Event: Frontrunners In Kansai – Attack Suzuka V.2

The end of January saw my return to Suzuka Circuit after a 3 year absence from the international racing course.  After 2017, the timing of events in Suzuka were just always out of reach for my current schedule; needless to say, I was excited for my return in 2020.

It’s not as if I hadn’t been traveling in and out of the Kansai region during the past couple years; I’ve worked the past few CTAC events into the schedule.  However, Suzuka seemed to always be misaligned with my work schedule – which is a bummer because it’s a beautiful course and it draws a lot of the big names out to compete.  As you know any chance that I get to roam around the grounds of an internationally acclaimed racing course with a camera in hand is one that I’m typically going to take advantage of, and so when the stars aligned for me to attend Attack this year, I promptly made plans to be there.  I also reached out ahead of time to a few of the drivers that I knew were attending to schedule photoshoots before and after the event for the next magazine.  I really like how Volume 2 featured dedicated photo sets and it’s definitely something I want to continue going forward as much as I can.  I had a pretty ambitious schedule to tackle in just two days, but I am not out that direction as frequent as I used to be so I had to take advantage of every minute.

With how widespread a track like Suzuka is (5.8 kilometers), and knowing how tight the Attack time table was, I had to make a concerted effort to plan my day ahead of time.  I spoke with Haji, resident Attack media powerhouse, in the days leading up to my arrival to get a better idea of how I could comprehensively cover an event that has very little track time all things considered.  His plan was to get a ride from track officials to the East side of the course and stay there throughout the entire event.  That wasn’t particularly going to work for me now that I’m filming these paddock walk-throughs for our YouTube channel now, so I went with my alternate choice of running back and forth from the paddock to the chicane complex.  It ended up working out halfway decent, although there ended up being a lot less track time than I anticipated.  Anyway, enough about all that – let’s get into the day.

My morning started out much earlier than I had foreseen as Sugiko had to postpone our Thursday afternoon photoshoot for early Friday.  During testing he ran into a few issues that required them to tow the Supra back to Esprit.  I woke up around 530am, took my time getting ready with some coffee, and headed out to the track around 630 for a 7am shoot.  That’s Sugiko on the left, and Haji on the right in the blue jacket chatting it up while I worked.

We wrapped up the shoot just in time for the driver’s meeting.  I didn’t feel like walking upstairs so I shot over to some vending to grab another coffee and take a small break before heading out track side.  I don’t usually drink coffee with cream and sugar, but for some reason I had an itch for some cafe au lait.  This coffee boasted that it used milk that was made in Hokkaido, although they could have used literally any milk and nobody would know the difference because it’s canned coffee.  Nobody drinks canned coffee to savor the flavors.

Out on track it was time for the most entertaining part of any Attack event.

Group photos are always a laid back precursor to the seriousness of time attack.  The comedic personalities of each driver somehow always make their way out during this time and I can’t help but smile – it’s a tangible amalgamation of the community that Attack has built.


Eventually everyone times it right…for the most part.

The king himself, Fire Ando, crushed his course record (1’58.298) the day before during testing with a 1’57.035 – over a full second faster.

With the pressure somewhat off of Ando during the actual Attack event, it wasn’t a huge problem that he wasn’t able to get a decent lap in during the day.  He still rolled out for a few exhibition laps though, however the track conditions weren’t available to try and best his time from Thursday.

Heading around turn 7, the Dunlop corner.  If you’re familiar with the Suzuka track layout, you’ll know that turns 16, 17 and 18, the chicane complex (Casio Triangle), doubles back against turn 7 providing the efficient photographer access to two different track sections without having to walk far at all.  Stonks.

Taniguchi was once again tasked by Esprit to pilot their flagship NSX.  With a best time of 1’59.666 around Suzuka, both driver and team were looking forward to significantly cutting time with a new wider, Hoosier tire setup.  An aggressive 335 rear tire setup was put into place for the event, which is an insane increase over their prior 295/35/18 AO50 format.

I mean, even to run a 295 on an NSX is quite the task – one look at the body work will tell you they’ve absolutely pushed the limits on what they can fit underneath these fenders.

So, with all 900 horsepower on tap, and a fresh set of Hoosiers, NOB set out with hopes of stealing the course record from Ando.

However, their aspirations were soon cut down when, on the first session out-lap, Taniguchi ran into some serious interference issues in the rear.

