Asia

2015 Singapore Grand Prix

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At some point it was decided that the Singapore Grand Prix was one of the marquee events of the Formula 1 season. While the nighttime backdrop of one of Asia’s premier cities is certainly stunning, the racing has always been kind of a slog. Sunday’s 61 lap running felt like a 2 hour chore compared to the brisk Italian Grand Prix 2 weeks ago. While it was refreshing to see neither Silver Arrow finish on the podium, Sebastian Vettel’s commanding drive from pole to the top step was very much the same plot we’ve seen all season long with a different actor in the title role.

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NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey did his very best to make sure we all knew that Lewis Hamilton was 1 win away from tying Ayrton Senna’s record in Singapore. Despite Hamilton and Nico Rosberg qualifying 5th and 6th respectively, it didn’t stop the network’s bias for Mercedes as the drivers were featured almost exclusively in the broadcast’s opening montage. What happened instead was the more significant achievement of race winner Sebastian Vettel becoming the 3rd all-time most successful driver in Formula 1.

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Daniel Ricciardo in the RB11 didn’t really have a shot at beating Vettel and ultimately finished 2nd. The numerous safety cars which have become synonymous with Singapore presented plenty of opportunities for a scrap but overtaking on the Marina Bay Circuit is a near impossible task. Ricciardo’s best opportunity was ruined when a lunatic fan entered the track on lap 37 – a gate onto the track which was left unguarded may have had something to do with it. The oversight is yet another occurrence where negligence by the staff at a flyaway race may have produced costly and dangerous results. Remember the trackside marshals’s treatment of Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso in China earlier this year?

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Singapore saw the retirements of more big name drivers than any Grand Prix this season. McLaren executed a now routine showing of retiring both cars due to gearbox issues. This came after Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso both had opportunities to score points. While it’s convenient for all fingers to point at Honda, Button’s overtaking tactics and the pit crew suffering from a bout of heat stroke didn’t help turn things around.

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The mishaps continued with a collision involving Force India’s Nico Hulkenburg and the Williams of Felipe Massa exiting pit lane. The crash ultimately ended the races of both drivers with Hulkenberg receiving a 3 grid spot penalty for next week’s Japanese Grand Prix. It was a hasty ruling from the stewards who probably should have waited until the race was over and clearer heads prevailed. 50/50 blame could be taken from the situation but I’m of the opinion that Hulkenberg had the right of way. Surprisingly the 5th retirement of the day was the Mercedes of Hamilton who’s car lost power from a coupler issue on the turbo.

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Meanwhile, the Formula 1 drinking game just got more interesting with the addition of “American Alexander Rossi”. Rossi seems like a great guy and deserved of the Manor drive for the remaining 5 races, but this really is a non-story that took up way too much of the race broadcast. No folks, contrary to what Diffey or the NBCSN team might have you believe, there is absolutely no chance of Rossi winning a Formula 1 Grand Prix in a Manor and it’s highly likely he won’t score any points either. The day’s other non-story, Ferrari mechanics exhibiting “thug-like” behavior and shoving photographers aside to celebrate Vettel’s win on pit lane.

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What is becoming more and more clear every race weekend is that Formula 1 really isn’t that great anymore. It is in many ways like Sir Elton John. The days of hitting the high notes on ‘Tiny Dancer’ are long gone, but fans still amass because of what the singer was, not who he’s become. Formula 1 has a rich and celebrated history and most of us suffer through the current product because we’re still hanging onto that history. “This is Formula 1” we tell ourselves, hoping that this race will be different. The reality however is that there hasn’t been a genuinely great race since Bahrain in 2014 and Britain the year before that. It’s a sport that on average produces one good showing a season and when you consider the other 19 races are duds, that’s a poor success rate.

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Members of the Formula 1 media have been quick to combat this notion. Will Buxton told all of us to get over it following the Italian Grand Prix. He and many others hark back to the days of Ferrari-Shumacher dominance, but ultimately they’re as guilty as we are for using the past to justify the present. Too often are we concerned with Formula 1’s history, always hoping to find a way to weave it into the modern context of the sport. The MLB also does this as they become increasingly irrelevant on a playing field dominated by the NFL, NBA and European football. The only thing any of us should be concerned with is what is right in front of us and what’s in front of us isn’t Formula 1, it’s not even racing.

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The Japanese Grand Prix is next weekend and Suzuka should favor the Silver Arrows who will likely be back on form after today’s misstep.

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Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Nothing To See Here – 2015 Chinese Grand Prix

What can be said about today’s Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix? To be honest, I could barely get through the thing.

