Japan.
“I drive a Hachi Roku and I love it, I don’t think I’ll ever part with it. I love it for all its angular, old fashioned styling and obsolete engine and drivetrain. I sold my Z32 Fairlady Z to buy a Hachi Roku and it was a good decision… maybe the best car purchase for me since I bought my first car 10 years ago.” – Mitsuhisa from Garage Takeda
Can a 24 year old car be that lovable? Well we saw proof of that first hand this Sunday just gone at the All Japan AE86 Festival at Okayama International Circuit (OIC) in Okayama Prefecture. Everywhere you turned your head, there was an AE86 Sprinter Trueno or Corolla Levin of some description with its enthusiastic owner standing nearby always ready to talk freely about their much loved ‘chibi hachi roku’ (little eight-six). The AE86 is getting quite old now but the support for them is as strong as ever. Without counting them all, it seemed as though at least 250 AE86s made the trek out to OIC and that isn’t including the ones scattered around the parking areas surrounding the circuit.
OIC is not an easy circuit to get to and the day started off with getting slugged US$40 for a taxi fare from the nearest train station JR Yoshinaga. The taxi driver was extremely friendly but couldn’t speak a word of English other than typical baseball lingo such as “safe!” and “three out!”… luckily he spoke clear enough Japanese! After 15 minutes in the taxi AE86s started to frequently appear one by one as we approached the entrance to OIC. And then there it was, the largest collection of AE86s I’d ever seen. There were literally hundreds of them all over the place, in every kind of color and styling combination you could think of. It was actually hard to pick out a totally stock AE86 in amongst the masses of modified examples which ranged from mildly modified ‘Fujiwara Toufu-ten’ look alike versions to the big budget workshop demo cars. I wasn’t even inside the circuit yet!
The high pitched roar from the straight through exhaust systems fitted to the naturally aspirated cars circling the track was almost too loud to bare at times making you appreciate those drivers who had opted to fit a turbocharger. There was a good mix of naturally aspirated and forced induction cars present with a lot of the NA cars having some sort of twin or quad carburettor set up installed. It was a little surprising at first but many of the owners we spoke to said they didn’t run rev limiters at all, preferring to rely on engine note or rev limit indicators for timing their shifts. Once we entered the area behind the pits we were treated to a whole range of race prepared AE86s ranging from low budget weekend racers to workshop owned demo cars. We were guests of Osaka workshop ‘Powersports‘ who attended the event with three of their own orange Hachi Rokus, one for the racing events, one for entry into the Dress up Car Contest and Powersports guest race driver Kojima’s own Sprinter Trueno. While we were discussing carburettor set ups and rev limits with them it seemed that there was a little rivalry going on between the owners of Powersports and another garage called Mysterious Sports. The rivalry focused mainly around the maximum rev limits their cars had for the AE86 10 lap race held later in the day. Powersports owner Yasugi-san told us his car could rev to 9,400rpm while his friend from Mysterious Sports looked slightly annoyed when Yasugi-san (with a big smile on his face) told us the Mysterious car only made it to 8,500rpm. The rev limit wasn’t the only point of interest with the Powersports car so we’ll go into more detail in an upcoming mini feature article.
The AE86 Festival also included the 5th round of the NSC Okayama Challenge Cup. There were four categories of cars competing: Compact Car, March Cup Car, FJ1600 Super FJ open wheelers and of course the AE86 Cup cars. The Challenge Cup is a gateway for anyone wishing to compete in motorsports and wanting room to be able to move up into semi-professional racing. There are 8 rounds per season (all held at Okayama International Circuit) and the NSC Challenge Cup AE86 race held at midday featured proper race prepared cars running on ‘control tire’ Yokohama racing slicks. The Challenge Cup AE86 race was split into two events, a preliminary battle and a final race. The preliminary battle is more or less another way of saying ‘qualifying’. Akinori Morikawa and his aptly named Winning Advan AE86 made pole position with a fastest lap of 1’49.755 ever so slightly ahead of Tetsuya Kanamori in his IDI Bidekko Levin with a 1’49.837. Toyohiko Kando just beat his teammate Yasutomo Shimizu with a 1’49.876 in his #7 Car Boutique AE85 for third position on the grid. Shimizu in the #9 Car Boutique entry had to make do with fourth with a 1’49.880.
NSC Challenge Cup – AE86 Category qualifying session:
1 – Morikawa – Winning Advan AE86 – 1’49.755
2 – Kanamori – IDI Bidekko AE86 – 1’49.837
3 – Kando – #7 Car Boutique AE85 – 1’49.876
4 – Shimizu – #9 Car Boutique AE86 – 1’49.880
So with Morikawa-san on pole, the Challenge Cup AE86 Round 5 final race started without much fanfare, the field quickly taking a single file formation as they made their way to the aptly named ‘First Corner’. Disaster struck when Kando was issued a drive through penalty for a false start, this put him back to 9th position and remained there for the rest of the race. In the meantime Kando’s teammate Shimizu in the other Car Boutique AE86 moved into second place after a long battle with Kanamori. It’s notable that Morikawa held first position for the entire 10 lap race, keeping a good 2 second lead over the rest of the pack until the checkered flag. So Morikawa took the Round 5 win convincingly, followed by Shimzu with a well deserved second place then Kanamori in third. The top four place getters all managed average speeds around 118km/h.
There was another 10 lap race held later in the day at 3:40pm for all AE86 drivers not competing in the NSC Challenge Cup. There were 34 entrants and the sight of them all lined up on the grid is something I won’t forget any time soon. It was a fantastic race with some very aggressive overtaking under brakes into First Corner coming off the main straight. The Bifrost AE86 Trueno (with AE101 hood scoop on its roof!) went off the track and just brushed the safety barrier after an out braking maneuver went wrong. There was only slight damage to the car but the driver took a little time to recover fully from the incident and make his way back to the pits. Akira Takahashi in the Kitokito Racing AE86 Trueno started on pole and was miles ahead of all other cars except the turbocharged Works Michido Corolla Levin, who ended the race in first and second respectively.
Behind the main grandstand there was a very large display of AE86s and it was here that the Dress up Contest, parts auction and other events were held. The orange Powersports AE86 Levin took out first prize in the Dress up Contest and proudly displayed the trophy on its hood after the show. The largest gathering of AE86s had them all lined up in what seemed like a never ending column, all of them modified to some extent with most having some form of the venerable 4AGE engine under the hood. It was a little surprising to see the Sports Factory SELTZ car using an SR20DET engine, some bystanders even saying it should have been left at the front gate! All the cars were tastefully modified and didn’t break any new styling or modification trends, although it has to be said that at least half the cars there were running the 20 valve 4AGE from the later model AE101 and AE111 Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno with all sorts of different distributor placements with some workshops like Powersports for example, placing the distributor at the back of the engine hard up against the firewall… was there even room back there?!
The day ended with the team from Powersports offering us a ride back to the city in Kojima’s absolutely immaculate AE86. It was pretty cramped back there but it was a fitting end to the day; being driven home from the AE86 Festival in an AE86. It was a great day despite the heat and humidity and any negative thoughts about getting to the remote Okayama International Circuit quickly vanished. It’s definitely one of those ‘must do’ events for anyone with even the slightest interest in Toyota’s legendary AE86.
Thanks to Yasugi-san, Kojima-san and the rest of the Powersports team for their hospitality!
Video by Laurence for 7Tune. See more at Dr1ft.jp
Text: Justin Karow
Photos: Justin Karow