K’s Blog

This is where all the latest information will be posted relating to the K’s World Rally Team – EuroRallye entry on the RSAC Scottish Rally.

The rally itself will take place on Saturday 29 June, with Motoharu Kaseya (Fujisawa, Kanagawa) and Kohei Izuno (Ueda, Nagano) respectively driving and navigating the Honda Civic Type R through the Scottish forests.

In addition to straightforward reporting of the crew’s exploits on the rally, I also hope to give a bit of insight into their first experience of rallying in Scotland – from dealing with four seasons’ worth of weather in one day to surviving on Tunnocks and Irn-Bru. I’ll also be giving a bit of background information on what the rally scene is like in Japan, based on my own experiences out in Nagano.

Friday 5 July: Edinburgh, 06:50

Best K’s Scenario: a personal overview of the weekend

Prologue

Scene one. A Western-style steakhouse in suburban Tokyo. The air is thick with grease and smoke from the restaurant’s main product. Black-suited salarymen hunch over their tables, hacking away at juicy steaks with their knives and swilling food down with gulps of beer. Outside, commuter trains clatter past on the raised railway line, the horns from the expresses periodically interrupting the conversation. I should be enjoying a giant slab of meat and potato salad with my fiancée, but instead I’m watching my phone anxiously. Every time it vibrates, which is on average once every five minutes, my heart sinks because it means I have to either rack my brain to write a message in Japanese, or bash out an English email on my Japanese phone’s rubbish tiny keypad. It’s three days before Christmas, and I am trying to arrange a shipment of snow wheels from England to Japan.

Scene two. A somewhat overwhelmed and bewildered Japanese rally crew stand in front of a muddy Honda Civic. They have just stepped out of their vehicle to chaotic scenes. A stocky man in a rally branded jacket has come over to visit them three times, on each occasion bringing a different set of trophies wrapped in a different kind of packaging. People are jostling with each other to get the best spot for shooting photos, service crew rubbing shoulders with national media and professional photographers. The team’s interpreter is trying to help the event commentator conduct an interview with the driver for the event whilst telling the crew which camera to pose for and picking up the various bits of trophy wrapping. The Japanese team truly are the stars of this rally.

Preparation

These two events took place two and a half years and six thousand miles apart. What started as a recommendation for a supplier of hard to obtain car parts turned into a regular business relationship, eventually culminating in the first Japanese competitors in nearly five years coming to contest a round of the British Rally Championship. My first encounter with the K’s World Rally Team was back in 2009, when my wife and I went to visit a rally in Nagano Prefecture of which team owner Kazuya Suzuki was Clerk of the Course. My first meeting with EuroRallye and their owner Iain Shirlaw came a few months later, after Ecosse Challenge competitors Colin Smith and Craig Chapman hired Iain’s car to contest the Intercontinental Rally Challenge round in Scotland. I was impressed with Kazuya’s vision and Iain’s professionalism in equal measures, so when Kazuya contacted me in winter 2010 to ask if I could help him import snow wheels at a fortnight’s notice, I knew exactly who to email.

Several boxes of wheels, a number of high-quality race suits and numerous pieces of roll cage advice later, the ultimate question was asked. Kazuya wanted to hire the EuroRallye Civic for a British Rally Championship round on behalf of a customer, and the round they wanted to do was the RSAC Scottish Rally. With me acting as an intermediary, a deal was sealed, flights booked, and an entry under the name of K’s World Rally Team went in for Motoharu Kaseya and Kohei Izuno. The team would fly in to Edinburgh on the Wednesday, do seat fitting on Thursday, test on Friday, rally on Saturday, see the sights on Sunday, and go home on Monday. It was going to be an intense few days.

At six o’clock on Wednesday evening I was standing at the international arrivals gate of Edinburgh Airport, holding a sign that had the legend 石田 KWRT printed on it. One of the mechanics, Ishida-san, was arriving on a different flight from the rest of the team – and having never met him before, I finally got the opportunity to be one of those people you see at airport arrivals with a sign bearing a mysterious name and/or organisation name. An exhausted man who bore an alarming resemblance to Nissan Le Mans driver Satoshi Motoyama came over to my sign – having just done a 15 hour trip and with the prospect of a 45 minute wait before he could even leave the airport, Ishida-san needed no convincing to let me buy him a coffee. The rest of the K’s crew arrived en masse about an hour later, and we proceeded to the airport rental car station and then onwards to the hotel.

My alarm went off at 5am the following morning, for I had to get back out to the Airport Travelodge in order to meet the crew for breakfast. I arrived to find the hotel on the brink of evacuation, with smoke billowing out of the toaster in the breakfast room. World Rally Championship class winner and eighties Japanese rally legend Motoharu Kaseya had forgotten about the croissant he had left under the toaster seven minutes previous. Proving that rally teams the world over are identical regardless of language or nationality, an appropriate period of piss-taking and winding up followed whilst Kaseya-san attempted to salvage the remains of his cremated pastry.

Seat fitting in Perth

I was presented with four bottles of Calpis, my favourite Japanese soft drink which is neither obtainable in the UK nor describable within the confines of the English language, as a thank you for my efforts in helping the team get to the UK. The cars were loaded up, and we headed off north to Perth for the first piece of serious rally business – seat fitting at G&M Mechanical Services. SD52 DCU was on the ramps when we arrived, still bearing the awesome white and red livery it had been decorated in for its last outing on the Jim Clark. The previous sponsor stickers had been removed and replaced with those of K’s World Rally Team, and a freshly painted set of brand new Compomotives sat on the floor awaiting tyres – it had been decided the Type R looked meaner with dark grey alloys, so new wheels were sprayed accordingly. The seat fitting progressed apace, but so small was Motoharu that by the time the seat had been moved forward far enough for his feet to reach the pedals, young Scott was the only member of the service crew able to fit between the seat and the steering wheel – and even then his knees were up past the indicator stalks. Mechanics Ishida-san and Kakegawa-san also took a keen interest in the proprietors’ tool cases, photographing the spanner trays from every conceivable angle. Apparently they are not available in Japan.

After a brief tour of the premises from Scott senior, we left Perth and headed off down the A9 in the direction of Glasgow and subsequently Dumfries. A brief lunch halt at Happendon Services introduced the K’s World Rally Team to proper British cuisine. Ishida-san was intrigued by the mysterious brown sauce in which his sausages were swimming, Kaseya-san discovered that if you don’t specifically ask for your pannini to be heated up it will be served to you cold with a frozen bit still in the middle, and Kakegawa-san was shocked to learn that a sausage roll means just that – a sausage in a roll with no salad, tomatoes or extras.

Dumfries

First job in Dumfries was to pick up the recce car from the hire place before it closed at six. Messrs Kaseya, Izuno, Ishida and Kakegawa were dispatched from the Travelodge with two sheets of A4 paper and an address to put into the satnav, whilst I stayed in the hotel with Suzuki-san and his wife Michiko to prepare the documentation for the following day. Six o’clock came and went with no sign from the Dumfries contingent, but eventually the black Astra hire car and freshly-acquired Land Rover Freelander recce vehicle rolled into the car park. The reason for their delay quickly became apparent – they’d been to Tesco to stock up on food for the recce, and had filled six bags with food. By the look of things, Izuno-san planned to sustain himself for eighteen stage passes with three packs of iced buns and a two litre bottle of Irn-Bru. It was not taking that boy long to adjust to Scottish rallying.

