Friday, March 22, 2019

Good Things Take Time

Bad news first: the delivery of my car has been pushed back a few weeks due to a last minute delay. Good news: fellow GT-R owner Tad offered me (again) to take his S1 BCNR33 for a spin, which made the wait a bit more bearable.

Beside catching up and talking cars and life over coffee for the best part of last Saturday, I also took the opportunity to share a little “secret” spot in front of Tokyo bay that makes for a great photo background. White GT-Rs do look good.

He also upgraded his car with a set of carbon fiber inlet piping that deliver a noticeable improvement in response over the stock RB26 one (as fitted standard on the S1 engine unit).

The next day I headed over Ginza Sony Park where one of my favorite coffee shops has opened a pop up store.

And since I was in the neighborhood I decided to go and check out the MY18 R35 GT-R Naomi Osaka Edition on display at Nissan Crossing.

Great looking car, but I’m not sure about the Midnight Opal color: it’s really more of a dark plum purple that, despite the immaculate white background and generous lighting, tends to look black most of the time. Think of a revised version of the original Midnight Purple as found on the BCNR33.

As much as I look forward to the GT-R delivery day my desire for a second car has grown so much that I’ve recently found myself tinkering on Carsensor and Goo-net (the two main Japanese used car websites) way longer than I should have. I really want to tour Japan more and took advantage of a national holiday this Thursday to visit Kamakura and its temples in search for inspiration for future drives.

This location is a must if you are traveling to Japan and I ran into a few sports cars owners enjoying the roads and beautiful scenery while I was hopping from one temple to another.

Photos really don’t do it justice: it’s the perfect getaway to escape Tokyo madness and breath in some tranquility.

Upon my return to Tokyo I had to stop by Itadori, one of my favorite sushi places.

Hidden in a small little alley, serves great food in a cozy atmosphere. I recently made it a habit to stop by every couple of weeks.

And there you have it: this post might not contain crazy internet-breaking information about limited edition Nismo builds, but it’s a glimpse of Japan living seen through the eyes of a GT-R owner who’s been way too long away from his car. Hope you enjoyed it.

Off to Omori Factory tomorrow for what might as well be one of the very final visits ahead of delivery.

Until next time.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Taking a Break

As some of you might have noticed, updates on the blog have slowed down a bit recently. After a year of weekly visits to monitor progress, sourcing parts, changing plans, and endless texting and calling with some of the most patient people in the world, I felt like taking a break was in order.

Also, one of my new resolutions for 2019 is to experience new things and explore new hobbies. So, when last Friday I boarded on the Shinkansen towards my first snowboarding trip, I thought I’d share another small glimpse of life in Japan before going back to regular programming.

As somebody who is passionate about cars and machines in general it’s difficult not to appreciate the stunning engineering and design of these trains. The service is absolutely impeccable and after a couple of hours smoothly cruising at 300km/h towards northern Japan we arrived in Niigata.

I have said this many times, but I would strongly recommend any Japanese cars enthusiast to expand their horizon and explore more of what Japan has to offer as a country. Seriously, cars and videogames are just the tip of the iceberg: discovering the country and digging a bit deeper into the local culture will give these passions a whole new depth.

The other side bonus is that you’ll be able to enjoy raw, unstaged Japanese car culture, like this frozen Mitsubishi Evo chilling in a parking area close to our resort. It really doesn’t get any more JDM than this.

The weekend was nothing short of fantastic and it was a good reminder of how getting out of our comfort zone is key to broaden our vision and make the most out of life. 

I am not a mountain guy, but two days spent trying to master snowboarding basics, drinking and eating with friends while taking in the scenery were absolutely fantastic; now I can’t wait for my Nürburgring trip this summer.

In the meantime, somewhere in Yokohama, something is undergoing final tuning. Few more weeks to go...

Until next time.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

(Small) Car Update & New Projects

The past few weeks have been quite hectic; from finalizing the last touches on my BNR34 to booking my Nürburgring trip I had little time to update the blog. Let’s start with my car: a bit over one month away from completion we are really approaching the last phases of the build and this weekend I headed over to deliver one more part.

I remember the confused look I was given by some of my friends when over 2 years ago I started collecting parts at Nissan Prince Motorsport Tokyo; fast forward to today and it revealed to be a choice that paid off in spades as I have been forced to used some of the additional spares in my stock as they are now discontinued and even Omori Factory couldn’t supply them. This weekend it was a very simple and inexpensive cover that fits in the trunk; however, given the size, it called for a rental to be transported. Fittingly, this time I was given a Nissan Note.

The car is nearly 95% complete and, at this point, I’m really excited to see what the end result will look like. Last time I felt so much anticipation must have been Christmas Eve ‘95. Ironically, although yet to be finished, I have already planned a first major modification that will be likely fitted this summer once the car will be run in. More to come.

Although I didn’t spend much time in the workshop and pretty much dropped my part and left, I couldn’t help but noticing how the number of R35s that I’ve seen in for servicing and upgrades has been definitely increasing over the last years or so. This will definitely be a big focus for Nismo future parts development as the “old” 35 is slowly becoming a modern classic.

