At this year’s World Time Attack Challenge (WTAC) 2016 at Sydney Motorsport Park, an incredibly rare and special moment occurred when the man widely considered to be the father of modern drifting, Keiichi Tsuchiya, performed a drift demonstration in a meticulously rebuilt 1984 Toyota AE86 Corolla – a car synonymous with drifting culture the world over. But how did it all come together? And what made it so very special?
This particular story is one that goes back to 2003. Beau Yates was an 18-year-old apprentice working at a Japanese car and parts importer in Kirrawee, New South Wales, called Just Jap.
The proud owner of an early 1980s DR30 Nissan Skyline – “a pillarless, four-door, RS, with an FJ20 turbo engine” – Beau was a Nissan guy. At least, he was until a fateful container arrived from Japan.
“I started in Datsuns I guess,” says Beau. “I had 1200s and then I got this RS turbo.”
“I was working at Just Jap and a container of Toyota AE86s came in. And I remember Steve [my boss at Just Jap] asking me to run these 86s up to the BP service station at Kirrawee.
“It was a little GT Levin. It had a digital dash, the cool brown velour trim and the brown door trims, a 1.6-litre, 16-valve 4A-GE engine, four-wheel disc brakes, and I remember taking it up the road to the BP service station.
“And, I don’t know, it was only maybe a kilometre up the road – and I put fuel in it and drove it back – and I said to Steve, ‘How much to own this car?’ and he said, ‘Alright, well Beau, you’ve been here however long, I’ll do a pretty sharp deal.’”
The young Beau Yates was somewhat strapped for cash, but the little AE86 profoundly stuck in his head, so Beau and his good mate Andrew came up with a solution.
“I remember at the time I didn’t have a lot of cash, so Steve said, ‘Look, it’s $5000,’ or whatever it was, so I went home that night and I spoke to Andrew – ‘Big Freddy’, the guy that pits my car to this day – and he bought my DR Skyline.
“He said, ‘Well, listen: you give me the ‘Dirty Thirty’ and I’ll buy you the AE86.’ So that’s where it all started for me. So Andrew bought me the AE, I swapped him my beloved RS, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been a Toyota man ever since.”
With the AE now his, and his interest in a form of motorsport known as ‘drifting’ piqued by Japanese import DVDs, Beau started down a path that would one day culminate in a truly extraordinary experience.
“The drifting scene was just kicking off here in Australia,” Beau says.
“We all kind of knew what it was, but you could never go to a racetrack to go and see it. It was 2003 and I remember going out to [one of the first drift events at] Oran Park, and I was driving the AE86 at the time.
“I went out there and these guys had come all the way down from Queensland in these lowered Nissan 180SXs, and I remember Josh Young was there, and he had a little – he used to call it ‘Custard’ – it was a creamy-coloured AE86.
“I remember parking mine in the car park out the back and watching these guys drift, and I said to my partner then, wife now, Rebecca, ‘This is what I want to do.’ So I got in on a grassroots level in the AE86. I then went to the second round of that series, which was held in Queensland, and I won the privateer class. And it was just a progression for me.”
From here, as Beau elevated from winning events in the privateer class to winning events in the pro class, the little AE86 changed too. The 1.6-litre, 16-valve 4A-GE engine was replaced by a 1.6-litre, ‘silver-top’ 20-valve 4A-GE engine, before the 20-valve switched from being naturally aspirated to turbocharged. And by the end of 2006 – with the AE now packing 220kW, a five-speed W-series gearbox, and a T-series differential – Beau won the 2006 Australian Championship.
“So I was the first crowned CAMS-affiliated drift champion in this country – I’ve got the trophy at home to prove it.”
With interest in the sport growing, and the Drift Australia series attracting reasonable audiences both live and on television, it was at this point Beau was recruited into the Toyota Australia fold – with help from the likes of Todd Connolly at Toyota Australia.
“So I came on the radar with them, and they took me on board, and they gave me a small deal for 2007,” Beau says.
“That’s when the car underwent the TRD build – everyone knows it when it was in TRD colours, that was the white with the red. And that’s when I went to a 2.0-litre, 3S-GE BEAMS engine.
“I received that engine through Toyota Genuine Parts in a crate, brand new. You can imagine as a 22-year-old getting a brand new crate delivered to your workshop with a fresh BEAMS engine direct from Toyota – it was around Christmas too – it was like all my Christmases had come at once.”
From here, the AE underwent more changes. The 3S engine was joined by a turbocharger and an F-series differential, and the old W-series gearbox was replaced by an upgraded R154 gearbox – because, with an engine now putting out around 300kW, W-series gearboxes simply kept on breaking.
“And I competed in that from 2007 until late 2008,” Beau says.
