Round 2 of the Exedy Cup 4 Hour Endurance Race had a little bit of everything… from extremely hot weather to extremely bent propeller shafts!
I’ve been to Central Circuit in Hyogo Prefecture many times before but never in extremely hot conditions like we had on Saturday… and guess who forgot to pack the sunblock? There was next to no wind at all (that might be due to the circuit being surrounded by mountains) and the humidity was almost unbearable. That’s to be expected of a Japanese summer though, so complaining about it will just make it worse. Thoughts of scorching heat faded very quickly once I met up with my hosts for the day, the team from Powersports in Yao City, Osaka. Things weren’t quite going as planned though as I found out almost immediately after I said “good morning”!
The AE86F22C Drama
Yasugi-san from Powersports emailed me a few days prior to the race to let me know that their AE86 race car would be competing and could I come to Central Circuit to photograph their efforts. The team have dubbed the car “AE86F22C” because they’ve installed a stroked 2.2L F20C inline 4 cylinder engine from their Honda S2000 race car. The AE86 Levin 2-door was already quick with its old 4AG 20-valve engine, so expectations were high to achieve a podium finish at Round 2 of the Exedy Cup or even finish 1st outright. Wishful thinking as it turned out…
No sooner had I unpacked my gear and met up with team driver Kojima-san when I get word that the AE86F22C had broken a propeller shaft. It was only 8:30am! Kojima-san looked a little uneasy when I started asking questions about what happened, he eventually pointed at the bent propeller shaft and said “It’s pretty serious”. Wow. That thing isn’t just bent, it’s twisted into an “S” bend! After the AE86F22C was up on stands I could get a glimpse at just how damaged the underbody was. It didn’t look too bad from what I could see, but the side exit exhaust was dented and bent out of shape pretty badly, not to mention internal damage to the differential pinion and transmission output shafts. Without even a second thought, Yasugi-san immediately starts dismantling the fuel tank from the AE86F22C and starts preparing their backup EG6 Honda Civic SiR II race car for a quick transplant.
It was great watching the team from Powersports working flat out to get the EG6 Civic ready, no one was left without anything to do. In the meantime qualifying for the main 4 hour endurance race had begun and it was clear that Powersports – if they could get the Civic ready in time – would be starting from the back of the grid. This didn’t perturb anyone though, if anything it only made the team more determined to get on the grid. All the while the temperatures were slowly rising and there were times when a few guys lost their cool, but after a huge effort and what seemed like an eternity, Powersports were able to roll the Civic out onto the grid in time for the main event.
Consolation Class 90 Minute Endurance Race
Before the 4 Hour event got underway, a short 90 minute endurance race was held made up entirely of Expert-NA class cars (naturally aspirated above 1501cc) and dominated by Honda Civics which took up the first 4 positions on the grid. Towards the back of the grid were a mixed bag of entires such as a Mitsubishi Mirage Cyborg, Mazda RX-8, Nissan Pulsar (Lucino) VZ-R and even a couple of GA2 Honda City hatchbacks. The field managed to keep pretty tight for most of the race except for the Option 2 sponsored EG Honda Civic Ferio, it managed to lap the field and take first place without even trying. It really was so much faster than the rest of the field that I wondered what was going on. Second and third places went to the aptly named “Perfume” EG6 Honda Civic and the Pit Road M Nissan Pulsar/Lucino VZ-R respectively.
Exedy Cup 4 Hour Endurance Race
It was now 1:30pm and the Unlimited, Expert Turbo (turbo, above 1501cc), Expert NA (NA, above 1501cc) and Compact NA (NA, below 1500cc) classes all made their way out onto the grid. Some of the larger teams like J’s Racing and TOJ brought along some race queens to accompany their drivers who were also joined by race queens from series sponsors Exedy and Dixcel. Right at the back of the grid was Kojima-san in the Powersports Civic, their race was already won in a way. Any kind of result from the race would be good enough as far as Yasugi-san was concerned. Well it was time to clear the track and the announcer informed us the race would be a rolling start.
Once the field crossed the start/finish line the Pit Road M Mitsubishi GTO was fastest on the circuit reeling off consistent laps in the 1:32.00 range, followed by a very quick Honda S2000 from J’s Racing. These two would go on to have a great battle in the first 30 laps of the race, the J’s Racing S2000 eventually biting at the heels of the Pit Road M GTO and forcing an error which saw the GTO go into “9 Corner” way too fast which resulted in the GTO locking up in a cloud of smoke and ending up in the sand trap! Pit Road M driver Morishita-san was furious as he left the GTO bogged in the sand and waited for the rescue vehicle to arrive. I was standing on “9 Corner” as it happened and managed to get some photos of the incident. Morishita was leading up until that point and it cost the Pit Road M team 10 laps before they could get back into the race. This opportunity allowed the Garage Ito S13 Silvia to make up ground while the safety car was out resulting in a solid second place position.
While this was happening Kojima-san in the bright orange Powersports Civic managed to cut through the field (also with the help of the safety car) and wind up in outright forth place at the 40 lap mark! The team was buzzing with excitement as thoughts of a podium finish started to become a distinct possibility. Yasugi-san was ready to relieve Kojima-san once he made the scheduled pit stop, all the team had to do was make sure the tire, fuel and driver change went without any problems and the possibility of a dream ending to the day would materialize. Would things turn out for the better? Absolutely not! No sooner had Yasugi-san completed 12 laps when one of the driveshafts broke, sending him into the side of another competitor. Not only was the drivers side door dented badly but the car was now limping around the circuit and unable to be kept in a straight line. Once Yasugi-san had made it around to the pit lane that was the end of Powersports campaign. The team was still in good spirits despite the DNF result, Yasugi-san congratulated everyone for actually being able to enter the race let alone achieve a position as high as 4th place before bowing out. The J’s Racing S2000 eventually held on to take the win, followed by the Garage Ito S13 Nissan Silvia and the Full Stage EK9 Honda Civic. The fastest lap was made by the Pit Road M Mitsubishi GTO with a 1:31.476. The very impressive (and very loud!) Tracy Sports NA2 Honda NSX completed 68 laps before retiring, having put down a fastest lap of 1:33.281.
Even though the temperature hit 37 degrees celsius it was a truly memorable day and one which I won’t forget with all the drama and mixed emotions from the Powersports team. On the other hand the J’s Racing team drivers drove a faultless race and thoroughly deserved the Unlimited class win, it almost looked too easy for them. Add to that the highly professional organization by Side Pontoon and I’d have to say that this was probably the best motorsports event I’ve ever attended in over 7 years living in Japan.
Words: Justin Karow
Images: Justin Karow