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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Japan: Here I come!

Since my last update in November, I've been back to Japan on two occasions for a few weeks at a time, and here's the main drift of events:

During my December trip, after a successful test with a Super Taikyu team, I am now on board to race a brand new NISMO-built Nissan Fairlady Z (Z33 350Z) race car in Class-3, against the likes of Mazda RX7, BMW M3, and Honda NSX. I am the co-driver for Maejima Shyuji, another Nissan enthusiast with an R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R Z-Tune among the stable of his cars. Mr. Maejima has nearly two decades of racing experience and is well-known for being fast and consistent, and I look forward to our first test with the 350Z (currently being built at NISMO) sometime in March.

The test was conducted at the Sugo circuit with a Toyota Altezza race car in the SNOW - and what an experience that was. I wonder what the traction coefficient was on that day. The scariest part was the final corner which has a very large radius and is extremely long and uphill. I only had to drive 7 laps, including the out-lap and the in-lap, at which point the team decided to take me - I am not the most modest guy when it comes to my driving ability, but I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised that I could impress them that fast in a car I've never driven on a track I've never driven.

The schedule for the Super Taikyu series in 2007 is as follows:

Series Date
TEST 3/20

Rd.1 4/21-22

Rd.2 5/12-13
Rd.3 7/14-16
(Tokachi 24hr)
Rd.4 8/04-05
(Fuji Speedway)
Rd.5 9/01-02

Rd.6 10/27-28
Rd.7 11/10-11
(Twin Ring Motegi)

More information on the series is available here:

As the race car itself is not yet complete, we do not have pictures, but it will look like this Ings+1 Z33 350Z in our class:

I paid a visit to NISMO, and they had some very nice cars on display:
This is the Group C car from the early 90's. It could generate over 8000 pounds of downforce and was over 1200 horsepower unrestricted. The weight? 2400 lbs. In theory, it could probably drive upside down at under 100mph.
This is one of the last, if not the last, R34 Nissan Skyline GT-Rs to compete in Super Taikyu. This one successfuly defeated the entire Porsche 911 GT3 horde in Class-1 in 2003 - GT-R's final season in Super Taikyu.

At the very end of my trip, I somehow managed to get myself stuck again as a speaker to a group of people I'd never met before - nor did I know I was speaking until I was inside the room.
Nearby the Narita Airport, there is a NATS technical institute - specializing in everything automotive, from fiberglass to fabrication, to race car maintenance and suspension setup.
I spoke to the students, who are aspiring race car mechanics and drivers themselves, about the world of racing - the importance of preparation as a team and the mental and physical readiness and training as a driver. The campus is very cool with a plethora of tools and knowledgable instructors.
NATS even has a team of the equivalent of the U.S.'s Formula SAE competition, which is pictured above.

After coming back to Los Angeles in the beginning of December, I caught up on some work and spent the holidays with my family in Kentucky - then things got interesting:
I flew back from Kentucky to Los Angeles on the 5th of January to immediately fly to Detroit on the 6th for the Detroit Auto Show. The show was great as always and many interesting developments took place. I flew from Detroit to L.A. on the evening of the 9th - packed and flew out to Narita airport in Japan on the morning of the 10th for the Tokyo Auto Salon, effectively putting me out of town for over a month total. January 10th was my 21st birthday, and I spent the entire day on the plane above the Pacific Ocean, to arrive in Japan on the evening of the 11th. I did finally get to blow out a candle on a birthday cake though - Thank you Mr. Tamura!

My first time at the Tokyo Auto Salon was a blast, although I had to go from meeting to meeting regarding the Super Taikyu racing, which did not leave me much time to see the show.

NISMO showed a very cool new Z33 Fairlady Z race car for competition against the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars in the Class-1 of Super Taikyu. It is the NISMO Type 380RS-Comeptition version, with a 3.8 liter VQ engine, pumping out over 400hp.

Then a few days later, I got a call from a friend of mine at Nissan congratulating me on getting accepted into the Formula Challenge Japan development program. I was certainly happy to hear it, but I had not yet been contacted directly and was a bit curious as to how he knew before me. Ah, the Japanese world goes 'round in interesting ways indeed.

