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Monday, November 13, 2006

The most incredible 14 days spent in Japan

Not having been back to Japan for the past eight years - from the time I was only 12, I had one of the best two weeks of my life!
My family originally moved to Kyoto in 1992, when I was six years old. We spent a year there, and I had the horrifying experience of not only going to school for the first time, but going to school as the only foreigner in the class, without knowing a single word of the country's language.
Igor Sushko growing up in Japan.

After the initial year of trauma, my father got a job in Tsukuba city nearby Tokyo, at the home of the infamous Tsukuba Circuit. We ended up spending five years there, at which point we relocated to the United States, where I have lived since. As I learned the language and began assimilating into the culture, I fell in love with the country of the rising sun, and still to this day consider it my real home. Those are the days when I fell in love with Nissan and especially the Skyline GT-R - the Godzilla's intimidating front fascia bluntly stating "I will kick your ass." Ironically, although I was only about 40 minutes from what has become a world-renown test track, I never heard of it while living next to it for five years. You can imagine the shock when I first heard about the Tsukuba Circuit in the United States.
Igor Sushko growing up in Japan.

Igor Sushko growing up in Japan.

My trip was from the 12th through 26th of July and it was filled with fascinating events on nearly a daily basis, some of which I unfortunately cannot release here, but you can bet that everything for which I received permission to disclose is right here.
On the 12th, I arrived at Narita Airport at around 4 p.m. local time, and was feeling quite giddy - I got a cheap ticket through American Airlines in coach, yet four seats were open next to me in a row, so I slept through most of the 12-hour flight, successfully eliminating any fatigue due to the eight-hour time difference between the two countries.

I set out on Narita Express toward Tokyo, where to my complete astonishment, 11 of my 5/6th grade elementary school classmates assembled for an impromptu eight-year reunion. The fact that legal drinking age in Japan is 20 certainly made the night eventful. An interesting note here: Japan's public transit system is excellent in metropolitans, and so most people use the trains to move around. However, every night, the trains, even in Tokyo, stop at around midnight, and do not start back up until 5 a.m. You can guess which time we chose to dismantle the dozen-people fiesta.

Next day, after sleeping for an hour at a friends' house while he went to take an exam in college, I flew to Osaka with Mr. Tamura Hiroshi. Near the evening, I began to show bags below my eyes, but that did not stop us from having fun - after a nice dinner with a few of Mr. Tamura's friends at C.D. Takoh, featuring excellent European cuisine in the heart of Osaka, we went to Mr. Yamasaki Norihito's tuning shop, PX Yamasaki Engineering. His personal car is an uber-fast NSX, with a 3" front lip, canards, a real race engine, carbon bodywork, and much more. This is the real representative of Japanese tuner cars that should be at the heart of movies like Fast and the Furious, if they were to do it right. This is the crew that you hear about going down Wangan and other freeways around Japan, although many of the original racers are long retired.

Next morning, July 14th, Mr. Tamura and I took a short train ride from Osaka to Kyoto, where my family's close friend, Mrs. Ueba, welcomed us. The Ueba family lived next door to us when my family moved to Kyoto back in 1992. Their children are the same age as my brother and I, so we used to go to school together and were all involved in various activities. What nostalgia that was… after we went to a temple nearby and I got my dose of enlightenment, we dropped by my former elementary school and also the house where we had lived at the time. Now the lot was all grass with no house in its place. In the evening, we got to all have dinner with my first grade teacher, and then I went out downtown with two of my former classmates.

Igor Sushko with the Ueba family.

The next day, we did more nostalgic sightseeing and then traveled to Kanazawa - a city on the Japanese Sea side, nearly directly west of Tokyo. Surprisingly, I had a few more friends from my Tsukuba days attending college in the city, and so we caught up on more of the old times. A great restaurant in downtown Kanazawa called St. Louis was our setting of trying out various interesting cocktails and drinking Japanese whiskey. God - I love the drinking age of 20 in Japan. St. Louis is famous for having won some Japanese national cocktail competitions and has also appeared on the world circuit for such expertise.

On the 17th, we drove back to Tokyo, which took about eight hours, and I was amazed at how green Japan really is. It is simply fascinating to consider how they manage to have so many forests and rice fields on the flat portions of the land: ¾ of the Japan territory is uninhabitable mountainous area (after all, in simple terms, the entire country is a piece of mountain stuck out of the ocean), and their population is over 120 million. Imagine 40% of the American population living on 20% of Texas.

On the way back to Tokyo, we stopped by the Prince Skyline Museum in Nagano prefecture. This is a private museum with some extraordinary vehicles, including the infamous "Stealth" - the R34 GT-R test mule for nuburgring that looks like an R33, a few Group A cars, and of course all of the Skyline generations. The museum is actually located inside a public park and has incredible scenery. There are many events organized by the museum for the Skyline owners year round, and we had just missed a big one by a week or so when we went there.

Mr. Tamura with a Nissan V12 race engine

Mr. Tamura and Igor Sushko at the Prince Skyline Museum next to a Group A R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R

The next day is when all the fun began - the work. I attempted to prepare a summary out of the documents I had on my laptop to give to NISMO, more for their curiosity than anything else, as we don't have any official relationship other than being a NISMO client who had purchased a race GT-R engine. However, my laptop had no battery and I could not plug it in to charge, as I did not have a US-to-Japan adapter. I searched frantically at the nearby electronics stores, and they all seemed to have Europe-to-Japan and vice versa, but nothing for America. I finally made a call to my friend, who thought that I was either kidding or was just dropped on my head, and he told me that I do not need any type of adapter between US and Japan, since the outlets are identical in shape and the difference in voltage is minor enough to where the black heavy power supply unit that is a part of all laptop charging systems will do the job of normalizing the slight difference in voltage. I did not have time to feel stupid immediately at that point as I had a report to prepare, but after I was done, I managed to rationalize my train of thought to myself. When I was little, I remember my family using the adapters, but that was indeed between Europe and Japan, as I then thought about it. Around that time, I was still very much blonde (my hair has darkened over the years to be disrespectfully referred to as "brown" on my driver's license), and I recall the traumatizing experience of my first day at school in Kyoto. It was my first ever day in any school - but this one was better as I knew no language and I was the only blonde-blue-eyed kid in the class. The other kids' reaction to my curious look was one that resulted in pure trauma for myself, which I have only recently been able to accept and resolve within: they pulled out my blonde hair as a further sample of investigation - multiple kids, all at once…. But I digress.

The NISMO headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.

