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 ~
I’m finally back home, and had a chance this evening after work to edit another group of photos from our gathering at Fuji Speedway. You can check out the first post here if you missed it. Basically we wanted to try to create a more intimate approach to car meets; less hype, and more conversation. I think it turned out rather well and am already looking to organize another one when I return to Japan in the coming month. Like I mentioned in the previous post, getting the opportunity to chat about each build was pretty neat, and I walked away learning more than I’ve had in the past with hundreds of cars on the table. This way it gave the opportunity to for everyone to play the host role, and made for an overall more fulfilling time.
It’s interesting to see how an individuals ambitions, and desires transform over time. As we experience more and more of life, and slowly grow to accept who we are, it’s not uncommon for our thought process to undergo a change that not necessarily limits our goals, but makes them more specific. It’s something I’ve been experiencing myself for the past year or so, and there’s a subtle satisfaction from it. I’ve seen a lot of those new attributes show themselves on this very site; for me it’s predominantly been an increase in the value of time. I suppose it’s common knowledge that the more time you spend getting to know someone, the more notable that time is. I’m pulled in a lot of directions when I’m in Japan, and believe it or not, it’s taken awhile for that simple concept to soak in.
Once every year, on July 7th, tuners and enthusiasts from around the country celebrate Mazda’s shining triumph of engineering. The RX-7, to many, is so much more than a car; it’s an engineering marvel. The unique rotary motor a triangular pariah in a sea of ordinary, piston driven combustion. The chassis of the FD so perfectly geared towards time attack, has become a symbol of the sport in Japan. On this date, thousands will come together in honor of this car worldwide, with the epicenter being Tsukuba Circuit.
Picking up from where we left off in Portland, coverage in V2 will review the remaining teams that were competing over the weekend. I gotta say though, the first article on Final Bout was so wordy that I really don’t have much to say for the follow up; I kind of broke the dam gates on that one. For those who missed it, to get an overview of the event check out the first article published last week. If you’ve done that already, I won’t put you through it again – so let’s jump right into some photos.
There’s something to be said about those who go out of their way for the preservation of ideas. These people, when sensing a degradation in quality or process, will consciously take on the role of safeguarding origins. There are quite a few of us who, in our day to day, fail to see the importance of upholding certain ideologies. While the majority of us don’t fall into this category, it’s safe to say that those who do, have the ability to carry many. To them the priority lies in guidance. It’s about the teaching and the development of a new generation. A generation that may not be exposed to the superior pedigree of the past, but hold with them a desire for growth. Having spent the lesser side of a week with a few of these individuals, I can tell you it is a rare quality they possess. It is their calling, and they answer to it; and how they’ve answered has ignited a world-wide call to arms.
Before I get to processing and writing about the coverage of this past weekends VTEC Club season opener, I thought I’d try out a new idea for these events. Covering VTEC Club when I could last year was a lot of fun for me. The committee that puts these events together happen to be not only great people, but good friends of mine as well. Come to think of it, photographing these events combines almost everything I enjoy in life into one location; perhaps that’s why it feels nothing like work. Maybe that’s the feeling people get when they do what they love for a career. Anyway, I’m getting way off topic here.
As we landed back in Narita on the evening of the 12th, I couldn’t help but feel like I hadn’t even left the country. The sun had just began to set through the scattered clouds on the horizon and the diffused, orange glow of the afternoon’s last rays forced it’s way through the aircraft windows and into my eyes. It had only been 3 weeks since I was last in Japan, a travel duration that becomes the norm during this time of year; the hectic 3 month period when time attack events are at their peak. Actually, back in the States, I was so busy with new contracts at work and getting the store up that I hardly had time to post any content on site before heading back. Nevertheless, I had returned to Japan and first thing in the morning we would make our way back to Tsukuba for the second, and final, round of Battle Evome.