Initially everyone thought that possibly there was some sort of mechanical issue, perhaps an oil line or something.  From my perspective though, I didn’t particularly seem that way from both the color of the smoke and lack of smell.  On top of that the smoke dissipated when the car got back onto the straight, but was very profound in corners.  You can tell from the photos though that something was obviously wrong.

Big ooof.

After about 5 or 6 minutes, I heard Taniguchi limping the car back to the pits under it’s own power.  Helmet was off, and the smoke was gone.  Maybe it wasn’t mechanical after all.

The track was red flagged while the circuit workers investigated the conditions.  Had the NSX leaked anything they wanted to be sure it was addressed.

Admittedly this timeline is off because this was taken after the NSX went out again and ran into the same issue…

…which turned out to be the rear tire hitting the chassis fairly aggressively under literally any cornering load.  Taniguchi clearly baffled at the issue.  I overheard him mentioning trying a spacer, which I think they attempted the second time out.  I think the issue was required a bit more work than just throwing a spacer on though.

Good view of the couple spots the tire was hitting.  That sheetmetal plate covers several AN lines.

A collective ‘yikes’ from the Esprit team.  Needless to say their day ended early without setting a time.

Sakurai’s FD undergoing final inspections before heading out for the super lap.

Car was looking good as usual with what is probably the most preserved paint of any car in the paddock.

 

He was able to best his previous time by about two tenths of a second for a 2’09.699.

Wacky Mate was present supporting several cars for the event, among them being Masayoshi and his immaculate R32GTR.  I couldn’t tell you when, but at some point the switch got flipped on this car and it went from a somewhat mild-mannered GTR, which by all means was extremely fast, to a much more aggressive track car.  Masayoshi has always been among the fastest drivers on track, and with the upgrades to the GTR over the past few years he’s only been able to capitalize on his skill behind the wheel.

Also look how stoked he is to be here…

I had a chance to shoot this car for 80R Volume 3 this same week as well, so look forward to that.

It was a nice surprise to see Under Suzuki and get to express my well wishes for his experience at WTAC last year.  He was going around and stepping on everyone’s front splitters out of spite…just kidding.  They’re actually units that he produced, he was most likely just feeling out their condition.

Under was no doubt present in support of his brother, Kengo ‘Lock’ Suzuki, who just recently wrapped up his own FD build at Wacky Mate.  You may or may not remember his previous white FD from some open events at Tsukuba we’ve covered in the past.  This new build is a complete departure from that with a much more focused aero package.

Under, Ando and the Wacky Mate guys choppin it up in the garage.

It’s a unique look for sure – working on setting a more intimate photo session up with the pair, but I would love to show you all more of this car.  Kengo was able to his a 2’15 under less than ideal conditions, which was still faster than his previous time, but a ways off his goal.

Horiton, not missing an opportunity to run at a track somewhat local to him, was very present and eager to set a time at Suzuka.  Despite never driving the EG on this track, his goal time of 2’09.999 was very lofty to say the least.

The updated front end of this car is unreal.  He’s able to fit a 315 series Hoosier underneath the custom vented front fenders.  Wild.

His first outing was on Advan A050, most likely a comparison test.  Unfortunately, due to a few red flags (see NSX), he wasn’t able to actually set a dedicated time on either.

He was clearly stoked to be headed out to track.

Cutting his session short after the NSX debacle, he simply just stopped mid-Dunlop corner, reversed, and headed back through the access road back to the pits.  He was able to put down a 2’12.332 when it was all said and done.  Still extremely fast, but not nearly what the duo are capable of.

Another Osaka local that we see often at tracks like Central Circuit, was also putting down times for the first time at Suzuka.

The Aslan built K20 has a very ‘Kansai flavor’ as the owner puts it – he’s not lying.

He was able to squeeze out a 2’29 for the day.

Nagao’s Quarter Mile R34 made up one of the two in attendance. No time posted for this one however.

The other belongs Kotono, a regular here in Mie.  Auto Select always has a good showing at Suzuka and neighboring circuits.

2’10.657 was good enough for Kotono to smash his previous best lap time as well as more than pass his goal time of 2’10.999 – congrats!

Seijiro Sawa and his GTR was right on the heels of his teammate with a 2’10.849 he clocked during the free run group.

Anxiously awaiting the track to go green again.

