Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Omori Factory Circuit Lesson

At the end of last month, after a proper oil and brake pads refresh, I finally ventured into the second and final Circuit Lesson event of the year with Omori Factory. Some good, some bad, but all in all a fun day and an opportunity to learn something new.

First things first, a mandatory early rise, which this time clearly wasn’t early enough as I found myself stuck in a packed Aqua-Line on my way to Chiba.

I managed to arrive just in time for preparation, although most people where already there. This time the event was restricted to 10 participants only.

Tyre pressure lowered to 200 kPa, spare wheel and number plate removed, radio and timing device set-up and car number attached (as straight as I could): all check and good to go.

Once again we were very lucky with the weather and really couldn’t have asked for a better day. There is something extremely special about getting around a racetrack on a crisp early morning while sipping on a coffee. 

But with no time to waste, we deep dived into the briefing at 9:30am, courtesy of Super GT driver Tomonobu Fujii and Nismo legends Masami Kageyama and Tetsuya Tanaka.

After practicing a slow-in-fast-out hairpin attack technique (simulated around some cones in the parking area) we moved towards the infield for some laps around turn 5, 6, 7 - a tricky section with 3 apexes - under Fujii-san’s supervision.

This time Omori Factory very own Morita-san (who usually coordinates the event) joined us as a participant in the Z democar. I’d like to say that we were close, but that would be a lie: he simply was infinitely better. Oh well, step by step.

After almost running out of gas (I did leave my tank at minimum level on purpose, underestimating the thirst of the VQ) it was time for lunch. 

Due to COVID restriction the restaurant was closed, so we were served a high quality bento (Japanese assorted lunch box). Very OCD-pleasing, and delicious.

During the break I managed to get around a bit and look at other participants’ cars, but no surprises, as they are all regulars whom I met during the previous events.

While prices of Skyline GT-Rs have skyrocketed over the past 12 months, some owners in Japan still track them. I wish I was as brave. The BNR34 of the left is a almost CRS-like V-spec II, fitted with a R2 engine (upgraded from R1), upgraded piping and cooling, suspensions and R35 brakes. The Gunmetal Grey BNR32 has a freshly built 2.7L F-sport engine and similar setup - no engine bay shots due to privacy reasons, but incredible cars nonetheless.

The instructors, however, clearly had the better machinery: GT-R Nismo with N-attack Package, R35 CRS and Z-tune Proto.

And with the lunch break coming to a close we started preparations for the afternoon free lap session.

This time, instead of passenger laps, the menu included an extra 1 on 1 session during which one would first follow and then be followed by an instructor while receiving directions and comments via radio. I was assigned to Fujii-san with the Z-tune Proto. This is possibly one of the best ways to learn the correct lines, braking and clipping points and overall just observe a professional driving. 

Despite this being my third time admittedly I still struggled with focus and couldn’t help but think that I used to watch this car on Best Motoring videos 20 years ago and now I was chasing it down a track! All these years and I guess I’m still a fanboy...

Looking at other more experienced drivers is also a good way to gain knowledge. Some of them are participants in the Z Challenge one-make series and have years of seat-time under their belts.

As always the 5 sessions flew by way faster than one would wish and I found myself clocking the best time of the day on my second to last lap, albeit a second slower than my best to date, which I set in January.

The main lessons learned this time were to brake hard right away (rather than increase force on the pedal after initial pressure) and that braking hard enough and at the right timing is more important than nailing the perfect heel and toe. I also have a tendency to approach corners too close to the center of the track, rather than the optimal out-in-out, which led me to miss apexes in a couple of corners.

All very positive, but in retrospect I realized that I was never truly comfortable throughout the day. Perhaps it was having to adjust to the brake feeling of the new Endless pads fitted just the day before, or maybe was that slight slide on turn 2 (the fastest on the track - I though I was going to crash) early in the session that undermined my confidence for the rest of the day, but this time I just couldn’t get in the zone.

Oh well, it’s all part of the learning process of getting to know your car and, most importantly, your limits. The whole purpose of events like this is learn while having fun, but also return home without the need of a flatbed, which is exactly what went through my mind as I drove into a spectacular Tokyo sunset on my way back.

This time the event finished slightly earlier, so after a quick shower I headed to Setagaya for dinner with a friend.

La Befana in Simokitazawa delivers a pretty authentic pizza experience at a very reasonable price - check it out if you are in the area.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Z Proto

Bit of a late post, but a month ago I got to see the Z Proto up and close at the beautiful Nissan Pavilion in Yokohama, so why not share a few photos?

First of all, the venue: simply stunning. Hats off to the production staff for showing once again why Japanese urban design is truly second to none.

Located a few blocks away from Nissan Global Headquarters, the Pavilion was a fantastic blend of futuristic and minimalistic architecture, very much reflecting the spirit of many Japanese cities.

I wrote was, because it closed the doors for good on October 23rd after a mere two moths of service. Bit of a shame to be honest, but looks like it pretty much served its purpose as the perfect backdrop for the Z Proto launch and to showcase the new Arya to the public. 

The cars on display in the outdoor area were either EVs or performance-focused. I think you can guess which ones caught my attention the most. 

As expected, the interior of the Pavilion was also remarkably well produced, quite impressive for a location that was meant to be open for such a short period of time.

A 240Z was on display just right after the entrance: a fitting choice of model as the design of new Z clearly draws inspiration from the older generations rather than the cars from the 2000s era.

