I’ve always appreciated the varying degree of tuning style in Kyushu prefecture; specifically the cars that frequent Autopolis International Circuit. From fully dedicated track cars, to light tune approaches, there is something about the cars that standout that’s not quite describable.
Late in the month of May, Summer has started to show its true colors in Japan. With temperatures already pushing well into the 30’s, it’s time we say farewell to the cold mornings at the circuit, and face the cold reality that we won’t be racing anytime soon.
Before I take off for Japan for the Summer, I was lucky enough to have one more opportunity to take the ISF to the track with all the tire issues finally sorted out. I wasn’t able to get the stiffer springs on in time, however that may have actually worked out better for the baseline testing.
This season of time attack has been quite exciting. With events being held multiple times a week leading up to the Attack Championship at Tsukuba, we’ve seen many records being broken, incredible progress on builds across the paddock, new rivalries forming, as well as a handful of new entrants stepping into the ring. The anticipation in the days leading into Attack Tsukuba were as high as ever.
Kiyotaka Eishima had two requirements for the car he would choose to campaign in time attack; it had to be fast, and it had to look cool. So, after purchasing the FD in 2006, every decision he’s made has come back to those two obligations – and it is clear that he has never strayed from that path.
The new season of Attack kicked off on the weekend of October 25th with the always anticipated Attack Tohoku event at Sportsland Sugo; a track that, with it’s lush forested backdrop, and unique layout, has quickly become among my favorites in Japan.
It’s always a pleasure seeing the regulars at Attack events around Japan season after season. Those drivers and shops that form the foundation of our community, that attend not just to drive, but to uphold the responsibility they’ve given themselves to push the sport forward.
The energy that the time attack community in Japan has for this motor sport is unmatched by any other country, and I can say this with the utmost confidence. It’s a source of propulsion for the entire attack community and something that I feel has a positive impact not just in Japan, but throughout the world.
I ran into Mitsuyoshi at Suzuka Circuit late January during the Attack event after not having seen him or his car for some time. Having a background in drifting has given him a strong grasp of car control, and now with a car that’s becoming finely tuned, his lap times have been getting very quick.
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.
The day before the Attack event at Suzuka took place, the circuit held an open test day that many of the main participants took advantage of. I happened to time my arrival to the course with just enough time left in the day to grab a few shots before heading to the track hotel.
With the Super GT Championships kicking off each year around April, Tokyo Auto Salon is scheduled at the perfect time off-season for competitors to showcase their 2019 season winning cars, as well as their new 2020 builds. One of the main reasons I attended the Salon this year was to get a closer look.
Let me preface this post by saying that the amount of travel to spend a single day in Japan is surprisingly achievable. It’s not like I would recommend it, there are definitely more efficient ways to go about it, but to say it wasn’t a fun experience wouldn’t be wholly true; at the very least it’s a conversation starter.
As the day wore on, and my duties track-side came to a close, I was afforded more time to spend wandering around the sea of RX-7’s on the other side of the grandstands.
Rotary Spirit was created in 2018 in an attempt to host the most comprehensive Seven’s Day meeting throughout all of Japan. This year marked the second annual event, and I happened to be at Fuji Speedway when the festivities were going down.
While I was photographing a race at Fuji Speedway, I took some time to record a walk-through of the Seven’s Day event that was going on in the event paddock.
As per the norm, Tsukuba Circuit was rented out by various hosts the day before the main event of Attack Tsukuba, allowing for the Attack competitors a chance to test and tune car settings. In this case, Sato-san from Unlimited Works hosted the first half of the day, and Takeo Fukazumi from Zummy Racing Family took on the afternoon.
It takes a dedicated enthusiast to consider time attack a spectator sport; and trust me, I don’t say that lightly. I’ve spent almost a good portion of my life promoting the sport, the last thing I want to do is discredit my own work. That’s not my sole opinion though, it is simply a statement that is rooted in factuality. Unlike other mediums in motor sport, time attack is more of an intrinsic, individual type of racing when compared to wheel to wheel events. It’s something you’d rather be doing than watching. At the top levels, the tracks are somewhat deserted in order to give the driver a clear shot in getting the fastest lap possible – having no traffic is essential.
If you happen to follow our Facebook or Instagram page, you may have noticed a few images promoting an upcoming event we’re headlining with the organizers of VTEC Club. NDF Attack Challenge is our take on emulating a Japanese style of time attack that is not often found in the States. Naturally, with the countries being almost polar opposites of one another (in both size, demographic, and culture), there are some very notable differences between the execution of the two; the most striking difference being that of classing.
As I continued to sift through the coverage of Central Time Attack Challenge, I realized that there were a noticeably less amount of cars in attendance this year compared to last. No doubt in part due to the weather, which sort of goes to show the challenges with hosting a once a year style event in a country that has such unpredictable weather patterns. It’s really something places like Southern California don’t have to deal with, and we often take for granted.
