As part of a farewell ceremony for the straight-six engine, which was being largely phased out of production in 2002, Best Motoring staged a race between some of the straight-six sports cars to emerge from Japan in recent years. Shuhei Kawasaki’s Skyline GT-R and Manabu Orido’s Supra were the celebrated cars in this event, but the Silvia and RX-7 both made an appearance at this heated but brief race. It’s one of the wildest five-lap battles the program has filmed, with one of the most frustrating climaxes.
The two straight-six-powered cars have powerful motors as their strongest asset. Of course, the Skyline GT-R’s four-wheel drive system gives it an edge in deploying its power without much wheel spin, but the rear-wheel drive Supra does a respectable job administering a similar level of thrust. Because traction is a deciding factor at Ebisu East, which features quite a few hairpins and off-camber corners, these heavyweights, running on street tires, are limited by their power outputs and spiky power deliveries.
Nearly as powerful is the wild S15 Silvia piloted by a man as dramatic as the car. Keiichi Tsuchiya’s ability to wrangle this wild stallion must be seen. Its 2.2-liter SR20DET makes 520 horsepower, which is sent through a sequential gearbox onto the 265-section Yokohama Advans. It has no problem lighting them up at high speeds. It’s not a forgiving car, and since it’s devoid of any nannies, it requires the “drift king” to stay on his toes every second of the race.
The RX-7, on the other hand, doesn’t enjoy as many perks in the propulsion department. With a short list of breather modifications, it makes a smidgen over 350 horsepower, and simply can’t compete on the lengthy straights at Ebisu East. However, its arguably the best balanced car on the grid and carries great speed through the switchbacks, braking zones, and slower corners. Without a power surplus, the RX-7 makes the strongest start while the more powerful entrants squirm and spin their cold tires. At a fairly technical track with one long straight, wildly varied machines, and only five laps to prove themselves, it could be anyone’s race.
Falling in line behind the Mazda from the start, the powerful GT-R benefits from its traction advantage, as well as its Tomei-built, tractable RB26DETT making a usable 550 horsepower. However, it’s only a matter of time before Tsuchiya, benefiting from an idiot-proof sequential gearbox, sneaks by in his Silvia when Kawasaki misses a shift. Not only do sequential gearboxes improve shift time, but most would argue they reduce the chances of missing a gear.
Tsuchiya goes on to steal the show; snagging First and stretching a respectable lead. It has to be said that his car is arguably the quickest, but only a driver of his caliber could get the most from it. Which is why it’s such a pity that Kawasaki, the panicky amateur, had to make a mess of it all.