This was one of our greatest races so far, bettered of course by our previous 1st placed finish by Simon, Tom & Mike in June – but no less eventful for it.
We’re all pleasantly surprised at how well our Prelude Type S has developed (touching wood as I write this..!) and how it’s taking all the punishment we keep subjecting it to in it’s stride.
Simon commented during the race that Honda’s top brass should attend one of these races and see how many 10-15 year old V-Tecs are used in this series and note the following and enthusiasm their performance cars have and I think he’s absolutely right.
On a seperate note TGR tends to stick out like a sore thumb as the single foreign team in addition to driving the only Prelude amongst a sea of EG6 Civics, DC2 & DC5 Integras, Mazda Roadsters, Silvias, etc. Maybe we need a few more Gaijin teams to even the balance!
As the Prelude Type S is considered a heavier car than the lighter Civics and there’s a lack of tuning parts in Japan for it (Many of our parts were imported from the USA in fact) & so it’s unlikely other teams will follow suit, but we have every intention of making our car even more competitive...
The further modifications will come not only before November, but also in winter whilst we have more time to work on the car. If all goes to plan, by Spring we’ll have finished the development on this car as we’re running out of things we can do to it, being an N (Road registered) classed car but I’m sure we'd all like to see it become the fastest Group N car we can possibly create.
For this event James, Simon & Sumi mostly took care of the preparation and fitting of tyres, race pads, all oil changes, etc. whilst Mike and I were away to avoid the August heat & humidity. Thanks guys!
I returned home the night before leaving for Fukishima, to drop off my wife and daughter. Friday morning I unpacked our holiday luggage & re-packed up our Toyota Hiace Diesel with a full compliment of tools & supplies and cruised the 400km to Koriyama, to meet Mike and James for around 6.30pm. Arriving an hour or so too early – I drove around till I found a large Cainz home centre and bought the rivets and washers & bits I needed for that night’s work on the car… James had volunteered the task of driving up in the Prelude – a brave job getting out of Tokyo in the raging August heat with 70% humidity & no air conditioning! Everybody on the team except Sumi & myself had wisely invested in a cool-shirt and Mike had made a cool iced water pumping system with a clever way to remove the water fast and replace with ice blocks for quick pit stop strategy.
That night, in the Hotel car park Mike fitted it, whilst I put safety nets on the window frame of each door so we could drive with windows open. That remind me - I want to find an Inpreza RA spec roof vent and fit that too!
Anyways - We now had a properly prepared car for endurance racing in the heat..
With our Type S Prelude’s handling finally improved to the point it’s wayward under-steer & tyre wear problems have been banished forever and wearing a much harder set of suspension springs than we'd started off with, I was looking forward to driving a well sorted car. It had been over a year since I last participated in a race, having only driven our Prelude a few laps since, when I volunteered to be team manager in November last year. Looking back it’s come a long way, as has TGR as a team and so I was looking forward to this whilst praying nothing would go wrong!
Mike didn’t manage to sleep at all, but did admit to finding the porn channels in his hotel room (Again)! I woke up at 3am and couldn’t sleep any more either, maybe too much coffee at Starbucks. Or Gay coffee as Mike put it, because it was iced.
At 5am we all met at the hotel’s reception. Overnight, Simon had arrived from his business trip to China and Sumi had “launched” himself all the way from Tokyo direct from his office.
Simon's wife Jill had driven him directly from Narita and was to be one of our pit crew, manning the fire extinguisher. Mitsumasa Takano (A fellow Prelude BB6 owner and endurance racing veteran) also graciously drove all the way from Tokyo to be with us on Saturday morning to help out with pit duties and promptly returned that very night. It never ceases to amaze me how cool some Japanese enthusiasts can be - he drove a total of around 600km there and back to be with us on a blazing hot day!
So we all turned up at Minami Ebisu circuit at nearly 6am with full tanks of fuel and loads of blocks of ice, drinks, chocolates and food. We immediately unloaded and begun preparing our pit for the day ahead. The car was still filthy from it’s last race so Jill, James and I gave it a quick once over with some wet cloths and James & I gave it a polish with Poorboys 2.5 to remove the rubber marks all over the bottom line. In the 7am driver’s meeting I found my T-shirt was already soaked through with sweat. It was promising to be a very hot day…
At 8.30 Simon went out to set a scorching 1.13 lap, putting us just in front of the middle of the grid. With 37 cars out there all trying to set their fastest lap, that was about as quick as he could have gone in all that traffic to get through. Job well done.
