ズミー♪走 [Zummy Run] 2020 @ Tsukuba Circuit

Entering this year with no day job, after taking the voluntary redundancy option offered by my company, its safe to say I have plenty of free time. I feel like I may aswell share this bit of information with you, even though my unemployed status shouldn’t really make any difference to you. But I bet it has now spurred me on to take any opportunity I can to do what I truly value as worthwhile.

Originally I planned only on returning back to Japan next month, but since I had nothing better to do, I decided to get flights booked and make it out earlier than I had originally planned. I mean, Osaka Auto Messe was coming up, and its been a side of Japanese car culture I wanted to check out first-hand. This prompted me to get on Skyscanner and start scouring the cheapest dates to fly in and out of Nihon. I peer-pressured Luke into coming along for the journey, as I thought it would be interesting getting his take on the country.

Thankfully, we made it out of Manchester Airport on the 9th of February, as it was a close call with ‘Storm Ciara’ going crazy in the UK disrupting a few flights that day. I think as we boarded the plane, the wind and rainy onslaught calmed down, so our pilot must have just sent that shit and prayed for the best. Above the fog and clouds, it was all good and our 12 hours+ journey officially commenced.

We landed in Narita on the morning of the 10th, giving us a full day to get settled into our Shinjuku accommodation. It was cold. More so than I had expected. I have always travelled to Japan in the summer season so I presumed their winter wouldn’t be as bad as the UK’s. I didn’t have a clue though, winter in Japan gives your body a new type of chill and we were there during the tail-end of it! To top it off, the small apartment we stayed in had no insulation which apparently is commonplace due to the insanely hot summers.

Cold weather rant over. This was no Jet2 holiday to Tenerife. The first thing on the itinerary was completely worth perpetually shivering myself to sleep for. Luckily jetlag didn’t affect me as much as it did Luke, but we were as fresh as daisies on the morning of the 11th, ready to get trackside; TC2000 trackside.

I had contacted Karl (@hashiriyajapan) prior to arriving in Japan, as his continuous stream of images of car culture, in his now home country, caught my eye immediately a while back. Being a fellow Brit, he must have been open to my enthusiastic approach when I contacted him via IG, and being a kind enough bloke, he offered to give me and Luke a lift to the Zummy event at Tsukuba, as it isn’t easily accessible via public transport.

Its a given that Japan never fails to deliver on the automotive front, but Tsukuba on the otherhand – it knows nothing other than to provide us carnuts with a unique experience. Part of it might have to do with the nostalgic element derived from back in the day, playing Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport, or watching the Best Motoring series, and discovering this brief – yet technical – racing circuit.

The most popular viewing area that’s pretty much accessible as soon as you enter via the paddock entrance, is above the pits, so we hung out and watched the ‘Premium’ group go out and run the session in the typical Attack format: 3 laps, one warm-up, a hot-lap, and end the run on a cool down. A few cars might have had a couple more, but the majority were using their seat time as a dress rehearsal for the [then] upcoming Attack Tsukuba event.

The vantage point gives you a chance to get some cool top-down angles of the machines in the paddock area. Not one but TWO Innocent Blue Mica FD RX-7s were present, so you know I had a good day. In Japan these Mazdas are quite common, on both the track and street. You can’t blame ’em…

The Toyota Supra hasn’t been synonymous with Time Attack, most likely with its disadvantageous heft rendering it a relatively poor performer in the tight sections, something TC2000 is mostly comprised of. Although, this angelic white A80 present on the day looked at home out on the track. The aero it was equipped with was really gritty and homemade, giving you a sense that it was built to be run hard.

The good looking one out of the Takahashi bros. was out running the course that morning too. I think that’s the driver donning the green Efini branded racesuit. A klassic look effortlessly achieved on a klassic car: RE-Amemiya GT-AD aerokit, sensible wheel fitment, and topped off with Ganador wing mirrors. All tied together by that Competition Yellow paint.

Congrats to the Hokkaido Dream Racing team and their monstrous 700HP+ 13B FD, becoming the fastest 3rd-gen RX-7, lapping TC2000 in 54.666 seconds at the weekend’s Attack round! I am glad I got chance to see this thing haul some real arse around Tsukuba earlier in the month, albeit briefly, but holy shit does it move!

Another contender busting out his own PB was Ryo Kaneko, or as I would like to call him, Mr. Timeless, after reading about him as a person in 80R Vol.2 by Sean Lucas. The subtle but effective addition of the wide rear quarter panel and carbon hatch must have helped him attain the result on his hot lap. This Civic is a real NA powerhouse, as its ‘Frankenstein’ K-series engine churns out over 330bhp!

