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.

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