Monday, March 20, 2017

Back on the Road - Shaken and Refresh

After a few weeks of wait I have finally got my BNR34 back with shaken passed! It's been a while so, let's make a step back...

For those of you who don't live in Japan, shaken is the Japanese roadworthiness test that every car must undertake every two years in order to circulate on public roads. Step one: I had to bring the car to Nismo, where I left it in good company (as always).

The checklist includes bodywork, tire alignment, emission, speedometer, brakes, headlights and an undercarriage/suspension check. 
Given that my car is completely stock I had full confidence that it would pass the tests with flying colors, but this is a bit of a nightmare if your car is tuned as many mods are considered not compliant. The inspectors are pretty strict and many owners have to revert their cars to factory standards in order to pass the test, and then re-fit their suspension or muffler set-ups once they are done.
Shaken workflow
This is a neat way for the government to avoid accidents due to poor maintenance, keep illegal mods in check and stash quite a bit of money in their pockets, given the hefty pricetag they charge for what is nothing more than a basic check. However, if you are looking to buy a used Japanese car, the presence of a valid, non expired shaken is a good signal that the car has been on the road and well cared for.

Since I had to leave the car at Nismo for a few weeks, I also thought I'd use the opportunity to refresh a few bits.

From previous inspections, Yamada-san recommended replacing the air filter with a new one - my choice went for a Nismo Sports one.

The other part that needed replacing was the battery: my trusted OEM Pitwork battery was 2 years old and clearly at the end of its life. Given the increasing value of the car I only drive it on specific occasions, which means that, so far, I had to take it for a little spin just to prevent the battery from dying.
My old OEM battery
Following my friend Aki and Yamazaki-san's recommendation I went for an Optima "Yellow Top" battery: much bigger than the standard one, the difference is night and day and the car starts right away with no hesitation. Key features of the Optima include higher cranking power, longer life, stronger vibration resistance, faster recharging and much higher number of discharge/recharge cycles.
Copyright: Optima Batteries
I also had Yamada-san installing a killer switch that allows to easily disconnect it and avoid useless battery drainage when I'm not using the car for prolonged time. A brake fluid change completed the menu and, as always, I had Yamada-san looking at the car, just in case. So, after a few weeks of wait, here it is!

Shaken valid until February 2019.

And a very interesting BNR32, custom painted in Lightning Yellow sitting closeby.

Just before I was about to leave a BNR32 with a Fine Spec Engine Final Edition pulled over.

Very clean.

I couldn't resist...

Followed by a Pearl White BNR34 M-spec Nür!

I finally jumped in the car and happily drove back home through Tokyo traffic: not what the GT-R was designed for, but driving through the city at night is always special.

I promised myself I'll get the car checked every 6 months at Nismo and, so far, I am on track; having the car looked after by experts is a great feeling and gives me peace of mind that is in great shape.

Until next time.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Attack - Tsukuba 2017

Tsukuba Circuit: hours spent watching Best Motoring battles and even more hours spent lapping it on Gran Turismo, memorizing the simple yet tricky layout of one of Japan's most famous racetracks.

I can't believe that, despite this being my 10th year in Japan, l managed to make my first visit just last week, but better late than never. With the time attack season coming to an end, Attack 2017 took stage at Tsukuba on a pretty spectacular Saturday morning; not bad for a first visit.

My first impression of the circuit is that it's actually smaller than I imagined; I guess proportions looked different on low-res videos back in the mid 2000's, but you can literally walk from the main stands to the back straight in a matter of minutes.

The second thing that hit me right away is how the event was completely open to the public. I love being trackside, but in larger events like Super GT the Japanese obsession for order and control make it impossible to get really close to the action and the cars. Not this time.

Attack is an event purely dedicated to amateurs with no factory-backed cars. Some of the bigger teams managed to recruit pro drivers like Nobuteru "Nob" Taniguchi, but everything else is far from being professional level. 

But don't let the amateur spirit of the event fool you: some of the cars in the top class are able to clock times in the 53 seconds mark, not too far from the record that Keiichi Tsuchiya set in the JGTC ARTA NSX many years ago.

As much as budget allow, teams try their best to leave no stones unturned when it comes to extracting the last bit of performances.

The pit area is literally open for everybody to walk around and, as long as you pay attention and are mindful of not getting in the mechanics and drivers way, you can literally come as close as it gets to the cars.

The formula of the event is pretty simple: four different classes (Turbo, NA, Radial and Second Class) and very loose regulations. Each class had two 30-minutes sessions on the track, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon.
Spring is approaching and temperatures are rising, which means that the event was one of the last chances to challenge records and personal bests this year.

The variety of the cars fielded is simply fantastic and included all kind of goodness, from Japan classics to more expensive European brands.

The FD3S is an extremely popular platform thanks to its fine chassis balance and lightweight construction.

Several models across the different classes were present, including stock-ish looking models like the Advan Racing RGN RX-7.

