Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Maintenance Service at Nissan Prince Motorsport

Having recently reached 2,000 km since I took ownership of my R34 I decided it was time for a first check-up to properly asses the shape of the car and plan some maintenance. I also thought it would be good to start developing a close relationship with a reliable workshop, but unfortunately Nismo Omori Factory doesn't perform routine maintenance services, plus it's located in Yokohama, and Prostock Racing, where I bought the car, is also too far away (Saitama). My car has always been serviced at a Nissan dealership so, after researching on the closest options available, I ended up booking an appointment at Nissan Prince Motorsport, which is also the same place where my friend Aki as had his R33 serviced for years. While from the outside this may look like every other Nissan service center, its Nismo Performance Center is quite a special one: not only the mechanics and staff of the shop are GT-R owners and true passionate themselves, but also used to field RB26 powered GT-Rs in the Super Taikyu series! The combination of expertise, history, passion, information and access to OEM data and parts make it the best place possible to keep your car factory fresh: it really doesn't get any better than this.
Once arrived I was greeted by Yamazaki-san, the main Tuning Advisor, who made sure to gather as many information as possible about the car before start planning the workflow. As a first visit I explained that I was keen to just have a very thorough check done on all the critical parts of the car: chassis, suspension, brakes, electronics, engine and transmission. Most importantly I also wanted to have the under-frame of the car checked by expert eyes to look for rust or any other serious issue. 
Main entrance
As I arrived around early in the morning Yamazaki-san notified me that it would have taken a couple of hours to go through everything. Waiting 2  hours in a Nissan workshop surrounded by cars? Not a problem!
I could spend all day here
After helping myself with some free drinks I started taking a look around the shop and, in case its credentials weren't enough, the display setup inside the main office confirmed that I was indeed at the right place. Starting with this collection of race trophies, photos and miniature models from the various motorsport activities back in the 90's and early 2000's.
Super Taikyu days
More trophies (I want one of these models!)
To a display of sample parts that failed during circuit driving, like this blown up R34 piston coming from a N1 engine.
Or this set of burnt Z33 380RS brakes.
Circuit driving can be expensive
A good reminder to always respect your car and service it properly!
Horror display

They also had new parts on display as well, like this set of expensive Brembo F50 brakes.
Brembo F50
Or the even more expensive R35 brakes and 380mm rotor set advertised on the R34 Clubman Race Spec.
Pricetag: 1,000,000 Yen
One of the things that surprised me the most was the incredible number of cars coming to and leaving the shop. I expected to see a few cars serviced at a very slow pace, but I couldn't have been more wrong: while several Skyline and GT-R were already being serviced, at least 10 more Nissan sports car from every generation kept coming and leaving during my visit.

A blue MY17 R35 ready for collection on the right.
I really like the revised look on the MY17 R35
A white zenki BNR34 that had a brand new set of Nismo LM GT4 wheels fitted.
Very clean look
A dark silver R34 Skyline GTt.
Rare to see these in good shape
Glorious Nissan 90's styling
A zenki BNR34 standard next to a Fairlady Z34 roadster.
Maintenance is key
Or this dark grey metallic BCNR33, unfortunately almost fully undercover.
Japanese craftmanship in action
So, what about my car? Once the whole check-up was completed, Yamazaki-san introduced me to Yamada-san, the mechanic who performed the inspection, for a complete walk through: I must confess that I was a bit nervous as you'll never know, after all it's a 14 years old car.
Time for a check-up
First of all, the good news: the car is in excellent shape. The engine is absolutely fine, so are suspension and brakes (no need to change pads); the clutch is halfway through its life and presented no immediate reason to be changed. Yamada-san recommended to change the timing belt and water pump since the engine has now over 70,000km, and observed that my Nismo muffler old design is not optimal anymore, and the engine could benefit from a new one. My biggest concern was, as for any Skyline owner, rust and I couldn't be more relieved to hear and observe myself that the car is completely rust free, not a single spot! Not only the previous owner garaged the car and avoided driving it in the rain, but also cared to spray the under-frame with anti-rust foam. One hour check-up and all Yamada-san could find was a timing belt and water pump that needed replacing: awesome!