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There’s been endless talk over “the show” that Formula 1 and the FIA are putting in front of fans on race day. At best, it’s a technical exercise where manufacturers can strut their stuff and fan favorite Lewis Hamilton can cruise his way to uncontested victories. At worst, it’s a case of mistaken identities and a fanbase who views the sport with rose-tinted glasses, only too quick to hark back to Hunt-Lauda or Prost-Senna as McLaren barely manage to finish races in 2015. The reality is Formula 1 lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but if things carry on as they have, the circus will continue to lose its place of relevance on motorsport’s biggest stage. Today’s Chinese Grand Prix didn’t exactly help matters and as the cars rolled through the finish behind the safety car, the over-bloated, over-funded F1 machine was hoping you had not decided to change the channel already.

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For American fans, NBCSN’s coverage offers absolutely nothing at this point. We’re well aware that Will Buxton and Steve Matchett have plenty to offer from their extensive databases of Formula 1 knowledge but the network’s decision to repress that knowledge has left us with cringeworthy impersonations of Sherlock Holmes from David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey flapping on about the weather and the divorce of Max Verstappen’s parents – honestly Leigh, who the hell cares? With NBC’s deep pockets, you would think they could employ the very best commentators Formula 1 has to offer in a bid to really sell it to an emerging American audience. Instead it’s SPEED’s coverage with a new coat of paint and Diffey turned up to 11.

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Mercedes were back to form this weekend with Hamilton and Nico Rosberg leading qualifying and the German missing pole by just 0.4 seconds. From Rosberg’s point of view things have to be unbelievably frustrating as the team continue to favor Hamilton. For everyone else it’s clear that Rosberg just doesn’t have the same elite skills that Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso possess. Today was an easy win for Hamilton who lead Rosberg by 5 seconds for most of the race.

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Ferrari looked strong on the back of a surprise Malaysian Grand Prix win 2 weeks ago. Kimi Raikkonen mucked up in qualifying again on Saturday but had the pace all race long. His transmissions about the woeful McLarens made for some of the few high points of Sunday’s race. Vettel meanwhile looked strong in qualifying and put the pressure on Rosberg. It will be very interesting to see how the Ferraris do at the slower, tighter European tracks.

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Williams rounded out the top 6 with Felipe Massa still having the advantage over teammate Valtteri Bottas. Elsewhere on the field it was a mixed bag of reliability issues, driver errors and more Pastor Maldonado acting as a human chicane for Jenson Button in the McLaren.

Fernando Alonso.

It really is shocking that Honda have botched this Formula 1 return quite so badly. Has Ron Dennis completely given up on finding a title sponsor and showing us all that “new” livery? Where is all that 650S money going?

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The true embarrassment of today however was the utter incompetence of the trackside marshals, attempting to return Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso to pit lane, after the car’s Renault engine blew. To the delight of perhaps Red Bull alone, the stranded car resulted in the safety car being deployed with 3 laps to go and one of the most chaotic and dimwitted displays the sold out crowd has likely seen, as the marshals managed to inflict as much damage to the Toro Rosso as possible while performing a 1000-point turn getting it into pit lane. Could this display support an argument about the much larger problem of flyaway races to countries with no motorsports pedigree? Absolutely. But all of these marshals should have been briefed and trained so there are really no excuses. If anyone wants to argue that point, I urge you to watch the Monaco Grand Prix and see how long it takes them to remove a car from track. With the safety car in a lap sooner, we could have been treated to one of the most exciting finishes in years.

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Formula 1 feels like a bad remake right now. The set pieces are certainly more spectacular, but any semblance of a plot is difficult to find and the cast really isn’t that good. As long as it makes money at the box office, it’s done the job. The cynic in me says the show’s over and once we wrap up the Hamilton-Vettel era, Formula 1 will well and truly be done. The optimist in me says I’ll look back on all of this with fond memories as we all do with seasons gone by. Ultimately if Formula 1 has any chance of surviving this rut, it really needs to figure out what it is and what it ultimately wants to become because the rest of us are packing our bags.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix

The Malaysian Grand Prix has always been able to provide an interesting Formula 1 Grand Prix and Sunday’s bout between Mercedes and Ferrari was true to form.

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Unless you’re a Mercedes supporter, most fans of the sport have probably had enough of seeing the Silver Arrows of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg winning every race. A new face on the podium’s top step is exactly what Formula 1 needed on Sunday and ironically Sebastian Vettel, in a Ferrari was the man to do it.

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After a hellacious 2014 season and a complete reorganization of the team, Scuderia Ferrari have come out fighting in 2015 and may be one of the few opponents able to challenge Mercedes’s dominance. It was 2013 the last time a Ferrari won a Formula 1 Grand Prix so a collective sigh of relief was definitely in order for the team on Sunday. Vettel executed a solid drive and harked back to his World Championship Red Bull days by creating a dominant gap ahead of the field. After a safety car early in the race and a botched strategy by Mercedes, Hamilton had little chance of catching the German.

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Vettel managed to win in only his second race for the Scuderia and fulfilled “life long dream.” I doubt it’s the last will we see of Vettel or Ferrari standing at the top of the podium this season.