With my report ready I traveled to NISMO the next day. There, I presented the information, left some of our race car's posters, and was also given a small tour of their facility. Then, to my bewilderment, I was afforded a ride in a ____________ to Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, nearby Tokyo. This is an entire Nissan city, with over 15,000 employees spread out over an enormous campus of buildings in the middle of a mountain range, with the only access being by a long tunnel through the middle of a mountain. There, I was told I would attend a small meeting regarding the mindset of the American youth, as I myself am one of 'em. However, that is not exactly how it went down. I arrived in an enormous room with around 30 Nissan product planners, with a Power Point presentation setup up in front about me, and a table at the very front that had my name on it. After I overcame my stage fright and a small heart attack, I managed to calm myself down and the impromptu speech seemed to go really well, with various questions being asked by the product planners throughout; and I was able to walk away an hour and a half later with a slight sense of pride. I am not usually the one to speak in front of people, but somehow, speaking in Japanese made it much easier for me. This was a truly wonderful day. I recall dreaming about working with Nissan, thinking what a great company it is, and wished that some day I could be in the midst of it all, to be a player in this humongous game that is the automotive industry. Well, dreams do come true.

The Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi
Copyright © Nissan Motor CO. Ltd

Finally, on the 20th of July, I had my chance to go to my rightful home - Tsukuba city. Since my departure eight years ago, a new train line has been built that goes straight from the Akihabara station in Tokyo to Tsukuba in 45 minutes. As I finally boarded Tsukuba Express after buying a ticket for about $20, I felt surreal. To be coming home, after a true adventure that has been the past eight years, it was hard to comprehend the reality I faced.

On some uneventful day, back in sixth grade, my parents told me that we would be moving to the United States… and I cried. I had no desire to move away from Japan, and especially Tsukuba city. After having lived in seven different houses in three different countries (Ukraine, Germany, and Japan), I was ready to call Tsukuba my hometown. But in hindsight, going to United States was a great move, for my horizons have been widened beyond my initial imagination of what our vast world encompasses. After Japan did some initial molding of my mind, America buried all that was Japanese in me, and created a top layer that is radically opposite of the Japanese mindset. It taught me to view the world as having infinite possibilities; it taught me that dreams can be achieved through perseverance. But, deep down, to this day, Japan, and especially Tsukuba, feels like home.

Igor Sushko on graduation day at Matsushiro elementary school in Tsukuba

The 45-minute ride seemed to take forever. My iPod died long ago and I forgot to bring the charger for it, and I had left some books I brought for exact such occasions in Tokyo. So, there I was, like a kid in grade school, staring through the window of the train, sitting on my knees on the seat. As the time dragged on, boring rice fields began to resemble civilization, and then I saw the word "Tsukuba" hugely carved out in a field, obviously intended for airplanes and train passengers. My excitement began to really build within, and I could not help but grin, and my grin slowly grew bigger the closer we got to my home. By the time I got off the train, I felt true ecstasy. One of my brother's classmates from the old times, Yuuichi, picked me up from the station and it only took us a few minutes on a major street to get back to our neighborhood. Ah, the smell, the view, it was all the same. We went to my elementary school, but all teachers had changed since my departure, and not a single person remained there that knew me. I brought my graduation album, but even that did not get me inside the school, to feel the great nostalgia I longed. Supposedly, even Japan is seeing its own share of wackos, who enter schools with malicious intent. I understood their protocol, but it still pissed me off. I thought that I belonged inside that school more than any of those teachers. We came to an agreement that I will drop by again when the principal is present, so he can approve my visit through the inside of the school.
Then, Yuuichi and I took some time to wander around the area. It seemed so tiny compared to my memories. What I remembered as a hike to one of my friend's houses was barely four blocks. For dinner, another one of my classmates, who grew up to be an incredibly gorgeous soon-to-be professional pianist, Moeko, joined us for dinner. In the evening, we assembled six people from our elementary school graduating class and socialized to a point of no return. Incredibly, all the girls from my class grew up to be very beautiful, and some, the type of gorgeous that you would only find in an ad on TV or a magazine. They all seemed to have 23-24 year old boyfriends, while they themselves are still only 20, a fact that made me feel protective of them. Who are these guys to be dating these girls that I had known since I was 10, I wondered to myself. After we left the bar, Yuuichi and I bought a bottle of vodka with grandiose plans of continuing the party at his house, but, unsurprisingly, that bottle never did get opened…

The next day, I had to quickly recover and put my work hat on - I was going to Sendai on Shinkansen to attend the Super GT (formerly JGTC) race at the Sugo circuit, where I had four interviews scheduled with the members of the NISMO JGTC team.

I got on a Tsukuba Express train from Tsukuba to Akihabara and took a regular JR train to the Tokyo train station and then boarded the Shinkansen to Sendai. I had the aisle seat, the middle was open, and by the window sat a well-suited businessman. Even though I may have grown up in Japan, America has given me the unique gift of being able to strike up a conversation with anyone, and so I did. We talked the entire train ride about subjects ranging from cars to snack food, and even about his kids, whose birthdays he had just missed as he was out of town. He got curious about the GT-R we're racing in the U.S., since one of his kids loves the GT-R; it's his dream car. I conveniently had a few "hero" cards in my backpack, so I handed one to him for his son. Well, that wasn't good enough - he whipped out a pen and asked me to autograph it. I am not usually one to contain the further expansion of my ego, so I went for it, writing his son a personal message about hard work and perseverance. At the end of the train ride, we exchanged business cards, and my eyes went a little wide when I read his (I already knew what mine said). He is an executive at a branch of a multi-billion-dollar snack/beverage corporation. Sounds great, I like friends.
As I got off the train, I called my hotel, "Library Hotel - Sendai," which is supposedly right by the train station. Outside was light rain and it was dark, and the front desk employee gave me directions toward the appropriate exit out of the train station, and as I remain on the phone with him, I realize that he took me to the wrong exit, but I am already outside drenched, facing the opposite side of town. I then went back inside and walked through the entire station to go out of the correct exit, and I got even wetter as I finally went the right way. It wasn't far. I checked in, and then felt hungry - I always get hungry around five times a day at the most inconvenient times. Before I go on though, I need to note that this hotel does not have a library, which is puzzling.

That same hotel clerk recommended a Chinese place next door that is open late, and I double confirmed this notion with him and the direction, of course, all with a light heart. As I walked in, the smell of good food inundated my senses, and I took a seat. Over at the next table, four of the typical Japanese "salary-men" in suits were drinking beer and eating ramen. Sendai is a historic city in Japan, so I struck up a conversation with them about it, and I am not the one to brag about my knowledge that I attained about Japan in elementary school, so I patiently listened through the general Japanese history that I already knew, with simplified explanations of events. It was good; they were having a good time. Then they got curious as everyone seemed throughout my trip as to why a white boy like me can speak Japanese and what am I doing wherever I am at the time, in this case in Sendai past midnight at a Chinese shack. I give them a quick introduction and they begin talking about Michael Krumm, the famous Super GT driver who races the GT500 NISMO 350Z, who I am set to interview at the race on Sunday. Michael Krumm used to race in Europe against Schumacher back when they were growing up, and is not only a great talent, but is very down-to-earth. I had met him at Sebring back in 2005, when he was testing a new Nissan race engine in a prototype chassis. So these guys mention Michael Krumm and his wife, Date Kimiko, the world-famous tennis player, who is from Sendai. This is one of those celebrity couples in Japan. And bear with me, as this all ties into the history of Sendai. When Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun of Japan, the Date samurai family owned the Sendai area, and supposedly, Date Kimiko possesses some of that royal blood. After my wonderful midnight dinner and quality conversation, I retired for the evening.