Central Time Attack is an event that has quickly grown on me in an interesting way; be it the uniqueness of the circuit, the location, or the ‘newness’ of it to me, it’s definitely starting to become something I look forward to annually. Being so far from the ‘hub’ of time attack in Japan, it presents a unique opportunity for me to see builds I don’t typically get exposed to regularly. I had a similar feeling shooting at Suzuka for the first time back in 2017. This was my second consecutive year attending CTAC and while the weather wasn’t particularly cooperating, it was still an exciting day.
The Speed and Sound Trophy is, all things considered, a newer event held annually at Tsukuba Circuit. Hosted by a handful of well-known media publications that include names like Option, REVSPEED, Autosport, G-Works, and Motor Head, it attempts to bring together all facets of motor sport for enthusiasts of any kind to enjoy equally. The end result is an event that keeps the track busy with time attack competitions, demonstration runs from old and current race cars, guest driver personalities, GT cars, drift exhibitions, and car shows. Of course, what we’re interested in is the Option hosted Superlap competition.
Every year, Sydney Motorsports Park (formerly Eastern Creek Raceway) plays host to one of the most anticipated events in the time attack world. An event that decides the most sought after titles in all race classes across the globe. It’s an event that is reserved for the most dedicated drivers and teams from almost every continent active in motor sports. The financial, mental, and physical toll it can play on individuals ensures that only the most dedicated of teams show up to play their hand at becoming the fastest in the world. Given that the teams based in Japan have been involved in this event in some form or another since the beginning, I thought it was long due for a visit to Sydney to support our Japanese constituents.
I don’t think it’s a secret that I prefer racing events to car shows. One look at the past articles on this site will paint a pretty clear picture. I get a lot of questions regarding if I’d ever consider hosting a meet here in the US; and the answer is generally ‘I don’t think so’ (maybe an invite only track event…). Despite it being held almost 4 years ago, the Winter Cafe was overwhelming for just 2 people to manage and I’d hate to run into that situation again. That’s precisely whey we began these little casual meetings between NDF and FRS.
Time Attack events typically take a back seat during the scorching hot, humid Summer months in Japan. Track conditions are far from ideal for breaking course records, or setting personal bests, so for the most part the sport lies dormant. Not to mention being strapped into a race car, covered head to toe in protective gear, with 100+ degree track temps isn’t fun no matter how into it you are. Even still, while the frequency of events slows, and major shops take the time to rebuild their demo cars; the sport doesn’t completely become extinguished. A fact proven by events like the Endless Circuit Meeting just last weekend at Fuji Speedway. An event that allows both professional tuners and enthusiasts to get in some track time during the off-season.
Among the top N/A competitors in the Japanese time attack scene, exist a niche group of AE86 drivers. Serving as the FR rival of the Honda Civic’s in the paddock, the competition provided by the Toyota pack always manages to provide a subset of antagonism at any given event. Sato Shinetsu and his CBY equipped Trueno did just that at this year’s 10th anniversary Attack Championship at Tsukuba.
There are always the core shops that participate in the Super Lap event at HKS Premium Day annually. Names like Pro Shop Fukoh, Top Fuel, Garage G-Force, Auto Select, Esprit, Top Secret, Autech and the like; which is awesome because you get to see what amounts to basically a yearly update of how the cars have been getting on. Development in time attack moves just about as fast as the cars nowadays, so it’s no surprise to see builds looking completely different year over year, as they put more and more research into obtaining as much aerodynamic grip as possible.
HKS Premium Day has always been a must-go event for me. It’s an all day event held at a track that’s reasonably close to Yokohama. Because of this, I don’t feel the pressure I usually do at smaller events where I’m pressed for time. It’s a lot more fun for me, and typically I end up taking a lot less photos as I have time to just wander around and look at stuff. Since it’s inception, the event has served as the proverbial ‘whos-who’ of big names in Japanese motor sport. HKS always does a great job of ensuring there are plenty of attractions to keep the fans entertained.
The Garage Work camp has been hard at work on several of their shop cars for the 2018 season. Iwata has chosen to put his personal build aside in order to concentrate on the advancement of a few select customers; which is a somewhat noble, but necessary thing to do when you own your own tuning shop. The dedication is paying off though, as all 3 of the cars they have competing have broken personal records. One of them stands out among the rest, however, and it all started last year when he broke a very important record at Tsukuba.
Continuing coverage from Central Circuit, we’ll take a look at the podium finishers of the day, and a few of the close runner-ups. While most everyone in the Vertex classes were quick, I was surprised at where some of the cars landed on the time sheets. I think my perception of who was fast at Central was a bit skewed from the events held in prior years. If I’m not mistaken, Iwata took fastest lap a few years ago before he crashed the EG at TC2000. Seems like the Kansai guys have been doing their homework recently though.
The days leading up to this event were spent in somewhat of a rush to compile my projects at work so I could afford some time to do a bit of research on Central Circuit, and the event itself. This would be the first time attending CTAC for both Sekinei and I, and I wanted to have at least an elementary grasp of the track layout and event schedule. It may seem dramatic, but when I’m presented with a finite amount of time to photograph something comprehensively, I get a bit anxious. With the top class getting 3 sessions comprised of 15 minutes each, you can’t afford to be isolated from the action for even a minute. With some of the fastest drivers gathered from all of Japan, I was looking forward to seeing what the day had in store.