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Hamilton managed 2nd with Rosberg rounding out the podium in 3rd and interestingly today was the first we saw of a very calculated, clinical Mercedes team becoming slightly unraveled. The trouble started following the safety car in which Hamilton’s strategy resulted in Vettel creating that massive gap. This was followed by a conflict in tire choice between the driver and his team and some mixed radio messages from Paddy Lowe. The message which Hamilton clearly wasn’t supposed to hear suggested a third pitstop before the end of the race. This didn’t happen and left a confused Hamilton frustrated with the team and finishing off the top step in what was shaping to be another easy win for Mercedes.

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Elsewhere on the field Toro Rosso continued to make the Red Bull factory team look very bad. The Red Bull-Renault public feud continued through the week and you can’t help but feel bad for Daniel Ricciardo who had such an excellent finish to last season. Now the team’s clear number one and he’s treated to a front row seat of Christian Horner’s public tantrum. Red Bull are continuing to dig their own grave with the way they’re handling the Renault situation and fans are quickly growing tired of listening. Renault on the other hand called Red Bull racing “liars” and are looking to buy a team of their own, severing ties with Milton Keynes outfit completely. That soap opera will continue throughout the season no doubt.

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An excellent drive from Kimi Raikkonen who started in 11th after a botched qualifying on Saturday and a tire rupture early in Sunday’s race. He managed 4th overall which further proves just how much Ferrari have their act together this season. Some inter-team battles from Williams and Force India kept the midfield busy and an truly woeful performance from McLaren ensured neither driver was able to finish the Grand Prix.

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Fernando Alonso made his season debut Sunday after sitting out in Australia, while recovering from a concussion during testing. During media day there were conflicting reports from Alonso’s version of what happened and team’s. Bizarrely, Alonso blamed the crash on a steering lockup and denied wind had anything to do with it – the reason McLaren stated for the crash. It’s all very strange what’s happening at one of the sport’s winningest teams. On a positive note, everyone involved with McLaren including the drivers are firm in their support of the team. Expectations at the start of this season must have been extremely low.

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Neither MP4-30 was able to finish Sunday’s main event and you have to wonder what Honda have spent the last 2 years doing? It’s a shock to see such a big name come so ill prepared to motor sport’s biggest stage. Things can only go up at this point and I would expect to see McLaren become more competitive by the start of the European season, but that’s still 6 weeks away.

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Was Rosberg standing off to the side as Hamilton, Vettel and Eddie Jordan sat and chatted during the podium interviews not ridiculously awkward? Rosberg has really taken a lot of heat and continues to. In the eyes of the predominately British F1 media, Hamilton can do no wrong and that leaves Rosberg constantly having to justify every move. Maybe he truly isn’t one for the spotlight but that podium interview was painful. Also, what’s up with Vettel and Hamilton all buddy-buddy now? Is Hamilton suddenly okay being friendly with Vettel now that he himself is a multiple World Champion or is it yet another excuse to make his teammate feel unwelcome?

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It was great to see Ferrari back on form at Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix. Now the teams head to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix in 2 weeks – stay tuned.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The 2013 Singapore Grand Prix

With Formula 1’s campaign across Europe in the books, the teams are back in Asia for the season’s final push. Today’s Singapore Grand Prix proved to be a lot of things, but one of the sport’s most exciting events surely isn’t one of them. Before we look back at how the race unfolded, some points of contention…

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As American Formula 1 fans are well aware, the sport just doesn’t have the following in this country the way it does throughout the rest of the world. The blame could be pointed in any number of directions, whether it be FOM’s world feed or the shadow of its former self that NBC Sports has become in less than half a season. To put it simply, this weekend’s broadcast was infuriating to watch. After securing Barclay’s Premier League matches, NBC Sports has completely diverted its attention away from Formula 1 and it’s greatly impacted the way we watch the sport. Saturday’s “live” Qualifying didn’t air until nearly 24 hours later (Sunday 1 AM EDT). For fans who like to get their results by watching the broadcasts, it meant an entire Saturday of avoiding the Internet. Then there was the race itself and the severe under underutilization of NBC Sports’ man on the ground, Will Buxton. Viewers of SPEED will recall Buxton scrambling amongst drivers and team bosses for last minute interviews leading into the race’s start. Now F1 Countdown has become a glorified studio segment with repetitive tire explanations and rumor-fueled cross talk amongst the hosts. Respect to Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, they love what they do and know their sport well, however the issues stem more from a production staff who don’t seem to have a clue. The entire reason for having Buxton at the race is to be our eyes at the track, our window into the event. Lately his role seems that of a 30 second sound bite, than the knowledgeable and frankly excellent reporter he is. Add to this the enormous amounts of commercial breaks, including one that cut right through the middle of the podium ceremony and resumed with Sebastian Vettel in mid sentence. The moment interviewer Martin Brundle finished speaking with Kimi Raikkonen, NBC Sports was eager to fade into yet another commercial break! Today’s broadcast saw no post race interviews from the media scrum or any kinds of final thoughts from the studio before it was off to more Barclay’s coverage, which has completely dominated the network in recent months. Depending on most people’s cable provider, NBC Sports is a premium channel that most are paying upwards of $170 a year to have on their TVs. So again, why must we be treated to such a half heated attempt at Formula 1 coverage? Are you listening Sky Sports?