Some of the entries were a lot slower and there were some stupidly inexperienced drivers out there, notably a white EG6, A Silver Pulsar, a very slow Impreza Sti wagon and others.
Quite a cocktail, considering there were some professional drivers in other teams such as Rire Racing, ORC and Yashio Factory to name a few.
Simon came into the pits at about 9am having already scalped his first victim. Our neigbouring pit’s Westfield 7 had tried to cut into his racing line at the top of the main straight just before the right hander and collided with our Prelude’s rear wheel when he ran out of braking space We had a graze on the rim and some easily removed rubber on the paint, but the Westie was never to be seen again – already retired before the start of the race from suspension damage. They did have a well prepared matt black DC5 as a second entry (More about this car below), which went on to complete the race, so it wasn’t all bad.
Simon reported he loved the ice cooled shirt & had felt almost cold whilst driving round the track!
At 9.30am Simon started the race, putting in a steady & fast pace to get us into the top 4 cars in our class.
James, Sumi & Mike each drove their stints for 90 minutes. Naturally some of our drivers were slower than others, but all were good, with not one off road excursion. Mike set the fastest lap of the day at 1.12.8 and did some consistently hot & fast laps with some smooth driving.
Even in the dry I was amazed to see other team's cars going off the track so frequently and getting stuck in the dirt. Once every 90 minutes or so the race would be slowed to a crawl with the safety car out whilst the tow-truck went out to clear the carnage and we’d take the opportunity where we could to refuel and change drivers – to save on lost laps. This meant some of our team lost about 15 minutes of their drive, but it was worth the sacrifice. We had a few missed opportunities during other safety car sessions where we could have used the time to better our advantage – but endurance racing’s as much about driving as team strategy and knowing when to make pit stops. We learnt it’s vital to have good car to pit communication – which was almost non existent for this race.
Lessons were learnt!
(Mike takes a well earned rest before his first stint).
Come my turn at 3.30pm the first 6 hours were already over so the tyres were changed super quickly whilst I strapped myself in, oil was checked and topped up, car refueled, Traqmate memory changed & reset. With a toot of the horn to get errant pedestrians out of the way - I was off!
At first it took me a few laps to re-learn the circuit and get into the groove & allow the new tyres to wear in – then I began putting in consistently smooth laps whilst trying to keep the car cool and preserving these new tyres. Some of the other drivers were really slow, so I worked out that by switching on my head lights and applying full beam when I wanted to overtake, I’d get them to move out of the way easily. The indicator helped show which way I wanted to go, but wasn’t reliable, as I’d sometimes apply it when going over one of the chicane berms and be sliding slightly sideways whilst approaching a car in front very quickly, so no time to glance at the dashboard. Just pulled the lever back and looked for a gap to open then took it. The marshalls would usually notice my signal of urgency and wave a blue flag to help signal the slower cars something faster was behind.
(The eventual race winner - Yashio Factory's B class S15 Silvia).
I found that by making the chicane as straight as possible, with just a quick dab of brakes before entry, I could make up a lot of ground on other cars which were taking much more of an S to avoid the berms upsetting their car. By momentarily coming off the throttle in the transition through the S, I could make the back end a little lighter and reduce the chances of under steer coming out of it onto the back straight. As I got to the bottom of the hill I’d be carrying a lot of speed, but could out brake most cars whilst occasionally triggering the ABS – and with headlights on full beam they’d usually stay to the left, giving me a tight entry to the hairpin before exiting wide and accelerating strongly up the hill. I also learnt when exiting widely I could come on full throttle right away without any under steer. Car felt good - way better than when I last drove it a little under a year ago!