There’s a strange equality to winter, I think. It’s a balance that can only come with the sacrifice of life; a level playing field for all beings; a restart to a long year of effort and hard work of rebuilding from the previous season’s eradication. It sounds rather bleak, but it gives us, it gives everything, a chance to reestablish a new, improved form. It provides an opportunity to apply what we’ve learned from the past, to return stronger, an enhanced version, and if all goes as planned, a superior adaptation to that of last year. And so it is each year for the competitors of Battle Evome.
This week has flown by and I really haven’t gotten a chance to just sit down uninterrupted to edit and write. All last week I was in Tucson for work, and have been using this week to kind of catch up. I took the little free time I did have to spend at the shop working on the new motor and to start fabricating my dashboard. I don’t quite have all the parts collected to finish the head yet, so I should be concentrating on other areas of the car, time permitting. I have some work scheduled for it mid-February, and hoping to have a few open items finished by the end of the month. I’ve also been working to restock the site store by, and wrap up the new shirt design – mostly by way of email correspondence! We should have a few announcements coming within the next week or so. In the meantime, I managed to finish the edits from Tokyo Auto Salon and have one final post for you – check it out below.
I don’t want my last post on TAS to be misconstrued in any way. I started thinking about it after someone had commented on the Facebook page about it. I’m not trying to downplay TAS in anyway, it’s a great event. In fact, many people from all over the world plan their trip to Japan around that show. I am not in Japan as often as I used to be, and that means choosing dates wisely. It’s come to the point where the amount of opportunities I have outweigh the time I have to take advantage of them; and that’s something I am very grateful for. I’ve worked hard over the past years to put myself in that position, and am thankful for the friends that helped along the way. It would be different if I could devote 100% of my time to the site, but I’m just not in a place where I can make that a reality right now. I have a self-defined prerogative to share with you up to date information and coverage of what’s happening in Japanese Time Attack events, so naturally those are the events I align myself with. I’m glad this time I was able to do both, as there was a lot of neat stuff at TAS this year. I was especially excited about the handful of Super GT unveilings. If you have the opportunity to go I would highly encourage you to do so, and not to get discouraged by any of my opinions I throw up on the site. I’d never want to unintentionally discourage anyone from doing what they’ve always wanted to do. With that said, let’s jump into the second round of my selective coverage from the halls of Makuhari Messe.
I certainly didn’t plan to attend TAS this year. In fact, It’s been 5 years since I’ve purposefully started avoiding it. If you asked me why I’d honestly have trouble explaining; it’s a massive undertaking that showcases some of Japan’s best builds…so what’s the deal? Even as I type that out I’m squinting at the screen, eyebrows furrowed, questioning myself. Ahhh…that’s right, it’s literally just a giant car show and frankly, car shows are just not my thing anymore. The first TAS I went to was in 2009 – I went in 2010 too. 2011 was the first year I not only attended, but I covered it for the website as well; and it actually turned out to be my last. In 2014 my good friend Sekinei was well on-board with NDF and helped source some coverage of the show as he was attending anyway, and in 2015 I basically just didn’t post anything despite having coverage. I really just wanted to focus on our niche and at the time felt that anything else just contributed to a deviation of that (despite increasing traffic dramatically). Or maybe I just got jaded that it wasn’t a unique experience anymore; I’m not sure. So, you could say this year was sort of a fluke. I was going to be in Japan anyway to attend Evome on the 16th, and I had media passes for TAS on Friday so I wouldn’t really have to deal with hordes of testosterone crazed Japanese men in search of booth girls, and I literally had no plans on my calendar. Sounds good right? So why not return?
And who’d have guessed it – I had a really good time.
With all the running around and traveling I’ve done for the busy holiday I almost forgot I had a couple more shots from the final round of VTEC Club to post up. After chatting around the paddock area, and bouncing from the beginning of the straight to the end, Duane approached me and asked if I wanted to head over to Cotton Corners. I gladly accepted because I don’t get to go to the infield at these events too often. It’s nice to get a different perspective when photographing track events. As a result though, most of the on-track shots in this post will be from there and may be a little repetitive.