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The Singapore Grand Prix is the longest, most physically demanding race on the Formula 1 calender. The high heat and humidity take their tole on the drivers and most come away looking positively ravaged. This weekend continued with Sebastian Vettel’s total domination of the sport. After securing pole in Saturday’s Qualifying, Vettel led every lap of the race and finished with a massive lead. As the season progresses, it’s becoming abundantly clear just how dominant a driver the German really is.

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Despite what people may think of the man himself, one has to begin to think that he really is that good. Most fans aren’t sold however and the booing continued at today’s podium ceremony. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner and other supporters including Niki Lauda have been vocal about their distaste of the new trend. It makes the occurrence that much more awkward when fan favorites Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are met with unanimous praise.

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If fans want to boo anyone it should be the FIA and race stewards for their incessant meddling and absurd penalties (more on that later). A fourth consecutive Driver’s Championship is all but clinched by Vettel at this point, much to the dismay of Alonso who seems to give everything he’s got week after week.

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If Vettel is the current winningest driver in Formula 1 then Fernando Alonso is undoubtably the best starter. While the Ferrari driver has struggled with pace in Qualifying, he makes up for it at the start. The way things began in Singapore were no exception. After starting from P7, Alonso secured P3 by the end of turn 1. If Ferrari’s hiring of Raikkonen for 2014 has affected Alonso, he surely didn’t show it on the track as he continued to get the most out of his F138.

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His teammate Felipe Massa also showed good pace this weekend and finished 6th overall. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for the Brazilian since the team’s announcement of his replacement and it become clear that Massa will drive his own races for the remainder of the season.

Despite dealing with back pain throughout the weekend, Kimi Raikkonen showed no signs of faltering today.

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After failing to make Q3 on Saturday, the Lotus driver had an exciting bout with McLaren’s Jenson Button, resulting in one of the best passes of the season. It was a rare departure from the usual procession we’ve grown accustomed to on Singapore’s narrow layout. He finished 3rd overall, much to the delight of Ferrari who have signed him for a 2 year contract starting next season. Things didn’t fair so well for Lotus’ other driver, Romain Grosjean.

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After a fantastic showing in Qualifying, he started in P3, only to experience a pneumatics issue that ended his race on lap 37. Grosjean will be keen to take the reigns as the team’s Number 1 in 2014 and hopefully Lotus will be able to overcome their current financial woes.

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It was a frustrating showing for Mercedes this weekend. Nico Rosberg had the pace on Saturday and started from P2. As the race wore on, fatigue set in and Rosberg found himself in the crosshairs of his teammate, Lewis Hamilton.

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Hamilton spent most of Practice and Qualifying frustrated with the team’s tire strategy and started from P5 behind Red Bull’s Mark Webber. The two Mercedes drivers found themselves in a scrum with McLaren and each other in the later laps of the race. After doing away with the MP4-28s, it was Rosberg who led the team to the finish in 4th, with Hamilton close behind in 5th.

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It seems as though Hamilton’s slump has carried over from Monza as the driver has continued to struggle with the W04. Fighting for World Championship points is a tough pill to swallow as the driver’s main rival continues to win.

The woes of McLaren are far from over. After a brief stint in 3rd, Jenson Button held off the Lotus of Raikkonen for as long as he could.

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The subsequent overtaking by Webber and the Mercedes boys made it abundantly clear that McLaren are no longer in the same league as their rivals. Despite Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh’s best attempts at creating a mood of uncertainty over the future of his drivers, it’s truly the car that’s failed them this season. McLaren have subsequently created a position with absolute job security in the role of Whitmarsh.

Sergio Perez on track.

As the team struggles for points against mid-fielders like Force India, retaining Perez and to some degree Button, comes into question. Major offseason changes will most certainly happen in Woking, but the current management is clearly a major contributor to this lackluster season. Button and Perez finished 7th and 8th respectively.

For all of Red Bull’s success with Vettel, things have unfolded quite differently for Mark Webber. The Australian is competing in his final season with the team and the usual trend of mysterious mechanical failures have plagued any chance of going out on top.

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Yet again, Webber was unable to finish the race, this time due to a gearbox failure. The breakdown happened on lap 60 after one hell of a push from Webber to P4. In one of the more sporting instances Formula 1 has seen in quite a while, Fernando Alonso pulled off during the cool down lap to give his friend a lift back to pit lane. It was a display of camaraderie and sportsmanship that shows just how much Alonso has matured since his days at McLaren. What could’ve been the shining event of the Singapore Grand Prix, was quickly muddied by a bureaucratic FIA who will stop at nothing to assert a firm hand over the sport.

