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. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Track Ready - Part 1

So this is the event that I really thought wouldn’t happen - well, it’s going to happen: I will be back on track for the second and final Circuit Lesson day with Nismo Omori Factory at the end of the month! Like pretty much everything else in the world in 2020, things worked out a little bit differently this time. Following an announcement on their blog, as a safeguard against COVID-19, Nismo decided to make this an invitation-only event limited to 10 participants...and luckily I was in the list.

But before we hit the track there was a bit of maintenance that had to be carried on the Fairlady, namely engine oil and brake fluid change and a new air filter element. So I headed over Yokohama on Sunday and left the car in the capable hands of Uchida-san.

Simple routine jobs like this are carried out on the same day, so I found myself with a couple of hours to kill at the showroom while waiting for the guys to finish. After chatting with Ochiai-san for a while (they are as busy as ever with new parts and customer cars, currently fully booked until January), I decided to take a walk around. 

I really liked the brand new GT3 racecar they had on display; too bad that Kondo Racing couldn’t make it to the Nürburgring for the 24 Hours this year - hopefully in 2021!

With the showroom currently open to public only on weekends there was quite a bit of traffic in parking area, with a several customer and local cars stopping by. Believe me when I say that the majority of the good and really special GT-Rs still resides in Japan.

Everything was going seemingly well until Uchida-san broke us the news that my brake pads were worn beyond levels recommended for a track day. This didn’t really come as a surprise as they felt a bit weaker recently. Not a big deal - I thought - but a quick look at the inventory revealed that what we were looking for was currently out of stock, which means that...I will have to go back again to get the job finished.

Oh well, at least the engine is fresh and I can enjoy the Z on the expressway before taking it to Hakone to test the new pads and a bit of practice ahead of the track day.

And since I’ll have to be back to Omori Factory in the next couple of weeks, I think it’s time to start talking about CRS upgrades...

Until next time.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Prince & Skyline Museum

Nestled inside Toriidaira Yamabiko Park in Nagano, Prince & Skyline museum hosts a nice little collection of historic and period correct Skylines and GT-Rs from all eras. This was a long overdue visit that I had planned for a while, but postponed to early September to spare the car the brutal Japanese summer heat we had in August.

So, during Silver Week, I took the opportunity to link-up with fellow GT-R owner Tad - with his car fresh from being fitted with a set of Öhlins - and headed towards Nagano after meeting up at Ishikawa PA.

Our genius idea of dodging the holiday traffic by going on Saturday revealed a complete fail. I will spare you the details, but it took us roughly 5 hours to reach our destination and even longer to get back to Tokyo. At least my choice of waiting for cooler temperatures was a good call because sitting at idle in the summer heat would have been brutal for the engines. Oh well, at least we made it there and the weather was excellent! 

As you can see from the lineup in the parking lot we weren’t the only Nissan and Skyline aficionados who visited the museum that day. And if my memory doesn’t fail me I think we also spotted a BNR34 and a BNR32.

Interestingly, part of this collection was located in another museum close to Tsukuba Circuit until circa the early 2000s. 

The building certainly shows its age and if you are expecting the clean, modern architecture of Omori Factory or Nissan Global may be in for a surprise.

The collection is also not very big - probably around 30 models - but the relevance of the cars on display is very significant and includes some that are part of the GT-R development history.

There is also plenty of memorabilia, parts, engines, posters, model cars and anything in between. Again, the way some of these items are displayed is not exactly pretty, but let’s not forget that the place is operated and maintained by senior citizens (and pretty much located on mountainside).

The BCNR33 family tree was one of my personal highlights of the visit. From left to right you have: GT500 JGTC ARTA R33, the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show concept car, a very clean production-series V-spec and the famous (yet unknown to many) car used to for the BNR34 development.

These older GT cars are still very impressive today and easier to look at in a way. Still based on heavily modified tubular chassis they shared several cues with their road-going counterparts.

One thing I couldn’t wrap my head around with this BCNR33 though was (what seemed to be) the inlet pipes apparently positioned after the front axle; to my knowledge the engines on these cars were pretty much sunk as close as possible to the firewall. Maybe some connecting pipes?

I’ll be honest, besides the color, which could have been a very interesting option had it made into production, I am not a big fan of the 1993 BCNR33 concept car. The front is heavily R32-influenced and just doesn’t work nearly as well as the revised design we all know.

The BBS rims actually look quite nice and while they weren’t retained on the final model you can see how perhaps the light silver finish inspired the one of the OEM production wheel.

I couldn’t find any difference on the production V-spec model, besides the fact that it’s finished in the rarer Super Clear Red II. As for the stealthy, matte black car, there is just too much to cover that will probably require a dedicated post...

Moving on from the R33 section there was quite a bit to look at, especially if you are into older models. 

I am simply too young (it’s all a matter of generations I guess) to be emotionally attached to these models, but I surely appreciate them and it’s always fascinating to look at how cars were crafted decades ago. I really liked the front grille of this 2000GT - AII.

One thing that surely comes to mind though, is how much technology has improved in 50 years. Simply incredible to think that people used to race in cars like this!

But it’s from these older Skylines that the legend of the GT-R was born, and the Hakosuka needs no introduction: with over 50 wins in the JAF Grand Prix series in less than 3 years it was one of the centerpieces of the collection.

Moving onto more modern generations a production series R31 with its racing counterpart where on display just after the entrance.

Of course no collection would be complete without some R32s and surely there was no shortage of them.

Is there anything more iconic than the Calsonic livery? Probably not, and supporting Team IMPUL since 1982 it’s the longest running sponsorship in the history of motorsport.

This particular car is the double champion machine (1990 and 1993) driven by Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Masahiko Kageyama (older brother of JGTC GT-500 Masami Kageyama, who is a regular instructor at Omori Factory track days and really cool guy to talk to!).

Of course, as you guessed, I had to save the best for last: the section dedicated to the 5th generation of the Skyline.

There were only two BNR34 on display, both relevant to the history of the model and its development.

Chassis number BNR34-010107 is the famous last model built at Murayama plant, before production was moved to Tochigi (where my car was built in 2002). It’s regularly displayed at events or Nissan Global Headquarters.

The car is a V-spec II, but has some subtle differences compared to models built at Tochigi, such as old Nissan rear badge, different carbon construction for the rear diffuser, some V-spec interior bits, etc. Apparently there are a handful (officially 7, but probably more) of cars with the same features, but the differences are really minimal and, honestly, a “downgrade” compared to the standard production cars.

The black model is the famous Nürburgring test mule: fitted with a quick release bonnet, a roll cage and some reflective bits on the rear bumper for increased visibility, this V-spec based car was on development duty on the Nordschleife.

Definitely a piece of history in the development of the BNR34, although I remember photos of it next to a Midnight Purple III car at the trackside Nissan facility in Germany. I wonder where that car is and, would love even more to see some of the very early pre-production test mules.

Ironically, the piece that caught my attention the most in the whole museum (except for the R33 Karasu) was this promotional dealership poster for the launch of the M-spec model. Taken in front of Tokyo bay, the photo really hit home (pun intended) since I live 10 minutes away from the location. It has a nostalgic feeling to it and reminded me of my journey and how somehow I ended up where I am today.

Japan borders are still closed to many and I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Prince & Skyline Museum. Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.