A familiar sight that morning was Usui-san and his NA Roadster, as its not a car you can simply just gloss over in passing even with its compact dimensions. I visited his shop in Gunma Pref. if you remember last year’s Japan blog post, where I got to meet the man behind such a wonderful machine. Its been dosed with a few changes, mainly consisting of new wheel and tyre setup, along with a livery delete.

The highly-modified Garage Vary widebody remains unchanged as far as I can tell, except for the removal of those roof-mounted vortex generators which I thought looked pretty snazzy. Everything about this attack build is right, with the rear-end being jacked, giving the little Mazda an aesthetic we need to see more of…

An FD I was surprised to not have seen before ever, was Oouchi-san’s white stallion. Many of the RX-7 chassis ran fitted with these ReadyGoNext vented carbon bonnets, which I think is a really good look that’s got to be functional with all of those louvres. I’m liking the vivid blue painted Enkei RS05RR aluminium wheels, the car looked great flying up the main straight!

A lot of this red FD was easy on the eye too. I like how it was kitted with a healthy balance of aggresive aero, but in keeping with the factory bodylines. Maybe that has a lot to do with how the chosen paint colour accentuates every curve. The fact that it retains the twin-turbo configuration is also highly commendable in my opinion.

Wow, clearly Seven’s Day occurs more than once a year in Japan. I’d be the last to complain about the relatively high volume of FDs present that morning. It’s arguably the best FR platform for time attack, and then to couple that fact with the huge aftermarket support available – default option if you ask me. This one wears an RE-Amemiya GT face that blends rearward nicely into a pair of TCP Magic front wings.

Was also cool to see both Okamura-san from Yashio Factory and Youtuber Sammit out at the event, giving the shop S15 a shakedown.

Having a seasoned spectator guide us around was handy, especially when it came to setting up sniper at this in-field spot where I was able to get shots of cars going into turn 3 after the chicane. Shout-out to Karl for the insider’s tour, haha!

This vantage point inboard of Dunlop corner also lent some good angles. Wish I had my wide-angle on me at the time but I made do with what I had. I can remember having my desktop background set to a photo of that KBC CP9A LanEvo you see above, as it wears a distinctive livery design which I think is inspired by a bullet train’s colour scheme if I’m not mistaken. Google ‘E7 series shinkansen’ and you’ll see what I mean.

A bunch of classic Minis were posted up on this overflow paddock area. Can’t remember if they were due to race or just had a running session booked for later on that afternoon. Luke and I chuckled when we saw the West Yorkshire-based custom wheels manufacturer windscreen banner slap on the pastel grey-green car. Bit of home away from home.

After having seen the ‘main event’ as it were, we headed back to the paddock area before making an exit. It was a public holiday that day (Emperor’s Day?) so Karl had plans to spend the rest of it with his family.

The Attack Premium class competitors started packing up their gear. Its always a cool sight watching the cars being loaded onto the articulating bed of the ‘car-carrier’ trucks. Oh, and here is a good shot (minus the distracting rusty lamp-post) of the TCS Usui MX-5 and its new RS Watanabe wheels in a bright silver finish which look the business!

One last walkaround; I could have stared at a lot of these motors for most of the day if we had time. There is so much detail some of these cars have, especially when it comes to bespoke custom modification. Not only that, its the style in which the cars are presented in – ‘how’ a car is built for Tsukuba-running transcends ‘what’ is built.

Forget the fancy, schmancy cookie-cutter parts that you see in abundance on those IG and YouTube “builds”. Enhancing a vehicle’s character and truly enjoying it is what I define as a manifestation of automotive enthusiasm.

Something you certainly do not see often is a 1-of-200 Tommykaira ZZ!

A very clean targa-top 300ZX was about to tear it up on TC2000, sat behind its younger 350Z/Z33 Nissan bloodline relative.

Mazda2 / Demio love in the carpark, with this beast of a Mini parked a couple of spaces away. Carbon roof + riveted fenders + gussetted cage + split rims + lampless front = one hardcore boi.

The FR version of Fiesta/Focus STs of Japan(?)…

Karl’s FD2 sat-nav displaying the famous course layout we all know and love.

If in Japan and in doubt of where to eat, save time and just run over to a 7-Eleven. And take the photo. Obligations.

After some good ol’ pieces of seasoned beef, smoked mackerel and a hard-boiled egg, we headed back down to Saitama where we would catch the train back to Tokyo. Karl pointed out these expansion joints most bridges in Japan have built into them for when earthquakes occur. This avoids cracking and fracturing of the structure – nifty.