Or extreme aero monsters like the Carshop Dream KJM7.

This particular car produces 800ps and entered the World Time Attack in 2016.

The FD3S was by far the most popular platform of the event and the screaming sound of rotary was just fantastic.

But what about GT-Rs? Well, they are definitely becoming an expensive platform and the Kyushu Danji BNR34 was the only model of its kind present at the event.

This car also develops 800ps and was capable to stop the clock around the 54 seconds mark!

While, still in the Nissan family, there were a few BNR32.

And even a Fairlady Z 380RS.

Quite a few Porsches also took their chance at attacking Tsukuba, like this very clean Cayman.

Speaking of surprises, I definitely didn't expect to see a Lotus, but this Exige proved to be extremely fast!

The morning went by really fast and by lunchtime the teams started to gear up for their final attempts as temperature started to rise.

I took some time to wonder around a bit.

Everything looked so familiar thanks to Gran Turismo and getting around for the first time in real life was quite a strange feeling.

Overall a great day filled with passion for cars and motorsport; will definitely be back.

Until next time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Omori Factory Tour Part 2 - The Ultimate Tuning Facility

As I announced on the BNR34 GT-R Facebook page this time I didn't just go to Omori Factory to take some photos (not that I haven't done it in the past), but actually had a meeting reserved with Takasu-san, the principal Tuning Advisor, and Ochiai-san, one of the Takumi (meister) who has spent his whole career working on customer cars and special projects at Nismo.

In order to properly discuss technical details we moved to the main tuning area, which customer can usually admire through glass windows from the showroom. Omori Factory doesn't provide routine maintenance services, but solely specializes in tuning, restoration and special projects like the demo-cars featured in the last issue of GT-R Magazine. To put things in perspective, some of the technicians who have worked on projects such as the Nismo 400R or the Z-tune still work here to this very day.

The facility is absolutely spotless and finding a mark on the floor (despite having cars moving around) is a feat close to impossible. In fact, you could argue that the floor itself is cleaner than most people's living room will ever be. Each station has plenty of space and dedicated shelves for each car parts, while technicians will only work on few projects at a time.

We all have seen in disbelief online footage of the assembly line from more rarefied names such as McLaren and Ferrari and, believe me, this facility is easily right there at a very close level. While you would take for granted such level of care for a 300,000$ exotic, it's quite impressive to see it reserved to Nissan cars that used to be priced around 50,000$ just over a decade ago!

Nismo has been criticized overtime for being "overpriced" and many people have turned to local tuners who supposedly boasted better quality and lower prices. While this is without a doubt very true if you are on the market for few minor changes and some cosmetic bits, getting up close and personal with their demo-cars will change your perception of Nismo capabilities forever.

The level of sheer quality, refinement and attention to detail that these models exude is something that I have never seen in any other GT-R - and trust me - I have seen plenty of. 

A scale model of the 2013 Super GT machine fielded in the GT500 class is also on display as a reminder that the true Nismo brand essence goes far beyond minor tuning parts and stickers, but is actually rooted in some of the most technically advanced GT series in the world.

Completely realized in full carbon fiber for wind-tunnel aerodynamics testing, the cost of this prototype alone surpasses 20,000,000¥.

Once my consultation session was over I spent some extra time wandering around the part shop, where the only limitation posed to the options available will be mostly dictated by your wallet.

Starting from the complete dry-carbon set of inlet piping, intercooler piping and airbox.

To the Z-tune aero kit, again, all realized in dry-carbon fiber for a cost of almost four times the normal parts. 

Definitely quite an interesting menu.

Even the newer and less sportier Nissan models like the March receive attention from Nismo, as this set of Öhlins shocks developed for the model testifies.

The shelves are literally filled with the whole Nismo product lineup, including oils, wheels and everything in between.

This includes also a trio of the most powerful (and expensive) engines developed by Omori Factory.

The track-focused R2 with the new R35 GT-R injectors.

The 2.8 liter stroked F-Sport R.

And the smoother S2, developed with street performance in mind.

Before leaving I could also spend some time with Ochiai-san who was doing some fine tuning on the Fairlady Z 380RS owned by Omori Factory, in light of an upcoming customer circuit driving lesson.

Ochiai-san is a big fan of this car and explained that, if you like drifting and oversteering, is probably a better track machine than the BNR34.

Speaking of which, I couldn't resist but admire this gorgeous Bayside Blue model parked beside the entrance: not my favorite color, but the light was just so "right" when I took this shot.

Experiences like today truly embody the best of what Japan car culture has to offer. Sure, owning a R34 GT-R is a lot of fun, but, to me, it's just half the experience: visiting places like Omori Factory or NPCT, meeting fellow enthusiasts at Tatsumi, blasting through Tokyo at night and building new relationships with people who share the same passion is what truly make it so special.

And the amazing sunset setting over Yokohama bay on my way back home surely reminded me how grateful I am to be able to enjoy these things.

Until next time