The next morning, I got up and scribbled some interview notes for the two that I had to do that day with the NISMO team. I caught a cab outside my hotel and directed him to go to the Sugo circuit, which is in the middle of the mountain range with no easy access. The cab driver, like all in Japan, was wearing white gloves, driving a specialty Toyota Crew - one of the choice cars for taxis in Japan. We struck up a conversation about cars, and he mentioned how he himself is a Nissan enthusiast and that he has a R32 Nissan Skyline GT-S, and you can imagine where the conversation led from there. I asked him to stop by on the way by a convenience store so I could buy some breakfast - I bought a few "Onigiri" which is rice with stuffing wrapped in seaweed. My choice stuffing was tuna-mayo. Ah! I could write a book about this: the food in Japan, no matter where you get it, is delicious, healthy, and cheap. I miss it. The drive was pretty long, nearly an hour. We got into the mountain roads nearby the track. The car in front was slowing us down. I assured the driver that we could go ahead and pass him. He took the meaning of that with some liberty, and not only did he pass him, as the road surface was slightly wet, he went on to drive like a … not a maniac, because he knew exactly what he was doing… he drove like a race car driver would if he wants to have some fun on the streets. As the car was rear-wheel-drive, he was losing his tail in the turns, some not so slow, but did it all with absolute precision. I can definitely say that he seemed like the most skilled taxi driver I have ever encountered.

I arrived at the Sugo circuit and proceeded to get my media pass for the event. On that day, I had two interviews scheduled: Mr. Matsuda, co-driver of the #23 350Z in GT500; and Mr. Iijima, the crew chief of the GT500 NISMO Team. This was Saturday, the qualifying day for the Sunday race. These interviews will hopefully offer our readers an insight into the world of motorsports in Japan. The first interview with the driver went just as planned. However, during the interview with the crew chief, we got cut off about two minutes into it as he got called to go see the sanctioning body for spilling a fluid in their pit. "How funny is that?!" I thought, as we've had such instances at our level of World Challenge racing, but I guess some things just don't change no matter how much money is in the program. In the end, we're all human. In a way, this incident reassured me that our team in America is more than all right - we're kicking butt! Ms. Kusagawa was directing my entire interview schedule for the two days, and I wish to thank her sincerely for taking the time to deal with the lowly me. She was very nice. When the interview with the crew chief came to an abrupt end, we figured we could go ahead and push up my schedule for the next day to this one, which meant I was going to interview the big man himself - the President of Nissan Motorsports International (NISMO) - Mr. Sanada. Boy, was this an interview and a half! We had 10 minutes scheduled per interview, and I guess they liked me so much that every single one went far beyond that time, especially this one. I spoke with the NISMO president for 28 whole minutes, and I got it on digital audio as proof to the skeptics out there, if it ever comes to that. I am very proud of this interview, and it is already live on Automotive Articles Magazine.

At some point around this time, I realized that I was beginning to forget English after having spent nearly two weeks in Japan and only speaking Japanese. I would get asked to teach someone a cool English word and I would not recall how to say it. I was also introduced to several NISMO team members, and had a blast. This was all an impossible-dream-come-true to me. I almost felt like I was accepted as one of their own. One person told me that when NISMO switched from racing the R34 Skyline GT-R to the Z33 350Z in GT500 in 2004, the aerodynamic shape of the Z allowed them to generate 20-30% more down force on the car.

After walking around the enormous paddock filled with dozens of teams, I found what I was looking for: The Bomex GT300 race team. Mr. Yamashita, the co-driver of the Honda NSX and a co-owner of Bomex, an aero parts manufacturer, had been to several racing and show events in the United States, and we were well acquainted through Mr. Yamada "Tarzan" Eiji. I had not seen Mr. Yamashita in a while but we were able to pick right back up and have a good time. Then his team's race queens appeared, and I really shined with my newly acquired Los Angeles-based "game," but all translated to Japanese of course. I got introduced to the co-driver, Mr. Suho, who had a large tattoo of their car number on his arm: 666. His eyes went a little wide when I noted this to him, and he told me that it was the other way around - that he likes that number and he picked it as their racecar number. He was cool. I have my doubts. They were nice enough to give me a ride in their team minivan back into town, as their hotel was near mine, but I quickly found that the only passengers in that minivan were the four race queens. I didn't mind. One of the girls kept bugging me because she wanted me to teach her how to pronounce "Coke please" in English, as you can probably imagine, it sounded to me like she was saying something else. She had trouble extending and rolling the "o" part of Coke. I tried; sometimes it's just out of your hands, and it's just fine.

The Super GT race start at the Sugo circuit in Sendai.
Copyright © NISMO

The next day I got a ride to the circuit from NISMO's Mr. Igarashi. In Japan, Nissan has its own rental car company. This was race day. Before the race, I got a chance to sit down with Michael Krumm for an interview. He is currently the co-driver of the #22 NISMO 350Z along with Richard Lyons - the only GT500 car in Super GT with two foreign drivers. As I mentioned previously, Michael and I had met back in March of 2005 at Sebring. We did the interview inside the NISMO team rig - a full-size trailer that has a rising roof to make it two full stories high. If I am not delusional then it's the same type of truck that the Formula One teams use. He remembered me, and my interview of him quickly turned into his interview of me; it seems as if we talked about our team and the GT-R for a bit too long. I did some homework the previous night and learned that he had gone skydiving, and had unknowingly married into Japanese royalty, as explained above - Mrs. Date Kimiko. The interview went well, and it should be up on the website shortly.
The NISMO GT500 Zs!
Copyright © NISMO

Then the crew chief, Mr. Iijima, also caught up with me and we finished the interview from the previous day. A spoiler - he was involved in the development of the R32 Skyline GT-R. On this day, I also gave Mr. Sanada a poster of our racecar and he promised to put it in his room. I am going to check up on that next time I go to Japan. I got introduced to the RE Amemiya GT300 RX-7 team owner - Mr. Amemiya - a really interesting and nice fellow. If anyone ever makes "The Real Fast and the Furious," Mr. Amemiya should definitely get a call. What astounded me about their RX7 is how overmatched it is construction-wise in the class. The RX-7 actually had a full production chassis and a lot of other noticeable "technical inferiorities" compared to the Dayton Prototype or the carbon chassis NSX against whom they are running. There is even a Vemac RD408R in GT300 - a purpose built British prototype that is as close to a formula car under the skin as I have seen, except for the Le Mans prototypes. For example, some cars in GT300 have an in-board shock design - the RX7 does not. Yet the RE Amemiya team is running very close to the top in the series, and I am definitely rooting for them, and of course, for the 350Z teams, and for the 666 NSX. Long story short, I got a chance to meet a lot of people this day around the paddock, even Mr. Matsuda Hideshi, who is currently co-driving the Porsche Boxter in GT300 but has a long history of motorsports, including the highest finish in Indy 500 for a Japanese driver in history - 8th in 1996. Everyone was extremely nice and very interesting, and I really loved the racing crowd in Super GT. The race was great, with both Zs in GT500 qualifying pretty high, and the #23 was leading the race in the second half, but had to fend off a Lexus SC430 every lap at the end of the straight-away. But right at the very end with about ten laps to go, the Lexus did get by, and the NISMO team 350Zs finished 2nd and 3rd.
The Super GT race podium at the Sugo circuit in Sendai.
Copyright © NISMO