The next hairpin was a doddle, just had to make sure nobody was sneaking up the inside. If they were, I’d slow to be right up their chuff, then take a tighter exit before acceletating down the hill on the outside and usually cutting into the 4th gear kink to straighten that slightly off-camber corner as much as possible, where the car would 4 wheel slide nicely sideways without getting too flustered, before hardish braking up to the bottom of the hill. I also noticed it was easy to be misled and brake too hard for that corner – it’s actually faster than it looks, especially as the steep uphill section actually helps slow the car down before putting the power back on. I never did try a 3rd gear entry in Tom’s style, preferring to accelerate harder in 2nd to just before the rev limit and changing swiftly to 3rd to continue up the hill. A couple of times I had cars drive me wide to the right, putting my right wheels on the grass briefly – but I’d do my best stuff them up the inside of the next corner at the top of the hill. The horn definitely helps in these situations..
Lots of slower traffic to overtake, but I had some good tussles. Like Mike, I was surprised to find our car was quicker than the white Rire Racing B class Roadster and a lot quicker than many of the EG6 Civics. I also enjoyed wrestling with that matt black DC5...
The car I wanted to dice with was a beautifully prepared & driven B class Toyota Levin AE111 I'd seen before. We were very evenly matched so a good scrap was possible, but I was slightly dissapointed when eventually he waved me by... I'd intended to scalp him fairly!
As it started spitting rain during my stint I began to wonder if the Prelude’s hard suspension mixed with all the rubber laid over weeks of dry weather on the track - now being wet would make the Prelude's on the limit handling become nervous, but it seemed to remain stable, albeit slower. The rain soon stopped and it turned out the tarmac was still so hot the water quickly evaporated with no noticeable loss of grip! Our car was quicker through the corners (Especially the downhill Chicane and 4th gear bottom kink) than the matt black (Very fast) Integra Type R from our neighbouring pit, but would lose out on the uphill straight…
The Traqmate was working on my stint – as James had changed the memory card during the pit stop, so I could tell my lap times were in the 1.12 & 1.13’s mostly – which in this heat and with so much traffic still out there, I was happy enough with. Like everyone before me, I came in feeling the car was very well sorted and had a great time out there... Thanks to James for lending me his (Still soaking wet!) cool shirt and for the ice donation from Mike and the others, I was comfortable for most of my stint.
I’m a convert and take back every disbelieving thing I said about these. I want one, maybe even one for my helmet, as it was soaked by the time I came in at 5pm!!
It’s possible I didn’t get a full tank of fuel before going out – I was running on below half a tank within 40 minutes and the orange reserve light came on as my session finished, but I didn’t have to slow down – so it was all good…
There were a few chassis bending crashes, but no injuries. The worst was an N/A N classed MR2 which hit one of the B classed Civic 1.5 V-Tec Hybrid race cars. Looked nasty especially for the MR2 and took a long time to clear the Civic. The MR2 they just left on the side of the track till the end of the race.
Quite a lot of cars retired through the day, especially in the last 6 hours, due to mechanical failure and accidents. The Yashio factory S15 was seriously fast and made going quick look effortless. The 2nd from Pole Integra Type R DC5 sadly retired towards the end of the race with mechanical problems, as did an awesome sounding white EK9. It's always a little sad for others when they can't finish the full course of 12 hours.
Rire’s MR-S and Mirror finished Roadster B class cars were both taken out from off-roading excursions, despite having boasted a lot of professional race drivers on their team.
It serves to remind us no matter how good and well prepared, none of us are invincible out there..
Sumi drove well, but also had a second prang on exactly the same panel as Simon at the uphill hairpin at the bottom. He’d ben spun out by another car as he pulled into the racing line, but managed to stay on the black stuff. Just a dent and in the same place, with a bit on the door too, no structural harm done, thankfully. At the end of his 2nd stint he came in & the exhaust was noticeably leaking too – getting louder with each passing hour, but it sounded awesome! Turned out to be the flexible mesh pipe, which we’ll have to repair between now and November's race.
At 6.30 pm having had only 3 hours’ sleep the previous night and sweated buckets I was getting tired, thirsty and hungry again, so I got a lift from my friends Andy & Emily who run Power Vehicles of G1-GP fame up to their garage overlooking the circuit.
