Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lake Kawaguchi & Tatsumi

Final post of what has been pretty much a full coverage of my past weekend, but as I mentioned I fitted the GT Shift Knob planning to test it out over some long distance driving, so here we go.

I ended up hitting Hakone turnpike as a first, easy starting point. This time I was with female company, so opted for a cruise at moderate speed and enjoyed driving as smoothly as possible. The gear changes felt crisp and precise and the Z is just an awesome car to cover distance on the winding roads with. 

From Hakone we drove an additional 65 kilometers up north and headed towards Lake Lawaguchi. There was a bit of traffic, but as you can see from the opening photo it was all worth it; this place must look even better in summer!

We then headed to a famous local udon restaurant for lunch: the building was constructed using traditional Japanese techniques with no tiles or extra insulation in the roof. I love discovering little gems like this.

The whole town surrounding the lake is pretty much themed around Mt. Fuji, so did the spice and toothpick containers.

The food, as expected, was fantastic. I had cold soba with a side of braised pork and vegetable tempura.

Monday I took advantage of an extra day of national holiday (courtesy of the Emperor’s Birthday) to cruise around the C9 and explore new routes around Tokyo.

Tatsumi PA is the perfect spot, especially during late afternoon hours when lots of owners show up to take photos of their cars at sunset and enjoy the view of Tokyo skyline. 

I used to go a lot at night during weekends, but with the police cracking down on meetings and the generally louder audience I think I’m really starting to prefer earlier hours.

Thanks for stopping by today, I hope you enjoyed discovering new parts and aspects of Japan.

Until next time.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

One-off - The Perfect BNR34?

Ok, I promise this the last post for the week, but yesterday I ran into what is probably one of my favorite GT-R ever, so I had to blog about it. This particular car was hand built by Nismo in a unique specification many years ago, way before the CRS, and resides in southern Japan. It visits Omori Factory for shaken and maintenance every 2 years, so it's quite rare to see it in the flesh. 

I first ran into it when my car was being built: incredibly tasteful spec finished in Spark Silver Metallic with plenty of unique details and, most importantly, maintained to perfection. Looks like a Z-tune, but the V-spec sticker and R35 brakes say otherwise. To my knowledge this was one of the very few one-off built by Nismo before the CRS program. No photos of the engine bay were allowed, so this is all I can share, but I hope you enjoyed it.

Until next time.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

GT Shift Knob Fitted!

Well, that escalated quickly: I just posted this morning about the re-release of the Nismo GT Shift Knob and by late afternoon I ended up with one fitted on my Fairlady Z. So, how did it happen? 

As I wrote in my earlier post I was actually playing with the idea of dropping by Omori Factory to take a closer look. After a quick text from Ochiai-san confirming that they were already available I jumped in the car and cruised towards Yokohama. 

The current selection of cars on display is probably one of the best I have seen in recent times.

Especially the trio of Group C cars in matching liveries: epic. I guess they were on display to commemorate Nissan’s participation in the 24 Hours of Daytona as the 2020 edition took place just few weeks ago.

Back to the topic, believe it or not, this was one part that I was eagerly awaiting and a functional mod rather than just some Nismo bling. The shift feeling on the Z is already short and precise, but it’s incredible how much it can be improved with this part.

After all shifting is one of the main events that occur while driving and any improvement that can be made is well worth it. As I’m planning to drive over the long weekend (and wanted to avoid having to wait for restock in the future) I thought it’d make sense to just go ahead and buy it. I chose the titanium model and also bought one for the GT-R.

Fitting the knob is really a 5 minutes job, however the proper tools are needed and this is when Ochiai-san came to the rescue by lending me the necessary wrenches to get the trick done. 

It really only takes 2 tools, so I moved the car, lined them up and got to work.

Step 1: remove the OEM shift knob. All I had to do was firmly rotate it counterclockwise and it came off with no issues. Surprisingly it’s quite heavy (and a bit ugly)!

Step 2: fit the steel sleeve on the shift lever. Pretty self explanatory (why am I writing a tutorial?).

I tightened it up a bit, but to be honest it was already firmly in place once I bolted it on by hand.

Step 3: fit the knob. I just made sure that the vertical Nismo logo was in the right position and then proceeded to tighten the bolt with a hex wrench.

I then removed the protective film that was still in place on my brand new shifter surrounding which Ochiai-san had replaced a couple of weeks ago.

Along with the inner cover of the interior door handles - ah, the beauty of factory fresh OEM parts!

Step 4: fit the shift pattern sticker. This is mandatory and required in order to pass shaken (Japanese biannual roadworthiness test). The Fairlady requires the 10mm version of the knob, which comes with patterns for both 5 and 6 speed cars.

Done! I’m actually pretty surprised by how well I managed to fix this right in the perfect spot. 

The verdict? It was well worth it and a fun Saturday afternoon! The titanium feels great, the shifts are more rapid and precise and the lever is now just the perfect length. 

