Any excuse to drive, right?
This is how it should always be, but when real life factors into it, getting away for one on one time with your car becomes a significant challenge. But then again, sometimes, all you need is a good excuse and that’s exactly how World X Series Rally happened for Ron and I late last year
The idea was simple. Join a crew of enthusiasts from Japan (and around the world) that had signed up for this first Japan drive. Depart Tokyo, go thrash a selection of cars at Fuji Speedway’s short course, hit the Hakone Turnpike the following day and proceed to drive down to Osaka.
Sounds like the Japanese dream drive right there.
With a background in putting on car rally events around the world, it quickly became obvious that the people behind World X knew exactly what they were doing, despite the brand and naming itself still being in its infancy.
All participants were to meet at the Hilton Hotel on a beautiful Friday morning, and plan the day ahead over a buffet style breakfast. Having recently checked out the far more glitzy Gumball 3000 rally a couple of months prior, I was already liking the more relaxed nature of World X which stands out as a far more approachable model, appealing to local enthusiasts rather than bringing the world’s elite together and creating a very closed, zero-access type of gathering.
Conrad, the man behind it all, greeted us and went through what the day would entail.
World X teamed up with Tokyo Supercars, a quickly growing sports and supercar sharing and rental service which is constantly adding to its fleet with interesting cars. They showed up that morning with a KTM Crossbow which I heard we might get a chance to sample at Fuji later on.
Despite the early start, the excitement was flowing.
Part time Speedhunters video creator Phil was on-board to film the whole event and come up with daily snippets to be posted on social media.
He was a little concerned that the camera car’s interior was a tad too snug, with the potential of resulting in awkward close moments with Tokyo Supercars co-founder, Stephen Greenall.
As for me, I was busy keeping our social channels alight with Instagram Stories and posts. Oh, and what car was I driving I hear you ask? Well, the white Nissan in the opening picture [You mean the one under the title which inlcudes the words 'Nismo GT-R'? -PMcG].
Not too shabby, huh? I had been waiting up until this point for an excuse to borrow the latest Nismo GT-R, and World X seemed like the perfect opportunity to put it to the test.
Ron and I divided up our workload; he would be on camera duty, snapping away and documenting our journey, while I had the unenviable task of piloting Nismo’s R35. Needless to say, I had the tougher of the two jobs…
Our departure from the Hilton in Shinjuku was very much in true Tokyo fashion. A quick first gear launch up the street, straight into an hour of bumper to bumper traffic.
It didn’t matter, the excitement of the day ahead kept everyone in the best of spirits and we all were shooting pictures of each other, something that was hard not to do given the rather tantalizing selection of cars that had joined up.
Our first port of call after dealing with Shinjuku’s clogged up streets was to hit Hachiko, or as most would refer to it: Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing. Seeing it in the day isn’t as impactful as experiencing during the night, but getting great images and video sequences was a priority and it was cool to help out.Stretching legs
Leg two of the journey was hopping on the Tomei Expressway which thankfully wasn’t as horrendous as it usually is on a Friday morning.
Finally, we could stretch our respective cars’ legs and start to play around a bit. I appreciated how there was no silliness involved here, speed limits were respected, within reason, and it was all about playing around with in gear accelerations against other cars.
Call it a little appetizer of what was to come later on…
As cool as the KTM was, I have to say, I wasn’t really jealous of Stephen’s job of driving it to Fuji. Even wearing a helmet, the lack of a windscreen and pretty much any type of comfort had me appreciating the modern day cockpit that even the most extreme version of Nissan’s GT-R offers.
After hitting a little traffic on the way, Ebina Parking Area came as a welcome stop. The usual bathroom break, a stretch of the legs and JDM vending machine selection was in order for all.
All attention was still on the KTM, and a lot of people were jumping into it to see if they would fit and get a sense of what the cockpit layout was like.
I decided to wait and do that once we arrived at Fuji, as my brain was still trying to comprehend how the Nismo GT-R – based on a car that by then had been in production for 11 years – could still be so potent and up to par with anything the supercar world throws at it.
