Close-Up: Tohoku Supremacy – The Takumi Project ESCORT EVO 9

Last week, Escort founder and owner Hiroshi Shiobara invited me out to Sugo Sportsland the Saturday before the Attack event to get a closer look at the team’s rebuilt Evo and to get a closer look into their test program.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity to see their process in person, I would gladly make the drive to Sendai Saturday morning.

Per Escort themselves, the revised Evo 9 that they built was created solely for establishing new tuning car course records for every circuit, both domestic and international, they choose to set their targets on.  For now, they are focusing on the foundational circuits in Japan and specifically with this most recent event, the Tohoku area.

The team has collectively built the car from the ground up in-house with their small crew of techs.  From custom aerodynamic body parts, complete engine and trans builds, this is truly an example of an ultimate tuning car; unprecedented in performance.  They are expending all efforts of work, time, and money to seek the best time they can get from a single lap.  A perfect example of this is how the team rented out Central Circuit two weeks ago for a continuous 3 days of testing.  They ran an entire program to ensure everything was working for Sugo; and with times approaching that of GT machines, the results speak for themselves.

Beside Ando’s recent success in time attack racing, Shiobara himself built the reputation of Escort behind the wheel of a car; namely his infamous drag Z32.  After taking many championship titles in Japan, Shiobara eventually branched out his drag racing campaign to the holy land of the quarter mile; the NHRA in the United States.  The 2001 Import World Finals hosted at Pomona Raceway saw Shiobara take home an unprecedented Pro Class world title.  As the years progressed, Escort put their talents to use back in Japan building their equally iconic Type M R32 Skyline; a car that would eventually go on to being Japan’s fastest RWD Pro Class car in 2009 (beating out Garage Saurus with a 7.67 run).  Unfortunately, in the past decade, Japanese motor sport has seen a dramatic decline in interest in drag racing, and one that forced Escort to branch out into other mediums.  It’s a company that has more than earned its prestige given it’s racing heritage.

I’ve gotten to know the guys behind the team fairly well over the years, but to get a private look at the build and how they go about testing was something I was really looking forward to.  I boarded my flight to Japan with a little bit more excitement than usual.

I had to modify my travel plans a bit to accommodate a different flight, so I ended up landing in Narita a day before I anticipated.  Due to my typically busy work schedule, I usually keep my trips to Japan mildly short (a long weekend at most), but having to travel a day ahead of schedule gave me an extra night.  I had a few important, time sensitive work tasks to wrap up, and because I was forced to leave a day early, the afternoon I landed I decided to get a hotel in the Minatomirai area and focus on getting them done before the weekend.

I spent Friday with Sekinei working at the new office in Yokohama.  We ended up going out to a local Izekaya that night with a few friends and I unfortunately ended up drinking too much; the sake was flowing very liberally that night.

So, Saturday when I woke up (late), the only thing on my mind was coffee and getting this 400 kilometer drive over with.  I hopped in the hybrid Toyota Estima that Sekinei graciously let me borrow for the drive and pointed my self North.

The drive up to the Tohoku area is pretty anti-climatic.  You don’t really get the scenic, tunnel filled hills like you do when driving through Shizuoka to Fuji Speedway or anything.  It’s just sort of open country through Chiba; plus I had to get the typical Tokyo weekend traffic which added an additional 1.5 hours to the already long drive.  I couldn’t complain though, I had driven further in my life and will most likely drive further again.

Once into the Miyagi prefecture that houses Sugo, things start to get a little bit more green, as the landscape changes to a more wooded one.

This is actually a photo from Sunday morning from the backside perimeter road of the circuit.  I just wanted to show how lush and mountain-esque the circuit is; it really is a beautiful facility.

From left to right: Hiroshi Shiobara, Shinichi Miyano, Shogo Takahashi (motec data guru), and the man himself, Yoshiki Ando.

When I arrived I took some video of the crew working on the car for a bit while waiting for Ando to arrive.  I chatted for a bit with Hiroshi and Shinichi, another of the mechanics to whom I rather enjoy being around.  I find it neat that when he’s not working on the car, he’s always cleaning it or the garage area.  I’ve never not seen him doing something.

Although I’m used to it by now, it’s still impressive to me the comprehensiveness of the garage setup the team brings with them to each circuit.  It really is a world-class outfit.

The heart of the build lies within the reliability of the engine package; arguably Escort’s strong suit.  While tuned to produce a mere 750 horsepower at the wheels, a number that many unlimited competitors would consider tame these days, it’s the efficiency of how the motor puts out that power that makes the difference.

The team was at Sugo a few days before the event as well, coming almost directly from Central Circuit, so the agenda for the day was rather short.  After the initial setup, Shiobara threw the car back together so I could grab some photos of it.  Hope you enjoy!

The new front end is comprised of a one-off, full carbon front bumper.  Famous Japanese air brush artist Ryo Takeuchi, of Ryo’s Flames in Tokyo, air brushed the front headlights (and taillights) onto the bumper, as they no longer house actual headlights.  Escort is trying to find every opportunity to save weight, actual working lights are unnecessary.

The shape change makes the front end look quite different from what we’re used to seeing in an EVO.

Watching the paddock switch to Hoosiers (A7) after this years Tsukuba Championship has been almost comical.  All the frontrunners in Japan have been loyal to the older A050 compound, but once they witnessed how fast the A7 was, it was almost a no-brainer to change.  Hopefully this stokes Yokohama to develop a formidable competing tire.

Cool little exhaust diffuser..

The build looked very solid on track and the team full confidence that they would break the standing course record on Sunday.  Which (spoiler alert?) it totally did.  They not only met their goal of 1’19.2, but destroyed it with a 1’18.5.

Neat way to hold the rear up.

A couple shock sensors are located at each corner, and are monitored by the Motec software.

They’ve made the front air jacks in a way that allows them to be removed and reinstalled very easily; just another smart way to reduce weight.

The Car Shop Dream FD had arrived in the evening and was parked and ready to go for tomorrows event.

On the way back to the car,  spotted this wrecked Porsche.

Looked nice against the cloudy sunset, but sort of sad to see.

So I took a dramatic picture of the Estima with it in the background.

A quiet, serene evening at Sugo – a stark contrast to what it would feel like in the morning when Attack descends upon the circuit.  Hope you enjoyed the photos!  Event coverage will be coming soon.



  1. Amazing time attack instrument. So much detail to pore over, I bet. The front grille/headlight configuration looks very similar to a Honda Accord or Mazda6/Atenza, I wonder if it was a conscious execution. Great pics & words, again!

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