Looking forward to some long touring this weekend.

Until next time.

GT Shift Knob Re-release

It’s been over a year since I first hinted about a renewed version of the famous Nismo GT Shift Knob being in the works and finally here it is! The knob will be re-released in both the original urethane and titanium finishes, but this time with updated Nismo logo. 

The announcement was released on Thursday along with a new diamond-cut version of the BBS RI-A, a 2017 suspension upgrade for the R35 and the GT3-inspired carbon hood (priced at ¥850,000!). Can’t wait to fit one on my Fairlady Z and I might actually try and stop by Omori Factory today to see if it’s already available!

Until next time.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Nostalgia Overload

Only the true early readers of this blog will remember that in my very first post I explained how a certain popular videogame sparked my interest for Japanese cars and, ultimately our beloved BNR34. And just like with the GT-R, over 17 years after its original release, I recently managed to acquire a small part of my childhood. Ah, the memories.

It all started with a lazy afternoon where I indulged in the dangerous pastime of browsing through Yahoo! Auctions. Few days (and one expensive credit card transaction) later a box with a familiar logo appeared at my doorstep.

Whether you are an avid gamer or not, if you are a car enthusiast anywhere between 12 and 45 years of age there are pretty high chances that you have seen or played with Gran Turismo at least once. 

As a kid I probably spent way more time than I should have with this game. Today I barely play any video-games at all, but when I ran into a brand new, unopened, limited edition of the PlayStation 2 Racing Pack with Gran Turismo Prologue there were no question asked: I just had to have it.

How did it manage to survive 17 years unopened and in absolutely perfect condition is beyond me, but also not a complete surprise as the Japanese used car market is no stranger to similar situations.

Released on December 4th, 2003 as a Japan-only edition, this pack contained a limited PlayStation 2 console finished in Ceramic White (as opposed to the original black), a controller to match and a copy of the game.

As you can easily guess, it wasn’t exactly cheap to acquire, but the chances of a second opportunity to buy one in similar condition were slim to none. So I decided to take the plunge despite the fact that, realistically, I won’t use it.

So why did I buy it? Well, simply out of pure nostalgic value. It brings back memories of a time when I was half the age I am today and used to spend hours on the web, collecting photos of Japan and downloading (over the course of several nights) Best Motoring episodes. 

It was a time when, due to the limited amount of information available and our younger age, Japan looked more like a far away planet immersed in a thick mist of lights and indecipherable characters, rather than a country that can be easily reached with a couple of quick taps on your smartphone as it is today. The number of misconceptions and myths were off the scale.

Today, for good or bad, that feeling of discovery is lost and everything is readily accessible, anytime, anywhere. You can easily take a tour of Shibuya Crossing or Omori Factory in HD on YouTube, leaving nothing to the imagination. Maybe I am really getting old...

Designed by Teyu Goto, the PlayStation 2 looked unmistakably Japanese (much like the GT-R), yet still manages to feel modern in 2020. Two decades after its release and with over 150 million units shipped, today is regarded as one of the biggest successes in the history of industrial design.

Besides the obvious lack of funds and the fact that it was sold only in Japan, this version wasn’t even compatible with the standard European electric voltage, making it pretty much unobtanium back then. But I do remember seeing it in photos and the strong desire of want. Who would have thought that 17 year later I would have bought one.

The game itself is actually not very different from its more recent editions, yet again, in a world where digital content is becoming the standard, you can’t help but appreciate the pleasure of opening the case with its DVD and extra booklet. 

Although I didn’t own this specific edition, it’s a strange feeling to shuffle through the pages of the instruction booklet now that I can read Japanese. I remember spending hours wondering what the characters could mean.

The PlayStation 2 unfortunately doesn’t look great on today’s modern HD screens, but I did try the game a bit, just for some extra nostalgia.

Much like with my car ownership philosophy, rather than hoarding stuff for the sake of collecting, I prefer to acquire few selected items that I feel connected with. This was certainly one of them and I will take great care of it.

After all, if I have spent almost half of my life in Japan is partly thanks to GT. I wonder what it will be like to one day start this up in front of my kids.

Until next time.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Day on Track with Omori Factory

What’s better than taking a Friday off? Taking a Friday off to participate in a track day organized by Nismo Omori Factory and being coached by Japanese GT champions!

The day started with an early rise, a cup of coffee and a smooth cruise through the Aqua-Line to reach Sodegaura Forest Raceway in Chiba. 

Unlike the previous session, held in the midst of the brutal summer heat, this time we enjoyed a dry, cold, proper winter day. So much so that Kageyama-san even deemed the track condition as “perfect”.

Upon my arrival I started preparing the car before the morning briefing. I lowered the tire pressure to 200 kPa, fixed the lap time tracking device and car number, and emptied the rear trunk.

