Rick Cuthbert on the Jap scene

Santa Pod Raceway's Jap Show started out as the Japanese Performance Show back in October 2003 as a Run What You Brung event, but was such a massive success in its inaugural year that Santa Pod now hosts the event in two parts, one in June and the other in October. From the very first running of the event it was clear that there the Jap scene featured some serious race cars, and competition between the top runners was so fierce that it was clear an outlet needed to be provided for the Jap racers whose street cars were dipping into the tens.

Two years later, and those same top runners are now running low nines at nearly 160 mph in the showcase Pro Shootout, but mainstream drag racing fans have yet to see the cars in action unless they have made it along to one of the enthusiast events. There remain many widely-held misconceptions about the cars and the scene in general. We spoke to Rick Cuthbert of Santa Pod Raceway about the Jap scene as a whole and about the forthcoming Jap Show Finale in particular.

Eurodragster.com: Why havent we seen any of these cars racing in Street Eliminator or any of the other Sportsman classes? The rules already allow all sorts of vehicles.

Rick Cuthbert: All of the cars entered into the JapShow Pro Shootout use enormous turbos, and most use manual gearboxes. They are hard cars to drive consistently, especially compared to a purpose-built Super Gas car for example. Turbo motors have hardly any torque compared to a V8, and all the power is heaped at the top end of the rev range, so launches are a tightrope walk between bogging-down and vicious wheelspin. For the same reason that they are poor Super Gas cars they are great cars to watch, since the driver skill required to get the best from a run means that you can see the drama unfolding before you, with every gear change being a critical event in the course of a race. In addition, the skill needed to make these cars go fast can mean that drivers of slower cars can beat drivers of faster cars simply by out-driving them. Some cars use sequential and auto boxes, but they have yet to prove themselves by running the best times.

In addition, these guys are not interested in competing in bracket racing because it goes against their fastest is best philosophy, and Street Eliminator cars are generally built in a very different way to the Jap cars, which place a strong emphasis on retaining the original engine configurations and factory monocoque chassis.

Eurodragster.com: Why dont these guys use the usual drag racing practices to go faster?

Rick Cuthbert: These guys know that they can achieve eight-second passes with accepted drag racing technology, and they can get that performance relatively cheaply too, but they are very keen to keep their cars streetable. That is to say, they have to relate to the street cars that their fans drive, because that is who they are performing for. Its not a Nissan Skyline GTR unless it has four-wheel-drive, a straight-six 2.8 litre engine and a turbo, and so these become a fundamental part of the cars design, and performance has to be improved within these parameters on treaded tyres and with full electrics.

Eurodragster.com: What sort of performance are the cars producing?

Rick Cuthbert: Scotsman Keith Cowie is currently leading the pack, having recorded a 9.40 second run at 156 mph. The terminal speeds produced by these cars are high. Acceleration is relatively weak over sixty feet, but devastating from the eighth mile onwards compared to the average V8 drag car. Dee Irelands Toyota Supra (above) produces well in excess of 1200 bhp from a 3.1-litre straight six, but he spins the wheels right up to 150 mph. Traction is a real issue even on a prepped surface. Incredibly, two sub two-litre Subarus have broken into the nines this year, and they need to be kicking out about 950 bhp for this achievement.

Eurodragster.com: How do the tuners get 950 horsepower and nine-second ETs out of a 2.0 litre engine on petrol?

Rick Cuthbert: Well, its a good question, and one that lots of people would like to know the answer to! But the main gains in performance recently have come from the turbo and ECU technology, which is where the real tuning genius comes in. Those guys in the nines are pioneering new racing technology at the highest levels.

Eurodragster.com: How do these guys afford sixty thousand pound engines?

Rick Cuthbert: There are a couple of examples of Rich Boys With Their Toys in the scene, but most of the guys running in the Pro Shootout are very talented tuners who use their cars as a test bed for their work, and also a rolling advertisement of the services they can provide in a very lucrative and buoyant tuning market. There are also a few guys with import businesses who use imported Japanese drag cars to promote their businesses. In other words, the cars pay for themselves in many cases with the attention they receive on the tracks and in the main tuner magazines.

Eurodragster.com: In your experience, how do you think drag racers and import racers view one another's disciplines? Do you think that each side understands and applauds the other?

Rick Cuthbert: You will see plenty of familiar faces from the drag racing establishment at the Jap Show events, and some of the more serious Jap guys have been looking to well-known drag racing builders for guidance in producing more single-purpose race cars, especially in the suspension department. Equally, some of the Jap guys have traditional drag racing and VWDRC backgrounds anyway, and you will see them spectating at the European Finals for example. We have demos at the JapShow from V8 race cars, and Subaru-powered VWDRC cars, these always go down very well with the casual spectator, and Mark Watkins for example loves the Jap scene so much he has even done a few static shows away from the drag strips this year with his Datsun 280Z. Of course, there are always going to be folks with tunnel vision who cant appreciate what is going on here, but I think if you are a petrol-head and a drag racing fan, whether your background is in Jap or Yank motors, you will have an appreciation of the style and engineering in either discipline.

Eurodragster.com: What are the rules for the Pro Shootout?

Rick Cuthbert: There arent any yet - cars are run at the Race Director's discretion, but they are coming soon.

Eurodragster.com: Where can Eurodragster.com's readers find out more?

Rick Cuthbert: Have a look at www.japshow.com and then come to Santa Pod Raceway on 9th October. I guarantee youll be amazed!

Interview ©Eurodragster.com

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