That night’s dinner took place at a downtrodden but delicious Chinese restaurant in Dumfries town centre – an eatery that, much like a rally car that had been repaired after a mid-rally off, was held together with electrical tape. Our table was equipped with a Lazy Susan, which was just as well because Kohei seemed to be hell bent on polishing off everyone’s leftovers. The twenty minutes I spent explaining the idiom ‘empty legs’ in Japanese proved to be time well spent, because unwanted food being passed in the young co-driver’s direction at meal times was to become a recurring theme of the weekend. For future reference, ‘tabeteowachatta?’ translates loosely as ‘you wanting the rest of that?’

K's World Rally Team service area

Friday started at a ridiculous hour for Motoharu and Kohei. They had to be at Clatteringshaws Forest Car Park for 7am for the recce start, so their alarms went off at 5am. The rest of us had the luxury of a lie in, before heading to the service park to see the setup. On the way, Kakegawa-san again proved that service crews the world over are exactly the same, coming within metres of wiping the pair of us out after blipping the throttle on a roundabout and shooting out in front of an HGV. At service Kazuya and Iain finally met face-to-face, and we headed out of the downpour into the G&M hospitality suite to discuss the weekend ahead. With the aid of a pad of paper and pen (which were to come in handy later in the weekend), Iain explained the importance for Motoharu of keeping out of the ditches if he wanted to avoid punctures. Kazuya then took the paper and pen and, to reassure Iain, drew a line on the diagram some distance before the bend. “This is where Motoharu brakes,” he explained. “There is nothing Kaseya-san hates more than crashing out of a rally, so he will be very cautious”.

“But this”, Kazuya continued, marking a cross right on the apex of the bend. “This is where Izuno brakes because he is young and has no fear. That’s why he rolled out of the APRC Rally in Hokkaido last year. I know – I was the co-driver that day”. Ishida-san and Kakegawa-san fell about laughing at Kazuya’s recounting of the tale.

Adjusting the suspension at shakedown

“Next car up will be car twenty, a white Honda. You can talk to the crew if you want, but I wouldn’t bother because neither of them speaks a word of English. We have an interpreter down at signing-on though”. My former Scottish Rally colleague Alan Dalziel was manning the radio at shakedown with his trademark dry sense of humour, and invited us to partake of some of the Barony College’s finest buffet food whilst we waited for the car to come back round from its installation run. Over four passes of the shakedown stage Kaseya-san got the car set up to his liking, a neutral and stable setting that wasn’t going to throw him off into the scenery. We headed to signing-on, got the start time (8.21am), and hit the hay in view of the massive day that lay ahead.

Rally day

So nervous was I on Saturday morning that I was awake well before my 6am alarm clock. My chest felt tight and my stomach was turning. Today I’d be responsible for translating Kaseya-san’s feedback on the car into English and relaying it to Iain and the service crew. I don’t think I was even this nervous on the morning of my own nuptials – at least on my wedding day, nobody was going to be driving between trees at 100mph in a car set up based on my word. I resorted to doing press-ups and squats in my room to take away some of the adrenalin. The fact I was doing exercise voluntarily is a pretty good indication of how much I was bricking it – or kinchō shimasu as they say in Japanese.

Fired-up on the morning of the rally

Commentator Bob Milloy nabbed me at the start to help him interview the K’s crew over the PA system, and rather anxiously asked if I’d be there at the finish as well. With the Civic safely away on the road sections to the stages, we hung around until the historics were through so that Kazuya could take some photos of the Porsches for Motoharu, then made our way to Ae for some spectating and the K’s World Rally Team’s next Scottish culture lesson: midges.

The wee buggers were out in full force on account of the slightly damp undergrowth and relatively high temperatures. These were not ordinary midges, either. These were midges with tackety boots. By good fortune the KWRT polo shirts we had all been issued with out of Kazuya’s suitcase had big collars and zips that went right the way up, so with judicious use of hats and coats we were able to seal the insects out. We reached the bottom hairpin in Ae just in time to see a ferocious Renault Clio Maxi pop, scream and bang its way round the bend, and before long the wail of the VTEC was ringing through the trees. Kaseya-san and Izuno-san came down the hill in a controlled fashion, neatly rounded the hairpin and accelerated off down the road. Unspectacular but steady – and quicker, let’s not forget, than all of the people that overshot, spun or stalled in their do-or-die attempts at cornering. Just as we were figuring out that Motoharu was faster than the R1 Twingos, and therefore not plum last, Kazuya spotted something that was to make his day. A giant tail of dust was rising over the saplings at the top of the hill, a brilliant white machine exploding out of the gap in the trees. It charged down the incline at full pelt, stones flying as it locked up its wheels under braking. The driver yanked the steering wheel and hurled the car round the hairpin, the engine emitting a low growl as its four tyres reconnected with the road and propelled the vehicle onwards. Suzuki-san had just had his first encounter with Major Alan Paramore in the lead Armed Forces Rally Team Land Rover. The K’s guys were flabbergasted when I told them these vehicles were crewed by members of the armed forces.

By the time we got back to service via the Heathhall spectator stage, the Type R was up on the jacks with Iain’s head in the door. The first words I heard were “we’ll wait until Leslie gets here, okay”. Perfect timing. One quick conversation with Kaseya-san later, Scott and Iain were able to set about softening the rear suspension and moving the brake bias slightly rearwards respectively. The cars settings were adjusted, mud scraped out of the wheelarches, wheels rotated and the crew sent on their way again. They’d be back again in an hour to go through the whole process again.

Through the water splash at Heathhall

The next two stages were a repeat of the first pair, Windy Hill and Ae. With a sense of Groundhog Day we went back to spectate, Kazuya this time cheering and clapping the Land Rovers, then raced back to service. I was relieved to see the adjustment requests I translated for the service crew had been what Kaseya-san wanted. The K’s team were taking a cautious approach, gradually building their pace and staying within their limits (although when I saw the in-car later on, I have to say Motoharu was putting in a fair old shift for someone competing in the UK for the first time). I had a chat with the driver to make sure everything was going okay and that there were no problems, at which point he broke into a massive grin and declared he was having lots of fun on the stages. With that fact established and requiring no translation, everyone was able to relax a bit and concentrate on getting Kaseya and Izuno the finish they were aiming for.

Afternoon service had the potential to be the killer, though. The cars were heading to Clatteringshaws Forest for the final three stages, almost an hour’s drive west of Dumfries. The problem was that the remote service area was accessible to only one car per team – a car I would not be in. Remote service was also two miles from the road, making it impossible for the support car of Japanese speakers to walk it in the available time. In short, remote service was going to be have to be done over a language barrier.