The GT300 was a different story, where the 350Z dominated and easily took first place. Since the writing of this long-winded story, the NISMO 350Z GT500 took the first place in the Suzuka 12-hour endurance race! The day of the race, I left the racetrack to go back to Tsukuba city and spend more time with my elementary school classmates. That night, we gathered for dinner and I also finally met with my 5th/6th grade teacher. What a feeling it was to be back again! This teacher, Mr. Murata, was the most significant teacher in my schooling. The first day of 5th grade, he came in to the classroom, and he is a big guy, and I recall the ominous feeling the entire class felt. But he made a wonderful introduction and he made a promise. As he hated homework when he was little, he promised that he would never assign our class any homework. He kept his word for two straight years, and I learned more from him than anyone else in my years of schooling. He taught me my life's philosophy of perseverance. Plus he used to drive a R33 Nissan Skyline GT-S.

The next morning, I had more business to attend to around Tokyo. I met with the Google team in their Japan headquarters and got a tour of their offices. Mr. Tamura came along with me and we had some very fruitful and interesting discussions converging at the automotive industry and online marketing. Then, in mid-afternoon, my best friend from elementary school arrived in Tokyo from Miyagi-prefecture and we got more nostalgia flowing through our veins. In the evening, Mr. Tamura and I went to the Polyphony Digital headquarters, where we spent nearly 3 hours with Mr. Yamauchi, the developer of the Gran Turismo game series. It was a great honor and a dream come true for me to be able to meet him in person. After a lot of interesting discussions ranging from the reality aspect of the game to the current traction control technology incorporated in Formula One, I got a chance to sit down in a racing seat and embarrass myself in a Toyota 2000GT around the Twin Ring Motegi circuit for an online time attack. But wow, I can now say that I played Gran Turismo at its place of creation, with the developer of the game looking over my shoulder! Thank you Mr. Yamauchi!

From left to right: Mr. Tamura, Igor Sushko, and Mr. Yamauchi

And finally, my trip came to the last day, the 25th of July. In the morning, I had breakfast with Mr. Yamada Eiji, or as he is better known in the United States - Tarzan Yamada. We then went to Midori, a place with close ties to Michael Krumm, and also home of the world-famous Midori R34 Skyline GT-R time attack car. It's a clean white with virtually no graphics/stickers and with their signature bright green Volk TE37 wheels - of course this car is super-fast. From there, Mr. Suzuki Tetsuo of Shift was kind enough to pick me up and we went to his shop, around 45 minutes away in Yokohama city. He had flown to the United States in March of 2005 to assist us in conducting our first ever test with the recently purchased ex-Super Taikyu GT-R that we are now campaigning in Speed World Challenge GT series. I spent the remainder of the day with him as his team prepared to send off their crates for participation in an endurance race in Malaysia. This was the first time I got a chance to see the legendary R34 Falken Nur GT-R in person. Mr. Suzuki had just overhauled the entire vehicle from scratch, and it sparkled clean anywhere you looked around the car - even underneath!
Suzuki-san's R34 Skyline GT-R Nurburgring

This is the true epitome of a GT-R racecar in the world. He showed me some data logs from Nurburgring and we talked a lot about racing, and he shared a few stories from his past concerning his involvement with a championship-winning IMSA team. Mr. Suzuki is venerated in road racing throughout Japan, and he appears to be Nissan's first pick when it comes to finding a crew chief to run a factory team for production-based car. Recently, he was testing a prototype Nissan VQ engine in a Z33 350Z in Hokkaido during a Super Taikyu race. Mr. Suzuki's history is completely out of this world. Incredibly, he has 11 series championships under his belt in Group A and N1 endurance (Super Taikyu) between 1987 and 2001. He has won 8 one-off and endurance races, including the class win at Nurburgring 24 hours with the R34 Falken Skyline GT-R in 2004. Currently, he is the crew chief for a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup team in Super Taikyu. I had a great time the entire day and I sincerely appreciate Mr. Suzuki's hospitality during such a busy time - he is the true class in motorsports! Later in the evening Mr. Tamura dropped by and after spending more time around the shop, three of us went to dinner. Way past midnight, Mr. Suzuki gave me a ride to the hotel that he insisted on booking for me.

The next morning, I packed all my bags, went to the airport, dropped off my rented Japanese cell phone, and got on a plane to the United States. I felt completely unready to leave, and cherished the last moments of my time in Japan. Goodbye my home- it won't be long before I am back.

References in order of appearance:

  1. Tsukuba Circuit
  2. C.D.Takoh, Osaka
  3. PX Yamasaki Engineering, Osaka. A specialty tuning shop for Skyline GT-R and other performance cars - Tel - 011-81-66-722-6698
  4. St. Louis restaurant, Kanazawa - Tel - 011-81-76-223-6116
  5. Prince Skyline Museum
  6. NISMO
  7. Nissan Global
  8. Tsukuba Science City Information
  9. Matsushiro Elementary School
  10. Library Hotel - Sendai
  11. Michael Krumm official website
  12. Date Kimiko official website
  13. Sportsland Sugo (Circuit) - Miyagi
  14. Super GT official website
  15. Nissan Motorsports International (NISMO)
  16. Nissan Motor Co., LTD.
  17. Tsugio Matsuda GT500 #23 Z driver official website
  18. Team Bomex Dream 28 (GT300 NSX)
  19. Bomex
  20. RE Amemiya GT300 Mazda RX7 team website
  21. Arktech Motorsports GT300 Porsche Boxter team website
  22. Matsuda Hideshi official website
  23. Suzuka Circuit
  24. Google Japan
  25. Sony Corporation
  26. Polyphony Digital
  27. Gran Turismo
  28. Tarzan Yamada official website
  29. Midori Seibi Center website
  30. Mackin Industries/Rays Engineering
  31. Rays Wheels Japan
  32. Mr. Suzuki's Shift Race Car Engineering
  33. R34 Skyline GT-R test in March 2005 photo gallery
  34. Speed World Challenge
  35. Falken Tire
  36. Nurburgring official website
  37. Super Taikyu official website
  38. Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (996) official website
  39. Narita Airport

Thursday, October 05, 2006

2006 Super Street NOPI Tour to NOPI

Interestingly enough, Super Street's tour to NOPI had a pit stop in Lexington, KY overnight on September 13th. I flew back to Lexington for an autograph session as part of the event. As I went to high school in Lexington, I saw plenty of familiar faces, and as always, it was great to be back, even for just a few days.