Once finished Yamazaki-san provided me with full history of the inspection and result of each test. I also took time to order several parts to refresh the car, but more on this in different post.
Clean bill of health - yes!
Seeing these mechanics at work was extremely satisfying: the care and craftsmanship they put into their craft truly ensemble the Japanese idea of kodawari. To top it all, I also have peace of mind that my car is in great shape. I am still in the planning phase of the tuning/refreshing project I have in mind, so I can't disclose much details, but I'm pretty sure that, once finished, it will be the freshest, newest R34 on the planet.
New parts, lots of them
Healthy and ready to go
Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Super GT Finals - Twin Ring Motegi Walkaround

Last Saturday I decided to celebrate my birthday with a weekend trip to Motegi for the Super GT finals; located in Tochigi prefecture, the circuit is a little over 2 hours drive from Tokyo. I have to say that we couldn't get any luckier for a first time visit: the weather was absolutely spectacular as we were greeted by a super clear sky, fresh mountain breeze and blazing sun, so much so that I spent most of the day in a t-shirt despite being late autumn.
Twin Ring Motegi
As some of you may know, unfortunately a strong earthquake hit Kumamoto Prefecture this past April and GT Association (the Super GT governing body) decided to cancel the third round of the series that was supposed to take place at Autopolis in spring. To make up for the missed round, a decision was made to change the format of the last weekend of racing by scheduling shorter 53-laps races plus morning qualifying sessions on both Saturday and Sunday for a total of two races.

Given the twisty and hilly nature of the circuit layout, access to the paddock and the main stand area as well as getting around the track is not very easy. However it does make for a bit of hill-climbing and access to some really interesting views. I've always found it fascinating how the outer oval ring of the circuit is used as a parking space during some races.
Ever parked on a racetrack?
Since I take all my photos with my iPhone I didn't even bother trying to capture action shots from the race and rather focused on capturing the feeling of the day and the mood of the event.
Perfect weather

As the track is owned by Honda it was no surprise seeing this beautiful group of NSX, including a super rare Type R, taking a special spot on the elevated part of the oval: I really want one of those!

Such a timeless design
And while we are on the "Honda theme" a brand new NSX was also on display: it's an exquisite car to see in the flesh, but I really can't see myself falling in love with it (and its astronomical 27M yen price tag).
New is not always better
I must admit that, while Fuji Speedway takes a special place in my heart, Twin Ring Motegi is miles better in terms of hospitality, facilities, restaurants and entertainment areas. Food was actually quite good and several stand served dishes typical of the area. We also stopped at Gran Turismo Café,  a little restaurant themed after the famous PlayStation game, where you could eat and try the latest version of GT.
Getting around
GT cafe
Can't wait for Gran Turismo Sport
After lunch we visited the Honda Collection Hall: I won't disclose much as I am planning a dedicated post on this, but we were in for a real treat and saw some truly amazing machines on display. I completely lost sense of time while visiting and eventually missed the start of the race!
Honda Collection Hall
We enjoyed watching the race from a perfect spot on the highest part of the circuit, right behind the final chicane leading into the main straight. We could also see the cars coming back from the back-straight and battling into the second corner as well as pit action. By instinct I usually tend to get as close as possible to the track to appreciate the sheer speed and sound of the cars, but this usually ends up in endless head-turning trying to follow their passage.  Being a bit far and not on the main straight really improved the entertainment factor and this time we truly enjoyed braking battles and overtakes.
Race action
After the race we took a stroll through the paddock area, where hundreds of fans were on the hunt for photos and autograph while teams where tiding things up.

I stopped to take a look at some of the machines that retired from the races due to accidents or failures, like this striking Lamborghini Huracan GT3.
Huracan GT3
And the ARTA BMW M6 which had been involved in a massive crash early I the race; the impact was so severe that it was damaged beyond repair and couldn't take part in the Sunday race.
Completely wrecked
The winner Forum Engineering Nissan GT-R and the runner-up Denso Sard RC F were also tucked away from the crowd, awaiting for post race technical inspections.
The winners
Teams leave nothing to chances when it comes to tires, obviously available in slick and rain...
Tires on tires on tires
...and spare parts, as you can notice by the still wrapped front bumper and fender set behind Team IMPUL pits.
Hopefully they won't need this
We also enjoyed a 15-lap F4 sprint race: I can only imagine the feeling of racing at sunset in such an iconic circuit.
On our way to the parking area I couldn't resist and spot a BNR34 bathing in the sunset.

As well as a BCNR33 awaiting its owner.
Leaving the circuit revealed to be a bit of a nightmare as we go stuck in traffic, but the sunset made it totally worth it as well as the sushi dinner that we enjoyed once back in Tokyo.
Leaving this place wasn't easy. At all
Birthday sushi
Perfect day and perfect birthday present: will definitely come back next year.
Last shot of the day
Until next time.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Facebook Page - PSA

Just a quick public service announcement to share the sister Facebook page of this blog, fittingly named BNR34 GT-R.

I thought it would be nice to have a page to publish photos or links that wouldn't be worth a full post here, but still worth sharing.