Waiting at remote service

But while standing in the road waiting for the EuroRallye car to approach the service in junction, I devised a cunning plan based on Andre Villas-Boas’ football tactics at Spurs. I would listen to Motoharu and Kohei’s feedback on the car, translate it into English, and write it all down on a bit of paper. This note would then be given to the co-driver to pass on to the service crew up the hill, thereby giving the mechanics full and complete guidance as to what was do be done during the twenty-minute halt. This plan, however, rested on the fundamental assumption that the rally car would stop at the point where we were waiting to talk to us. The crew were running late and the Honda sped past us at full chat, charging straight into the time control and disappearing into the trees before I had time to flag it down. The control marshals (one of whom was Scottish Rally stalwart Ian Mackenzie) were none the wiser as to what had happened either, telling me the only word they could get out of the pair was ‘delay’ over and over. Mercifully, the Army Land Rover crew waiting for their minute had seen Motoharu and Kohei in stage, the friendly soldier behind the wheel informing me that the pair seemed to be changing a wheel. No problem, then – a shredded Hankook speaks for itself

In the interim period, we had been led to believe that the K’s car had retired from the rally. Standing in the middle of the road staring at the bend round which we expected the car to appear, Kazuya and I were hit with the horrible feeling any true rallyist knows all too well – the moment when, after a long wait, the next car to appear is the car running behind yours. Oh no. I bounded over to the conveniently-placed radio car – which happened to be crewed by yet another weel kent face in the form of Merrick Stages Rally Manager Allan Marshall – and asked after car twenty. “I don’t know to be honest”, came the voice from inside the car. “Oh wait I do, they went off and had a small fire. But they’re okay”. Rubbish. Retaiya shimatta rashii desu. Kōsu auto nochi moeteshimaimashita. Off we went down the road in the direction of the stage, utterly bewildered at the thought of Motoharu being out of control enough to have an accident that resulted in a fire. Ten thousand kilometres, a great morning and then a retirement on the last loop of stages. Gutted didn’t even start to cover it. But just as we reached the Clatteringshaws junction, a distinctly un-burnt Honda came out of the stage sandwiched between two Land Rovers. It was the other car twenty – car twenty in the Scottish field – that had gone off and had the fire, and thankfully the driver and co-driver of that car were okay.

Waiting at the end of SS9

After a detour to Dalry for petrol, it was back to the end of Clatteringshaws to await the arrival of the ‘R at the end of the competitive action. I walked up the access road with Suzuki-san, Ishida-san and Kakegawa-san, and when we realised it was too far to reach the stop control we decided to camp out in a layby. By this time the cars were passing us one by one, Korhonen, MacCrone, Cave, and it wouldn’t be long till we knew either way what was happening. With the mist descending and Kakegawa-san and I engaging in conversation about how Japanese-style hair has a nasty habit of trapping midges (don’t ask how we got onto that), a white vehicle with a red sunstrip bearing the legend ‘KRT’ rounded the bend. They’d done it. As we fought to reach into the car and shake hands with the guys, one of the Land Rovers gave us a congratulatory toot of the horn as it passed, much to Kazuya’s delight.

Next stopping point was the finishing ceremony back in the centre of Dumfries. The cool late afternoon air smelled of cheap champagne, and the announcer’s north Yorkshire tones battled for supremacy with the petrol generator that was keeping the inflatable arch upright. A white Honda-shaped blob rose over the horizon in the distance, and at exactly the same time I felt a sharp tug on my arm. DIGB. “Right, your Japanese is really going to get put to the test here”, the Ecosse Challenge founding father turned rally finish coordinator instructed me. “You need to go down there and explain to them they’ve won the Spirit of the Rally”.

Excitement coursing through my veins, I raced down to the car to pass on the good news, arriving at the same moment a large black jacketed and tartan bunneted figure withdrew from the driver’s side window, the page on his notebook nearly blank. “I got punctures and no more than that. I’ll just wait for your press release, okay!” Kaseya and Izuno had just had their first proper encounter with legendary Scottish rally scribe John Fife. Apparently they don’t teach Scots in language classes in Japan, let alone New Stevenstonish.

Kaseya-san admiring his trophies

Once the British Championship ceremony had been concluded, the Honda was summoned forwards and the chaotic scenes I described at the start of the story unfolded. What the K’s World Rally Team had actually won was the Bandeath Trophy, a historic award presented annually to the person or people the rally organisers deem to be the Star of the Rally. For someone on their first trip to Europe to stay out of trouble, beat two cars and have a damn good go of it – as the in-car I saw attested, they certainly weren’t hanging about – the ‘Star of the Rally’ accolade was very fitting indeed.

At this juncture I’d like to get serious for a minute and give a big shout out to EuroRallye, G&M Mechanical Services and Andrew Wood Motorsport. It was their combined thinking to put two spare wheels – one more than normal – in the boot of the Civic on account of the high probability of punctures on the rough Dumfries and Galloway forest roads. This smart thinking probably kept Motoharu and Kohei in the rally, because in the seventh stage they hit a big rock that had been dragged out and punctured both right-hand tyres. With two spares they were able to continue on their way, make it to the end of the rally and collect both the class award and the Star of the Rally Trophy. A fabulous reflection on the professionalism and attention to detail of all involved in the car’s preparation.

Eplilogue

I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache. Not on account of excessive alcohol, but out of sheer relief that the K’s team had made it to the finish and had a good rally. A relaxed day of sightseeing followed, during which the Nagano team members photographed the scenery, pretended to fire cannons at Edinburgh Castle, ate haggis and drank whisky. By 5pm I’d had three drams yet perversely my headache had disappeared.

The most satisfying moment of all was getting back to the computer, opening up the memory card on my camera and looking at all the photos on Facebook. For there was photo after photo after photo of Motoharu, one of the most gentle, humble and modest people I’ve ever met, unable to take his eyes off his giant Mario Kart-style Star of the Rally trophy. I don’t know what the Japanese translation for ‘dog with two tails’ is, but it’s weekends like this and the Jim Clark experience with the Australian Targa crew that have really helped to restore my enthusiasm for motor sport over the last few months.

Thursday 4 July: Edinburgh, 23:58

Phew! Recovered from the exertions of last weekend. The team have made it back to Japan safely, and thoroughly enjoyed their time in Scotland. With the rally out of the way, Sunday gave an opportunity to relax and enjoy some of Scotland…

Recording the scenery for posterity

Recording the scenery for posterity

From Star of the Rally to King of the Castle

From Star of the Rally to King of the Castle

Haggis and whisky tasting

Haggis and whisky tasting

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

A more in-depth blog post has been written up, I just need to check it over in the morning then it will be up, both here and on the main page.

Sunday 29 June: Dumfries, 20.00

Japanese rally team collects historical Scottish Rally award

The Japanese rally crew of Motoharu Kaseya and Kohei Izuno battled the weather, the rocks and the midges on their way to a fine finish on Saturday’s RSAC Scottish Rally – and were rewarded with one of Scotland’s historical motor sport trophies for their efforts. The pair received the Bandeath Trophy at the finish of the Dumfries-based rally in recognition of their endeavours in the EuroRallye Honda Civic Type R.

Motoharu Kaseya and Koehi Izuno with the Bandeath Trophy

Motoharu Kaseya and Koehi Izuno with the Bandeath Trophy

The Bandeath Trophy is awarded annually to the ‘star’ of the RSAC Scottish Rally. This is a person or group of people whom the organisers of the rally – itself among the oldest motor sport events in Scotland – feel most appropriately conveys the spirit of the rally. This year K’s World Rally Team members Kaseya and Izuno were chosen in light of the (literal) great lengths they went to in order to take part in the Scottish, traveling several tens of thousands of kilometers just to reach the start venue before tackling the rally with good humour, much friendliness and great enjoyment. Spectators, marshals and other competitors alike were delighted to see the red and white Honda arrive at the final time control, covered in mud but with the crew in the cockpit beaming as they had done all day.

Motoharu and Kohei were driving competitively, though, and put in a respectable performance against many of the British Rally Championship’s regular competitors. Rallying in Europe for the first time, they set out with the aim of getting to the finish and soaking up the experience along the way. With Motoharu, an occasional participant in World Rally Championship and Asia-Pacific Series events, slowly adapting the car’s settings to his driving style, they gradually upped their pace throughout the day whilst staying out of trouble in the changeable conditions.

