As anyone who grew up in the eighties or later will know, Japan has past form for producing successful pairs of brothers (don’t be fooled by the names, Mario and Luigi were a Shigeru Miyamoto creation all the way). And if money were no object, the rally world would by now surely know all too well about the Super Izuno Brothers – Kohei and Kenta. The 24 year-old twins hail from Okayama Prefecture but now reside in the mountainous Nagano region. Rather than competing together, they are both pursuing careers as drivers in their own vehicles, and have been taking the Japanese rally scene by storm with some spectacular results and slightly less spectacular crashes.
Unfortunately, though, money is very much an object for Kohei and Kenta, just as it is for the vast majority of junior rally drivers globally. Rather than getting despondent about the situation, the Izunos put their communal thinking cap on and came up with a novel way of raising funds for their upcoming rally campaigns. Enter the Izuno Cup.
The premise is simple. Take one Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3, some snow-bound roads, and one set of timing equipment. Kohei Izuno goes out in the Evo and sets a time on the 5km-long ice and snow stage, which is recorded for all to see. Anyone who thinks they can beat Kohei’s time stumps up 3,000 Yen (about £20 in UK money) and heads out to attack the course in the same Mitsubishi. Win and you get bragging rights, plus you’ve had a pretty comprehensive practice session on a good stage in a competitive car at very low cost. Lose, and you donate an extra 7,000 Yen (roughly £50) to the Izuno fighting fund. There’s also the ‘no challenge’ option, where for a flat fee of 3,000 Yen you can go out and have a play on the snow in the Lancer without the danger of having your wallet probed further.
This is all possible due to the winter climate in the higher-altitude regions of Japan, where things get very cold and very snowy. Although this can be a little inconvenient for going about one’s regular business – a truck chock-full of bread got irretrievably stuck in a snow drift a few weeks back and the driver had to give away the goodies to local residents free of charge – it makes ideal conditions for rally practice. It even gets cold enough for lakes to freeze over, so many of the Japanese rally teams head to the hills for several days’ training on ice (including double PWRC champ Toshi Arai and my friends at RS Takeda) during January and February.
Under the command of Kazuya ‘Bear’ Suzuki, in Nagano a small army of Suzuki Jimnys with snow ploughs bolted to the front head out at dawn to clear a course on designated days. Crews then descend on the Ontake course from all over the centre of Japan for a mixture of practice, time trials, and full-blown stage rallies. It was onto one of these time attack events – the Snow Challenge – that this year’s Izuno Cup was bolted.
The amounts of money involved aren’t huge, but enough to pay for a set of tyres or two on an international rally – and when you’re competing on a low budget, everything counts. More importantly, it’s a fantastic way for the Izunos to raise their profile domestically, and to reinforce a sense of camaraderie with the more experienced local crews who might offer advice and support in years to come.
Sadly, with risk assessments and health and safety and insurance and what have you, I can’t see anyone in the UK being allowed to let people to jump in their car and challenge for money, never mind rally on ice and snow. Mind you, given how many of the Japanese rallies are held on closed public roads, for their current consultation the MSA and UK government could do a lot worse than look to the example of the Far East to see how clubman motorsport can sensibly and safely run on the Queen’s Highway.
The Ontake Stage:
Kohei Izuno – http://rally-izuno.com/
Kenta Izuno – http://izunoke.blogspot.com
Ontake Snowland – http://ontakesnowland.com/