Cannot believe I missed Tsukuba Circuit’s gift shop when I first visited for Idlers Games last year, so you know I had to grab a couple souvenirs. Very reasonably priced official merch, might I add, quality is pretty nice too.

Thats all I have for you from our first proper outing a couple weeks ago in Japan. I reckon I’ll throw up all the Osaka Auto Messe content next, so keep an eye out for all of that! Thanks for making it this far down!

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Ko-Op Tour of Deutschland | Beem There, Done That

It’s the last entry for this Germany 2019 series, and on the day we were due to fly back to the UK, BMW Welt was around the corner (not literally) from the Munich Airport so we did a visit because, why not. After all, BMW has always been – in my eyes – German automotive engineering in the most definitive sense.

I remember the first Beemer that probably initiated my affinity towards the marque. It parked up outside my house in the form of a black E46 3-Series coupe belonging to my cousin. It wasn’t even an M3, nonetheless, it was and still is a highly appealing machine to me. I have always appreciated BMW always being slightly off the beaten path in their manners, whether it be slapping the infamous “kidney-grille” on every one of their models, or throwing daft engines, such as a 5.0L V10, into the E60 M5 saloon. Every write-up I read tends to vouch for the BMW’s superiority over their Audi and Benz counterparts, and I think it is because the company know balance and how to implement it well. Before you think I am fanboying, there of course were some cock-ups made in the past by the BMW design department; see E63 6-Series or those weird 3-Series Compact things…

Situated pretty much right off of the autobahn, the BMW Welt and Museum architecture was quite brave in its design. Inside the museum was a bit of a maze and it also had an upwards-spiral walkway, similar to that found in Mercedes’ Museum, but not as grand.

Krazy spindle-shaped structure partially grafted on to the BMW Welt building.

BMW, similar to other car manufacturers, started out producing aircraft engines, before venturing into the motorcycle industry, only until late-1920s/early-1930s did the company begin making four-wheeled automobiles.

A line-up of the brand’s bread-and-butter, takes you through time via generations of 3-Series, all the way up until the E9X iteration. Was this where the peak was tipped before emissions controls forced the glory of the NA “M-Car” days to retreat? I reckon so…

Pre-1990s marketing memorabilia has got to be the best form of advertising there has been, especially the German way with its straight-up, no-nonsense captions. That BMW K1 ad for the Japanese market loosely reads: “The new indicator of supersports”… If they ever do an Akira live-action movie, that bike gets the part, no contest.

Luke’s worst nightmare is FOMO, and the BMW Museum’s awkward layout with multiple floors let the win go to Mercedes in the final verdict. I didn’t mind the labyrinth of rooms, it kept you on your toes and it made you take note of what you saw in each exhibit.

Could the Z1 have been a kei-car for the roads of Bavaria? Such a quirky design with its disappearing-doors and pocket-sized kidney-grilles.

The M-Power bloodline.

I have always been drawn to the shape of the 2002, probably thanks to the Turbo model. You can definitely find hints of the 1M Coupe embedded within this early predecessor.

BMW’s racecar livery and aero-work has always been on point – Exhibit A, B, and C, above.

Of course, like the rest of ’em, BMW are keen on showcasing the people what the future could look like. The company’s efforts were evident throughout the museum, implying their methods of making humanity’s lives more “convenient” with autonomous driving, whilst simultaneously being a harbinger of alternative fuels.

I am quite interested in how manufacturers will manage to successfully implement the use of hydrogen as a form of energy to power vehicles of the future. I feel that because it is seemingly difficult to efficiently do so at the moment, if the industry can power through the challenges they face, Tesla will have to up their game. But that’s just a hunch, eh…

Upon leaving the museum, we popped into a glass building situated outside, separate from both the BMW Welt and Museum. This small space was given to a few M Performance demo-cars, tarted up with all of the options available from the pricey catalogue. You’re talking £5k for a set of those 19″ wheels; with tyres of course. I suppose its nice of BMW to offer aero parts and wheels that better represent the models’ deep-seated motorsports DNA.

That Z4 GT car was the show-stealer for me though. From its centre-lock BBS, to the silhouette of the widebody, I can imagine it looking (and probably sounding) like a maniac out on circuit. [Scurries over to YouTube]…

On another note, are BMW aware of how dramatically enlarged the front grilles are on their current models? I just saw an X7 for the first time out in a retail carpark, and the proportions between the headlights and grille are just straight weird. I guess only time will tell, for now, lets just appreciate how mean M4s look even when painted in the colours of lemon and orange TicTacs.