K's World Rally Team, EuroRallye and G&M Mechanical Services

K’s World Rally Team, EuroRallye and G&M Mechanical Services

A double puncture towards the end of the seventh Shaw Hill stage was the only major drama the Honda pair had to battle. They hit one of the large, sharp rocks that have gained notoriety among rally crews in this part of the country, puncturing both right-hand side tyres. With the rear tyre losing air immediately and the front going down more slowly, they had to deploy both of the spare wheels EuroRallye had placed in the car on account of the rough conditions. Wheels changed, they were back on their way with minimal time loss.

“It was a very enjoyable rally, I had a lot of fun out there in the Honda”, declared Fujisawa driver Kaseya at the finish. “I didn’t expect to receive the Spirit of the Rally Award, so I was very pleased but also surprised when my team came to tell me. This is definitely going on display in my house!”

“Although I have competed in New Zealand, this was a completely new and different experience for me”, added Nagano co-driver Izuno. “Even though I am usually a driver myself, doing a big rally as a co-driver is a very good way to get experience about working as a team and understanding how the car is set up”.

The 2013 RSAC Scottish Rally was held in Dumfries and Galloway on Saturday 29 June. A round of the British Rally Championship, the Scottish took place over seventy miles of south-west Scotland’s forest roads, with the event start and finish in Dumfries. Over 130 crews took part in the Scottish, including those from as far afield as Finland, Norway and – of course – Japan.

Sunday 29 June: Edinburgh, 19:45

Just back home after seeing six exhausted but delighted Japanese rally team members back to their hotel for an early night before their flight home in the morning. Not only did Motoharu and Kohei finish the rally (and win their class by virtue of being the only car in it), they were also awarded the ‘Star of the Rally’ trophy for their efforts.

The Scottish Rally started at the crack of dawn on Saturday, when we left the Travelodge and headed in a two-car convoy to the service park at Heathhall.

Fired up

Fired up

With the crew safely through the starting ceremony – during which I was dragged into proceedings as an interpreter for commentator Bob Milloy – we made our way to Forest of Ae to hopefully catch the EuroRallye Civic through the stage. Arriving halfway through the British Championship field, there wasn’t long to wait before the wail of the VTEC started echoing through the trees and the red-and-white Honda sailed round the hairpin.

Safely through Ae

Safely through Ae

The dash back to Heathhall was delayed because Suzuki-san took a shine to the Land Rovers and, having seen Major Paramore’s stunning efforts in the lead car, wanted to see them all through. Nonetheless, we were back in time to see the crew through the Heathhall spectator special, then sprinted back over to the G&M truck to relay any issues Motoharu had with the car to the service crew.

G&M and EuroRallye hard at work

G&M and EuroRallye hard at work

Kaseya-san was adopting a cautious approach on his first competitive visit to the UK, so the service crew were keen for me to make sure he was happy with how things were proceeding. After a brief period of questioning in Japanese he broke into a broad grin and told me how much he was enjoying himself, and once that fact – which ultimately is the most important thing in motor sport – had been translated back into English, everyone was reassured. I headed back to Ae with the Japanese contingent for the second pass, and then back to Heathhall to see the Honda obliterate the watersplash.

Heathhall

Heathhall

The next time we would see the crew would be at remote service, nearly an hour’s drive away to the west of Clatteringshaws Loch. Anxiety started to build when the Civic didn’t appear at the in control on its due time, and our hearts sank when a radio marshal told us that car twenty had gone off and had a small fire…

Waiting at remote service

Waiting at remote service

Driving down the road discussing how they might have started a fire, we were both startled and delighted to see a white Honda emerge from the stage finish behind the Land Rovers. The car shot off into remote service before there was a chance to flag them down and find out what had happened, but a friendly Army Land Rover crew told us they had seen the EuroRallye Civic stopped at the side of the road changing a puncture. It was the ‘other’ car 20 in the national event that had the fire – and was relieved again to hear the crew of that vehicle were okay. The black Astra supporter car made its way to the end of the last Clatteringshaws test in anticipation. Suzuki-san, Ishida-san, Kakegawa-san and I started to walk up the road, and it wasn’t too long before the moment we had been waiting for came – Kaseya-san and Izuno-san came round the corner on their way out of the final stage.

Out of the last stage

Out of the last stage

There was further good news in store for the K’s guys at the finishing ceremony, when they were informed that they had been awarded the Star of the Rally Trophy – a historic award going by the name of the Bandeath Trophy. This is presented annually to the person or group of people that the organisers feel best embody the spirit of the RSAC Scottish Rally – and this year it went to Motoharu and Kohei in view of their commitment, dedication and good humour.

With the Bandeath Trophy at the finish.

With the Bandeath Trophy at the finish.

Friday 28 June: Dumfries Travelodge, 00:10

A ridiculously busy day. It started for Kaseya-san and Izuno-san at 5am, when their alarms got them out of bed in time to get them along to the edge of Clatteringshaws Forest for the 7 o’clock recce start. Logging activity in the woods (apparently) meant they were delayed, so in the meantime we (Team Principal Suzuki-san, Suzuki-san’s wife Michiko-san, mechanics Ishida-san  and Kakegawa-san, and me) headed over to the service park to admire the fine work EuroRallye and G&M were doing.

K's World Rally Team service area

K’s World Rally Team service area

Everyone was hugely impressed with the professional work the guys were doing on the car. The Japanese service crew were especially excited by Scott and John’s tool crates, which apparently are not available in Japan – it seems an order will be coming in from that part of the world soon. We followed the car over to scrutineering, wee Scott having to drive the EuroRallye Civic because he was the only person who could still fit in the drivers’ seat after it had been moved forward to accommodate the diminutive Motoharu. The Type R, as expected, sailed through scrutineering with flying colours, gaining Willie’s seal of approval in record time.

Scrutineering

Scrutineering

A long wait at the edge of Forest of Ae ensued as we waited for Motoharu and Kohei to finish the recce. Whilst we couldn’t make contact with them, the kind woman at the cafe reported that she had seen ‘two Japanese-looking men in a Land Rover with a number twenty on the side’ drive past some minutes previous, so we were reassured they were on their way. Eventually our crew emerged as part of a huge convoy of cars – two and a half hours late but recce complete – and we headed to shakedown at breakneck speed.

Ready to start shakedown

Ready to start shakedown

‘Next crew coming up is car B20, a white Honda. You can talk to them all you want but there’s no point because neither of them speaks a word of English. There’s an interpreter down at signing-on though’. We arrived at shakedown to find my old colleague from the Scottish Rally Alan Dalziel in charge of signing-on, working the radios with his usual sense of humour. After four practice runs Kaseya-san declared himself satisfied with the car, altering the suspension settings and brake bias slightly to make the car more neutral. Suzuki-san told Iain and I earlier in the day that Motoharu used to be stupidly quick back in the day, but now prefers to get to the end of rallies – hence the desire for a neutral setup and well-behaved vehicle.

Feedback

Feedback

Last task of the day – after a chaotic attempt to get to the ceremonial start which involved getting snarled up in Dumfries’ one-way system – was to sign on. This too was completed with great efficiency, before taking the car to Tesco for a jet wash and handing it back to the G&M team for re-prep. Another early start tomorrow so time to hit the hay!

Signing-on

Signing-on

Thursday 27 June: Dumfries, 21:50

Made it to Dumfries. The day started with seat fitting and introductions to the service crew up at G&M Mechanical Services in Perth.

Trying the Honda's seats for size

Trying the Honda’s seats for size

The EuroRallye Civic looks resplendent in the white and red livery, now complete with K’s World Rally Team signage.