The event was organized by Injected Performance of Lexington, KY, and the turnout was great!
Mayor Teresa Isaac presented me with the Key to the City! It is a great honor for me as the city will always be dear to me for the time I spent there, although a small part of my journey through life. Thank you mayor!

Interesting facts about Lexington, KY that you did not know:
1) The city has the lowest crime rate in the country. Population is around 250,000.
2) The city has the most restaurants per capita in the country.
3) It was the setting for the infamous "Bluegrass Conspiracy." Don't know what it is? Google it!
4) The horse industry is one of the primary attractions of the city. It is the "Horse Capital of the World."
5) Despite its relatively small size, many companies are headquartered in Lexington: Lexmark, S&S Tire, Tempurpedic, and Ashland Oil (Valvoline), to name a few.
6) Home of the #1 college cheerleading team in the country.
7) Home of the #1 high-school cheerleading team in the country.
8) Maxim Magazine rated the University of Kentucky, located in Lexington, as one of the best in the country for beautiful girls.
9) Home of Henry Clay.
Check it out:

Monday, August 28, 2006

A note about the Nissan Skyline GT-R

The Skyline debuted in 1955, and racing was a major part of the car from nearly the very beginning. It dominated racing from the 60's. Technology has always been the largest factor for its success, with a 2.0 liter engine developing 160hp in 1969 (hence our race car number 69). It had a winning streak of over 50 races in 3 years. The car's very aggressive front fascia those days continues to date.
The KPGC10 Nissan Skyline GT-R
During the oil crisis in the 80's, the production of the GT-R was halted, but the reintroduction of the R32 Skyline GT-R (which is the car that most people mistakenly think of as the "first GT-R") stunned the motorsports world around the globe. This is the most significant time for the GT-R name.
The R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R and the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R certainly show much resemblance to each other
This car was developed strictly for the purpose of racing, as its predecessor in the late 60's, bearing the tradition of race domination. Nissan used the Porsche 959 supercar as its benchmark for the GT-R. The R32 was developed as a race car and then adapted for street-use. The car is pure: the drivetrain is bulletproof and the 2.6 liter engine was designed for 600hp in its stock trim. However, the biggest problem in racing at that time was not making the big power, but the delivery of that power to the pavement with abundant grip. Something that most of the rear-wheel-drive race cars struggle with to this day. The Porsche 959 four-wheel-drive technology was made for off-road rally racing. The developers at Nissan believed that all-wheel-drive could work on the tarmac. But a theory on paper does not always translate to our world. Nissan executed their paper plan to perfection by using a computer to distribute torque between the four wheels in real time.

The car was built for the purpose of racing in the JTC Group A in Japan. It never lost a race - winning 27 races in a row from its debut, causing the series to be dissolved. The same essentially happened in the Australian Group A. It was the heaviest car in the series, yet it dominated through brute force paired with technology. The car was flat out banned from some endurance races in Australia.

The GT-R's history is filled with dominance in motorsports at every step to the point of being the cause of dissolving entire series and being banned from racing. No manufacturer in the world at that time could touch the GT-R. The technology of the R32 GT-R only saw minor improvements through the R33 and R34 generations, yet it is still considered to be "high-tech" today - this is Nissan's mid-eighties technology.

The GT-R's history is inspiring - it shows that perfection is possible. Nothing is impossible. The tag line for the car was "the wolf in a sheep's skin," but that quickly changed to "Godzilla" - although the car may not look like a sleek supercar, the signature intimidating front end tells the whole story - "I am the pinnacle of motorsports. I dominate."
This photograph is telling...
The brute Nissan Skyline GT-R
The GT-R is a great paradox. The shape is boxy and not aerodynamic, yet its performance is at supercar level. The GT-R is extremely heavy, yet its engine is only 2.6 liters. The 6 tiny 433ml cylinders are somehow capable of producing in excess of 1000 horsepower. The GT-R's core technology was developed nearly 20 years ago, yet it is still one of the most high-tech cars today. But that incredible power that is produced by this tiny engine is then somehow kept under control - fully delivering the power to the ground with barely any tire-spin. It's bulletproof.

The GT-R's stationary stance is calm but confident, almost cocky. But once that tiny technology-filled engine is allowed to begin its controlled combustion, the muffler cannot suppress its roar. Through sheer brute force, the GT-R breaks through the air and leaves everyone else in the dust, on that edge of control.

It is interesting to note that an internal combustion engine, once cranked, will naturally increase its own revs until its mechanical parts can no longer handle the stress causing the engine to self-destruct. It's an uncontrollable beast. Engine idle rpm is maintained through continual suppression of what it wants to do by nature. By stomping on the gas, the cable pulls open the throttle body butterfly and releases the engine from literal suffocation. From this perspective, the GT-R is incredibly pure as an automobile, allowing the driver to taste this explosive nature.

The GT-R breaks all the rules and ignores tradition. The GT-R allows the driver to experience the future of the automobile through its revolutionary technology. For example, the RB26DETT was the first available production engine with oil-cooled pistons, individual throttle bodies, and various other tweaks. This kind of technology is only now beginning to be utilized by some of the rest - Porsche, BMW, and Ferrari - in their street cars. Mitsubishi and Subaru have finally come close to matching the electronic all-wheel-drive technology of the GT-R, 15 years later.

The R32 Skyline GT-R was a true car of the future.

From what I have heard, the next generation GT-R has the potential of opening the 3rd chapter of the GT-R legacy into a new era of getting banned from dominating races all over the world.
The Nissan Skyline GT-R Prototype
"The wild beast tamed by the technology of the future"

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hot Import Nights - LA Convention Center

On August 19th, our race team attended the Hot Import Nights at the LA Convention Center and organized an autograph session. We brought about 500 posters for an event with about 20,000 attendees taking up an entire convention hall. To our surprise, we ran out with two more hours to go until midnight! Lines of fans lined up with patience to receive an autographed copy of the poster! Thank you!

Sudden career change?

While I am finishing up the journal entry for the two weeks that I spent in Japan - I had an incredible time and plenty to write about - I figured this will keep everyone entertained.

As a race car driver, not too many things are penciled in stone, especially one's next paycheck.'s Igor Sushko prepares for the uncertainties by auditioning as a weather reporter for The Weather Channel.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Infineon Raceway (Sears Point) Test - June 6th

In preparation for the Infineon race in conjunction with Nascar Nextel cup in late June, we went out to test on June 6th. The test was also in conjunction with Nascar, which was a first for us and pretty interesting. Our garage was right next to Carl Edwards and Boris Said testing the Busch cars.