That journey to BMW World closes out the Germany 2019 saga. It was a kool trip and I reckon we saw a decent amount in the 5 nights we stayed there for. The highlight has got to be Nurburgring, but seeing the appreciation for Mazda was also absolutely worth the 300+ mile drive from “Burg to Burg”.

As always, thank you for stopping by at the site, and please follow the Instagram @soulfokus for more of my car/photography content. If you’re not far from the Yorkshire & Humber area, give me a shout if you would like me to shoot your motor!

Japanaholik’s Journal | The Kansai Chapter (2)

It was the next day, and that meant finally visiting the garage I was probably most looking forward to. Rotary-engined machines are an endangered species, and this place is a conservation sanctuary. Okay, maybe thats a bit over exagerrant, but when it comes to rotary-powered Mazdas, this joint will FEED you well.

If balance is your aim, then ‘Fujita Engineering Evolutional Development’ are one of the top players in the automotive tuning game. Its apparent that quality is held in much higher regard than quantity with these guys. How I found out about FEED was when I came across an FD RX-7 for sale online, equipped with one of their Aerobonnets which was that cool and unique of a design, I went and scoured the internet until I found the source, in the form of yet another Hot Version video.

The company fokuses on parts manufacture and vehicle services for all rotary-engined Mazda chassis, but also produces offerings for the NB MX-5 and Mazda 2/Demio, such as strut braces, dressup accessories, and aero-enhancing add-ons. Even though I left empty-handed, I came back with some pretty kool photos of their premises. The workspace isn’t so much of a clinical area, with a tired looking lathe in a dingy corner, which I prefer to be honest – piles of parts and empty wheel boxes just lying about – it probably creates a laid back atmosphere for the guys working there day in, day out. The founder and owner, Fujita-san, happened arrive after us, but he wasn’t fussed about us foreign visitors at all.

Its not a huge place, located on a patch of industrial estate surrounded by paddy fields. But square-footage doesn’t necessarily equal significance, you could have the biggest place and churn mass-produced garbage out.

As far as I’m aware, Fujita Engineering has always targetted the ‘grip’ circuit in aftermarket performance tuning. They lean towards the ideal of perfecting the already excellent chassis, through subtle and progressive means. This is reflected in their grey FD RX-7 demo adorned in the shop’s new GT3 widebody kit, which is stunning in photos, and even better in the metal. As soon as I entered the garage, it was perched up on the lift, towering over a whole load of stuff as you can see in the pic below. One of the technicians kindly moved some of it from underneath so he could drop the car down a little so I could peep the engine bay.

Even I’m not a fan of some the wild conversion kits that have been created by some aftermarket companies, and I tend to think of myself as open-minded and more eccentric than most! But the Afflux kit designed by FEED is actually a well-done take on that trend. It could even pass as being penned by a manufacturer’s concept design team. This customer was having the car prepared for its roadworthiness test (a.k.a. shaken in Japan, M.O.T. in the UK), hence the RX-8 wheels with awkward fitment. From a certain angle, it looked like it had no wheels bolted to it; hoverkraft-flex! Funny how in Japan you can modify a car to the brink of becoming a UFO, but the gap between wheel and arch has to be wide enough to fit a monster truck tyre…

Out in front was almost like a graveyard of decaying bygones. I doubt that they have been completely neglected, and I am hoping Fujita-san chooses to ressurect them someday. I assume most of them were previously demo cars, the one that surprised me the most was the off-white (now beige) Mazda Eunos Cosmo, Mazda’s answer to the ‘luxury-sports coupe’ segment back in the early 1990s, which was the first production car to be armed with a built-in GPS satnav. All I really care for, though, is whether or not it packed a 20B three-rotor twin-turbo unit under its bonnet.

Loads to look at, so little time. After spending a decent hour or so at the FEED shop, we said bye and headed to Glion Showroom, located on Osaka Bay. A red-brick warehouse complex is a home to some proper gems. I came across cars I had never seen before, along with classic heroes we have all seen in films and on TV. Some of them were even for sale,

This old Mustang GT had a prime spot just around the corner from the Museum entrance. It’s metallic gold skin definitely got my attention, even though I would probably keep walking if it was a bog standard model, but this California Special had a cool aura. That notchback shape is still awkward to me, the fastback is way more suited to the Ford’s body.

A BMW E9 is what came before the 6 Series, and its not hard to tell with its long nose and striking front-to-rear swage line making the coupe look longer than it actually is.

I didn’t plan this spot in the itinerary for any particular reason, it wasn’t like they had some crazy rare car that I was hoping to see. With it being out of the way, not many people travel from Osaka’s centre to visit, which made the atmosphere less “museumy” if that makes sense.