They had a BBQ on the go and I couldn’t resist an ice cold Asahi from their fridge! On the way up Emily told me Andy had recently proposed and proudly showed me the diamond decorating her finger, which was the perfect way to raise my spirits. So happy for them – if you know these two you’ll understand!
Suitably refreshed by 7.30, I borrowed their quad to get back down the hill, then planning to head back to their place after the race, I packed the Hiace up with all my tools, spare wheels, etc. to kill time before my last stint.
Just before 8.30 we called Mike in - and now was time for my last session. The others checked & told me we were just 2 laps behind 3rd placed car in our class and to drive hard.
As Mike pulled up he yelled “No fuel needed!” as he was still on just above half a tank and this was a 45 minute session... I checked the tyres and there was still plenty of tread on the fronts, so no need to change even the outside one either. We were in with a fighting chance!
Simon helped strap me in quickly and I left the pits as hard as the car would go. We were close enough to the exit not to worry about the 40 km/h limit.
Not knowing exactly what No 7 (3rd placed car) looked like, I just went for it in every gap and overtook anything in my way driving very obviously aggressively.
I'd hit full beams and burn the necks of any driver in front who dared be in my way and I once overtook the blue S15 Silvia just before the chicane. Before any corner was game in my book now. Nice guy ettiquette had already flown through the nets and out of the window as I left the pits.
I’d hit the downhill chicane as hard as I dared and didn’t back off if the car was sliding, instead keeping the power on. The remaining rubber on the tyres would take the punishment for 45 mins, I figured. Once as I bit off too much berm trying to make the Chicane far too much of a straight line, the car’s inside wheels jumped into the air & the back end came out wide. I veered towards the grass on the other side of the tarmac on opposite lock, but the car regained it’s composure and lost not a lot of speed...
Later as I thought about it I was glad I'd previously drifted on Ebusu's tracks with my own car during a matsuri - perhaps it had helped me remain composed when the car slid too much and just reacted to get it back on line and keep going.
Seeing what happened that matt black DC5 I'd just taken backed off slightly – knowing now I was on a mission & he never challenged again. If that made him back off I'd sure like to intimidate him again in future given the opportunity, as that's one of the quickest cars in N class and he needs to be weary of our Prelude and not think he can get one up on us just because he's marginally quicker on the uphill straight. That's racing!
At one point I was overtaking a slightly slower metallic blue B class EG6 Civic on the outside and he forced me onto the grass on the downhill section after the chicane. My choice was to either slow and miss the opportunity to overtake and do my best to avoid spinning out, or keep the pedal pinned and use the Diff’s lock to keep the momentum & acceleration being transmitted through the front wheel on the tarmac. Not having much time at that speed I overtook wihilst the car was bumping over the rough grass and cut in front of him in time to begin braking for the hairpin & throwing up dirt at his windscreen.
I later wondered why he'd done that - driver error, panic or on purpose? Maybe another car to watch for the next race..
Everywhere I could I’d take another car and another and another confident I'd be faster. All this in the possibility it was one of the fastest cars in front I was catching that we needed to overhaul for 3rd place... Having no idea specifically which car I needed to catch I was doing my best to overtake absolutely everybody and enjoying every minute of having taken on a mission with meaning to drive like that. So thanks for that bit of inspiration, guys - it really helped!
…Then the 350Z safety car came out… Oh crap!
(Yet another team taking advantage of the safety car's 10 minutes of race stoppage).
As we circled every 3 minutes or so the errant Silvia on the grass finally disappeared & I began to inch closer to the car in front, ready for another onslaught. The safety car was going quickly now then slowed again and waved all the traffic by by as he prepared to go into the pits and let the race resume, but that ridiculously slow Silver Pulsar that had been getting in everybody's way throughout the last 12 hours still wasn’t sure what to do…!
Not seeing any yellow flag displayed from the marshall’s hut I overtook him before firing up the hill and noticing another yellow flag still being waved further along. The DC2 behind me had also overtaken the Pulsar… I wondered if we’d be docked some laps for that slight error of judgement. In my mind I prepared myself to argue the case if I had to, then the hammer dropped again and the race resumed.
In any event it wasn't an issue. Besides, that Pulsar was known to be one of the slowest cars of all... so we were hardly bettering our positions!