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Many have argued in favor of the FIA’s ruling which will see Alonso get his first reprimand of the season and Webber a 10 grid spot penalty in Korea, after entering the track without the stewards permission. It’s a good cop, bad cop scenario where the FIA are only thinking in the interest of driver safety, but it’s a decision that does nothing for their stiff, old world public image and one the sport contends with far too often lately.

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The first of a new 5 race deal with Singapore is in the books. Despite the event’s stunning location, it will be nice to see the drivers on proper circuits from here on out. In a scheduling switch, the teams will head to Yeongam for the Korean Grand Prix in 2 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Subaru S203 In Hong Kong

With the Subaru STI tS Type RA debuting last week, it only made sense to have another look back at the STi S203.

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The S203 could be considered the ultimate version of the GDB STi. Where the Spec C was geared towards track use, the S203 was intended to be the perfect allrounder – a car that was just as good on the touge as it was on the weekday commute.

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Performance and style upgrades are found throughout the car including a carbon V-Limited front lip and forged BBS wheels.

An upgraded interior, beefed up suspension, STi performance tuned ECU and ball bearing turbo round out the S203 package.

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This particular S203 (315/555) was imported to Hong Kong by jal723, who previously owned another very nice STi that we’ll take a look at another day.

Today factory modified cars are all the rage. Subaru has always been very good at this type of car and the S203 is one of their finest examples. It’s an STi that checks all boxes in terms of looks and performance, to a point where all the owner has left to do is drive it.

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Since this car is there, I thought it interesting to mention that Hong Kong is one of the best places in the World for car watching. It’s the financial and cultural hub of Asia and the cars are representative of that. I’ve not been to another city where I’ve seen more exotics and properly nice Japanese cars – I’ve certainly not seen more GT-Rs anywhere else! Go to Japan for the tuning shops and motor sports, but for just walking around and stumbling across great stuff, Hong Kong is where it’s at.

Photos courtesy of jal723.

The Grand Prix Of Singapore

The Grand Prix of Singapore. Just sounds exotic doesn’t it? Let me start off by saying that I like so much of what this race offers. It being the only night race on the Formula 1 calender is enough to make it stand out as a truly unique event. The Marina Bay Circuit is a fickle one and with the added equatorial heat, a true challenge for the drivers. If anything, the Grand Prix of Singapore makes me want to see more night races. Rosso corsa never looked better and blue flames from the car’s exhausts looks spectacular under the lights.

However, Sunday’s race left much to be desired. Rather than my usually long winded Formula 1 summary, a few thoughts.

Sebeastian Vettel appeared emotional on the podium after winning on Sunday.

Shockingly, it’s been a rare sight to see Vettel holding 1st place trophies in 2012. Maybe he was overcome by victory after a long draught? Maybe he was worried about Eddie Jordan conducting the post race interview? His light up helmet was fantastic though.

Say what you will about Felipe Massa, the man can still drive. Those of you watching the race will recall a particular move against Bruno Senna that could’ve ended in tears. Instead it proved to be one of the few highlights of the race. It was the precision, speed and danger of Formula 1 in a nutshell. Despite his best efforts, Massa probably completed his last Singapore Grand Prix with the Scuderia.

Michael Schumacher showed his age after using Jean-Éric Vergne as a barrier following the first safety car. Some have questioned Schumacher’s relevance in the sport, but as things stand he’s still out pacing and out performing Nico Rosberg. Imagine what he could do in a better car?

McLaren can’t seem to get it right can they? For all the great qualifying sessions and performances of the last few races, they have yet to see both drivers finish the same race since the August break. This week the bad luck followed Lewis Hamilton, who suffered a gearbox failure after 22 laps.

The team’s radio transmission alluded to this being a problem they were already aware of. I would assume rather than suffer a 5 grid spot penalty for a gearbox change, the team decided to take their chances with Hamilton in pole. It was a big gamble that didn’t pay off. Hamilton can’t seem to win these days and that mishap could’ve been the final nail in McLaren’s coffin. He should do himself a favor and make a decision already.

It’s that time of the season when reliability is crucial and I suspect it’ll play a major role in determining the WCC and WDC in the coming months. Suzuka is less than 2 weeks away.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Abroad

I’ve been off the grid for the last week or so because I’m spending the holidays in Hong Kong. Things are pretty crazy right now, so A Class hasn’t been too active. However, I’ve been updating my Twitter (@aclasschris) and Instagram (@aclass) pretty frequently, so be sure to follow me there.

I’ve got some stories in the pipeline, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to work on those this week.

NISMO Omori Factory: The R-Tune

Sometimes you come across a car that you will remember for the rest of your life. It’s the kind of car that you’re  thankful for having been able to spend a few minutes with. It serves as an inspiration, a benchmark for everything that follows. For me it was a Skyline GT-R quietly sitting in an ally next to Omori Factory’s showroom in Tokyo.