Another heavy hitter on track was Bando with Team Autobahn and their JZZ30.  A previous best of 2’04 awhile ago saw them hunting for the elusive sub-2 minute lap time with the cars massive amount of upgrades since.

For all the changes that this car has undergone, the interior has remained relatively similar.

The stage was set for Kunihiko to head out…

…focused and manifesting a sub-2.

Unfortunately the reality had different plans for him and he was stuck without a time for the day.  Not the most ideal situation for a lot of teams actually, but it’s all part and parcel of circuit racing.

 

The engine package on this car never ceases to amaze me.

A 900 horsepower 2JZ-GE+2JZ-GTE, with a Garrett G42-1450, tuned by a Motec M800 with the Albins sequeintial transmission with newly installed paddle shifters; the standard Frontrunner package.

Another driver I’m always pumped to see is Tetsutaro ‘Juntaro’ Hisaoka, 13B specialist and resident Attack rock and roll guitarist.  He’s always in good spirits and looking cool.

His car is an interesting mix of street and track with the full dash and center console being retained, with just about everything else being stripped.  His aero package is mild comparatively and despite the decals and Vertex livery, could fit right at home on the street.

Ready to race

You can check out his lap here.  He was able to clock a 2’10.750 during the free run, which is about 7 tenths slower than his previous best.

Matsumoto’s RWB 993 with fully built Promodet motor.  650 horsepower at just 1,100kg is a beautiful package; and what a great color.

He was about 3 seconds off pace however, and wasn’t able to put down a fast lap before conditions changed for the worse.

Mitsuyoshi was unable to set a time for the event, but I believe he plans to attend Attack Tsukuba, so I’m looking forward to that.  With a best of 2’04.9, he’s already proven to be among the fastest at Suzuka.

Mentioned this car in the last post, but here are a few more photos of it.  Naoki was pretty excited to be getting more time with the new transmission.

Interior is tremendously more cool with the new shifter.

*Insert peeking emoji*

He was able to be his goal time with a quick 2’17.222, over two seconds faster than his previous best – looks like the transmission is helping out.

Another Lotus driver, Attack regular, and JAMMY enthusiast, Tetsunari Hasegawa, was in attendance looking forward to putting down a fresh time at Suzuka.  Not having driven the car here before, he set his goal at 2’15.999, a conservative time given his experience.

Here he is trying to figure out where to put his door number on a panel of the car that doesn’t have rubber strewn across it and then failing because the car is completely covered in rubber.

JAMMMY!

He was only able to garner a 2’18.888, which all things considered is fast, but still a bit off his goal time.  Conditions weren’t the best during the free run sessions.

Yasuhiro Ando is a face I’m always happy to see.

Again, and I know this seems to be a common theme in this post, he was unable to get the conditions that would bear a personal best for him and he ended up about a second off pace with a 2’11.

Okumura’s Wacky Mate supported Z33 – one of the best Z33’s in the paddock.

Pretty cool S15 I saw when I was making my way to the restaurant to grab some curry.

Hiroyuki ‘Shark’ Iiri was another of the handful of drivers that had yet to put a time down at Suzuka.  No doubt he’d be able to best the time he set when conditions are better, but for a first time out to run a 2’09.063 is pretty insane. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a professional driver like Hiroyuki though.

His goal time was 2’09.999 – he made quick work of that.

The time was set on A050’s.

If you want to hear this car take off from pit lane and onto the front straight, give this video a watch.

 

After the second red flag, the rain sort of started to pick up as late morning weather rolled across the circuit.  Driver’s began to park their cars and just chat amongst one another as Sugiko, Hiroyuki and Taniguchi are seen doing here.  Looks like Sugiko is trying to get Iiri to pull his finger or something, I don’t know…

It wasn’t long before the sun all but faded and the sky cracked open, officially ending the day early.

I wandered around in the rain for another hour or so taking photos because rain photos are dramatic and cool, and, well, I had planned to be there all day…

Kengo loading up the FD in the rain, no doubt ready to be home and out of the weather.  Him and his brother look very alike.

By the time everyone was loaded up it was literally pouring and for the sake of my health I decided to call it and head back to Yokohama.

An interesting day to say the least with a lot of ups and downs.  It was a day that sort of concisely defined time attack all just in a few hours. Congratulations to everyone who bested their times, and I’ll see most of you again next week in Tsukuba!