On each consecutive lap I’d try to go faster. I’d stuff myself into the top corner, always getting the inside line, being at the top of another hill, I found I could actually enter the corner faster than I had during my earlier sessions, then lift off the throttle to help the rear pivot round slightly before firing out of the apex & quickly positioning the car straight for making as straight a line as possible through the chicane.
The aim was to do this without actually getting the inside wheels onto the concrete sections which would jolt the car too much and send the wheels off the ground.
At the bottom of the hill hairpin I’d usually have overtaken a car or two then accelerate hard with just a touch of understeer at the apex before banishing it with engagement of the diff and powering to the outside of the short up-hill. I’d make it agressively clear I was taking the inside of the next corner and anybody in my way was going to have to fight for it. Most would usually just give way as I inched past & braked later. Where not, I’d stick to their rear bumper going into the hairpin, stick close to the edge of the track and get the outside of the next straight before cutting across and getting the next apex.
I could see a flash going off from above each time I went through that hairpin and figured it must be one of our team.
Felt good to know someone was watching the battle I was in to get a better position.
In a bid to get faster acceleration off that same hairpin I also found I could clutch-kick once as I straightened to help get the revs up and quicker into V-Tec, ready to power down the slight downhill incline to the outside before short shifting to 4th and taking the inside line at the kink - again to try and make the corner as straight as possible.
The car would be sliding gently sideways in 4th as I hit the brakes & chell-toed to 2nd approaching the uphill right. I kept making a mental note each time to brake less than my brain was telling me to and enter that corner faster, with just a touch of trial braking until the front compressed as it went uphill & let off the brakes more smoothly.
I watched the car’s dashboard mounted digital clock and saw 8.30 come and go whilst looking out for the chequered flag at each lap. I had no idea if we had secured 3rd place, but the fuel reserve warning light was now solidly lit and I reckoned I had maybe 3 or 4 more laps I could do before I’d probably splutter to a halt. I could feel the exhaustion creep in with every passing lap and wanted it to be all over soon. Then at about 9.35 the chequered plag was finally waved. I slowed it down for the last lap and as I came into the pit lane the path was crowded with lots of happy people in support of their respective teams. I reved the engine to let them know I was coming through. I then saw Mike in the distance guiding me into our pit.
I stopped and called for the chocks to avoid using the handbrake. Sumi quickly put those in and as I got out of the car drenched in sweat the team was there to meet me with a round of applause & big smiles.
We’d gotten within just 23 seconds of catching the red number 7 Civic. We knew we were faster, but they’d done less driver changes and better planned their pit strategies. Had the safety car not gone out for about 15 minutes and the race been extended by only 5 mins, we’d have just made 3rd place, but there are always so many ways to lose time.
No worries - We’ll get em next time.
Apparently the team had thoroughly enjoyed watching that last stint almost as much as I had enjoyed driving it. Our Prelude was the only car with red hot front discs as it went past the pits and the holed flexible front pipe of the Mugen manifold was letting in air, making the exhaust backfire & crack loudly as I changed down for the top corner, which they said only added to the atmosphere... As I got out James excitedly told me I’d done several 1.10 laps in the dark. Collectively, we all felt a sense of relief we'd finished honourably and felt a sense of pride for our humble Prelude Type S.
We’d all driven a great event and our road registered N class race car has now done over 48 hours of racing, with no serious problems. Fantastic. Thank you Honda, for making such a reliable, forgiving & rewarding car to drive so hard!
More of these and less of the boring econoboxes, or the Toyota FT-86 will take much of that hard won V-Tec glory away in the near future..!
We learnt a lot and everybody finished the night with satisfied smiles. As I drove away in the Hiace to meet Andy & Emily after the race, I felt that sense of serene exhaustion and happiness I often get after a good track event. I was shattered but still buzzing and called my wife to share our small victory.
That feeling of happiness is what racing’s all about to me and now some of us can’t wait till November’s event. We’re aiming for a podium finish next time and this time we’re taking no prisoners...
Video clips and more writeups from other drivers coming soon - watch this space!
Subic bay, Philippines - Jan 2006
2 years ago