The FCJ program is a true one-of-a-kind development series in the world right now. JRP office, which is responsible for the Formula Nippon series (V8 600hp, call it F2), got Toyota and Honda to consolidate their development formula series in a spec competition class, and had Nissan join a formula series in a long time.

The cars are a complete spec Formula Renault 2.0 from Europe, but since the big three Japanese manufacturers compete with their own teams, the cars are labeled as "Formula Challenge" with no Renault badging. The drivers are mostly between 19-24 in age and get selected into the program. The top drivers from '06 season went to compete in F3.

(Machine Spec)

Chassis [FC106]
Length 4125mm
Height 954mm
Width 1674mm
Gross weight
Engine FCJ-Spec Engine (Inline 4 cylinders)
Displacement 2,000cc
Max HP
200hp/7,200rpm(With catalytic converter)
Tires Dunlop
(F:180/530 R13、R:240/570 R13)
Wheels Enkei

Actually, Kimi Raikkonen competed in Formula Renault 2.0 in England in 2001 as a 21 year old and went to Formula One the following year. I am feeling lucky.

18 races
Rd. R1
Location Suzuka





(2 hours practice on Thursday and 1.5 hours practice on Friday)
(Testing Schedule)
Rd. T1 T2 T3
3/4-5 3/13-14 4/25-26
Location Fuji

(3 hours per day practice time during test days)

The really cool thing about the FCJ schedule is that the first race is with Super GT (formerly JGTC) at Suzuka on March 17/18. What is wonderful furthermore is that I will have 12 hours of testing time in the car, including 6 at Suzuka before the opening weekend.
Then, only a few days later on the 20th I will be back to the official test day for Super Taikyu to Suzuka, driving the 350Z.

I get so excited just by thinking about all of this. I will spend nearly every weekend from March through November in race cars either racing or testing.

So.... let's talk about the Nissan Skyline GT-R in the United States. The car looked incredible for the season finale at Laguna Seca in October of 2006.
Click here for the Laguna Seca Nissan Skyline GT-R gallery

But looks only get you so far in racing.... the car was better than ever before with regarding to suspension setup, we also eliminated our brake overheat issues from before. The car ran sound at a test a few days prior to arriving to Laguna Seca, which we conducted at Willow Springs.

At Laguna Seca however, we ended up blowing two engines - one on Friday and one on Sunday during the race. It was a huge dissappointment, as I was just a few seconds away from being mid-pack with barely any track time. I am convinced now however more than ever: The Skyline GT-R is a competitive car even in today's level of World Challenge GT. We know exactly what needs to be done and who can do it.

Racing the GT-R, despite the poor results on the car due to the many mechanical issues we experienced, lead me to all of the opportunities in Japan - a ride in the Super Taikyu series with a brand new factory race car and a full-blown development formula series - ensuring I get tired of being on the track instead of craving for time to practice in 2007.

But, I do wish to see the GT-R continue racing in the United States, especially because we did not exactly end it on a good note.


So, I'd like to ask all of you readers to spread the word to find an interested party to race this car in 2007. We have already gone through with the registration for World Challenge, and we will provide further development for the car and all support through C&R Racing in Indianapolis, IN. Bruce Ashmore of C&R and ARC, with decades of motorsports experience, including winning Group C cars, and Indy500 winning chassis, is the Team Director.

If you are interested in becoming involved as a driver or utilizing this extraordinary effort for media exposure as a sponsor, please contact me. In 2006, we reached millions of fans in the United States, and we have the paperwork to show you. This is an opportunity most of all because everything is already setup - the race car, the spare parts, the 75 foot race rig, and a world-class race team in Indianapolis.

So come on - I dare you - take part in the future of the GT-R in the United States. I am passing the torch over to you. You can bet I will be back in 2008 and then we will see what happens (I already have a good idea... but it's a secret.)

In the meantime, I am going to get my racing ducks in a row in Japan.

(Igor Sushko at a photoshoot at Fuji Speedway)