“I got a runner-up [finish] in 2007 in that same 3S BEAMS-powered car, but in 2008 the drift scene kind of went by the wayside a little bit – Drift Australia was sold off – so I took a year or so out of drifting.”
Making a triumphant return to the local scene at the inaugural World Time Attack Challenge at Sydney Motorsport Park (Eastern Creek) in 2010 – an event started by Superlap Australia CEO Ian Baker – Beau took out the first WTAC International Drift Challenge. He followed this up in 2011 with a third-place finish.
Despite various positive results, Beau wasn’t competing in any championships full-time, and feared his drifting dream could be drawing to a close.
“I thought drifting had kind of finished for me, to tell you the truth,” Beau says.
Then – seemingly – in 2013, fate stepped in…
“It was around that time I’d actually struck up a new deal with Toyota Australia, because the new Toyota 86 had landed in the country.
“With the excitement of that new car – a light, rear-wheel-drive, naturally aspirated platform – coming to this country, I got back together with Toyota and sat down and had a meeting with the guys, and put forward a proposal to build a brand-new 86 and compete in the Australian Drift Grand Prix, the ADGP. And that’s when Toyota took me back on board as an ambassador to build the new car and compete in the Australian drifting scene.
“The car was nearly ready to unveil at World Time Attack. It wasn’t quite ready though. So, after lengthy discussions with the team and Toyota, I decided not to run the car.”
What do you do when you need a drift car but the one you’re working on isn’t finished? Simple. You grab your trusty old drift car, put some oil in it, put some fuel in it, and load it onto a trailer.
“You know, I used to refer to the old AE86 as a dirty old boot. It was kind of like your favourite pair of shoes: they’re a bit ratty but they’re heaps comfortable. You just slip them on and you can kick a soccer ball for a mile, or whatever.
“So, I went and pulled the dirty old boot out [the AE] and brought it to Eastern Creek for WTAC 2013.”
With spirits high, and the new 86 right on the cusp of being completed, it seemed only fitting that WTAC 2013 would be the AE’s last hurrah. Alas, though…
“I don’t know if it was fate or what, but it’s funny how things happen,” Beau says.
“It was like any other day. We were going through the routines of practice, going through our movements. That’s when I crested South Circuit, and there were plumes of smoke – and the smoke is nothing different to us, we drive through the smoke all the time.
“As I went through the smoke, I found that there was a Ford Falcon stopped in the middle of the track, and I slammed into him, and then the chase car obviously compounded me as well. So the car was pretty heavily damaged.
“I had it well lit in third gear, so maybe the impact was at ,probably, at least 80km/h. And then being hit in the side as well from another car. And, obviously, the car being a 900kg car and a pretty light chassis, it was pretty bent up.”
With the smoke cleared and a mild concussion still having an effect, Beau’s heart sank as the realisation of what had just happened dawned on him.
“I was exhausted, to tell you the truth,” Beau says.
“I was building the new car, I was low on sleep, and putting a lot into this build to try and impress the best I could with the new car. And then to go and pull the old car out that I’d competed in for over 10 years and never put a mark on – you know, maybe a few little battle scars here and there – and then in one hit, one fell swoop, the car was stripped from me. It was a complete write-off.
“It was more disbelief than anything. I remember sitting in the car, and I’d struck the roll cage pretty heavily, so my ears were ringing and my eyes were a bit blurry, and then it was just the disbelief that I’d potentially written-off the car.
“It wasn’t until later that I got out and inspected the damage that I realised it was cactus. It was pretty much ‘throw it in the bin’.”
With the new 86 near completion, however, and investment and support from Toyota Australia and other sponsors on the line, Beau had to return his focus to the new car, and put the old AE well and truly on the back burner. For now, anyway.
“I couldn’t really be seen to be pulling budget to build the old car, either – as much as I wanted to, I guess, in a sense,” Beau says.
“I had to persist and prove that I could do the job in the new car. And with the progression of the sport, I needed to do that for myself and self-gain, and better myself as well.
“[At that time too] we had a fully-fledged televised series with the Australian Drift Grand Prix, and we were doing six rounds a year across the country, getting full fields of 32 cars, and plenty people to come and watch.”
But while attention was firmly fixed on the new Toyota 86’s drift program, the dirty old boot was still in the back of Beau’s mind.
“I used to always compare the new car to the old car, which was stupid I guess,” Beau says.
“But I would go out to the track and go, ‘Oh, I can’t do it in the new car – the old car used to be able to do this and do that.’ But I think I was forgetting that that’s all I really knew in drifting, was an AE86.
“I’d never really driven a Nissan S-chassis car or any of that, so it was purely and simply the fact that I’d only ever driven AE86, so that’s all I really knew. So adapting was a bit of a struggle at the start.”