KWRT branding on the Civic

KWRT branding on the Civic

After the seats were fitted and the car given a good look over, it was onwards to Dumfries to pick up the recce car, check into the hotel and do the planning for Friday – which is set to be a very busy day…

Planning meeting

Planning meeting

Tomorrow will include a full reconnaissance of all the stages the crews will drive, scrutineering, a shakedown in Greskine Forest, signing-on and a ceremonial start in Dumfries town centre. With so much to do, these guys are going to be getting out of bed at 5.00am tomorrow morning. おやすみなさい!

Izuno (left) and Kaseya (right)

Izuno (left) and Kaseya (right)

Wednesday 26 June: Turnhouse, 18:30

The crew have arrived in Scotland! This morning they head to Perth for seat fitting at G&M Mechanical Services, then it’s on to Dumfries to pick up the recce car and go through the schedules for the weekend.

International Arrivals at Edinburgh Airport

International Arrivals at Edinburgh Airport

Good Scottish rally food

Good Scottish rally food

Always wanted a job where I could hold one of those signs, so made myself one as a consolation

Always wanted a job where I could hold one of those signs professionally…

Arrival from Frankfurt

Arrival from Frankfurt

Tuesday 25 June: Edinburgh, 22:20

The Jizo Pass: walkthrough of a Japanese rally stage

I was delighted to discover that Google have recently updated their Street View coverage for Japan, to now encompass much more of Nagano Prefecture. This expanded coverage includes the entirety of the Jizo Pass, a staggering stage I saw on my visit to the FRC Mountain Cross back in 2009. In short, this is a remarkable stage that rises many hundreds of metres, skirting the edge of a valley before dropping back down, connecting the villages of Nihongi no Yu and Kaidakogensuekawa. It is a public road that is closed when a rally is on to allow competitive driving, and is an excellent example of the kind of stage Motoharu Kaseya and Kohei Izuno are used to back in Japan. It will be really interesting to see how they see this comparing to the Dumfries and Galloway forest stages they’ll tackle this weekend.

map

Jizo Pass – running from south to north. Image (c) Google Maps

The Jizo Pass is not a long stage, measuring in at just over 6km. But it more than makes up for that with the challenging camber of the bends, stunning surroundings and topographical changes.

Stage start. Image (c) Google Maps

Stage start. Image (c) Google Maps

The stage starts on a bridge at the base of a waterfall. That waterfall serves as a good focal point, because you’ll pass the top of it just a minute later after an intense climb.

Top of the waterfall. Image (c) Google Maps

Top of the waterfall. Image (c) Google Maps

Yes, that light patch visible through the trees in the bottom-left is the stage start, about sixty metres below, where you were less than sixty seconds ago.

Narrow road with steep drop on left-hand side. Image (c) Google Maps.

Narrow road with steep drop on left-hand side. Image (c) Google Maps.

It’s one of those stages where, disconcertingly, only the tops of the trees are visible from the roadside due to the steepness of the banking.

Winding through the mountains. Image (c) Google Maps

Winding through the mountains. Image (c) Google Maps

Despite the narrow road and tight bends – many of the corners are tight if not hairpins – there are some stunning views along the way for marshals or casual drivers to enjoy.

Old stone. Image (c) Google Maps

Old stone. Image (c) Google Maps

There are also numerous walking routes that intersect with the road and head off into the forest, and also ancient milestones. I would not want to be responsible for knocking one of those over as a result of an off-course excursion…

Roadside shrine. Image (c) Google Maps

Roadside shrine. Image (c) Google Maps

…nor would I want to be responsible for crashing into this little Shinto shrine at the side of the stage. It doesn’t come out so well here, but it is a statue of a child onto which someone has placed a knitted hat, presumably as some kind of offering.

Kaidakogen Heights Viewing Platform. Image (c) Google Maps

Kaidakogen Heights Viewing Platform. Image (c) Google Maps

When I visited the stage, I was paired with a radio marshal on the outside of this bend. I did a little viewing from the shelter of the little hut on the outside of the bend, but with it being dark I was unaware of the sheer drop behind. Just as well nobody ran wide.

Kaidakogen Heights. Image (c) Google Maps

Kaidakogen Heights. Image (c) Google Maps

Kaidakogen Heights is the peak of the stage at 1,335 metres, offering crews the briefest of glimpses out across the valley to the snow-covered mountains in the distance.  From here on it’s all downhill, with a series of sweeping left- and right-handers leading to the stage finish.

Kaidakogensuekawa. Image (c) Google Maps

Kaidakogensuekawa. Note the rice field to the left of the sign. Image (c) Google Maps

Eventually you reach the hamlet of Kaidakogensuekawa, which marks the stage finish. After the competitive section finishes, it’s a short drive past rice fields and small farms until you get back to the Queen’s – or in this case Emperor’s – Highway and head on your way to the next stage. O-tsukaresamadesu!

(PS Google People – the images here are for informative/educational purposes, if you object to them being here for any reason please message me and I will gladly remove them)

Tuesday 25 June: Edinburgh, 00:05

(originally written Saturday 25 April 2009: Kiso-Fukushima, Nagano Prefecture, Japan)

From the archive: rallying in Japan

This is an article I wrote for the Ecosse Challenge site after my first visit to a Japanese rally, back in May 2009. This was the visit that was to set in motion the wheels that eventually led to the K’s World Rally Team coming to Scotland…It has now disappeared from the Challenge site so I re-post it here for posterity – and to illustrate how rallying is essentially the same the world over!

“Car 1, presumably the winner of last year’s event or at least the leader of some championship standings, was a fairly nondescript blue N11 Impreza. A pair of Evo 9s were flagged off into the stage at one minute intervals, whilst the marshals struggled to keep their checksheets dry and their hands warm under the relentless heavy rain. Somewhere in the middle of the field, an enthusiastic young driver in a battered older car took off into the stage with considerable gusto. A few minutes later a dull splash could be heard from the start line as said car ended up in a river”.

I wrote the previous paragraph in my notebook during a quiet moment in the rally I was at at the weekend. You could have carried on reading page after page after page of my notes, and the conclusion you would reach would be that I was at the Granite City Rally up in Aberdeen. Only when you got halfway through and noticed the lack of Mark 2 Escorts and the strange appearance of Toyota Corolla Levins in their place would you realise something was up.

A look at my notes on the service park would confirm your suspicions that this isn’t quite how things usually are. The fact that the drivers and co-drivers don’t leap out of their cars and race to the burger van at service would be the first big clue. Instead little plastic boxes filled with steaming rice and deep-fried pork are produced from inside the service van, and the competitors sustain themselves not with thick brown coffee, but with small bottles of green tea. You might also notice that the cars are brought to the rally not in trailers, but on the back of flat-bed lorries. And whilst the cars themselves might look familiar, the rear windows are emblazoned with names such as Aoki, Tajima and Mori instead of Girvan, Horne and Bogie. Yes, this is rallying in Japan. It’s the same as rallying in Scotland – almost.

“Japanese rallying is still developing so we still have to follow the international model,” explains FRC Mountain Cross Rally Nagano Clerk of the Course Kazuya ‘Bear’ Suzuki as he hands out bento boxes and bottled water to the volunteer marshals. “Although we make the best cars, the best parts, for example suspension, have to be brought in from abroad. But at the same time Japanese rallying technology is getting better and as that happens we can develop our own style more.” The job of the Japanese Clerk of the Course is exactly like being the head honcho on any other rally. Suzuki-san seems to have a mobile phone permanently welded to his ear for most of the weekend, controlling his team of stage commanders and course cars whilst handing out numbers to competitors and answering navigators’ queries about time cards.