Speaking of the R35, the mighty Motul Autech GT-R that claimed the Super GT title in 2015 was on display in the showroom. This car might not evoke the nostalgic feeling of the older R34 racers, but it surely has presence and even the untrained eye can notice the amount of technology that has been poured into engineering it.

GT500 cars are faster than LMP2 prototypes around Fuji Speedway; I have been following the series live since 2013 and this truly is the pinnacle of Japanese motorsport. I would definitely recommend anyone who has the opportunity to watch at least one race as it surely makes for a great experience.

As I was leaving, I ran into an interesting surprise in the parking area: a vintage Skyline laying on a flatbed.

The car had definitely seen better days and I wonder if it was brought in for restoration (although Aki suggested that this might be more of a job for Autech).

In other news, the summer trip to the Nürburgring is also almost completely booked: flights, accommodation, driving school, taxi laps and car rental are all confirmed - now it’s time for some planning to ensure I’ll make the most out of my time there! I actually managed to finalize some of the details while having lunch at a new udon place close to the factory: generously portioned and inexpensive, this is Japanese soul food at its best.

Spring is around the corner and, with the car incoming and other new projects on the horizon I am really excited for the new season ahead.

Until next time.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Summer 2019 Nürburgring Trip

If you are a loyal reader of this blog you will probably know that I am a happy owner of a R34 V-spec II Nür. Over the past few years the “Nür” badge has become a bit of an icon (or bragging tool) amongst the owners community, but back in January 2002, when Nissan announced the swan song of the BNR34, it was meant to be a nod to the most demanding circuit in the world where some of the final testing of the car was done. 

From there the popularity of the Nürburgring has exponentially increased year by year; today a full lap on the Nordschleife is the ultimate performance benchmark amongst car manufacturers. The circuit also hosts the most grueling GT competition in the world, the Nürburgring 24 Hours - a race I have fallen in love with (and one that our beloved R34 has challenged for several years). Simply put, the ‘Ring is a Mecca for motorsports enthusiasts and after a couple of years of procrastination, I finally booked my tickets for a visit in summer 2019!

This was long overdue and one of my projects for this year: more experiences, more driving and more time spent actually living the car passion. Being trackside and watching professional GT racing is one of the things I enjoy the most and living in Japan has allowed me to visit circuits like Tsukuba, Fuji Speedway and Motegi several times. Ironically, while Germany can be reached by plane with ease from almost anywhere in Europe, now that I live on the other side of the world getting to Frankfurt requires a 10+ hours haul flight; I did however planned a visit back home as well this summer, so this will be a great opportunity to combine both trips.

I will be at the Nürburgring for a full week: first to watch live the 24 Hours race and then for some track lessons, taxi laps and sightseeing around the circuit. The Eifel region offers some great sceneries and plenty of automotive and motorsport related activities and museums. I look forward to documenting my trip and other few surprises along the way, so please stay tuned!

Until next time.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

King of the ‘Ring

Hard to believe, but the R35 GT-R is now over 10 years old; I clearly remember seeing it presented to the world at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007. Today, it's still a car with great presence, albeit being a common sight around the world. The same, however, cannot be said for the Nismo version, especially when fitted with the N Attack Package.

Former JGTC Champion Michael Krumm set the Nürburgring record for production cars in 2013 with a car fitted with the same options list. I was lucky to see the record-setting model at the Factory many years ago, before it got tucked away inside Nismo garage. Krumm is a owner himself of a white Nismo R35 fitted with the kit he helped develop - must be a nice feeling!

I ran into this brand new (and very red) MY18 model a few weeks ago during a visit to Omori Factory. The car was in for pre delivery inspection after being fitted with the top of the line A Kit.

The cost of ticking all the options boxes is absolutely eye watering: priced at ¥9,000,000 the A Kit is just few hundred thousands Yen shy of the sticker tag of a brand new R35 GT-R.

For that amount owners get dedicated carbon intercooler piping, a retouched ECM, upgraded front and rear L.S.D. units, carbon fenders and rear wing plus other aerodynamic improvements. Carbon Recaro bucket seats are added, while the rear seats are removed in the name of weight saving.

The biggest item, which accounts for roughly 30% of the final bill, must be the dedicated set of 4 way adjustable Öhlins dampers and shocks, which are basically a GT3 racer spec version adapted for the road. If this wasn’t enough, owners can also add in optional Willans harnesses and a carbon fiber gurney flap on the front hood that is for circuit use only. The full spec list can be found here.

Whether the performance benefits of the package are worth the price tag is up to the owners to decide, but they surely add character to a car that is already quite special.

Until next time.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Writing a Page of Nismo Catalogue?

No, I haven’t engineered a new engine, but it’s still a cool little story that I thought would be worth sharing, but first let’s make a step back to my several visits to Omori Factory over the past 12 months. As enjoyable of an experience, resto-modding a car can reveal a bit of an excruciating one if you have OCD. Not all the parts need to be swapped for brand new ones and in my personal experience, as I’ve been documenting the build of my own BNR34, there have been plenty of occasions where replacing wasn’t deemed necessary, nor made financial sense, if you can live with such a choice. Let me explain.