We made major changes to the engine and suspension since Mid-Ohio, and the car was running considerably stronger with a much better cornering dynamic with altered springs, swaybars, and shock settings.

However, early in the day, a major incident struck. It seems that we've had plenty of them this season....

As I was coming out of turn 3, still feeling the new settings and power out, I did a quick brake check on the straightaway to ensure a stiff pedal and continued to approach the brake zone for turn 4. I hit the brakes and the pedal went all the way to the floor, with no brake pressure, and got stuck there. At this point, the speed was 108 mph. With my left foot busy digging the brake pedal out from its underside (I usually utilize left foot braking, since our car is equipped with a sequential transmission that does not require the use of clutch during downshifts), I began to downshift from 4th gear in an attempt to slow the car down. Unfortunately, without brakes, I ended up hitting the concrete barrier (at least there was a set of tires in front of it) at around 20 mph straight on, and the day was over.

We are still investigating the reason for the brake failure and have some leads.

Look out for us to make a come back to World Challenge for the season finale race at Laguna Seca in October. We will need time to fix the extensive damage to the car and continue testing to prevent such incidents from happening. As a first season team with a brand new motorsports program, we are relieved to know that every mechanic problem we have had has not repeated itself throughout the season so far, and we are able to learn from our failures to continue to strive for success in the series.

Stay tuned...

Mid-Ohio Race

The Mid-Ohio race experience was unique to say the least. The team arrived in our transporter from Los Angeles and was greeted by rain and mud. The paddock for World Challenge was the worst I have ever seen for any type of professional racing. Many rigs got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out multiple times during the roll in period, and things didn't exactly improve as the week went on. There was lots of rain and no hard surface. The working environment for the crew was terrible.

One of the practice sessions ended up in the rain. That was fun in a GT-R. I had never driven this car in the rain before, and so I took care to warm up to it slowly, but even with such conservative mindset, the car blew by the competitors. With the GT-R's all-wheel-drive, I could come out of the corner with nearly full throttle, reaching full throttle very rapidly with the car hooking up with all four tires. The stability at over 120 miles an hour in the wet was also tremendous. All the rest of the cars could do was spin rear tires during for nearly entire duration of the straights.

With the rain disappearing for the remainder of practice and the weekend, that is when things began to go wrong. I actually lost a wheel due to faulty studs - it got loose at Mid-Ohio's rear straightaway. There is a small kink in the middle, and usually a tiny input is all it takes to changes direction, since the speed is well beyond 120 miles per hour there. Not this time.... my regular input in the steering wheel did nothing to change direction, and I barely managed to not slide off the outside of the corner exit, nearly yanking on the steering wheel. I quickly radioed Sean Morris and told him something is definately loose on my left front side. I attempted to baby the car back to the pits, but did not make it, losing the wheel at nearly 0 speed right before Madness. Because I was already going slower than a turtle, the car got no damage and I safely got it off the track.

The car was towed back to our paddock and the damage incurred by the tow truck was fixed.... Some of those guys need to be fired. But more on this later.

We sat out one practice session to fix the broken studs and went back on the track. However, the tune appeared to be an issue on the engine, causing the turbo wheel to go to shreds. The crew worked all night long to replace the turbos for next morning's qualifying session. But a water leak and a gamble to at least put in one full lap in qualifying resulted in a toasted engine. Unfortunately, we did not have time to swap the RB26DETT before the race and had to retire.

The Mid-Ohio tow truck guys ended up bending our car's front core support despite my clear protests that their way of picking up the car would result in just that.

Not only that, I heard that one of the Aston Martin DBR9s was also damaged by the tow crew.

AND maybe you got to see the World Challenge GT race on TV - when a tow truck pulled a Viper INTO Leighton Reese's Corvette at a rather considerable speed in attempt to get it out of the gravel. That might have been a first in history - a T-bone of two race cars caused by idiot tow crew at a RACE TRACK. I thought they needed some kind of qualifications to hold that sort of job.

Now, I want to make it clear that the Mid-Ohio management team is top notch, and I had a great time with them, including an autograph session promoting the race track in Cleveland the first day I got there. But seriously, they really need to fire some of those tow truck crew.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Departing for Mid-Ohio

So, here we are, just a few days away from leaving for the 4th race of the series, held at Mid-Ohio. Something tells me that God, or maybe it's just the Weather Channel, is not on our side.

Now look at this and consider that our race is scheduled on Saturday, May 20th, and we are the only all-wheel-drive car entered into the race. My current emotional state is mixture of wanting to cry while at the same time wanting to laugh.

I have talked to a-many people about this and all have promised to privately conduct a rain dance for our cause. If you can, please join us in doing the same.

O Poseidon hear our cry
The Godzilla loves to swim
And your mood seems rather fine
But your scheduled rest on fateful day
Is most inopportune for our plan
So may we suggest
You kindly rest another day
And thunder with all your rage
Just this one time
For all to see your might and glory
And let Godzilla do its thing

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Willow Springs Onboard Camera Footage

We did a quick edit of the in-car footage we got from the Willow Springs test day with Buddy Club. It's a single flying lap, with a time of 1:28.

Launch in external player

Buddy Club Media Day at Willow Springs

On May 2nd, we went out to Willow Springs Raceway for Buddy Club's 2nd Annual Media Day - an opportunity for the company to showcase its new ATCC (Asian Touring Car Championship) Honda RSX race car piloted by Jun San Chen - the head of Buddy Club and also a long-time veteran and multiple Championship-winning ATCC driver.

Buddy Club is not as widely known in the United States just yet, but it has an incredible industry-leading presence in Asia - especially Taiwan and Japan. They primarily make aftermarket parts for Honda and Acura vehicles, but also step out of that realm every so often. This is a true motorsports driven company, with an array of race cars from small Honda cars such as the Integra Type R and the RSX to 4-door sedans such as the Toyota Chaser... and what a looker that one is.

They product line has a wide range including: body kits, wheels, exhausts, suspension parts, wings, seats, miscellaneous racing accessories, and some electronic gizmos.

We recently dynoed Buddy Club's Racing Spec Condenser - an electrical grounding system with a battery current and voltage stabilization control unit. I have to maintain anonymity of the race car, but it showed a 3% increase in torque throughout the rev-range that is used on the track (3500 RPM and on). The driver of the race car was taken by complete surprise that such an electronic gadget could do this, as we ran multiple dyno runs with the same, consistent results. We disconnected the condenser, and it was back to previous torque curve, reconnect it, and it jumps back around 3%. The driver was a bit more than excited as he thought he had done most of the tricks for horsepower including expensive processes such as polishing the gears to aid reduce loss of power due to friction.