In a clutch drive at the end of last year, Hiroyuki ‘Shark’ Iiri set a new track record for the naturally aspirated, rear-wheel drive class with a blistering 55.887 lap around TC2000. Considering that this project hasn’t been in development for very long in comparison to some other builds gives you an idea of both the talent that Hiroyuki has behind the wheel, and the people involved in making this car what it is. I’m looking forward to getting some time in Hyogo this month to talk to him about the car a little more in-depth. For now enjoy some photos from the record-breaking day.
This past weekend, Willow Springs International Raceway once again played host to the annual, all-Honda, VTEC Club event; Autumn Speed Festival. Since the inaugural event last year, it’s one of the only events I look forward to attending here in the US (actually in the past two years it’s the only event I’ve attended). While VTEC Club usually runs alongside another facilitating vendor to host their normal events, Autumn Speed Festival’s attendance, and management are proof that, time forbidding, the organization can survive on it’s own. With over 80 registered drivers, the pits were packed with Honda driver’s both veteran and new, ready to take on the ‘fastest road in the West’; Big Willow.
1990’s motoring in Japan, for a few people, has recently increased in popularity, becoming somewhat of an abstract study into a very unique culture. A lot of what we see today, especially in drifting, is an amalgamation of trends and lifestyle cues from that era; things that we aren’t necessarily privy to (unless of course you were a teenager in Tokyo in 1995). Yuji Hasunuma, owner of Pro Shop Wave, was a prominent figure in the peak times of ‘hashiriya‘; a time where the older generation today, was growing up and exploring the world of motorsports. Despite the change in trends, Yuji and his shop is still around today in Kanagawa, and as a ‘tip of the hat’ to the age his generation loved, he began the Bari Dori Heaven events.
Mie Prefecture is a long way from Yokohama; a lot further than I expected anyway. Whenever I’m planning road trips through Japan I get this false sense of distance because I’m not accustomed to using the metric system. So my brain still equates 60 ‘x’ of a distance to roughly an hour. Because of that drives typically go by quicker than I expect. Well, not this time. Maybe I’m getting used to it, maybe I underestimated the distance, or maybe it was the weather, but Thursday evening when we set out to Suzuka Circuit I had no idea I’d be driving for over 6 hours…
Given our illustrious ability to sleep in on the day of track events, I was surprised that when my alarm clock went off at 4:30am this past Sunday morning, I actually got out of bed. As our routine would have it, I met Sekinei downstairs and we set off for Ibaraki stopping only at the 711 right after the turn-off to Tsukuba. It’s been longer than I can remember that I arrived at the track before the sun came up, but we somehow managed to roll through that little narrow tunnel before daybreak. In fact, we were among the first to arrive meeting Under-san and the Evome staff as we entered. It didn’t take long for the flat beds to start rolling in though, and before I knew it the paddock was full of cars with drivers itching to get out on track before the weather took a turn for the worse.
A couple weeks ago Zummy held one of the first open time attack events of the what is considered the ‘prime’ season at TC2000; temps have dropped, and track conditions are ideal for fast times. Many of the amateur drivers used this as an opportunity to shakedown their summer upgrades. We saw a lot of modifications to existing builds, as well as the debut of many newer entries to the ever-growing niche. It didn’t take long for the returning drivers to see the fruits of their labor, and within laps personal bests were being racked up across the board.
Even in sunny Southern California, the mid-day heat is giving way to brisk mornings and chilly evenings; a sign that Summer has finally, albeit very late, left us. The ushering in of the holidays reminds us we’re already well into the Fall season, and with that comes a time that everyone involved with this website is very excited for; Attack season. Japan kicked off with a rather casual shakedown/practice meeting at Tsukuba this past week, while here in the States, VTEC Club held their first all Honda Autumn Speed Festival. Two strikingly similar events where many personal bests were broken.
This year, the collective minds behind Final Bout set out to unite a country over the sport of drifting; instilling in the nation a certain set of qualities they feel are necessary for the sport to thrive with it’s Japanese roots intact. Each carefully selected location of the Special Stage events provided their own unique characteristics in both venue and demographics that helped define what drifting is in each corner of the nation. Uncovering, and highlighting these places allowed others to experience different parts of the country, both first and second hand, that we wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to. I think this alone is reason enough to undertake a project as massive as Final Bout has been in 2016. This time the crew headed to Canaan Motor Club in central New Hampshire to host the third, and final stage of the trio of special events.
As the rain faded away, and the afternoon sun burned off the remaining clouds over the Speedway, some people hit the road to head back towards Tokyo. The little award ceremony we had towards the end went well. I’ve never really had to judge, or rank cars before (although we all do it silently), but despite the choices being difficult it was still pretty fun. Everyone was pretty stoked, and it was a good way to wrap up the meeting. Before everyone had left, we were able to gather some of the main FRS members and take some photos closer to the track. Hope you liked the coverage, and I look forward to holding a couple more of these in the next couple months. Enjoy the photos ~