Think about polishing your favorite pair of shoes: they clean up very well, you take care of a couple of scratches here and there eventually ending up with a great looking pair - all is well in the world. Now you move on and proceed to put them back in the closet and in doing so, place them besides your latest, yet to be worn pair. All of the sudden those small marks that you were able to almost completely buff out, those little wrinkles that used leather naturally produces over time, that minor scuff on the left toe, they all pop up so much more! If you have even just a bit of OCD or had to endure the pain of dealing with a dent on your car, you know the feeling.

That is exactly what happens when you start re-fitting used parts in a car that has been restored from the frame up: the patina, the little marks, the slight yellowing, all those things that you didn’t notice before because they blended together in their used state, they now clash agains fresh, generously coated paint, shining carbon fiber, new plastic and anodized brackets. Replacing these items with new ones might appear to be the obvious remedy, but that’s not always the case. Certain parts, due to their location or function, are simply subject to wear and tear more than others and even a brand new unit will be indistinguibile from the one it just replaced after a few thousands kms. 

This is where I got creative and, thanks to the support of the staff, was able to formulate some “mini-refresh menus” using special powder coating, clear coating and anodizing treatments to make parts better than OEM. One of these ideas seems to have been noticed and well received from the management, so much so that, there is a 80-90% chance of it ending up on the Factory Line menu and offered as an option to regular customers. Now, bragging on the Internet is not the classiest thing to do on a Sunday evening, but when else will I ever have the chance to say that one of my ideas served as a pilot for Nismo to release a new refresh service? Jokes aside, it is a relatively simple option and nothing earth-shattering, but I find it really cool that this is actually happening!

I can’t reveal more at this stage, but keep your eyes on the Omori Factory website for an announcement in the coming months.

Until next time.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Tokyo Auto Salon 2019

Crazy to think about it, but we are already halfway through January, which according to the Japanese car event calendar means one thing: Tokyo Auto Salon.

This year I woke up nice and early on a mission to go through the whole exhibition in less than 3 hours. If you are a fan of aftermarket parts and highly questionable bodykits TAS is as close as it gets to heaven on Earth, but for me is more about spotting the really interesting stuff while dodging hordes of middle aged men going crazy with their cameras over Japanese models.

Spreading across that behemoth of a convention center that is the Makuhari Messe, navigating TAS (and attempting to take photos) can be a lengthy affair, so I directed myself straight towards the booths that I really wanted to visit.

Starting from HKS: their restored BCNR33 democar was definitely one of the highlights of the stand and one of the very few Skyline GT-R present at the show.

Seems that, not only the car was brought back to its former glory, but also updated with new engine components.

I don’t play video games as much anymore, but it’s incredible to see how Gran Turismo has evolved over the years: from a simple game on the original PlayStation to a global partnership with the FIA and car manufacturers. Their virtual driving academy has even allowed young players to have a go at professional racing and some of them, like Jann Mardenborough, now compete full time for Nissan in the top class in Super GT - amazing.

Speaking of Nissan, their stand was huge and hosted a few interesting creations, like this curious Juke that could be fit for a Star Wars movie.

One of the crowd favorite was the GT-R Naomi Osaka Edition: finished in an unique Midnight Opal color and limited to 50 units for the Japan market only.

Definitely an interesting color option, although it needs really strong lighting to shine, otherwise it tends to be a really dark purplish maroon most of the time.

The GT500 machine was also on display, although 2018 has been a disastrous season for Nismo in Super GT. The new drivers and teams lineup for this year are going to be announced in early February and a major reshuffle is expected.

The Top Secret stand was pretty much same as last year, so I didn’t spend much time visiting. Interesting though, every single car on display was for sale and it’s not unusual for them to actually close some deals during the three days of the show.

Finally, I headed towards the huge Toyota booth to have a close look at the Supra. And no, not the new A90 (which was still wearing its camouflage wrap) or the Super GT concept that everybody came to see.

But rather this Supra: the 2002 JGTC winner machine. This, along with three other cars, was on display behind the main area as a tribute to the racing heritage of the new model.

I wrote about this many times, but watching (well, watching photos) of these cars racing back in 2001-2002 was one of the main reasons behind my growing interest for Japan as a kid.

The exaggerated lines combined with some of the coolest liveries ever (little did I know that au is a major mobile phone carrier in Japan) and the unique landscape of the old Fuji Speedway were Japanese GT racing at its very best.

These cars are usually stored at TRD in Yokohama and it’s much harder to run into them compared to the old Skylines that are often on display either at Omori Factory or Nissan Global HQ.

I spent a good 30 minutes drinking in all the details and couldn’t help but think how cooler the new Supra would have been had it retained a bit more of the DNA of its predecessor.

Another TAS is in the books; hope everyone’s 2019 is off to a great start.

Until next time.