I had previous experience with a good grounding system during the days of tracking the Nissan 350Z and recall the positive results I saw on the dyno just with the ground wires, but this technology is taking that one step further, by increasing and stabilizing the voltage to eliminate any inconsistencies in the supplied voltage as is usual even with brand new cars' electronic systems.

Something that we also use on our race car are the Buddy Club aluminum lug nuts - they're so light, that when I was first handed a pile of them, as an expectation, I tensed my hand to recieve the weight, and once they were put in my hand, my hand jerked up and almost spilled them. Lightweight is the best thing we look for in motorsports. With less weight, the car can accelerate, brake, and corner better as well as consume less fuel, put many of its components under less stress, and allow the tires to last longer. Lightweight is the true golden bullet in racing. Of course, it always has to be balanced with reliability - oftentimes, the weight gets taken out of the wrong places of the race car that cause much larger problems. But with lighter lug nuts, you can't go wrong, it's a no brainer for us. In all, we probably saved over 2 pounds when you consider all 4 corners of the car - and that's unsprung weight. That almost makes up for the weight we've gained by going to a wider wheel to accomodate the 305/35/18 Toyo tire.

Anyway... back to the test day at Willow Springs. We had a nice chunk of track time to help us sort the car out for the upcoming World Challenge race at Mid-Ohio (May 20th - be there!). Mike Kojima, an engineer at NISMO USA, was kind enough to help us in the suspension setup. With a few clicks on the shocks, a few pounds on the tires, and a minor adjustment to the swaybar per his recommendation, the car felt like a completely different animal - and a great one at that. The behavior went from huge plowing characteristic with an enormous understeer to an almost-neutral balance at all segements of the corner - turn-in, mid, and exit. Thank you Mike!!

Unfortunately, Mike Kojima was involved in a race incident this past weekend at Willow Springs, which has landed him in a hospital with a few broken bones in his back. He is going to make a full recovery, and appears to be doing a lot of sleeping on morphine. The young stallion that he is, I am sure he will be better than before when he comes out.

We finished the day off with a photoshoot of the race cars, including our very own Skyline GT-R, and I was greatful for Jun San Chen to consider me among the ranks of the championship-winning ranks of Buddy Club factory drivers to attend the event on behalf of Buddy Club.

So, check it out: Buddy Club - US Website

Looking at the weather forecast for Lexington, Ohio, where the Mid-Ohio track is located, it appears that there is nothing but rain for the next 10 days. We are racing on the 11th day from now, so if you can, please, get up and do a quick rain dance for us, to ensure that we can show 'em what a GT-R can really do in the rain.

We're leaving this coming weekend, and we can't help but feel good about the promise of rain, and the condition of the race car.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Long Beach Grand Prix

We left St. Petersburg on Sunday to arrive in Los Angeles 46 hours later. Thursday was already load-in day at the convention center.

The format for this venue was rather.. unique - the entire World Challenge GT paddock was inside the convention hall nearby the loading dock and only 6 race rigs were allowed to be parked at the loading dock outside. Luckily, ours was one of them.

During the first practice, I experienced what felt like a slipping clutch, which was odd as our Tilton carbon clutch was brand new since the St. Petersburg race. The crew looked over the clutch and cleaned any debris and fluids out of the housing, but the 2nd practice the following day proved to show the same problem. It was a broken left rear axle. With that fixed and continual setup adjustments, we prepared for the qualifying session on Sunday morning.

On the first hot lap, I am going around 140 mph into the braking zone for turn 2. I press the brake pedal down, and all of the sudden I feel an incredible lockup, with white smoke from burning tires everywhere. The ABS failed. As ABS is part of the GT-R's 4wd system, I had never driven the car without it, and not having it here was a complete surprise. That one braking zone toasted the tires to show metal around the flat spots. I barely made any laps in qualifying and with the problem worsening, was forced to brake earlier and softer.

We qualifying 24th. The race was the last of the day, after Champ Car, and to our surprise, an incredible amount of spectators were still all around the grand stands, ready to watch World Challenge. Apparently, hardly anyone left after the Champ Car race at 3 pm as the public awaited our race to begin at 4 pm.

With our past track record with World Challenge of not finishing either of the first 2 races, my objective was clear - finish the race and nurse any possible technical difficulties we may have.

During the warm-up lap, I hear Sean over the radio - "Take it easy on the standing start." And so with 5 seconds to go before green, I revved a bit less than at St. Petersburg and slipped the clutch a bit more. The all-wheel-drive launch gave me 7 positions at St. Pete. Here, I gained 4 positions going into the first turn. Nissan Skyline GT-R - The beauty of all-wheel-drive.

During the first part of the first lap before the back straight, I gained a few more positions in the traffic, but once the back straightaway came, I knew what awaited me, just like every straightaway at Sebring and St. Pete - the other cars blew by us.

As the race progressed, we again had not a single full course yellow... a true surprise for World Challenge. I was slowly but surely picking up pace through the race, as this was my first real opportunity to get to know the track and push the car.

When the leaders came around to lap me, their gain at the straightaways was absurd - the power those cars put down. We are the heaviest and down by 150 wheel horse power compared to the competition.

I finished the race in 17th place, ahead of the factory sponsored WRX STi, which is most comparable in trim to our car.

Tamura-san, aka Mr. GT-R, aka product planner of the R34 Skyline GT-R at Nissan, attended the event between meetings at Nissan in Gardena, and was present for the entire race. I am sure he flew home with a smile on his face - having seen the GT-R made of his own work and sweat compete in a race series in the United States.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

The Grand Prix of St. Pete was our 2nd race of the season. Since we are from Los Angeles, we spent the two weeks after Sebring leading up to St. Pete in Florida, in the Ft. Lauterdale area working on the car.

The race weekend was definately interesting as we were sharing the track with the Indy Racing League. This was my first ever street course, and what an experience it is to race around regular streets right next to the water - ignoring those street lights and double yellow lines.

We continued to experience various small issues with the car - but never the same one! This lead to us missing the first practice session. This only left us with one practice before qualifying. We were making some radical changes to the suspension setup, as there is no such things as a baseline for an R34 GT-R for St. Pete, or even a street course, period.

Chip Van Vurst of continued to assist us on the setup front.

When the time came for qualifying, I still barely knew the track, and with an incident to get the session going that caused the red flag, lady luck did not shine on us.

During the parade lap, I saw a big puff of black smoke - Johnny Mowlem's Aston Martin DBRS9 caught on fire, which I later learned was caused by a faulty fuel line that went through the cockpit. After about 10 more minutes of waiting, this prompted the SCCA officials to redo the parade lap, and then we were ready to go for green. The starting position was near the back of the pack, but I knew it wasn't going to be the case for long with the standing start. I revved the engine to 7000rpm and dumped the clutch, with just a little bit of slip, propelling the car by at least 6 cars on the right side runoff of the front straightaway. I kept steady and let the obviously faster cars go by without a fight - with as much power as we are down, our priority right then was to simply finish. On lap 2, a few Vipers got in a jumble at turn 9 - gaining me 5 more positions. At that point, I was near the top 10 in running order and was gaining 2 seconds per lap and getting settled in with the new setup adjustments we had made before the race.