When he’s not on the phone, Suzuki-san is invariably on the move as opening car in an old Pajero filled to the brim with control boards, cones and radio equipment. The Nagano Mountain Cross event is staffed entirely by tirelessly enthusiastic volunteers like Suzuki-san, many of whom had spent several previous weekends driving up to the rally area after their work on Friday to carry out recces, organise equipment and drop PR notices through peoples’ letterboxes. Just like in Scotland, it seems that Japanese rallying is sustained by the energy and motivation of a few dedicated souls who do it for love and not for the money.

Start of SS1

Start of SS1

Whilst the work behind the scenes and many of the cars are familiar to me, the stages themselves are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The Nagano event, as with most in Japan, is a tarmac rally. The roads are narrow and twisty, winding round hillsides with concrete banking supporting the hillside. There are often no barriers on the outside of the lower roads, with a six or seven foot drop down into a rice field or – as one competitor found out to their chagrin – a river. Crews recce the stages in the morning and then take to the roads in anger around midday, finishing around nine at night. I am helping out at the start line for stages one and two, a narrow four kilometre section of tar that follows a river upstream. Car one can be heard before it is seen, the big brakes squealing after being warmed up on the road section. It’s an N11 Impreza prepared by former PWRC Champion Toshi Arai’s company, but today it will be one of Arai-san’s employees that’s taking the car for a spin and rather than being run by a massive lorry with corporate hospitality facilities and a chase car, three guys are servicing it out the back of an old Toyota people carrier.

The four-wheel drive stuff is standard Group N fare, with newish Imprezas and Evos of every vintage from three through nine. The two-wheel drives have a wee bit more variety, or at least they seemed different to me because there were no non-Japanese cars out and hence no Escorts or 205s. Civics and Integras are in plentiful supply, rasping off up the side of the river with their VTEC engines at full chat. Oddly enough I only see one AE86 Corolla (maybe because they’re all in Ireland or have been drifted to death) but there are some newer rear-wheel drive ‘Levin’ Corollas that look a heck of a lot of fun to drive as they skid round any bit of tarmac with even a hint of a bend in it. I thought all my stereotypes had been blown out the window for good, but then two giggling girls whistle up to the start in a big old RX-7 in a scene that could have come straight out of a comic book or animated movie. Some tiny Honda and Toyota city cars round out the entry of 45 cars, which I’m told is pretty standard for a Japanese event.

Off into the gloom

Off into the gloom

In the evening we head up to the Jizo Pass for the last two stages of the rally, quite probably the most exciting stage I have ever seen. The stage start is on a bridge at the base of a massive waterfall with steep forested valley sides either side of it. Competitors would be well advised to remember that waterfall because they will see it again, forty seconds and three kilometres later when they cross the river at the top of it after tackling several crazily steep hairpins and a sinuous uphill section with mean drainage ditches on the inside and sheer drops on the outside. After reaching the summit of the steep hill climb the road zigzags along the edge of the valley, periodically affording views over the villages and rice fields three hundred metres below when the trees part, before dropping downhill as steeply as it rose to the stage finish. Various small shrines are placed along the roadside – I didn’t ask what would happen if a car went straight on at a corner and wiped out a Shinto shrine.

By the time the Jizo stage goes live, darkness has descended owing to a delay in proceedings while a Civic was extracted from a river. I’ve tagged along with Harada-san, a friendly club member who is doing radio car halfway through the stage in a tiny green Daihatsu, and our radio point is on the outside of a sharp downhill right-hander up against the crash barrier that is supposed to stop cars from plunging into the abyss. Owing to the fact we are in essence on top of a mountain, there are no spectators, no lights and no noise apart from the occasional chatter of the radio. Using my phone as a torch, I stumble out of the car into the drizzle and step into a covered sightseeing platform that offers splendid views of the scenery by day. Conveniently, by night it provides a handy, if slightly dangerous grandstand for rally viewing (I had visions of the whole thing being rocked from its moorings by an errant rally car and collapsing into the darkness with me inside).

A Mitsubishi traverses the Jizo Pass by night

A Mitsubishi traverses the Jizo Pass by night

A dim flash impresses upon the darkness, followed shortly by a brighter flash and a steady yellowy-white glow. After what seems like an eternity of waiting, a faint whining becomes audible, punctuated by the gentle hissing of a restricted turbo and the low burble of a boxer engine. The noise dips and six bright lights flash into view, weaving from left to right in my field of vision. Each time the lights move the car chirps like a grumpy rattlesnake and the quiet burbling from the engine rises. Before I know it the Arai Impreza pounces on the tight right-hander, sliding across the damp tarmac and growling away into the darkness. How I love night rallying.

Although the N11 could have come straight out of Mull or the Jim Clark, what I saw twenty minutes later certainly couldn’t. All cars competing in the national championship run at the head of the field and conform strictly to FIA Group N specification. Behind them, though, it’s free range, and the wind carries one of the strangest sounds I’ve ever heard towards me. I don’t know if Darth Vader likes coffee, but if he ever goes into Starbucks for a takeaway the noise at the counter while he waits for his grande cappuccino to be frothed up might sound a bit like this. A big ball of light is coming towards me very, very fast and appears to be sucking up everything in and under its path. It doesn’t look like it’s going to stop and out of fear I sprint out of my wee wooden hut and take refuge in some stern looking trees. When I turn round again, what transpires to be an Evo 9 with the rear sitting about two millimetres off the ground has amazingly managed to hold onto the wet tar and is heading off to terrorise other unwitting foreign spectators further along the stage. Later I find out that the regional championship is open, and as far as I can gather cars are allowed to run without restrictors and do goodness knows what else to their motors.

Collateral damage

Collateral damage

Alas, brute force is no substitute for skill and the rally is won outright by a standard GC8 Impreza seeded at number thirteen. Even the prizegiving reminds me of being back in Scotland, held in the canteen of the Kisofukushima Ski Resort while the crews enjoy a beer and a buffet. Having said that, the prizes the top three in each class get are something to behold, receiving a massive bottle of sake and a medal from the rally itself, t-shirts, hats and towels from one sponsor, brake pads from another sponsor and a bag of edible goodies from somewhere else. The awards are dished out by four smartly-dressed, bubbly young ladies with incredibly high-pitched voices who pose either side of the drivers and make peace signs while the photos are taken. Come on, they have to be allowed some stereotypes, don’t they?

A massive party ensues back at the hotel, but everyone – officials, crews and service personnel – is up at the crack of dawn to tidy up and pack away the equipment at HQ. It would be easy to think that a country that has given the world so much in terms of motorsport technology would be running events that are totally different and organised with ruthless business-like precision, but there is a real sense of camaraderie and everyone mucks in to make the rally happen. Nothing sums the weekend up better than the foreword Suzuki-san has added to the final instructions. “This is not a good time for the motor industry in the world or for motorsport,” it reads. “But I always want to be able to go rallying no matter what.” The spirit of clubman motorsport is truly alive the world over.

