Day 8 began in the same way as the other ‘garage tour’. Breakfast was far too early for some but the coach at least have some time for a snooze. The only difference this time was the snow!
Japan does get snow, and a lot of it, in the north of the country, but for the Tokyo area not much and usually later than this. So it came as a bit of a surprise that the entire day would see snow flurries this far south at this time of year. As a result our planned meet with the GTR Club of Japan at Daikoku P.A. had to be cancelled and our planned tunnel run abandoned.
As we set off on the coach the snow settling on the roads our plan was to visit only three tuning shops today. However we also added in Tomei and for today the visits they were more widely spread than the five on our first road trip. Today it would be MiNES, Bee*R and Nordring.
On previous events we had always contacted our hosts and given them an am/pm indication of when we would arrive. For 2012 we had moved up a gear and now had a full, detailed itinerary including arrival and departure times for each tuner. This made it easier for them to prepare and also ensured we made the best use of the time: all thanks to Aki and his masterful planning.
We arrived at MiNES bang on time and was greeted upon our arrival. Stepping into the foyer our hosts got a shock as they realised the sleepy little GTROC tours had gone mainstream! 16 people arrived that day to see what MiNES was all about and they were not disappointed.
As well as spending time looking at the two R35s and the R32 GTSt being worked on in the garage we got to look around the engine and transmission build facility. An RB26 sat next to a VR38, mid build. Elsewhere there were GT-R transmissions waiting to be worked on.
For Skyline aficionados MiNES is a known and well respected name but for the GT-R owners on the tour it was a real awakening to some of the other names out there. Perhaps then a lesson for us all. There is a lot the Skyline community can share that would benefit the GTR community and perhaps in doing so the two parts might become more closely aligned?
Before too long (and after a visit to the 7-11 next door – people needed a sugar rush after the excesses of the night before. It was time to leave, but not before we thanked our hosts and wished them well for the coming year.
Back on the bus we hit the road for TOMEI POWER. A complete change from anything we had seen before. This was not a body shop or tuning house but instead was a hardcore manufacturing facility and for all of us a real treat. For 2013 we will visit it again, only this time we really will have to spend a lot more time there.
We arrived just in time for lunch and Allen, our host for the day, took us al to a really nice local restaurant. They even arranged for us to have our own dining room. Over lunch the two tables chatted about Tomei and everything they did, their history and heritage. Lunch was a great way to really understand more about the many companies that are TOMEI. For most of us, however, though lunch was good we were itching to get back to their factory.
Once back at Tomei we split into two groups and were walked through every part of their R&D facility, their production facility and then to some of their demo/sponsored cars. The Tomei way is very simple: build the very best, by hand, leave nothing to chance, test and test again until it is perfect. And so we saw exactly what they mean. An engine is stripped down and Tomei parts added. It is then put on an engine dyno and tested repeatedly. The build takes place in a atmosphere and temperature controlled room. There are two engine dynos for testing and two engineers per dyno – nothing is left to chance. Once test are complete the engine is put back to standard and tested again, to compare to the tests when it was standard before the rebuild. That’s detail for you!
After the R&D we went through their manufacturing facility. Everything is finished by hand and, again, everything is strictly logged, monitored and controlled. Tomei will build you an engine and, if you want one they will have a log of every component, every part and every test; all in a thoroughly detailed folder.
All too soon we were wishing farewell to our hosts and Matt had to start shouting at people to get them back on the bus. Perhaps the snow had addled people’s brains but there certainly seemed a reluctance to want to leave.
Not far from Tomei was Bee*Racing (Bee-R). Imai-san was expecting us and was his usual vibrant and entertaining self. He had laid on soup and rice for us. The soup was home made and really was amazing! As Fuggles set about explaining to Eddie what an R324 was, how you can have a GTSt with an RB26 the rest of the crew were just marveling at the cars on display, especially the 2012 D1 drift car that was still in development. Already resplendent with a GTROC sticker the car was sure to be another season winner! By the way if anyone wants the old R324 D1 car it’s for sale – if you have to ask you can’t afford!
As we wandered around and chatted in Imai – who speaks no English but that did not seem to matter a car was lowered down from one of the ramps. Why? Because someone bought it! After initial “are you serious?” followed by much approval it was agreed to buy a car from Imai-san, subject to all the usual checks and details. Who bought it remains, for now at least, a secret on the GTROC Tour of Japan 2012 will know but, if all goes well, it could be on a boat sometime soon.
Leaving Bee*Racing a few Yen lighter we set off for our last visit of the day. Nordring had told us in advance ‘there’s not much to see here’ but oh how wrong they were.
90 minutes on the bus gave most of us a chance for a brief snooze as the snow came down outside. For others it was a chance to discuss a new purchase and for the remainder more discussions on RB26/RB25 and how many variations Imai-san had achieved over his career. But, as we approached Nordring it was all about what to expect. Would Suzuki-san be there for example?
As we arrived Toshio Suzuki was there to greet us. The Nissan test driver and record setter of Nurburgring lap times was pleased to see us and welcomed us in. As we entered his facility it seemed odd to find an Infiniti G35 sitting front and centre of the showroom. A closer inspection, however, and all was not as it seemed. This was THE Mule that had been used to test the GTR several years ago. A GTR in G35 clothing. Opening the bonnet it some became more apparent what lies beneath. Photos were taken and introductions made as some of the party headed out back to the workshop.
Nordring are responsible for the Club Track Edition in Japan and we soon found not only some exciting cars but a lot of Nordring carbon goodies and a Lesson car. For a small fee Suzuki-san will spend a day with you giving lessons on how to track a GTR. Though his English is limited wel all agreed that whatever the price it would be money well spent!
After an hour or so and being well looked after by our hosts, including a representative of Nissan who came to meet us, it was time to leave. That is not until after a thank you to our host, a presentation and a lot of questions about the MY13 car. Our hosts provided us with some very useful insights into what to expect but only on the provision we kept it to ourselves. As with Zama, the GTROC is true to its word to the very last, and we all left knowing exciting things and knowing that we can only discuss it with a dozen or so friends, all of whom were on that bus.
The day now seemed spent. The drive back to the hotel and then on for a night out was all we had left; tomorrow we would be heading home. The coach was excited about what we had seen, where we had been and the people we had met. The entire tour party was grateful for this experience but also sad that it was finally over. The longest, most tiring and yet most enjoyable and exciting week most of us had every experienced was coming to a close.
That night was one of last chats and a somber mood over a few drinks. Then to pack, before a 7:10 am coach would take us away in the morning.
The next morning was simple. Get up, have breakfast, check out, get on a coach, go to airport, get on plane, go home. Okay so it was filled with excitement and British Airways had kindly arranged for us all to use the VIP Lounge at Narita but by and large it was an unspectacular affair.
11 hours later back in Heathrow we split into two groups. Those heading off for other flights and those staying in the UK or in London for one night before a flight tomorrow. Many hand shakes and promises to keep in touch along with plans for 2013.
The GTROC 2012 Japan Tour was finally at its end for those on the tour. For those not lucky enough to experience it our FLICKR page will soon have thousands of photos for you to look at and share the experience with us.