For one of the best time attack cocktails in existence, there’s a simple recipe. Sit one of Japan’s smoothest drivers in a highly modified version of the nation’s most popular MR car, throw in a pair of turbochargers, add a dash of carbon, and sprinkle some more aero pieces in. The result is the infamous Esprit NSX, which is one of those shops which turn anything and everything into capable track weapons. Esprit has even made a heavyset MkIV Supra able to lap Suzuka in two minutes, so they clearly know how to make a car corner. When they’re handed a lighter, smaller, mid-engine NSX to modify, the results are even more impressive.
A small book could be written on the Esprit NSX’s bodywork alone. Plenty of carbon, ducts on every panel, and elaborate aerodynamic elements could help this NSX pass as a Super GT car from fifteen years ago. The entire aero kit is designed to squash the Honda into the ground, shave weight, improve rigidity, and direct air into the areas which need it most—including the flame-spitting engine.
Squeezing in Two Snails
In the production car, the C30A engine is stuffed into the cramped bay without any leftover room, so how they found the real estate for all the forced induction ancillaries is hard to picture. To free up some space, they rotated the engine ninety degrees. Now mounted longitudinally and supported by a custom steel subframe, the repositioned engine offers enough space on either side for a pair of Trust T517S turbochargers to flank it. These small turbos, mated to a custom intake plenum and a Nissan Q45 throttle body, provide strong response out of low-speed corners. Still, the delivery is progressive enough to provide propulsion—not a smoke show.
The strong bottom end was attained through employing a C32 crank, connecting rods, and forged pistons—all Esprit items. The ported and polished head, fitted with a set of aggressive cams, allows for higher revs and a relentless power delivery. An HKS V-CON computer, an HKS fuel pump, HKS 700 cc/min injectors, and an Esprit dry sump lubrication system keep the mill operating in the most demanding of situations.
On high boost, the powerplant makes a useable 680 horsepower and 494 lb-ft of torque. Though those figures might not turn many heads in the time attack world, when sent through the Hewland six-speed sequential, that grunt propels the 2,425-pound NSX towards the horizon like a Super GT car of yesteryear. No histrionics and little wheelspin; the sort of controllable punch that allows it to outrun more powerful machinery. That weight also contributes to the car’s incredible deceleration, as do the Endless 6-piston calipers up front and Brembo F40 4-pistons at the rear, 355mm discs, and Endless pads.
As valuable as acceleration and deceleration are, slow-speed balance and traction are just as important at a technical track like the hairpin-laden Tsukuba. An OS Giken differential, 18-inch Prodrive GC-010G wheels wrapped in 265/35 R18 Bridgestone Potenza RE11S semi-slick tires, and HKS Hipermax coilovers provide the grip, though it’s Taniguchi—who’s constantly managing hints of oversteer and understeer—who keeps the demanding car pointed in the right direction.
A lap of 53.7 seconds is very impressive for a rear-wheel drive car at Tsukuba, especially since the NSX can’t make great use of its aerodynamic grip at such a slow course.
Even with the impressive grip, it’s inevitable that Nobuteru Taniguchi, GT300 and D1 star, doesn’t push the car to the ragged edge. The small slides are quickly dealt with, however, since the steering is fast and the the car is communicative—evidenced by Taniguchi’s tidy inputs with the wheel and absence of mistakes. That clear dialogue between driver and car can be attributed to the spot-welded chassis, the full rollcage, and the Bride Low Max seat, all of which relay movement of the car to Taniguchi’s keister. It takes a level of sensitivity that borders on prescience to get the most out of a fidgety, snappy car like this.
His driving is inch-perfect, and never throughout these immaculate laps does he put a wheel wrong. In the above footage, the car exudes stability most of the time, though when it does break away, it does so in a unfriendly snap (0:39 above) which an amateur would have no hope of catching. It’s not a car that coddles the inexperienced.
Accuracy Through Aerodynamics
The thoroughbred rewards the talented hand, and its increased grip at higher speeds is one trait which requires some skill to access. Taniguchi is not lacking in the coordination department, nor in the bravery department, and can position the car with great accuracy through Suzuka’s high speed esses (0:44 below) without upsetting it over the curbs or with a hamfisted steering input. It really is remarkable to see how he barely nuzzles the curbs, rolls good mid-corner speed, and exits corners without any hiccups. True, he’s as smooth as they come, but the NSX grows very neutral at speed and provides the driver with the confidence needed to attack the grip-the-wheel-and-pray corners like 130R (2:06 below). As speeds increase, this car goads the driver to push harder and harder, like a true racing car should.
Though it can’t beat Esprit’s Supra at Suzuka, it’s quite close considering the horsepower disparity. The NSX is down roughly 300 ponies, which plays a major role at a track with such long straights. However, the lighter, mid-engine NSX is much more capable around the hairpin-heavy Tsukuba, where traction and agility play a bigger role than top-end power. Whichever time attack weapon you prefer, they’re both fine demonstrations of what this incredible shop can do.