Special mention had to the guys from Ceramic Pro Japan, who drove all the way up from Osaka in their F430 Scuderia Spider 16M – a rather rare iteration of Maranello’s mid-engined offerings. I thought it was quite cool they had ripped out the stock seats and fitted Recaro buckets.Pure and Utter Indulgence at Fuji Speedway
Fast forward an hour or so, and the drive to Fuji’s short course was a bit of blur. The Tomei cleared, everyone floored it, some took different routes but eventually we all arrived in one piece at the small circuit sunk into what was once the inside of the banked first corner.
In fact, you can see the remainder of the near vertical piece of asphalt in the background of the image above.
The World X guys had everything neatly planned, everyone was split into groups and each group had its own time in which we could all jump in and out of a variety of cars.
Tokyo Supercars’ Cayman has been thrashed the whole morning and by the time we arrived its front tires had been gone through, leaving nothing but a smooth slick-like portion on the outside of the tread.
Not good, especially as I wouldn’t have minded a few laps to enjoy that beautifully balanced mid-engined chassis.
Problem number two; I asked Nissan the day before if they would mind if I tracked the car “gently” for a few laps. The answer was no, as with such a request the car would have needed to be pre-prepared and fitted with a fresh set of brake pads and tires. Boo-hoo.
I can’t tell you the torture of having the keys to a Nismo GT-R at a race track and not being able to have a little poke around the corners. It was hard to resist just going out for a few sneaky turns (nobody needed to know) but then after taking a few deep breaths I certainly had no intention of putting our relationship with Nissan in jeopardy.
So, I just went back to looking at all the other cars that were lined up in the pits, and some that were heading out on track like the other two R35 GT-Rs that were present.
People were having a blast, be it in their own cars or the two 86s that Tokyo Supercars had line up for track duties.
Then, finally, my turn came. Before jumping in however I had to learn the ignition sequence of the Crossbow, which is initially pretty confusing, but you soon remember it.
I’ve only ever piloted one of these things, years back when someone at Tatsumi handed me the keys to one, and I did a loop of Route 9 as it’s called. Basically all I remember was a lot of wind, a lot of torque and a somewhat numb feedback from the chassis – which I found surprising for a car aimed at track work.
I’m not going to tell you that I headed out and abused the car and it was awesome and I’m the best driver ever. In fact the car abused me and it wasn’t awesome.
First lap out on ice cold tires, I spun the thing so violently in the midfield through a third gear corner that I ended up on the grass, collecting a good few square meters of turf, which ended up in the cockpit with me, along with on the various carbon fiber aero wings and skirts.
Ego bruised, I came back in and handed the car over to Stephen ,who also ended up spinning it a few times.
As it turned out, the car was running on old tires, which were far from performance oriented and thus unable to transfer the torque curve from the Audi TT’s turbo motor to the track once it came on boost.
This was okay, though, as for the remainder of the day I spent all my other outings learning to deal with the immense lack of rear grip (thankfully, the fronts were ok and gripping beautifully through the corners). I had an epic time juggling that torque, learning to unleash it a little more every lap, adding more and more opposite lock as the yaw angle increased.
By the end of it all, I had slashed seconds off my first crappy lap, and it felt ever so satisfying.
The KTM really had everyone talking, how savage it was and what a handful it was under power. It became the bull that everyone had a chance to try and tame over the course of the afternoon.
We all agreed that with a pair of sticky semi-slick tires, this thing would be an absolute monster on such a tight and technical track as Fuji Short, and that not much else on the planet would be able to keep up.
The sunlight fading marked the end of a fun first day with World X. The remainder of the evening was spent gently cruising down to the Odawara Hilton where we would grab some dinner, drinks and a relaxing night’s sleep.Day Two: Hakone
Good morning Odawara!
This is the view that greeted us from the hotel’s window the following morning. My snoring had kept Ron & Phil awake most of the night, or so I was told. I certainly didn’t hear anything…
After a non-rushed breakfast – the best kind of breakfast – it was right back into our cars with the navigation systems set for the Hakone Turnpike.