Saturday 22 June: Edinburgh, 22:30

(originally written Saturday 15 May 2010: Ina City, Nagano Prefecture, Japan)

The Spirit of Rallying…in Nagano

To really kick things off I thought it would be good to give a bit of background to the crew that are coming over to contest the Scottish. The following is an article I wrote after I went to visit the K’s World Rally Team headquarters in deepest rural Japan back in 2010…

If you’re ever bored of an afternoon, go onto Google Maps, focus on the middle of Japan and type ‘Ina City’ into the search box. Look to the mountains to the east of the city, home in a bit more and cast your eye around. It might take you a while, but after a bit of searching you’ll see what looks like a sea of white surrounding two barns in the middle of the forest. Zoom in even further and you’ll see a platoon of Mitsubishi Lancers scattered around the buildings. What you’ve found is K’s Rally Factory, a small preparation outfit that embodies everything that’s great about rally driving.

It’s pitch black on a Saturday night when I arrive at the workshops, but light is flooding out through the open garage doors of both buildings. I can see various bumpers and bonnets peering out from inside the sheds, and the eerie white glow from two well-stocked vending machines propped up against the main office picks out the shapes of an even greater range of cars outside. As my eyes adjust to the dark, it becomes apparent that there are vehicles absolutely everywhere.

A K's-prepared Lancer on the afternoon's rally

A K’s-prepared Lancer on the afternoon’s rally

It’s impossible to describe the atmosphere of K’s Rally Factory without sounding stereotypical. Boiler-suited workers march back and forth between the buildings at regular intervals, some of them brandishing tools, others rolling wheels and a few manhandling larger body parts. A pair of feet stick out from under a Lancer Evo 9. Someone is bent double over the engine bay of an Integra Type-R. Three men wrestle with the front bumper of a Suzuki Ignis. This is one of the most appropriately named places I’ve ever been to, an outfit where rally cars of all shapes and sizes are churned out around the clock.

K’s Rally Factory is the business of Kazuya Suzuki, who I met last year on my first visit to a Japanese rally. The rallying community in Nagano Prefecture is small, close-knit and supportive, and it seems that Suzuki-san and his staff keep practically the entire region rallying. “He is one of my customers,” or “I look after his car” were phrases I heard time and time again as we watched the cars zoom past on a stage earlier in the afternoon, and after they finish their work tonight the staff will stay up to wait for a client coming back from a rally just up the road. Glancing at the calendar on the wall, I can see there’s barely a weekend where one of the cars from the K’s stable won’t be out competing.

A number of machines are being worked on, but most efforts and attention seem to be focused on the Suzuki Ignis I saw three men wrestling with the bumper on when I arrived. “This car is being shipped to New Zealand to do the Rally of Whangarei in July,” Suzuki-san explains. “We don’t have long to get it finished, so everyone is working as hard as they can to get it ready.” It really is all hands to the pump with the Ignis, which is being built to international specification. As two mechanics furiously crank their spanners under the bonnet to bolt the radiator back in, a young man wearing a dark blue set of overalls comes roaring into the compound in a black Ignis, skids to a stop outside and immediately proceeds to rip the front lights out. “Donor car,” he tells me in English as he trots into the workshop with the headlamps. No sooner are the lights screwed into the front of the car than an older member of staff opens the driver’s side door and starts prodding the switches to make sure the electrics work correctly. In the space of about fifteen minutes, the entire front of the car is reassembled.

Over in the second building, meanwhile, work on the Honda Integra is progressing slowly. The car’s owner squats on the floor, meticulously unwrapping new Öhlins suspension components and arranging them methodically on top of a flattened-out cardboard box. The unmistakable red oblong of a VTEC head sits on an old towel by the front of the car, and a couple of tea towels cover the bits of the engine that are left in the car. To his left are a trio of Lancers arranged in near-chronological order, with a pristine white Evo 8 on axle stands on the left, a stickered-up Evo 9 in the middle and a lurid green original Evolution on the right. “First generation Lancer, the original!” announces a jolly club member with a cigarette in one hand and a torque wrench in the other. “This one is very fast.Very fast!”

PWRC, Group N and Clubman Evos

PWRC, Group N and Clubman Evos

“And this one was first used by Fumio Nutahara,” he continues, gesturing to the dusty white Evo 8 with a certain hushed reverance. “This driver’s seat, this steering wheel, this gear lever, all used by Nutahara.” Only a handful of Japanese drivers have enjoyed high-level success on stage rallies in recent years, so I can kind of understand the respect the guys show to the ex-PWRC car.

The second, less frantic, garage is also home to an assortment of Toyotas. A chunky Starlet Turbo and rear-wheel drive Toyota Corolla Levin are parked up with new tyres and look ready to go, while the freshly painted shell of a second Levin patiently waits for somebody to find the time to come over and bolt on the various parts that are lying around it in unopened cardboard boxes. The chap who gave me the Lancer history lesson recoils in disbelief when I tell him the Starlets are hugely popular among the fast-and-modified crowd in the UK, then I in turn am equally stunned to learn that the Levins – possibly the most boring-looking cars I’ve ever seen – are hugely popular among Japanese rally drivers because they provide a cheap way of going sideways. If I had some cash sloshing about, I would import some of these into the UK and keep them stored until such a time as we finally run out of Mark 2 Escorts. Right at the back of the barn, tarpaulin half-draped over it, a bent and buckled Lancer Evo 5 good for parts alone stands as a stark reminder that things don’t always go right in rallying.

As the night draws in, the temperature drops fast – we are, after all, in the Japanese Alps. Still, I can’t resist having a wander round outside, where old Lancer after old Lancer after old Lancer awaits either being turned into a rally car or being savaged for spare parts. A Yaris – or Vitz as it’s known in Japan – that’s walloped a tree fairly hard head-on is also on top of a trailer in the queue to be fixed, but thankfully for whoever crashed it there’s another perfectly good stage-prepared example boxed in by an old Corolla, a service truck and a pair of GC8 Imprezas. The command and management cars – a big comfy Nissan people carrier and a Yaris Verso – complete the fleet. I’m pretty sure even M-Sport don’t have this many vehicles sitting in their workshops at one time.

Despite their reputation as relentless workers, even the Japanese need a break from time to time – and their rally service crews are no exception in this regard. Six or seven director’s chairs are arranged round a paraffin heater in a semi-circle, affording a fine view of the Ignis kit car and the Group N Evo 10 next to it. On top of the heater is a big ashtray that is constantly being restocked with smouldering cigarette butts as the various employees and helpers take a rest from the business of rally-car building. A generous bowl of sweets and snacks and a battalion of coffee cups nearby serve as further reminders that rallying is alarmingly similar no matter what country you’re in.

Izuno-san and colleague with the S1600 Ignis

Izuno-san and colleague with the S1600 Ignis

As I take photos of the crew at work on the Ignis kit car, Fujiki-san comes over to talk to me. She’s one of the younger members of staff, and having studied English at university is a massive asset when the team goes to contest events abroad. She’s also full of energy, jumping, stretching and stepping back and forth as she tells me about the team and the local motor club in perfect English. “Come over here and introduce yourself to Leslie – in English” she calls to an equally energetic chap who has progressed from sorting the Ignis’ bumper to fiddling with his own Impreza outside.

“But Leslie can understand Japanese so there’s no point in me trying to speak English,” replies the young mechanic, breaking out into a broad, cheeky grin as he wipes oil from his face. Every service crew the world over has a guy like this. Despite being a highly skilled mechanic and by all accounts a terrific driver, it’s reassuring to see that Izuno-san – as the young gentleman is called – is still just a nineteen year-old boy desperate to get out on the stages when funds permit.