I did some quick research and, while there's plenty of R34 fan pages on Facebook, very few publish their own original contents and none of them are based in Japan. Hopefully I will be able to share some more genuine and unique material.

This is also a way to connect with as many people as possible: I was impressed by how far this blog has already reached people all over the world and I look forward to getting connected with as many enthusiasts as possible.

Please feel free to "like" the page at the link below and ask any question you may like.

A big thank you to all of you who have stopped here so far.

Until next time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

au Cerumo Supra GT500 - JGTC

Tokyo is without a doubt one of the best cities in the world for car spotting; from rare, limited edition European imports to the latest hypercar or impossible-to-find JDM gems, you can never know what's hiding behind the next corner. Same goes for motorsports: the main national carmakers combined have produced over the years some of the biggest racing icons the world has ever seen and, if you know where to look, it's not uncommon to spot some truly legendary from time to time.
Looks mega
Toyota Mega Web on the artificial island of Odaiba is one of these places: owned by the Nagoya based giant, it's a huge multi-level showroom with a game center and a ferry wheel annex. Beside showcasing almost all the models produced by the company for the visitors to see, the venue is also frequently used for promotional events. Few weeks ago Lexus hosted a talk-show with the current Super GT drivers and an old GT500 Supra machine was on display for the occasion.
This particular car was fielded by Team Cerumo for the 2004 edition of the Japan Gran Touring Championship, with veteran Yuji Tachikawa (also nicknamed as "Fuji Meister") and second driver Seiji Ara behind the wheel. This was also the last year for the series to be known as JGTC before being rebranded as Super GT from the following season in 2005. The car finished 5th overall in the championship and scored a win in the fifth round of the season.
JGTC, year 2004
This machine can be regarded as one of the very last, proper Japanese GT racers since, despite the visual look resembling their road going counterparts, the current Super GT cars are much closer to Le Mans prototypes in their construction and functionality.

This is pretty evident when comparing old footages from races back in the days: while today's cars are absolutely glued to the ground, always composed displaying unbelievable cornering speed, you could see the older cars struggling with traction exiting corners, losing balance during braking and locking wheels or spinning quite frequently.

A lightweight wide-body carbon construction and a massive rear wing, combined with a 6-speed sequential transaxle transmission and a turbocharged V8 engine made it for a true, pure GT machine package.

Some may be surprised to learn that the Supra didn't run the famous 2JZ engine, but the extremely loose JGTC regulations allowed teams to use engines from other cars as long as they were produced by the same manufacturer. Toyota opted for the 4.48 liter, 3UF-EZ engine, a bigger and more robust V8 that could be found on some of the big Toyota or Lexus cars. Power was restricted to 480ps by using two 29.6mm restrictors to comply with the series rules.
Yes, there is a V8 in there!
Tipping the scale at a mere 1,100kg the car is extremely light and adopted use of dry carbon wherever possible, including the rear windshield.

Stopping power was provided by massive, ventilated AP Racing brakes; no ABS, of course. The car was fitted with 18" Rays aluminum wheels, covered in 330/40 Bridgestone Potenza competition slicks front and rear. 

Although nowhere comparable to the multitude of fins and intricated aero details that we are used to see nowadays, the Supra had a pretty solid aero package completed, of course, by a flat bottom.
Got wing?
Weight reduction was taken to extremes, including drilling the already ultra light door handles.
It's all in the details
For those of you familiar with the JGTC/Super GT series, you will know that, in order to keep the competition open through the season, teams are awarded ballast weight penalties based on their performances. This prevents singular teams from dominating one season to the boredom of the fans (somebody said F1?) and means that teams need to be more strategic in their approach. It's not uncommon for the season to be decided at the very last race with two or three teams as serious contenders! Team Cerumo carried up to 100kg of handicap during the 2004 season; these stickers were almost seen as a badge of honor, especially if the car and drivers could perform despite the extra weight.
That's 100 kg!
Unfortunately only kids were allowed inside the cockpit, but as you can imagine, the Supra came equipped with an ultra strong roll-cage, racing seats and harness and just a handful of controls to modify brakes balance and engine mapping: nothing too complicated, this is a proper analog GT car.
It surely got presence
There is something so special about an unrestored racecar: the chipping on the paintwork, the slightly yellowing decals and a few battle scars add so much character to it!

It's a shame that Toyota and TRD never released a proper tuned version of the Supra or a parts catalog and maintenance program comparable to what Nissan and Honda did for their flagship models; I can't help but thinking "what if". The Supra is still very much a crowd favorite and the numerous fan gathering around the old Toyota, ignoring the Lexus SC racer sitting next to it (at a Lexus event!), confirmed that this car holds a very special place in the hearts of its fans.