Yoshihara Wins 2020 Pikes Peak Unlimited Class!
Ask anyone who has competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and without hesitation they’ll tell you it isn’t easy. Dai Yoshihara knows this all too well, as does Evasive Motorsports, to a heartbreaking extent. But 2020’s “Race to the Clouds” became the greatest comeback story for them all, and one we’d love to share with you.
The Pikes Peak journey for Evasive has been nine years in the making, and included its share of challenges and major disappointment. But this was the proverbial fuel required to overcome the odds and prove that hard work truly does pay off in the long run. This is why 2020’s race is so important to the entire Evasive crew, especially CEO, Mike Chang.
The team’s machine, the Evasive Motorsports / Turn 14 Distribution / ENEOS 2JZ-powered Toyota 86 was designed with purpose. Specifically it has the ability to handle the rigors of various forms of time attack racing. Last year, the ENEOS-sponsored Formula DRIFT champion, Dai Yoshihara took on the infamous hill climb for the first time, and while on pace to finish with a high 9-minute time, the rear differential let go and put the 86 out of commission. The following week it achieved some redemption at the GTA Super Lap Battle finals, but Dai and the Evasive team considered Pikes Peak unfinished business. They were more determined than ever to complete the 2020 race.
To prepare for this year’s race, Evasive made a few changes to key areas of the 86. They paid special attention to the rear diff to avoid encountering the same problem, so it was upgraded and cryo-treated for improved reliability. Then the axles were rebuilt with stronger hardware. A larger Garrett G42-1200 turbo alleviated the heat build-up and back-pressure the smaller GTX turbo produced – and while it’s not as responsive as the smaller turbo, the G42-1200 should be more reliable.
Evasive had little time to dial-in the new mods, but nonetheless Dai put a solid day of testing/tuning at Buttonwillow Raceway to get it as close to race-ready as possible. The most noticeable upgrade is the Artisan Spirits widebody kit, replacing the former Rocket Bunny aero, as well as a larger rear wing to create more downforce. Additionally, there are new prototype Titan 7 T-S5 forged two-piece wheels mated to prototype Toyo racing slicks.
“Last year we over-tested the car. We almost did too much, to the point where the car was fast, but on the edge,” said Chang. “There was a small window where the car ran reliably but, especially in the mountains, if you run the car a minute too long, things start to fail, so the approach this year was to not overdo it. We wanted to ensure Dai got some seat time, but we didn’t run the car for any longer than needed. Getting the car to last the entire run and finish was our priority.”
PREPPING FOR THE CLIMB
Come race week, Evasive and Dai had their challenges from the get-go, including issues with the ECU (lack of throttle response and struggles with the turbo at the higher elevation), alternator (which was a quick fix), throttle linkage, and a massive hiccup with the sequential transmission that could’ve quickly become a repeat DNF— and this part of the story alone is crazy!
“It’s probably the worst week of practice we’ve had,” Chang added. “I talked about saving the car by not practicing as much, but we basically had no practice at all; Dai had barely driven. We thought it was the diff, which we changed, but Dai said it still didn’t feel right, so I made a Hail Mary call to Samsonas Motorsport’s North American distributor, Paul Ferreira of Fercomp.
When he picked up, I explained the situation, and he replied, “You know what? I just landed in Colorado Springs.” He was already in town supporting one of the Porsche teams and was nice enough to meet us at the track 30 minutes after our phone call. You can’t make this stuff up!”
However, diagnosing a transmission problem is easier said than done and required Evasive to work through the night to take it apart so Paul could diagnose what was needed. With only a couple of days remaining until the big race, they had to wait for Paul to return to his North Carolina-based company to see if he had the parts in stock, which he did, and would have to ship overnight with a Saturday delivery. “Based on experience, I don’t trust next day air shipping,” Chang said. “Even if they did arrive, who knows what time they would arrive? Saturday’s when we’re supposed to load into our pit area on the mountain.”
Chang made the decision to drive back to Denver and fly to North Carolina, collect the parts and carry them onto the return flight to ensure there were no shipping problems. As luck would have it, Titan 7’s Eddie Lee was able to find a friend-of-a-friend in North Carolina who offered to pick up the parts and fly into Colorado instead, saving Evasive the trouble.
“I couldn’t believe it!” Chang explained. “We met them at the airport, grabbed the parts and spent the whole night reassembling the transmission to have the car together and running by 3AM Saturday morning.”
That morning they spent a few more hours at a local dyno to tune the 86 and to ensure it was running properly. “Dai told us it felt okay, but we had to set everything up without knowing if it would last. The next day was race day…”
NO TIME TO LOOK BACK
Arriving at the start-line without a qualifying run meant Dai was the last competitor of the day to run – not the spot you want for Pikes Peak. An hour beforehand, the 86 was warmed up, but the throttle became unresponsive, just the sort of thing you hope never happens before such a major race. With help from MoTeC, they rebooted the ECU with the new tune and were relieved to have the car back to normal.
Dai made his start and all anyone could do was wait patiently until he hopefully crossed the finish line. Starting this late you can encounter dangerous driving conditions due to rain, and a third of the way up, he spun out, hitting a guardrail that he quickly rebounded from, albeit with some damage to the car that could’ve punctured a tire. But Dai’s responsive driving skills put him back into action, crossing the finish line six seconds faster than his nearest Unlimited Class competitor, locking in a final time of 10:05.006!
“I was soooo happy to cross the finish line!,” Dai exclaimed. “It was our number one goal and my first time finishing the race. I wanted a sub-10 minute time and was bummed I couldn’t achieve it after making a mistake that cost me a few seconds. There were mixed feelings at first, but once I saw the team when I drove back down the mountain, to see them so happy, it made winning the Unlimited Class so great!”
Chang added, “At the end of the day, we’re happy to finish. Everything went as well as it could go, but we know the 86 is a 9-minute car for sure. Even with Dai stopping, it still ran a quick 10:05 pass. We’re only one-second shy of being the fastest Toyota to ever climb Pikes. This year’s race was insanely dramatic. One little thing different would have killed the entire program, but we made it!”
The entire ENEOS family extends their congratulations to Dai, the Evasive crew, Turn 14 Distribution and all participating sponsors/supporters who helped make the 2020 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race an extremely memorable one!
Sources: Super Street, Front Street Media, Dai Yoshihara
Words: Jonathan Wong
Photos: Larry Chen