The Arya was also available on the other side of the building - a gorgeous car with an unmistakable Japanese feeling to it. If the technology and performances are as good as the design, then Nissan is surely on the right path of recovery. 

And here it is, the car most people came to see: the Z Proto. Nothing new anymore at this point, but it was very cool to see it in the flesh. It brought back memories of the GT-R Proto and the older Z Concept, when they used to make the headlines years ago.

As always cars look a lot better in person rather than in photo and the new Z was no exception. Very sharp and edgy lines combined balanced by an overall smoothness to the design set the car off; and while it’s probably the same size it feels more compact and nimble than the 370Z.

Although still al prototype, at this point we know that the design is pretty much 95% final. Unfortunately I have a feeling that the gorgeous carbon rear bumper, front lip and side skirts won’t make it to the production model.

Personally I’m not a huge fan of the bright yellow color, picked (as many other details) for historic reasons, nor of the retro-inspired design, but it’s an elegant car for sure.

However, I’m not too concerned with the current look or the one of the future launch version; this is a car that will likely have a very long lifecycle and we can expect it to receive different design upgrades, trims and Nismo editions as the years go by.

Performance wise the foundation is surely promising: with 400ps, a manual transmission and Japanese reliability, what’s not to like? And yes, it’s definitely based on the 370Z platform, but would you rather have this or something like the new “Supra”?  I know my answer.

About one year ago, during the launch of yet another GT-R facelift, I wrote about how Nissan needed to break a bit with the past by launching something new and captivating as it did many times before. I doubt any of the company executives read this blog, but they did just did that with the Z Proto.

Until next time.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Track Ready - Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, upon further inspection by Uchida-san, turned out that my OEM brake pads were on their last leg. So today I stopped by Omori Factory again to get them replaced ahead of the upcoming track day.

My appointment was at 10:00am and I headed over right after breakfast, but first things first: coffee - two weeks ago I received a brand new espresso machine from Italy and I couldn’t be happier with it. Nothing beats a macchiato on a crisp Tokyo morning before a drive.

The expressway was pretty much empty and I arrived at Nismo in just 25 minutes. However, turns out that Ochiai-san was busy with a last minute minor emergency with another customer car, so I had to wait a bit longer than expected. Oh well, no complaints!

As always there was no shortage of interesting cars in the workshop area; I enjoy looking at other customers’ choices and find inspiration for new ideas for my GT-R.

A couple of hours later my car was ready: out with the old and in with the new! This time we went with Endless MX72, apparently a solid all-around choice for both street and track that offers better control and modulation during performance driving. My old pads did look quite tired...perfect timing! 

After meeting a friend for lunch I went for a quick cruise around Tokyo bay to scrub the pads a bit; too early to give a proper verdict, but they do feel a bit different and I’m keen to see how they perform on track.

Fresh engine oil and brakes fluid, new pads and cooler autumn temperatures should be a good mix for a fun day. My goal this time is to drive as smoothly and precisely as possible rather than go full time-attack mode - can’t wait!

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

BCNR33 Karasu

The GT-R fan base (at least online) is a bit of a strange one: a grainy screenshot of yet another Bayside Blue R34 going to auction will attract more attention than a Playboy magazine centerfold, but most people are seemingly not very interested in digging deeper into the history of the model and look for the really special cars.

I have always preferred models with a history and unique features over standard cars that have little to offer besides a low digit odometer, which is why - during my visit at Prince & Skyline Museum - I spent a good 15 minutes walking around this rather unique BCNR33.

Nicknamed Karasu (crow) by Nissan drivers, this stealth model was a development mule used to test and validate some of the body and aero features later found on our beloved BNR34. The car was tested between 1996 and 1997 at Nissan testing grounds in Tochigi and Hokkaido.

Besides the obvious matte black paint it was fitted with 6 major modifications, starting with a dry-carbon diffuser installed at the front. Pretty rough in construction and with a couple of visible love marks, but the concept is there and you can clearly see how the center opening design was carried onto the one later found in the BNR34 production model.

Secondly, the wheels were upgraded to 18” and shod with 245/40ZR18 Bridgestone rubber. Very interesting to see how Nissan had already finalized the design of the rim a good 3 years before the launch of the car.

Moving towards the rear some serious structural modification were carried in order to improve the rigidity of the frame, with welding marks clearly visible on both the C-pillar and the rear quarter panel of the car.

The description in the plaque next to the car didn’t give many details about this, so I guess either a reinforcement plate was welded in, or some sort of hardening foam was injected between the panels. Either way, it was very cool to see.

The most visually striking addition has to be the upgraded rear wing. Not very elegant, but apparently with equivalent height and angle values as found on the BNR34. 

Interestingly though, looks like the two-piece design with the adjustable flap was later introduced (or perhaps tested on a different mule), so I guess Nissan just wanted to test downforce values of a higher wing?

And finally, a very roughly cut dry-carbon diffuser with a set of fins was fitted at the rear; a feature that became standard on the R34 V-spec model, but that was actually offered by Nismo as an option for the R33.

Seeing the R33 Karasu up and close was alone worth the trip to Nagano. Besides being one of the very few development cars still around today it’s thanks to this very model that some of the key features of the R34 were developed.

And the random rivets, curb damage and welding marks are all part of the story.

Until next time.