It’s about this time that Suzuki-san emerges from his office in a set of overalls to help his employees in a late-night push to get this phase of the Ignis build done. He signals for me to follow him through to the rear section of one of the garages – the one the two current ‘works in progress’ are situated in – where a spectacular array of parts are stored. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. One wall is stacked from the floor to the ceiling with shelf after shelf of green Tein springs and shocks, and another has shelves for the suits, helmets and in-car gubbins of all factory’s customers. Hundreds of wheels are arranged in one corner in an L-shape, with a matching barricade of tyres separating the suspension and wheels from a swarm of engines, gearboxes and driveshafts. Wings, bonnets, doors and bumpers hang from the ceiling, turning gently in the breeze that comes in through the big open door. As I gingerly step between two engines and try to avoid knocking over a line of competition seats that are arranged like dominoes, I feel a sharp tug on my arm. I’ve got myself caught on something on the way out. A fishing rod. I’m sure these aren’t allowed under Group N specification, but there are three of them in any case.

The night’s work on the cars slowly draws to an end, a long camping table is set up next to the heater and alcohol and savoury snacks are brought out. The topics of conversation may be in a different language, but they are reassuringly familiar for me. Debating which tyre maker gives the best free hats. Winding up a member of the car club when he asks what ‘the third way’ is in three-way Proflex suspension. Recounting what happened last time some of the service crew had to sleep together in the people carrier at a rally. What really hits home to me is when Fujiki-san tells me that most of the folk that were at the garage this evening aren’t actually employed by K’s Rally Factory. They’re members of the local car club, Friends Rally Club, who have been coming up after work to help get the Suzuki Ignis ready on time for the rally in New Zealand. I remember Jordan Black’s multi-coloured 205 appearing at the Merrick Forest Stages just one month after a massive roll and, just as I did when I went to a rally in Nagano twelve months ago, take a moment to think that despite twelve time zones, a different language and different types of car, the spirit of grassroots rallying is the same in the heart of Japan as it is in Scotland.

*For a flavour of Japanese stages, have a look at this crew taking on the characteristically tight and twisty Nagano roads on a rally run by Kazuya Suzuki and the Friends Rally Club*

Saturday 22 June: Edinburgh, 21:30

RSAC Scottish Rally: K’s all set for trip to Scotland

In the high-octane world of rally driving, Japan is renowned more for its cars than its drivers. Mitsubishi, Subaru and Honda roll off the tongue much more readily than the names of pilots like Arai, Nutahara and Tajima. But the island nation’s rally competitors do have a strong track record of competing overseas – a tradition Motoharu Kaseya and Kohei Izuno will continue when they start the RSAC Scottish Rally this coming Saturday.

Motoharu Kaseya

Motoharu Kaseya

It has been over ten years since a Japanese crew entered Scotland’s flagship motor rally, which has been running since 1932. Despite a very strong grass-roots following, rallying in Kaseya and Izuno’s homeland has a relatively low public profile – Motoharu’s hometown of Shonan is better known as the Japanese capital of surfing, and Kohei lives in the shadow of the Olympic ski-jump in Nagano.

Both accomplished drivers in their own right, Kaseya and Izuno actually fought as rivals on last year’s World Championship round in New Zealand, the latter winning the battle for supremacy on the stages on that occasion. For the trip to Scotland, however, Kohei will pick up the pace notes as he looks to help the K’s World Rally Team – of which both he and Motoharu are members – score a good result on their first sojurn to Europe.

The K’s World Rally Team has competed successfully at a high level in Asia, Africa and Australasia, and for the trip to Scotland they have entrusted car preparation duties to Lancashire-based EuroRallye. It is EuroRallye’s Honda Civic Type R that the Japanese crew will be piloting over the seventy miles of Dumfries and Galloway forest stages that make up the Scottish Rally.

“After a good result in New Zealand last year, I felt it was time for a new challenge, and the opportunity to compete in Scotland sounded very exciting”, explains Motoharu Kaseya. “It would probably be too much to think I can win the rally, but I am looking forward to trying a new environment and above all enjoying myself. My team have a good relationship with EuroRallye, so I know we will be in good hands.”

“I have read about the history of the Scottish Rally, and am very proud to have the opportunity to enter a rally that people like Colin McRae and Ari Vatanen have won in the past,” adds co-driver Izuno. “This is my first time to come to Scotland, so once all the hard work of the rally is done I want to make sure I try haggis as well!”

Kohei Izuno

Kohei Izuno

“Both Motoharu and Kohei have done World Championship rallies, so they are mentally prepared for competing in a different country,” believes K’s World Rally Team boss Kazuya Suzuki, himself a former champion navigator in Japan. “But I think the Scottish will be much more intense than anything they have faced before. It is going to be a very long day of rallying, and because the stages are so close together there is not much time for rest. The Scottish is certainly going to push them to the limit!”

The RSAC Scottish Rally takes place on Saturday 29 June. It is a counter in both the British and Scottish Rally Championships, featuring seventy miles of action over nine special stages. Competitors from Norway, Finland and Sri Lanka will be among those taking on the K’s World Rally Team for honours.

Saturday 15 June: Edinburgh, 22:00

Japanese rally team to contest RSAC Scottish Rally

Japan and Australia are leading the race to become the first two countries to qualify for next year’s World Cup – but football isn’t the only sport the two nations’ athletes are neck and neck in. Hot on the heels of the Australian Redback Racing team, it’s now the turn of the K’s World Rally Team from Japan to get behind the wheel of the EuroRallye Honda Civic Type R.

Motoharu Kaseya

Motoharu Kaseya

Driver Motoharu Kaseya and co-driver Kohei Izuno will contest the RSAC Scottish Rally on Saturday 29 June, the third round of the British Rally Championship. The pair are both accomplished drivers in their own right, having taken separate class wins on last year’s World Championship rally in New Zealand. Now they have their sights set on success in Europe, and are coming all the way from Japan to take part in the Dumfries-based rally.

Thankfully, they won’t have to take their own car with them. Although Motoharu and Kohei are doing the rally in a Japanese-specification Honda, the car has a somewhat shorter journey to make than its crew. It only has to make a short hop down the M74 from its garage in Perth, and will be ready and waiting for the crew when they touch down on Scottish soil. On the Jim Clark Memorial Rally at the start of this month, the very same Civic scored a class win in the hands of Australian Targa crew Adam Spence and Erin Kelly – and EuroRallye boss Iain Shirlaw will be hoping for a similar result this time out.

“I very much enjoy challenging myself on international rallies, and after doing well in New Zealand last year I was keen to try something different”, explains Kaseya, who hails just a stone’s throw from Kamakura – home of the first Japanese samurai. “Our team principal at K’s has done a lot of good business with EuroRallye, so he suggested we go to Britain and do a rally with them”.

Kohei Izuno

Kohei Izuno

The Scottish sojurn means K’s World Rally Team – run out of the mountains of Nagano by Japanese championship-winning co-driver Kazuya Suzuki – will soon have competed on four different continents, adding Europe to Asia, Africa and Australasia. “I’ve never been to Europe to rally before, and have only seen the stages on the internet”, Motoharu continues. “I think the Scottish forest roads are quite similar to those in Japan, and I am looking forward to experiencing Scotland as well as having an enjoyable rally”.

The RSAC Scottish Rally will be held in the forests of Dumfries and Galloway, taking in 73 stage miles over the course of one day. Previous winners of this historic event include World Champions Colin McRae, Ari Vatanen and Hannu Mikkola. Motoharu Kaseya and Kohei Izuno will also be the first Japanese competitors to enter the Scottish Rally for over a decade, the last such entry being back in 2002.

One response to “K’s Blog

  1. Pingback: 2013 | The Zero Car

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