Again, due to the variety of routes to get there we decided to wait in the little car park right in front of the toll gates until everyone had arrived.
The Nismo GT-R was ready to roar in its usual un-fussed ‘I can bend the space & time’ self.
To make it easier, the organizers went first and paid the tolls for everyone to follow so we could keep the group nice and tight and not lose anyone along the way.
From the toll gate up to the first parking area, where we had to stop for the usual obligatory pictures, the GT-R blew me away.
Over the last 20 years, I have driven the turnpike a good few hundred times, and more like a thousand if you start counting individual laps. Not to blow my own whistle but the point of this statement is that by now, I know when a car is good, real good or plain impressive.
The Nismo GT-R is very much the latter.
The mechanical grip it develops through the corners is on par with the sort of lateral Gs you feel when driving all out on a track, and then there’s the explosive acceleration throughout the entire rev range which just devours straights. 600ps they say? I don’t believe it, with that savage mid-range it really does feel like the car has considerably more.
The brakes, too. They cannot be hurt. I’ve had brake pedals go straight to the bulkhead on probably 50% of cars I’ve driven here, Project GT-R included, which can manage only about 10 corners on the downhill run before I have to stop and let the fluid cool and the brake pads smoke away.
40% usually suffer a fair share of brake fade, but only very few come away with zero issues. And these are good old simple steel brakes with a lovely feel and a reliable progressive pedal. You can keep your carbon ceramics if you ask me, simple is best.
Speaking of simple, take a look what we ran into at the parking lot. That’s a Renault Sport Spider, a sub 1-ton open sports car Renault made from the mid to late nineties. It may only have 150hp to its name. but with a mid-engine rear wheel drive layout it must be a hoot to throw around Japan’s best driving roads.
We quickly wrapped up our pitstop with a group shot and got on our way.
I was really enjoying Nissan’s best so much that I was one of the first to blast off and head to the top of the turnpike. I just needed to drive!
The section that snakes all the way up the mountain is, in my opinion, a great way to assess a car. It’s a demanding route, provided you drive at the right pace and you can feel the chassis beneath you dance away. All you need to know about a car can be discovered in these few shorts minutes and the Nismo impressed me even more as it took mid corner bumps, violent changes of direction and off-camber twisty sections in its stride.
There’s really nothing that this car just can’t swallow up. I’ll spare you the Godzilla references, but I have to say, for such a heavy car, it masks its mass very well. It allows you to tap into 90% of its ability without issues, but for the remaining 10%, you better be on a track as there’s no way you can push that hard on the open road.
Unless you are very silly. And if you are, you will crash.
Obligatory shot with a snow-capped Fuji-san? Check.
From the top of the turnpike you have access to quite a tantalizing selection of driving roads.
If we had all day, we could have taken the Izu Skyline that crests the mountain chain that snakes down the Izu peninsula, but with the goal to be in Osaka at about 7PM that evening, there was no time to waste.
That was fine as we got to play around on Hakone Skyline, another legendary bit of tarmac which is beautifully surfaced but slower than the turnpike, with all second and third gear sections, but again, as satisfying as it gets to drive.
Most turns are cambered, so you can really push hard as the tires do their best to grip. You just have to remind yourself often that you aren’t on a race track and to not let the amazing scenery distract you.
I mean, just look at this.
The first snow of autumn had fallen on the old volcano that seemed to follow us around.
A final pause for more pictures and filming was hard to pass up with the amazing view we were being treated to.
I think Phil summed up the whole atmosphere of the drive with his feature length video rather well, so make sure you hit pay above and check it out.
For Ron and I, however, the journey would end here. We left the others before they headed back down to the Tomei for their 500km drive to Osaka, and we headed back to Tokyo satisfied with the two days of driving we had just completed.
The World X Series Rally calendar kicks off next week with a tour of some epic driving roads in India before returning to Japan mid-month for a weekend drive starting in Tokyo Bay and ending in Kyoto.
We’ll meet up with the crew for a night drive event they have organized so stay tuned for that…
Dino Dalle Carbonare
Images: Ron Celestine