But then... the engine just died on lap 4 and luckily I found a safe place to pull in behind the concrete. I got out of the car and was greeted by the smiles of the safety workers that had just helped me push the car off of the track, and a couple of waters for me to gulp down.

I popped the hood and found a loose intake hose and the situation appeared positive. With some work and help from the corner workers and the fire fighters, we were able to get the car started again, but it was only minutes before the end of the race and SCCA radioed them that it was too late to get back out.

As unfortunate as this outcome was, our team learned a tremendous amount and are looking for the Long Beach race, coming up in only 1 week.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Nissan Skyline GT-R Story: Sebring Debut

With only days to go until the April 1st race on the streets of St. Petersburg, the race report for the Nissan Skyline GT-R at Sebring is here.

We ventured to Roebling Road in Savannah, Georgia on the Friday before the race week for a final shakedown of the car before our first race in World Challenge.

With no issues, we rolled off with the 75ft race support rig containing the spare car and an uncountable amount of spare parts.

Upon arrival at Sebring, we had a test day on Tuesday, followed by an official SCCA practice on Wednesday, with qualifying following on Thursday, and the race itself in mid-afternoon on Friday.

As expected, everything went wrong with the car the first time I took it out on the track on Tuesday, and the entire team scrambled to resolve all the issues one at a time before qualifying on Thursday. Sean Morris, our crew chief, did an incredible job troubleshooting the major issues before qualifying. The entire crew - Josh, Victor, Merritt, and Sean barely got any sleep the entire week leading up to the race, opting to stay in our team truck (we have beds) rather than going back to 2 hotel rooms we had booked for the event at a Woman Athletes' College Dormatory. All the problems gave us incredibly little track time during the practice days to setup the car, as we had no baseline to go off of for a track as rough as Sebring. We qualified 25th with a 2:17.2 time.

The pre-race ceremony is not for the feint-hearted. As a first time driver in a series of this caliber, my entire body was imploding. As the red lights turned on, signaling a countdown for the standing start and all 32 cars began to rev their engines, I did my best to keep my heartbeat low and my body relaxed. The Viper in front of me seemed so close, I actually did not wish to risk rear-ending it off of the launch, since the GT-R is All-Wheel-Drive. We had practiced standing starts and I had it down to a science, but once the lights went off, I wanted to stay on the safe side for our debut standing start and slipped the clutch a bit more than usual, causing the car to bog off of the line. With our starting position being so far in the back, this strategy also made sense - I wanted to keep my nose clean in the beginning when so many crashes take place. Sure enough, plenty of cars went off and crashed out very early on. I also got hit by a Porsche going into turn one, or should we say he "leaned" on me. Our car is so many hundreds of pounds heavier, that I barely felt the nudge - it was more a sound than a physical jerk.

Once the dust cleared, I settled into a good mental zone and kept running consistent times through the race. Our car is down by such an ungodly amount of power compared with the Corvette, Viper, and CTS-V, even though we are heaviest, that it made no sense to go 10/10s. The objective was to finish the race. The power difference was so great that I recall a red Viper spinning out 2-3 times in front of me, and everytime he came back into the rear view mirror like a bullet. That was rather amusing, actually. Also, when I talk of the acceleration deficit, I mean 100% full throttle acceleration from the same speed on the straights.

On lap 12-13, I reported white smoke creeping through the passenger (left) window into the cockpit back to my crew chief. Everything still felt just fine on the car, so I was hoping that maybe it was just some marbles caught on fire inside the wheel well. We quickly got black flagged over the radio and I pitted. As soon as I came to a stop, Sean and Josh went to the left side of the car, followed by Sean running back to the wall and grabbing a fire extinguisher. You had to see him throw that pin like a champ. He quickly extinguished the fire around the downpipe - one of our oil supply lines failed and began to dribble oil onto the downpipe, causing the oil to smoke while the car was in motion. As soon as I pitted, with lack of strong breeze, the oil caught fire. And it was just a small dribble, no major failure and nor has this ever happened before on a GT-R race car in all of racing in Japan or the drag racing here in the US. But this is how it goes in racing - we are writing new records for parts that fail - which had never done so before in over a decade of racing.

All in all, our debut race went extremely well - the interest in this car was phenomenal - hundreds of people stopped by our paddock to let us know that they came out to Sebring for the sole purpose of seeing the GT-R race.

We also made numerous friends and I want to especially thank Randy Pobst and Chip Van Vurst for all of their help. Randy - you are what young drivers such as myself aspire to be both in and out of the cockpit. Chip - thank you for taking us under your wing and bending over backwards to accomodate for us. I am sorry the Potato Chip is serving its nickname permanently now. Everyone - visit for your Ford diesel truck needs. Chip and Matt have dozens to choose from in Ft. Lauderdale.

Oh, and check us out in AutoWeek!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sebring, Florida - Here we come!

Well well well!

It is now 1 month away from our debut race with World Challenge GT in Sebring, Florida. Every member on the team has shown at least a small amount of the "freakin' out" factor" - and me probably the highest. It's time to step up our game and make sure we can be as prepared as humanly possible.

I won't mention any names, but I have realized how difficult relying on other entities can sometimes be - nearly everything that cannot be late usually ends up being late. I am sure there is some kind of "law" for this phenomenon.

I went back home to Lexington, KY for Christmas and New Year's to spend with my family and got a chance to catch up with plenty of my high school friends, lovers, and others.

Then I was off to Detroit for the auto show, and it was certainly a memorable week - I can tell you that some of those magazine editors and manufacturer execs know how to party better than half the rock stars out there.

Dave Pankew and I got a chance to interview one of the designers of the Infiniti Coupe concept that was on display - an very beautiful, balanced car.

I finally saw the interview I did with Speed Channel's Redline segment back at Buttonwillow during the time attack. There is certainly an odd feeling associated with various people telling me that they saw me on TV 'just the other day.' I had no idea that many people watch Speed channel for non-NASCAR content.

The 2nd car arrived shortly after Detroit Auto Show from Japan. This one belonged to Advan Orque's team, with the highest accomplishment of placing 2nd during the Suzuka 1000km in 2003.

As I had never been on the Sebring track before, I will be leaving early to get track time with Panoz Racing School and Skip Barber. The reality of the situation still has not hit me completely as I seem to be so involved at the smallest levels of operations from day to day. Soon enough, we will be racing the legendary GT-R against all those factory backed race teams - Porsche 911 GT3, Dodge Viper Comp. Coupe, Corvette Z06, and even Aston Martin DBRS9.

I have been keeping regular contact with Mr. Tamura and it looks like our schedules will allow us to meet again soon in New York.

I hope as many people as possible can join us at Sebring for support!