When you visit Japan, there is no doubt you’ll come across some pretty special cars. But contrary to Tokyo Drift, the city is not where you go to find all the good ones. Tokyo is like any other big city. It’s not car friendly. Everyone walks and uses public transportation. Rightfully so, seeing as it has one of the best subway systems on the planet. I had spent most of my first couple days there chasing down pretty uninspiring, bone-stock Lancers, Silvias and the occasional Skyline. They were cool because it was Japan and that somehow made it more legit. But by my current standards, they were nothing to really write home about. Then there was something a little bit different. It was the last thing Mike and I saw coming out from our visit to Omori Factory. It was undoubtably fast and very beautiful, a real needle in the haystack of Tokyo.

I don’t want to turn this into another car feature. I have no knowledge about what’s been put into this Skyline GT-R. Everything I could say about this car would be assumption. The creations of Omori Factory seem to be quite the mystery and despite the countless hours I’ve spent trying to properly research everything I’ve posted in the last few weeks, I’ve come up with very little. There just isn’t a whole lot documented out there. Not about the engines, not about the cars. So going on assumption, what you’re looking at is the R-Tune. A very special version of the Skyline GT-R and sort of another stepping stone for what eventually became the Z-Tune. From everything I was able to find, the R-Tune is like the Porsche GT3 RS. It’s a street car that is most at home on the track. It’s equipped with Omori Factory’s RB26 R1. It’s sort of a step up from the S1 which was designed primarily for street driving. The R1 is essentially an RB28, using an N1 block. Everything about this engine has been improved to take as much abuse as the track can give it. Inspired from the same engines used in SuperGT, it’s really the ultimate RB26 produced for the consumer, by Omori Factory.

Everything was just right that morning, even the lighting. It was a very humid, overcast day, but the perfect coat of Bayside Blue reminded me so much of my own WRX back home. It reminded me of just how great a car looks in blue. On this morning it lit up the entire ally, impossible not to stop and have a look at.

You’ve found yourself doing it. Standing there, looking at a car, maybe yours, maybe someone else’s. You just look at all the details, inspecting it. It’s one of the best parts about being a car guy. Those moments when you appreciate a machine for what it is. I spent a long time doing the same thing in that ally. Just admiring the R-Tune that was parked in front of me. I probably took 30 pictures of that car. I made damn sure I had documentation of it, so I could look back as I am now and remember how it felt to see it.

I never saw the owner of the R-Tune. We just left it parked there. Who knows, maybe it’s still there, guarding the entrance. It was the first proper Skyline GT-R I’d ever seen in person and for that it remains one of my favorite cars ever. It’s pure, untouched by the hands of any tuning shop except from those of the factory from which it came. It’s a shining example of everything I love about cars. It represents a mentality that is slowly drifting away. People aren’t admiring these cars anymore. I guarantee you someone would comment on the fitment if I invited the discussion on a forum. But this R-Tune works as the whole package. Nothing about it needs to be changed. It’s prefect as it is and I wish it were mine. I would take an R34 over the current GT-R any day of the week. I don’t care how much better the new one is.

So that’s it, the grand finale. The proper finish to a truly inspiring visit to Omori Factory, a shop I had no idea I was visiting at the time. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was the introduction to my obsession. An obsession all of us have. One that is so strong it influences our decisions about everything. It’s good to be passionate. It gives you something to look forward to and makes life worth living. Like my visit to Top Secret the following year, that was a good day and I’ll never forget it.

NISMO Omori Factory: Part I

NISMO Omori Factory: Part II

 

NISMO Omori Factory: Part II

How many people really care about places like Omori Factory? You think all those fitment kings in your local community college parking lot are reading about this stuff online? The answer is an obvious “no”. They have no concept about where there cars came from and why they’re important. I think everyone should be interested in the history that surrounds their cars. It seems awfully nerdy and a waste of time, but it makes you appreciate them a lot more. I think only a certain type of person finds all of this interesting. Most people don’t really car about the special variations of the RB26 or that Rays made a magnesium version of the LM GT4. At any rate, I really enjoy documenting this stuff for the people who do care. I have been extremely lucky to visit Japan and see all of the amazing things I have. A majority of people will only be able to experience these things from a far. That’s the reason I do these posts, so that hopefully you can appreciate these things as I do and maybe get a look at something interesting or different from the usual. With that said, lets get back to it.

Upstairs from the showroom are some offices and conference rooms for meeting with clients. Outside of those rooms are display cases filled with all kinds of awards and NISMO memorabilia. This first place trophy from Round 4 of the JGTC (when it was still called that) was one of many achievements on display.

I’m not sure if they were on sale or just for show, but there were tons of diecast cars of all different scales. They also had model kits like the Z-Tune, which makes me think you could buy the stuff. Basically every sports car and racer than NISMO has been involved with was in one diecast form or another. Looking back, it makes me want to start collecting again, but that’s an expensive road I should probably stay off of.