In doing so I could also take a closer look at some of the extra work that Autech put in preparing the Version Nismo model. Besides the Yamaha Performance Dampers the chassis has also extra spot welding for added stiffness.

The paddock quickly filled with the other participants; just like last time I was assigned to the beginners class, while owners with more track experience under their belts (and better cars to match) were at the opposite end of the pits.

There were quite a few Fairlady owners in attendance, including participants in the Z Challenge series. With the event being organized by Omori Factory obviously only Nissan cars are allowed; the relatively lack of diversity in this aspect is compensated by the opportunity to compare times and performances with others driving a similar (if not exactly the same) car.

This is also reflected by the demo car lineup used to demonstrate drills and passenger laps. The Z-tune prototype, R35 CRS, Z33 Ver. Nismo and a Note where on duty for the day. 

We then moved inside and carefully listened to the opening briefing as Masami Kageyama and Tetsuya Tanaka walked us through the intricacies of Sodegaura. Does it get any better than this? 

For those not familiar, I introduced Kageyama-san in my previous post. As for Tanaka-san, I am sure everybody has watched at least once the famous video of Z-tune proto attacking the Nürburgring; well, Tanaka-san was the driver behind the wheel and one of the members of the Falken team that entered the 24 hours race.

The program for the day was exactly the same as last time: drills in the morning and free laps plus and one-on-one coaching in the afternoon. This, again, was a great opportunity to compare results and feelings with my first experience.

I must admit that I was quite happy with my progress. Perhaps it’s the extra time behind the wheel, or the fact that I tried to soak in all the tips from my first lesson, but I felt a lot more in control and smoother all around. 

This even resulted in a small surprise when I clocked the 2nd fastest time overall during the cone slalom session - a drill I struggled so much with and was barely able to complete last time.

The first part of the day quickly came to an end and we headed to the restaurant for lunch.

This time we were served a hanbagu set (hamburg steak with gravy, shrimp and vegetables). I opted for a small side of rice to avoid being too sluggish in the afternoon...

After lunch I took some to give a closer look at the R35 CRS (MY13), fitted with the new GT3-inspired carbon hood.

This is still a prototype and the finish is not 100% perfect, but I found very interesting how they manage to integrate a gurney at the very end of it. Unlike the bolted-on version of the N-attack Package this is an integral part of the structure and thus perfectly road legal.

After a short break we started warming up the engines for the first free lap session. As much as there is no racing involved and a strong emphasis is put on control and smoothness over just raw speed, I must admit that the adrenaline rush kicks in pretty hard. 

And this is when I was served with a good slice of humble pie. On my third lap, underestimating the longer time necessary for the tires to warm up, I braked way too late down the main straight and found myself carrying too much speed through the first corner. I pressed hard on the brakes with steering wheel locked and quickly found myself spinning into the gravel.

Luckily the car (and I) got out unscathed, but I had to return to the pits to ensure that no damage had occurred. This was a good reality check: I got cocky and shifted my focus from pinning beautiful lines with smooth driving to just trying to drive as fast as possible. I decided to take a little break and pass on the rest of the session while Ogasawara-san checked that my car was OK.

15 minutes later I was back on track again, this time as a passenger on the Fairlday demo car, with Kageyama-san at the wheel. My previous experience in the Z-tune prototype felt quite special, but this was a lot more useful since the car is the same model as mine.

Well, not exactly the same: besides being loaded with several goodies (look at the hand-cut inner part of the front bumper intake to accommodate an extra cooling device), the car is fitted with R35 brakes, which makes a dramatic difference in braking points. 

Nonetheless, it was a very useful experience, succeded by 3 laps with me following Kageyama-san’s lines while he was leading the way. During my last lap I clocked my second best time of the day! The major takeaways were the importance of driving as smoothly as possible, trying to clip all apexes, be firm during braking and progressive with throttle application. 

I am still a long way from reaching the limit of the car, but the OEM seat revealed to be too big of a handicap. Even when lowered it’s simply too high for me to be comfortable with my helmet on. Designed with road usage in mind (and with the sides clad in pleather) it offers almost no lateral support and I found myself hanging on the steering wheel while trying to hold my position with my legs through most corners. 

Other than that I really have improved and managed to shave 2 whole seconds off my previous best time, ending up the day with a 1’20”838, which is a solid result for a novice with a bone stock car. I think I would be at least 2 seconds faster with a proper bucket seat. Happy with my result, Ochiai-san came over and advised to take it easy during the last session to avoid unnecessary accidents and finishing up the day riding back home on a flatbed.

I wrapped up the day with a few laps at 80% pace and then spent a bit of time just enjoying being trackside with the staff, drivers and other owners.

Tetsuya Tanaka was very friendly and we chatted about his JGTC days, Italy and driving the Z-tune prototype on the Nürburgring. 

Another great day filled with new experiences and memories. Thanks guys!

Until next time.