Photography by Tokyonür / Hiro Murata
In the Formula 1 racing world, going purple is a common saying for the impressive act of being outright fastest. The adage calls attention to the purple hue, which indicates besting the timing boards for a racetrack’s particular sector, lap, or an entire event. Green means the driver outdid their personal best, while yellow indicates a slower time. In essence, purple is the goal. Outside of F1, that’s why we’re all doing this, right? To be the fastest by merging man and machine into the ultimate performance combination around a given circuit on a specific day?
However, when I say, “The World’s Wildest Time Attack Cars Go Purple,” I’m not only referencing this phrase. For this article about the recent Attack Tsukuba 2020 event held at the legendary Tsukuba Circuit outside Tokyo, Japan, I’m also referring to the purple logo of the renowned Hoosier Racing Tire manufacturer. This article is not sponsored by Hoosier nor do we have a relationship with them, but the company’s presence required discussion.
As an avid reader of ours—which I know you are—you’ll remember that we profiled William Au-Yeung last year as he undertook the challenge to capture Japanese time attack glory, which he completed during 2019’s account of this very event. Au-Yeung set a blazingly quick 53.071-second lap around the celebrated TC2000 layout and enrolled himself into the history books with a new FWD record—but on Hoosier A7 tires. A tire which skeptics refer to as a slick due to its lack of tread, but which uses a structure that is the same as any other competition tire in its class. Well, there was a stigma surrounding setting one’s official time on the stickier and treadless Hoosier “slick” tire, even though the DOT marks, treadwear rating, and rubber compound were compliant with the rules. So there was only one problem after Au-Yeung and his Civic recorded that lap.
It seems that word got out about America’s secret tire sauce because numerous cars in the event’s 2020 paddock now adorn purple Hoosier logos across panels where Yokohama branding once resided. Thanks to the brilliant photography of Tokyonür Hiro Murata, you’ll notice the rear of Shark Iiri’s FD RX-7 pictured above. Iiri is someone who registered with Advan as one of his primary sponsors last year. Oh, how quickly one lap can shake things up! These competitors faithfully ran Advan tires for decades straight. It only took one Canadian to light up the course on American Hoosiers, and everyone’s lightbulb illuminated.
Think about it, though. These competitors spend countless hours every day of their lives trimming milligrams of weight out of their cars in the search for hundredths of a second at this very track. Why not do something as simple as switching to a stickier tire, and in the process, likely drop a few tenths of a second off your lap time? It’s a no-brainer.
Exciting revelation, right? Well, not quite. You see, I’m a purist, so I don’t know how to feel about it all yet.
Before Will changed the game with Hoosiergate (that’s what I’ll call it for now), there was an indefinable allure to the Japanese competition. Perhaps it was the mystery of nearly every competitor utilizing the Yokohama Advan A050, a tire I didn’t have access to in America. Maybe it was the level playing field, knowing that there was an equal amount of mechanical grip spread across the scope of entrants. Or perhaps it was the tread design—albeit incredibly skimpy tread that most racers shaved down nearly slick anyway—that made the tires seem more like a road-going variant. Whatever it was, somewhere between last year and this year, something was lost.
I mean, this is it, the origin of Japanese time attack—Attack Tsukuba. It’s the big kahuna, and the annual excuse for enthusiasts of the sport to gaze endlessly into the deep blue timing screen live stream from halfway across the world with the hope of witnessing history when one of the sport’s icons unleashes record-setting pace. What happens here dictates tuning trends around the globe, so watching these dedicated racers abandon ship from their previous setups and mount some sticky compound Hoosier A7 tires for easy tenths saddens me a little bit.
Only a little bit, though, because while half of me is a purist, the other half lives for loopholes in rulebooks, and cheeky innovations. So when a new tire—which can last longer and be more predictable over a more extended period—is introduced into the fray, I salivate a little. Especially a tire as widely used in America as the A7. While the fact that it’s a “slick” ever-so-slightly detaches the sport from road car reality, the availability of the tire in North America almost makes it more relatable.
It’s exciting knowing how capable the readily-available Hoosier tires are, and the ability to source a set for myself is the hypothetical cherry on top. The tides are changing in Japanese time attack competition, and I feel it won’t be long until the entire field uses the new solution.
My inner turmoil over the topic will continue until I die. Still, at least in the meantime, lap times are dropping, and new technology is changing the sport forever and forcing adaptation.
Okay, let me back up a little. Lap times should have been dropping at Attack Tsukuba 2020, but the competitors were struggling with the weather all morning. Around 7 am rain not only dampened the track but also everyone’s spirits, as it nullified the opportunity for the fastest class to take full advantage of the circuit. Not only because the turbocharged cars typically thrive in dry, dense air, but because a drying track is never as fast as a dry track.
Before the hindered conditions, Fire Ando in the ESCORT Evo9 was still able to top the tables and set a new AWD turbocharged course record with an unbelievable 50.716-second lap the day before the Attack event! Guess which tires he was using?
That same day the CAR SHOP DREAM FD RX-7, flush with Vibrant Performance and Turbosmart products in the engine bay, not only set a new personal best lap time in the turbocharged monster with a 53.489-second lap but also jumped the rankings into eighth fastest overall, ever. This lap, too, was set on Hoosiers.
Some other standouts from the weekend included a rare exotic McLaren Senna lapping the TC2000 circuit layout, but 1:00.123 was its best finishing lap, which was several seconds off the pace from the die-hard racers in their much less expensive machines.
Unfortunately, on the naturally aspirated homefront at this event, no new outright records were achieved. However, throughout the past year, with the help of the Japanese tuning shop, Aslan Inc., and its driver, TON, the Canadian Kenneth Lau’s Honda Integra underwent some drastic changes. Kenneth and the Integra returned this year in a more competitive form and sliced gobs of time off his lap from last year. The Integra is now a widebody and has been fitted with numerous new parts to help it run an extraordinary 58.629-second lap, almost two whole seconds faster than last year.
The wild Yellow Factory EG6 still holds the NA FF record from earlier this month, and the Shark/Full Stage FD RX-7 held onto its NA FR record from last year. Amazingly, on the right day, these cars and drivers can register fully competitive times despite the lack of forced induction to aid in their efforts. It’s inspiring to think the fastest naturally aspirated road car competitor at Tsukuba is less than one-hundredth of a second slower than HKS Japan’s beefy, turbocharged TRB-04 project. It shows that boost isn’t necessary to showcase the overall build package and driver’s skills on the most critical Japanese stage.
Overall, it was a successful weekend for the Attack series despite my indecision about the new tires. I will say, I’m quite excited to see these racers further develop their cars with a foreign rubber compound. The idea of watching these talented drivers from the onset of an entirely new era in Japanese time attack is fascinating. For a full rundown of lap times from the event, you can check out links 1 and 2. And for the updated Top 50 lap times on the Tsukuba Circuit TC2000 course layout, you can click here. Check out the social links and gallery below for more content, and thank you for reading!