Welcome to the final chapter in ‘The Big Grind’ series with Project Rough, my ER34 Nissan Skyline.
If you’re just joining us now, try and find some time out of your busy schedule to take a look at chapters one and two of the series. They’re jam-packed with good advice, ideas, and tales of my suffering over the last year or so. For this final installment, we’re putting theory to the test.
The easiest way to test how accurate my DIY alignment was would be to simply take it to an alignment shop, put it on the rack and see how close my numbers were to those calculated with a laser. That, however, would be incredibly boring and not tell me if the numbers translate to better handling. I could test the changes during a spirited drive on a local touge, but that too has some obvious downfalls and limitations. No, there was only one way to sit this final exam, and that was at the track.
To do this, I headed along to Sports Land Yamanashi (SLY).
SLY is a tight, technical mountain course that, for time attack, is well suited for smaller, naturally aspirated cars like the DC2 Honda Integra Type R, Mazda Roadster, Toyota 86 and Suzuki Swift. Bigger cars tend to find it tricky to navigate the tight corners, and the fact that the course is only 1km (0.62mi) in length means higher-powered machines don’t have many opportunities to utilize all of their might.
If you’re planning on sending it sideways though, SLY becomes even more of a playground, as the tight course provides non-stop, tire-shredding action.
Having driven at Sports Land Yamanashi back in 2019 during the SLY Summit Grassroots drift event, I had a benchmark to compare all the changes I have done over the past year to, even if at that time I only got to drive on the shortened drift layout.
When Shibata-san from R31 House invited me along to SLY and give the his new Shibata Tire/Rydanz Revimax R23 tire a proper work out, it seemed like a good way to kill many birds with one gigantic stone.
Note: No birds, even theoretical ones, were harmed in the making of this story.
Despite SLY being such a small grassroots track, enthusiasts simply love it. On this particular day, more than 60 cars filled the paddock for both grip and drift sessions at the Nissan Jamboree.
The event’s organizer, Kanta Yamaguchi, works at Nissan, and told me that the day was simply an opportunity for people to get out on the track and experience motorsports.
“The purpose [of this event] is to share the fun of motorsports with as many friends and beginners as I can. I feel that there is a wall in front of ordinary people to understand how enjoyable it is,” Yamaguchi-san told me.
“Up to about one third of all the people here work at Nissan. Sadly, there are less younger ‘car guys’ at Nissan now, so I wanted to create this opportunity for the staff.”
Yamaguchi-san finished, “Of course, I didn’t want to set limitations to where only people working at Nissan could participate,” hence why I was here too.
I spent a good part of the day simply mingling with drivers and hearing their stories, both inside and outside of Nissan. With the prices of ’90s JDM performance cars having reached silly levels now, the owner of this 180SX hides it at his friend’s house down the street. Not for a fear of theft, but fear of his wife making him sell it!
“I have two other cars already and this one is a bit rough.” the owner told me. “It means a lot to me though, and if I were to sell it, I know I couldn’t justify the cost to buy another.”
I can’t remember the last time a tire manufacturer came to a grassroots event – or any event for that matter – and offered drivers a chance to try their products right then and there at the track.
I guess when you’re a small privately-owned and enthusiast-run company, you can do the sort of things big corporations can’t. Shibata-san not only bought a wide range of tires for people to try, but also his truck, which is fully equipped with tire changing and wheel balancing equipment.
Shibata-san himself spent the day multitasking between renting and selling tires, and doing a little testing with his fresh GR86 build that Koudai Sobagiri is now driving in Formula Drift Japan.
With what seemed like a million different things going on, Shibata-san and I decided to save a closer look at this stunning build for another day. Stay tuned for that!
Truth be told, SLY is a bit too short and tight for a car like this to do a proper test, but never the less, the team ran a few laps to see if adding a huge GT wing at the rear would provide a bit more traction.
They also gave a few ride-a-longs, so people could experience the madness of a full-blown, pro-spec FD Japan car.
The Final Exam
But there was only so long I could stall before it was time to pick up lap transponder #34, make tweaks to Project Rough’s dampers and hit the track.
I wish I could tell you that I was calm and 100% confident that all the suspension and DIY alignment changes made were going to work perfectly, but the truth of the matter is, I simply wasn’t. I had spent more than a year playing around with settings, trying to develop a sense of what worked and what didn’t, and now it was time to put all of it to a real-world test.
Unfortunately, the only picture we could find of me on track was this one on Instagram, meaning no amount of magic can be done to restore the pixels. Despite that, this is one of my favorite pictures, as it captures me having an absolute ball in Project Rough. That’s because, in almost five years of ownership, Project Rough had never driven this good before. It’s literally night and day how all the changes have added up.
I spent the first session getting familiar with the full track layout, and inching further and further into the car’s new potential. Where I had expected it to bite, it didn’t. Where I had expected it to run out of brakes, it didn’t. Where I had expected it to be unsettled by the bumps, it didn’t. I could even rotate the rear end under trail braking, something that really wasn’t possible (or advisable) before. Without really breaking a sweat, I was able to achieve a best lap time of 44”589.
For comparison, the fastest time of the day came courtesy of this Monster-tuned Suzuki Swift Sport, which posted a 41”127 lap.
In the second session I pushed Project Rough even harder, but unfortunately I’d made the rookie mistake of not adjusting my tire pressures before going out. The Rydanz Revimax R23’s optimal pressure range is around 2.6-bar, but as you can see, it was actually much higher than that.
Nevertheless, this did allow me to explore how the car behaved when pushed beyond the limits of rear grip, and it was an absolute peach. Everything happened in such a predictable manner that I could control the slip angle with the throttle, something I would have never dared to do before.
But even with the tire pressures being off, I was still able to improve my time to a 44”072.
As I knew the afternoon was going to be incredibly hot (and I still needed to take photos of the day), I decided to call it quits after the two sessions. My best time was still good enough be 10th fastest on the day, just ahead of an FD3S RX-7 and just behind a DC2 Type R.
But I’m over the moon at how well everything went. And better still, there’s still more potential in it. I could play with the dampers a little bit more to improve the weight transfer under acceleration and cornering, or I could add a little bit of toe out in the rear to help it rotate more now that I know it’s not going to bite me. Perhaps I could shed a few more kilos from the car and do something about the horrendous aerodynamics at play.
Oh no, I think I’m starting to fall down the racing rabbit hole…
While I contemplate where I go from here with Project Rough, enjoy the rest of the day’s actions in the chapter below – no words needed.
SLY Racing Club