A quick look back at tuning history in Japan and you’d most likely be surprised at just how many famous shops got their start in drag racing. Toru Inose and the group at Friends is no exception to this, having chased records in the ‘zero-yon’ all throughout the 2000’s.
Established in 2000, Friends quickly placed themselves amidst the fastest tuning shops in drag racing, becoming a member of the the Japan Drag Racing Drivers Association (JDDA), now known as the JHRA (which honestly may be defunct now, hard to find information), an association established at the peak of drag racing popularity in Japan. The JDDA gave professional and amateur drag racers throughout Japan a chance to display their tuning and driving prowess, with divisions being divided between East and West Japan. It was a format that closely followed the NHRA in America, as you can imagine.
The admiration for drag racing in Japan burnt bright, and it burnt fast, with many tuning shops making it their focus of business. The idea of building and tuning high power engines with the sole purpose of reaching top speeds quickly enamored many an enthusiast. However, having peaked in the 90s and early 00’s, by the start of 2010, enthusiasm for the sport had shown visible decline.
Japan’s last vestige of drag racing, the raceway in Sendai Hi-Land, was heavily damage in the great Tohoku earthquake of 2011. Once a staple in Japanese motorsports throughout the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, the waning popularity of drag racing and the raceway itself, was not enough to offset the hefty cost of repair, and the venue was ultimately shuttered permanently in 2014. While the drag racing section of the grounds was still in use through 2013, when the raceway closed, it restricted the ability to continue use of the drag course. Sure, there were still drag racing events taking place on circuits like Central and Fuji, utilizing the long straights as drag lanes, but there were major issues; namely the inability to get a dig at launch. With Japan’s final dedicated drag racing track closed, it forced many tuning shops in the industry to pivot to other types of motor sport.
Present day, Central Circuit has done a good job in creating an oasis for those still heavily involved in drag racing. With an extension at the back side of the straight away dedicated for drag racing, the asphalt has been given an opportunity to become ideal for launches and many events still take place there today. Namely the All Japan Drag Race Series, which holds annual events at Hokkaido, Central, Motegi and Kyushu for the small handful of shops and drivers still dedicated to the niche motor sport of drag racing.
Back in September of 2009, Inose and Friends may have hit their high point in the drag racing scene. Specializing in Nissans, the shop campaigned both a GTR34 and a S14.5 on the drag circuit, both featuring extremely powerful engines. Notably, their S14.5 Silvia (S14 chassis with a S15 front end fitted), was at one point considered the most powerful SR (2.2 liter) in Japan, boasting upwards of 1000hp and well over 600 ft/lb. of torque with the added assist of nitrous. In a weekend long event at Sendai, the team hit a quarter mile time of 9.113 at 252 km/h, making it among the fastest RWD cars in Japan, and at one point the fastest FR car on radial tires. Coincidentally enough, this was the same event that Escort ran a 7.67 in their Skyline, taking the RWD Record.
It wasn’t long after this, that Friends began their involvement in D1, campaigning their infamous S15, that has, as of several years ago, been repurposed as their flagship time attack car. Needless to say, Inose and his team have extensive experience in tuning SR engines for a wide variety of use.
All of this to say, the S14 that you see here, and that the team has been testing all season, is the very same S14 that set that record 9.113 quarter mile time at Sendai almost 15 years ago; I think.
I say I think, because there are a few noticeable similarities between this car and the very few photos I found of the S14.5 from the mid-2000’s. I could have easily asked Inose if it was the same car, however at the time, I didn’t even know of the car’s potential history, and Inose is notoriously difficult to reach short of calling the shop. So I did my due diligence and scoured the internet for any and all information I could find on the car. Even the Friends blog makes no mention of it, starting the entries after 2009, and stopping them before 2018. Any writings of drag racing concentrated mostly on their R34 build. For sure the S14 has changed tremendously from 2009, however the chassis itself is almost undoubtedly the same.
We first saw this build introduced into time attack during Attack Tsukuba 2022 when Inose brought both this car and the S15 out to compete, but this was my first opportunity seeing the car in person.
The car, it seems, has been giving a second life – this time for Toru’s son, Taichi, to enjoy.
Gone is the S15 front end, replaced by the period correct Kouki S14 front end and Car Modify Wonder Glare front bumper, modified to house the new front splitter. Glare GT 50mm wide front fenders allow ample space for the larger tires.
Glare 50mm GT wide rear fenders trace the look back from the front end giving some much needed continuity to the now reformed car. We would have loved to see the car with the Glare skirts as well, but surprisingly enough, the car looks quite proper without them.
On the rear side windows, you’ll notice an array of JDDA event stickers; one of the tip-offs that this car is the same. The rear window has vent holes in the exact same spots, and on the inside, the cage matches that of the old drag build as well.
The car has been given the Friends paint treatment that includes a silver grey coat on the interior and chassis parts of the car. The exterior is covered in their signature bright red color.
Underneath, you can see the lengths that have been taken to reduce the S-chassis weight, including cutting out all the unnecessary body work up to the rear subframe. The titanium exhaust is routed directly underneath the differential.
These photos were taken over the span of 3 or 4 events in January and February, and each time Inose had been fine tuning the car with each session driven. It’s definitely a work in progress being among the newer builds introduced by Friends.
Taichi Inose, was driving the S14 mostly throughout each event, with Toru getting behind the wheel a few times as well.
Nice carbon treatment over the OE bezel, which has been replaced by a Motec C125 dash manager.
Another tip off that led me to believe this was the same car was the treatment inside of the wheel wells. I was able to match the stitch welds in the wells, as well as the engine bay strut towers.
While the rear brakes remain factory, the front have been upgraded with a set of Endless calipers and two-piece rotors.
The engine is no longer the 1000hp unit that propelled the S14.5 down the drag strip. Previously the SR22 had a T88-38GK turbo fitted on the top side of the manifold. Now, the turbo resides underneath, with direct air coming from a filter that is mounted towards the front of the bumper.
The car also no longer utilizes nitrous, and makes a very modest 400hp, which leads me to believe the SR22 has been retired or repurposed elsewhere. I’ll continue to look for information on the new engine and suspension setup, and will update accordingly if anything notable arises.
The S14 sports a variety of different wheel setups. The most fitting of which are the 1-piece forged BBS RI-A in both Diamond Silver and Matte Grey, which I believe are sometimes borrowed from Inose’s S15. Every so often the car will be on these white Advan GTs, typically wrapped in 295 series Advan A050 tires.
This year the wing stands have changed from a solid aluminum, silver in color, to the now painted black ones with holes in them.
On track, the car looks like a work in progress. I witnessed several lock ups headed into the first hairpin, and what looked like significant under steer on other turns, although some of this could be the newer driver learning the ins and outs of the car. How fun it must be to have the opportunity to build and tune such a great looking car.
Taichi was able to grab several laps in the 59 and 58 second range over the events, even a 57.953 at Attack in the U29 class, but wasn’t quite able to beat the best of 57.849 from 2022.
The story of an old car, reborn to be enjoyed by a son of the owner of a tuning shop is almost too good to be true, but just about on par with things we see come out of Japan. It’s one of those things that make racing so special.
Really looking forward to seeing more of this car and it’s continued development in both build and Taichi as driver.
If anyone can source any more information about this car being the same one campaigned in zero-yon, please drop us a message!
Thanks for reading.