A Cosmo Sport 110S lingered in the corner next to two 2000GTs. I know which of these Japanese legends I’m having if I ever grow a money tree. Even when its stationary it looks fast (for something that was made in the late Sixties).

All sorts of flavours inside each section of the unit made for an interesting wander around. There was a whole host of pre-1950s BMWs, including that 507 Roadster which was pretty nice. Almost resembles some kind of mix-up consisting of a C1 Corvette and a Shelby Cobra.

The next room was something of a gift shop for those with a fat wallet. Some of those model engines cost as much as an ACTUAL motor. Alright, maybe you can’t buy an RB26DETT for 200 quid, but that much money would get you a used BP out of an MX-5! The incredible detail found on these models were crazy to be honest, I wonder if the turbos and pulleys spun.

The C2 Corvette is still the best thing to come out of an American car manufacturer’s design office.

After the self-guided tour of Glion, it was time to drop our rental car back off at the depot and do a lot of walking and waiting, for our overnight bus back to Tokyo.
All in all, Osaka was decent, I wish I saw more of the Kansai region, but that is always the case in hindsight.

Well, I reckon that’s the ‘Japanaholik’s Journal’ for 2019 complete. Hopefully, you enjoyed what you saw/read.

Next stop: the other car capital on the Globe…

Japanaholik’s Journal | Goodnight, Tokyo, Good Morning, Osaka

The thing with Japan is that it has pockets of unique culture and ways of life projected in every different part of the country. On this trip, I made sure to pen in Osaka on the itinerary. In terms of like general knowledge, all I knew of Osaka was how apparently insanely addictive their cuisine is, its home to electronics giant Panasonic, and also a tourist selfie-hotspot in the form of the ‘Glico’ man.

What they don’t show on TV though, is that Osaka is the breeding ground of the hardcore Japanese tuning scene. ‘5Zigen’ have their head office in the prefecture, ‘Trial’ is also situated in Osaka, as are the GT-R maestros ‘Auto Select’, that used “JDM-car” heaven ‘Global Auto’, ‘Kakimoto Racing’ high performance exhaust specialists, and of course the infamous Kanjozoku has its origins in this western part of Japan. That list is only the tip of the iceberg, as you could wander in a rural countryside in Japan and stumble across, oh I dunno, ‘Fujita Engineering’ (which I did intentionally stumble upon; all will be revealed in a future post).

I was advised by Uncle, that the most efficient way to get to Osaka without breaking the bank with a shinkansen (bullet-train) ticket, would be to hop on an overnight bus. So, with seats reserved for the long and dark 350+ mile journey, we just chilled out during the day.

We tagged along with Uncle who was checking up on some work-related matters.

On return back to his house, Uncle got me to pilot his lardy Land Cruiser to the local Super Autobacs which is pretty much Halfords but with more than you could ever need; it is THE autoparts dealer of Japan. This store in particular had a cafe, arcade, bookshop/memorbilia emporium, and a sportswear shop on top floor of all things.

Nothing much else to note during that day and evening, skip to us arriving in Osaka at 7am the next morning. It is hard to get a decent sleep on a moving coach, especially when they have to make regular breaks along the route. Needless to say, I was very groggy getting into Osaka, but my first impressions were that it was a bit more rough around the edges in comparison to Tokyo.

Walking through the city, it was easy to see it was an actively industrial place, with a lot of HGVs present on the streets dashing to and from the shipping ports that make all that international business possible.

I don’t normally look twice at E36 chassis BMWs, but that fire & sun pair parked up back-to-back made me take a closer peek. Good sets of bronze wheels and a drop in ride height results in maximum effect on street cars.

Saw that EK Civic in the corner of my eye as it seemingly floated by with a low-pitch grumble emitted from its exhaust. I should have chased it, but we were dealing with a bicycle rental rep and I didn’t want to be rude and just duck out. Also, he probably would have been weirded out by me running after a Honda to get a photo. If I were to eventually get an EK9, I’d get that sucka sprayed straight red, or maybe Sakhir Orange. As classic as the timeless Champ White colour is on the little hatchback, I think that generation of Civic definitely suits darker hues better.

With our trusty, fully manual two-wheelers, we set out in the direction we were told the Osaka Castle was in, by asking random pedestrians at every traffic light until we found it, basking in all its glory under the low sun.

I’ll leave it at that for this post. Not really anything special, it was just a bunch of photos I took that (for the most part) were not car-related. The next day was a bit more interesting though, so watch out for that post.