After checking out the second floor, I headed back down to the showroom. At the bottom of the stairs was this display for NISMO’s Super Coppermix Twin clutch kit for the GT-R. For most Americans, the closest we can get to our future car parts is on a webpage. It’s always nice to be able to see things in person before you buy them.

Before Rays Engineering earned it’s place on NISMO’s race cars, SSR was one of the team’s wheel suppliers. I’m pretty limited on my knowledge of vintage wheels, but these look an awful lot like the Longchamps.

I’ve done many posts on gauge clusters in the past. It’s one of my favorite parts of a car’s interior. NISMO offers a wide range of gauges and replacement clusters for the GT-R, Fairlady Z and Silvia. There were all on display in a long case in front of the checkout counter. The NISMO black and amber cluster is probably my favorite for the R34 GT-R.

In the back of the showroom, set on what seemed like a pedestal was yet another of Omori Factory’s RB26 creations, the S1.

Pristine details are what you first notice when looking at this limited production engine. Only 100 where ever produced. It was designed and constructed with street driving as the primary focus, providing better low to midrange torque. The S1 is very similar to the engine used in the Z-Tune.

We were visiting Omori Factory on a Sunday morning, so things were pretty quiet. Everything except the showroom was closed. NISMO Girl, as Mike and I started referring to her, was nice enough to take us into the back to have a look at the garage. Since it was the weekend we were only able to check out the garage from the customer lounge, a small seating area where customers can watch the Omori Factory technicians transform their cars. NISMO Girl flicked on the lights to the garage and the holy grail of Skyline GT-R’s was sitting in front of us.

I could go on about the Z-Tune all day long. I love what this car stands for, which is an approach to absolute perfection. I think it was the original inspiration for what the engineers at Nissan hoped to achieve with the current GT-R. It’s a pretty awesome site to see such a rare piece of automotive prowess in the flesh. We’ve all had the chance to see cars like this at motor shows and events of a similar nature, but to see a car of this caliber in such an everyday setting is a different sort of experience. All of the 20 Z-Tunes were built in 2003 using R34 GT-R V-Specs with less than 18000 miles. There were two versions of the car, known as the Z1 and Z2 respectively. I believe the one we saw was a Z2, probably in for service. The amazing thing about the Z-Tune is that it’s essentially a hand built car from the ground up. They’ve been said to go for around $180000, which puts it directly in line with Ferrari and Lamborghini. Like I said, I could go on about the Z-Tune all day long.

It was pretty special to see this car on the grounds with which it was conceived. I knew little of what I was seeing in the showroom, but I was well-aware of the Z-Tune and just how epic it was. Unfortunately, this is the only decent picture I got of the car. But it’s proof, that I have indeed seen a unicorn. After a final stroll around the showroom we decided to get going. I still regret not buying anything, even a simple t-shirt or something. NISMO Girl didn’t let us leave without giving us all kinds of brochures and readers though. Outside the building I spotted another very special GT-R, which we’ll be checking out in the final part of my visit to Omori Factory.

NISMO Omori Factory: Part I

NISMO Omori Factory: Part I

Making the pilgrimage to Japan can be compared to a religious experience for some. For car guys it’s one of those last, wild places where limitations don’t seem to exist. Walk down the street long enough and you’ll come across any number of beautiful cars, American enthusiasts can only dream about. There are many “holy sites” for import fanatics to visit in Japan. For Subaru guys, Tachikawa Subaru or Car-Do is a pretty regular stop. Not only is it one of the largest Subaru dealerships in Japan, it’s also a place where you’ll likely find any number of rare, limited production Imprezas. Last time I was there, I was able to check out the 22b, S202 and Spec C Type RA-R. But one of the holiest of all places, especially for Nissan guys is located in an assuming neighborhood in Tokyo, just down the road from Shinagawa.

These days it seems that every car manufacturer has a special tuning division. I think it’s fantastic that so many companies have been created for the sheer purpose of making cars more fun to look at and exciting to drive. The Japanese have been doing if for years; a culture obsessed with limited production and very high quality. There is perhaps no more well-known and celebrated manufacturer tuning division than NISMO. Their freedom to be creative, inventive and involved have allowed them to reach levels of greatness in motor sports and on the streets. NISMO’s parts and cars have been well-documented and most have come from Omori Factory.

It was my first trip to Japan and we were there for just a few days. It was more of a long weekend stop before heading to our final destination in Hong Kong. I was with my dad who was on business and my best friend Mike. When I say we knew literally nothing about JDM cars and the culture, I mean it. Sometimes I look back and wish I had done my research, there’s so much more I could’ve taken advantage of, while in Japan. But there was also a certain excitement of not knowing, that made the whole experience better. We knew we wanted to see car stuff, but were kind of limited to what was within the borders of Tokyo. Our first afternoon Mike and I spent the day walking around Ginza, Tokyo’s high-end shopping and residential district. It’s home to many car dealerships and corporate offices, including Nissan. We headed to their offices hoping to get a glimpse of a Skyline or Silvia because we didn’t know any better. Disappointingly, once we arrived, we were greeted by no such cars. Mike, in his limited Japanese, asked one of the girls working in the Nissan showroom where the “race cars” were. She was pretty confused and reluctant to respond. The Japanese are a very shy culture, especially the women. It always surprises me that you’ll see mostly women working as representatives at car dealerships. I’m not sure how they’re able to make sales, they’re almost too polite for the job. After about 5 minutes of confusion and broken English and Japanese conversation, we were given an address. The girl said if we went there, we would see race cars. I didn’t really know what to expect, but we were both very excited.