Adding to the challenge was the car’s age. Being so new, drift kits and components for the new 86 were yet to be developed, meaning Beau – along with the crew at Hypertune in New South Wales – were under the pump building custom parts such as lower control arms and steering knuckles, trying to get the car to drift.
“But it was proving more difficult than we first thought,” Beau says.
“We got some round wins here and there, but we were never really in the hunt – we weren’t consistently at the top. We could have a few round wins, and always qualified well, and won a few. But over six rounds, I won two of the rounds, and I think I finished sixth in the championship.”
For 2014 – while the AE spent another year tucked into the back of a rented shed – Beau competed in the new car, with its 2.0-litre FA20 ‘boxer’ engine making 320kW of power with help from a Garrett 3576 turbocharger and ethanol.
“But I was coming up against LS-powered S13s with 265mm-wide tyres making 750hp, and S15s with 2JZs in them making similar power, and it just seems that they do the job a lot easier,” Beau says.
“So that’s where, in late 2014, I decided to change over to the 3.0-litre, 2JZ in-line six-cylinder Toyota engine. We put it on dyno, and second or third pull it was 500kW, so it’s a real step up from where we were, and that’s where the car is now.
“The 2.0-litre ‘boxer’ engine was a bloody good engine, though. It revved hard and it worked hard. But to pull that kind of horsepower out of a four-cylinder engine, they’re in the upper limits. And with the relatively low budgets that we were running on, I couldn’t justify stressing the engine too much and causing mechanical failures. So I always ran it at a lower setting to ensure that we could continue, or sustain, our budget throughout the year.
“With its quad variable valve timing, hollow cams, and less rotating mass, I actually really enjoy driving the engine, but was always too scared to push the limits of it.”
By this time, availability of parts for the new 86 had improved, and with the likes of Estonia’s Wisefab developing drift-specific steering knuckles and other drift-friendly suspension components, more modifications were made to the Achilles 86, while the old AE remained untouched.
“I’d seen what some of the American drivers had been doing with that kit, so at the same time as the 2J engine swap, I swapped to Wisefab for steering geometry, put their rear kit in the back for more grip, and the steering knuckles in the front.”
With version 2.0 of the new 86 complete, Beau qualified second in the first round of the Australian Drift Grand Prix, and ended up finishing second on the day.
“So that was a pretty good indication that the car was good,” Beau says.
“And then we continued on through the year in which we got runner-up in last year’s ADGP. I also got runner-up in the New South Wales competition, so it was a big year for second places.”
Yet, while the mega 2JZ-powered 86 helped Beau qualify second on the Friday of WTAC 2016 – sadly Beau finished ninth overall on the Saturday night’s International Drift Challenge final – it was his old AE86 that attracted the most attention.
“I remember the call to this day,” Beau says.
“Ian Baker called and said, ‘Listen, it’s Ian from World Time Attack. What are we doing with this car?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean what are we doing with this car, Baker?’ And he said, ‘Well listen, I’ve got Keiichi Tsuchiya (KT) coming over for World Time Attack 2016, we need to get your AE86 going’.
“And that’s where we sat down and we butted heads and we to-and-froed and, obviously, with a build like that, it’s always based financially. It’s not only hard work and dedication that builds these cars but there’s still a financial side to it – there’s still parts and components that need to be bought.
“So, Baker worked on some deals on the side and said, ‘Look, I’ve got X-amount of money, do you think you can get it built?’ And, at the time, still campaigning the new 86, it probably wasn’t enough money. And as much as the enthusiasm was there – with the chance that KT was going to drive it – the reality of it is, that the money side of it wasn’t there.
“And that’s when I sat down with the good people at Toyota Genuine Parts and said, ‘Hey look, we’ve got a pretty special opportunity to put this old car back together. What are the chances? We’ve got KT, the Drift King, coming over for 2016, and we’ll be engaging with him at the World Time Attack if we can find budget to build the car.’ And Dean Harvey down there at Toyota Genuine Parts said, ‘Look Beau, I’ll take it on as a bit of a side project and you can just prove to us what you can do with the car.’
“And here we are this weekend with KT in front of what feels like 25,000-odd people, with all eyes on me, and this car, and KT. So hopefully we’ve given back tenfold.”
Far from being straightforward, Beau knew that taking the car from wreck in a shed to rebuilt competition car wouldn’t be a quick or easy undertaking.
“When the budget came about that we could potentially do this with Toyota Genuine Parts, that’s when I swung into gear, and I moved – pretty much full-time – into Hypertune,” Beau says.
“And I’ve been living there for the last four months, to tell you the truth.”
With the total rebuild completed in just four to five months, Beau started with sourcing a half-cut AE86, building a chassis jig for the car from scratch, putting the car on a rotisserie, cutting it apart, putting it on the chassis jig, pulling the chassis straight, and putting a new strut tower on it.
