“Who reads this shit anyway?” Nearly everyone who writes regularly, be it reports for the workplace, group emails with fifty people ccd in, or a post on their personal blog, will have had this though flash across their mind at one point or another.
Because I write mainly for enjoyment these days, I don’t tend to keep track of who’s reading my blog on a daily basis. One thing I do always look forward to, however, is the end of year report that the good folk at WordPress lay on every December for the people using their service. What I really like about the WordPress report is that they tell you in the most positive way possible just who is reading your shit. For instance, one year they told me how many San Francisco cable cars my readers could fill, and another they put the hit count in terms of how long it would take all these people to climb Mount Everest.
What jumped out at me the most in this year’s report was that my most popular post for 2012 was one I wrote quickly two years ago, in which I listed up in rapid fire the ten drivers whose driving had impressed me most over the last few years. It wasn’t a particularly well-crafted or interesting piece, so I was puzzled as to how its popularity had suddenly spiked. Had I upset someone in the list? Had I sparked a craze for rally enthusiasts to make their own lists? Had someone taken a real shine to my writing and posted a link somewhere encouraging all and sundry to come and read?
Just as interesting, albeit slightly less odd, was the fact the site that most of my visitors came to my page from was a Japanese blog. Given that I post a lot of pictures of Japan up, and write quite often about things going on in the Far East, this seemed quite plausible. Still really interesting to find out, but quite plausible.
As it turns out, these two statistics were intrinsically linked. But first, let’s rewind to 2009.
At that time, I was working as the Media Officer for the 205 Ecosse Challenge, the one-make rally series in Scotland where all the crews use identical small cars. The idea is to keep the costs down so that the team with the biggest talent, and not the biggest wallet, take the spoils. We were concerned that our base car, the Peugeot 205, was running out of road, on account of the fact that (a) they stopped making them 15 years previous, and (b) our drivers were rapidly destroying all the ones left in a series of ever more spectacular accidents.
With that in mind we convened a committee meeting, and after much toing and froing decided that we would start to explore the possibility of introducing the Honda Civic as a step up from – and eventual replacement – for the rapidly disappearing 205. The problem was at that time, nobody with the exception of a few hardy souls was seriously rallying the Civic in Scotland. As such, we had very little access to technical knowledge about how to make an old Civic go fast, and more importantly no video footage with which to impress potential customers.
We divided our labour to resolve these issues. The more intelligent members of the committee took care of the first problem. Meanwhile, I was dispatched onto YouTube, armed with a Japanese dictionary and tasked with the job of finding some footage of a 1990s Honda Civic being rallied competitively. My task was completed before the technical guys had even had a chance to get their suspension settings sorted. The very first result that came up when I typed the magic words into the search box was an in-car from some obscure rally in Kyoto, featuring two guys hammering the absolute life out of an EK9 Civic Type R. For the entire stage, their mission seemed to be to rev the absolute nuts off the VTEC engine whilst hurling the car into corners at angles of ever-increasing impossibility. That ought to do the trick.
My fellow committee members suitably impressed, I fired an email off to the video’s producer – the mysteriously named ‘rstakeda’ – requesting further information. Two weeks and three emails later a Nagoya-postmarked Jiffy Bag of DVDs dropped through my letterbox. The DVDs showed the Racing Service Takeda team’s Honda Civic contesting the All Japan Rally Championship, with one Futoshi Murase behind the wheel. After the rollicking 2007 season when he drove the EK9 Civic, Futoshi upgraded to a much newer FD2 for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He drove it so quickly the Japanese pines at the roadside were reduced to a light-brown blur as the Civic screamed past, storming to the 2WD Championship in the 2009 Japanese series.
And then it all went quiet. Futoshi Murase’s antics briefly sprang to my mind in the middle of 2010 as I was trying to compose my ten-minute list of my ten favourite drivers, but after some outings in a Lancer Evo IX I never saw his name on a rally entry list again. It was as if he had been sent by Honda to inspire a group of Scottish youngsters to make their Civics go as fast as humanly possible and then, his task completed, just vanished into the ether.
On the evening of the 30th December 2012, it was with a mixture of bafflement and some trepidation that I struck out to solve the riddle of where all these mystery visitors to my blog had come from. I am a sensitive soul at the best of times, and was more than a little worried that someone out there on the web might be saying mean things about me behind my back. First up was this Japanese blog that lots of people had come to my website from. With the greatest of respects, this site looked like most of the other Japanese blogs I have ever seen. Ever. It had a series of medium-length, well-crafted and regular posts. There were emoticons peppered across it of the Asian variety, ones that look like (^_^) and (笑) rather than our Western 🙂 type. And it had lots and lots and lots of photos of food, all taken with a mobile phone camera. But the title caught my eye. ‘No Rally, No Life,’ it proudly declared in big white letters. And this is where a rally-prepped, shiny silver FD2 Honda Civic-shaped penny dropped, because behind the letters was a photo of Futoshi Murase’s RS Takeda rally car.
One Google search later and I came across a post dated 16th November 2012 which had a link to my blog, in particular the Ten Drivers in Ten Minutes article I mentioned above. In this post, a rather bewildered Futoshi was trying to fathom how on earth a British journalist had come to put him in the same list as Michael Schumacher and Sebastien Loeb. Clearly someone was reading my shit.
Keen to explain the long story of how I’d found his driving on YouTube and also to thank him for linking to my article, I fired a private message off to Futoshi from the fill-in form on his blog. This proved to be a little tricky, because the anti-spam test was harder than some of the Japanese exams I’ve sat. It required me to read out some symbols that phonetically spelt four Japanese numbers, then type those numbers numerically in the box below. If you manage to get that right first time, I think you deserve to be given a shot at trying to sell some discount Canadian meds or fake watches.
Just as it had done three years previous when I responded to the driving video, an enthusiastic message came right back through the web. It transpires that soon after winning his class in the Japanese championship, Futoshi’s company transferred him to Indianapolis and the rallying had to stop. During an office discussion one day over what Murase-san did in Japan, an incredulous colleague went and Googled to see if he really was the 2009 Japanese champion. With the first English language result being my entry, the stunned colleague reported back that Futoshi was ‘famous like Michael Schumacher’.
Rather serendipitously, the week I got in touch again with Futoshi Murase was also the week he took delivery of his new American rally car. Eager to develop his career as a driver, he’s bought a bright yellow front-wheel drive Ford Focus and is going to do selected rounds of the Rally America series this year – starting with the 100 Acre Wood Rally in Missouri at the end of February. Budget and time permitting, he’s also thinking about coming to Europe to compete at some point in the near future.
In the intervening period since fate last brought us together, a lot has happened. Futoshi Murase has moved to the USA, RS Takeda have built a stunning Subaru BRZ competition car in their white, green and yellow livery, and I’ve packed in the serious writing for a 9-5 job. Goodness knows what will happen in the next three years, but in the nearer future, after Takuma Sato’s antics at the Indy 500 last year, Futoshi Murase still has a shot at being the first Japanese racing driver to win big in the USA.