The next morning we were in a taxi heading to the scribbled address. I was expecting some sort of Tsukuba Circuit pit garage, I really didn’t know any better. After about a 15-minute ride, we pulled over to the side of the road and the driver told us we’d arrived at the location. I could feel the disappointment growing because there was nothing there. Just another street, like all the other thousands in the middle of Tokyo. It was a Sunday morning and very quiet. We got out of the taxi, looked around for a second and spotted “NISMO” in big letters ahead of us.

It almost pains me to write this today, because I truly didn’t appreciate what I had come across. I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t even realized we visited THE Omori Factory until a few months after we went. The unassuming building looks like a car dealership from the outside. Nothing fancy and if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d probably miss it completely. Like the rest of the neighborhood, the store was empty. At first I thought it was closed, but soon a cute girl (it’s always a cute girl in these stories) came out from behind the counter and motioned us to come inside.

As soon as we walked in the showroom, we were greeted by this, the ZEXEL R32 GT-R. This particular, No. 2 car placed second in the Japanese N1 Championships in 1992 and 1993.

The car remained virtually untouched from it’s final days in competition.

Hanging on the wall behind the ZEXEL GT-R was this dry carbon work of art. I don’t know anything about this hood, but it appears to be for an R34, possibly for use in SuperGT? Regardless, it’s an amazing piece to look at.

A sea of red, white and black. There was no shortage of NISMO memorabilia at the Omori Factory Showroom. They had everything from apparel to duffel bags.

The main thing that sets Omori Factory apart from the tuning divisions of other car manufacturers, is that they function very similarly to most after market tuning shops in Japan. It’s a place where you can bring your car and have it completely overhauled to a variety of different specifications. Much in the same way that Top Secret or Phoenix’s Power operate, you sit down with a technical advisor and explain your goals for the car. The shop offers a wide range of tuning options from basic drivetrain and exhaust upgrades, to full-blown engine swaps and race-spec tuning. The biggest advantage to going through Omori Factory is that you’re getting manufacturer levels of service at the very highest quality.

There were at least 10 engines on display in the showroom. All of them were RB26’s offering different levels of performance for the street and track. Omori Factory have released numerous turnkey engines over the years. The sheer number of variants of the RB26 is somewhat staggering. Most have been designed to be direct replacements to the standard engine the cars come with. They are built to a range of specifications that make them ideal for different driving scenarios. My knowledge of the RB26 is still pretty limited and at the time of my visit, I had no idea what I was looking at.

The first engine I came across was the RB26 F-Sport. Contrary to the name imprinted on the valve cover, this is technically an RB28. The limited production F-Sport has been fully rebuilt and stroked to a 2.8L. It’s just one of many engines offered in different NISMO power packages, which include all supporting drivetrain and forced induction upgrades.

Next to the F-Sport were the similar F-Spec and Nür-Sport engines. Both are similar, being specially upgraded and built in limited numbers. I spent hours searching for these engines and came up empty handed. If anyone has additional information on the F-Spec, Nür-Sport or any of the RB26’s at Omori Factory, I’d love to learn more.

It’s almost hard to imagine how many parts NISMO offers for Nissan owners. I thought STi made a lot of stuff for the Subaru. They really don’t scratch the surface of what NISMO has. The showroom was fully stocked with everything you could ever want for your Nissan. The LM GT4 has never been one of my favorite wheels, but with a low offset I think they look right at home on a GT-R.

Even more hardcore were the LM GT Magnesium wheels from Rays.

Being in Japan alone is sensory overload. Adding their cars and tuning industry to the mix, makes it difficult to take everything in. It’s frustrating to think back on my visit to Omori Factory because I didn’t understand what I was seeing. I was in a showroom, surrounded by racing heritage and some of the rarest car parts in the world, to which I knew nothing about. I can only imagine how much different my visit would be, were I to go with my current knowledge and mindset. I like to think of my visit to Omori Factory as the original inspiration for my obsession with all things JDM. Although I took it for granted, I came away from my visit feeling very excited to learn more. I knew what I saw was a big deal, I just didn’t know why it was a big deal. I guess it’s been a bitter-sweet experience going through these old pictures and reminiscing.

I must be making it sound like that’s the end of it. Well, I’ve got plenty more pictures and some commentary coming up this week, so stay tuned.