From here, with help from Beau’s automotive painter brother-in-law, the car was painted, stripped, sandblasted, and painted again, before being moved into the Hypertune workshop full time where it sat on the hoist for “about five months” being rebuilt from the ground up.
“It’s pretty insane,” Beau says. “And you know, I work a 48-hour week at Sydney Airport [Beau being a fitter machinist by trade], so I’m still trying to be employed while building these race cars. So it’s been a pretty busy four or five months for me.”
Given his passion, his professional field, and his eye for detail, it’s no surprise that Beau says everything on the car had to be top-notch.
“I guess I’m a bit of perfectionist like that. But this weekend, I was able to process 12 passenger rides down there – for an hour and a half the car got abused down on the Figure Eight. And not a single problem with it.
“And now KT’s done full track demonstrations throughout the weekend, and it’s still sitting down there. As much as the tyres have been blown off the back of it, it’s still in perfect working order.”
With the passenger rides successfully done, and the Drift King’s ‘spirited’ drift demonstrations completed without fault, how is Beau feeling?
“It’s a massive relief, I guess,” Beau says.
“I was concerned, coming into the event. What if it breaks? You know, this is on a world stage, and I just wanted the car to be right for KT. Plus I was interested to get his feedback as well.
“As a tuner or builder of cars, you want to hear that the product you’re building and supplying to these professional drivers is a good car. And, God, the feedback I’ve received from him this weekend is truly humbling in a sense.
“He’s got some pretty fantastic cars in Japan, and drives some amazing cars, and he tells me that the quality, the build quality of my car, is better than his TRD AE86 N2 car in Japan. That is a massive statement coming from such an iconic figure, so I’m just extremely pleased that I had the opportunity to build the car and get him to drive it.”
On a more personal note, Beau says this year’s World Time Attack Challenge, having Keiichi Tsuchiya drive his AE86, and the events leading up to that surreal climax, have all combined to give him a distinctly renewed appreciation for a car that has been with him since 2003.
“I guess there’s a sense of relief, too, now that the weekend has come to a close,” Beau says.
“The car has done its job for me, it’s still in one piece. Because for me, really now it’s just a trophy car. It’s something that I’ll pull out every year, bring to World Time Attack, do full-track demonstrations, allow Keiichi to drive it next year or whatever. But it’s not really ever going to go back into competition for me. It’s really a trophy car and something to showcase what I’ve done in Australian drifting over the last 13 years.
“They’re getting expensive to rebuild – headlights and corner indicators are getting hard to find. And gone are the days of putting it in competition and not really worrying about it. And through KT’s comments this weekend, it’s made me realise how well the car has been built. You know, I need to look after it now. It’s one special boot.
“That CAMS 2006 championship, for me, you know, you look at the CAMS board and under CAMS-affiliated drifting in Australia, ‘Beau Yates’ is the first name on there. So that means a lot to me, and that’s the car that I did it in, so hopefully it goes down in the history books somewhere.”
Thinking back to his first drive of the AE, from Just Jap to the BP service station all those years ago, Beau recalls an immediate kinship with the car.
“There was a connection straight-away,” Beau says.
“I just loved the way the car felt. As much as they were somewhat gutless – a naturally aspirated 16-valve – I just fell in love with it straight-away.
“Our backyard is a royal national park, and they’re just such a fantastic driver’s car. I remember we used to go driving through the national park a lot and it was just the ultimate car through the ‘Nasho’ to tell you the truth. Not too much power, but overall balance was just fantastic. I was just sold from that first drive back in 2003.”
And while Beau’s original Hachi-Roku (‘Eight-Six’ in Japanese) may not see full-blooded drift battles again, AE86s are still close to Beau’s heart, with other examples remaining in the family.
“I’ve got another one,” Beau says. “My wife Rebecca’s got one, and that was getting all the parts streaming down from this car in its progression.
“I remember when I went to the 3S BEAMS engine, I took all the running gear out, and all that running gear went into Beck’s car. So I’ve got a really cool little naturally aspirated one that I’m able to come out and do some track days and stuff in as well. So there’s no shortage of toys in my garage, that’s for sure.”
Note: A huge thank you to Beau and Beck Yates, Toyota Australia, Ian Baker and Greg Lysien at World Time Attack, and the Drift King himself, Keiichi Tsuchiya, for all the support, encouragement, patience, and help with the making of this feature.
Click on the Photos tab for the full gallery of Toyota Genuine Parts AE86 images and selected images by Tom Fraser and David Zalstein.
MORE: Drifting: How do you drift and can anyone do it?
MORE: Sideways in Japan: Chasing the Drifting Dream
MORE: 360-degree on board with the Drift King, Keiichi Tsuchiya, at WTAC 2016
MORE: Toyota 86 news, reviews, videos, pricing and specifications
MORE: Toyota news