Video: Tailhappy Honda S2000s Dice At Fuji International Speedway

Though the Honda S2000 may have inherited the unkind moniker “torqueless wonder,” that doesn’t mean that it’s not a vital and demanding car. A twitchy and exciting chassis makes up for what power deficiency it suffers — not that it’s really anemic or anything. Without a doubt, it’s a pointy car that rewards the committed and capable driver. Here we’re fortunate enough to see two of them at work in a heated battle. In this clip, two Japanese hot-shoes demonstrate just how to manhandle the S2000 with style and certainty around the varied Fuji Speedway.

A Simple Scalpel

It’s rare to find two drivers of similarly exceptional caliber pushing such similar machines to the limit and beyond. While the lead car’s specifications aren’t known, the camera car’s are. This second-generation S2000 sports a Cusco MZ differential to deliver power to the 255-section RE71R tires in the rear. A square setup contributes to its inherently twitchy nature.

These modified versions aren’t exactly gutless. With the advantage of a tow, the camera car still hits 131 miles per hour at the end of Fuji Speedway’s famously long straight. Having a complete Spoon motor, a 4.4 final drive, and a 60mm Kent exhaust helps the F22 produce something approaching 300 horsepower.

Though stiff, the camera car handles the curbs reasonably well. Photo credit: 植野裕司

While the camera car puts the power down well, it’s the way the vehicle snaps suddenly — often into the corner — that can catch out the amateur. This driver, Yuji Ueno, is not fazed at all. In fact, he delights in the playfulness of his S2000, getting the car to drift into every corner without much fuss.

Sometimes, it snaps in the middle of the corner. After he commits a little too early to the throttle through T10, he lifts off the accelerator, and the lateral-loaded rear snaps out of line. It’s almost like an old 911 in that regard, and it clearly requires a lot of discipline.

As soon as Ueno lifts off the throttle mid-corner, the S2000 starts to dance (0:24).

But unlike some older rear-engine cars, it’s easily controlled while sideways. A bit of opposite lock and a quick dab of throttle to stabilize the rear, and the diminutive Honda is on its way. It’s a nervous car, and even though the speeds might not be exceptionally high, the S2000 makes its driver sweat with required flashes of countersteering that’s part and parcel of getting to the limit.

He has to get his car up on its toes to hang with the white S2000 ahead, which uses every inch of the track to maximize the radius of the corner. Sometimes dancing their cars through the middle of Fuji’s technical back section, it’s obvious both drivers are striving to harvest every iota of performance from their vehicle.

Dancing Everywhere

Sometimes they bobble while braking and steering into a corner (1:43), which shows how willing it is to rotate into the corner. To make things more complicated, the S2000 sometimes spins its wheels at the corner exit — even at higher speeds (1:45)! A little rear-end stability might help this Honda set a faster lap, but the lack of it is better for our entertainment.

Even while sliding at 80 miles per hour, Ueno doesn’t lift.

With both cars so closely matched, it takes some bravery through traffic (1:54) and a clever approach to several corners to generate a gap. Watch the way the lead car absolutely flies into Fuji’s Turn 13 (2:32) by taking full advantage of his car’s strengths. Rather than braking before turning in, he uses its incisive nose to turn in late and hard, then taps the brakes briefly in the middle of the corner. The car rotates beautifully, and it doesn’t get wildly out of shape. He’s clearly a little more confident in his car, which seems to reward a very assertive set of hands.

What this particular corner demonstrates is how Ueno’s car is not quite as comfortable inducing direction changes as the lead driver. Ueno’s inputs are smooth and measured, but you can see he’s just that much more tentative than the man in front and doesn’t quite have the confidence to grab his car by the scruff of its neck. Sometimes, with agile and underpowered vehicles, the ability to find a few more miles per hour from entry to apex — by force, if necessary — makes a world of difference.

With more gusto, an appreciation for the S2000’s front-end grip, and ease with achieving the right rotation at the right moments, the driver ahead sails off into the distance. If drivers want to eke out a gap in cars this demanding and closely matched, they must have superlative car control and a few tricks up their sleeve.

 

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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