Exclusive – 7tune rides shotgun in the LF-A
It’s been an exhausting day and one that started at the crack of dawn. After a restless sleep, knowing full well what the day would hold, I packed the Arai helmet, picked up Red Bull VJ David Oshima and sped towards Fuji Speedway where a date with the Nurburgring 24hour Toyota LF-A awaited.
I was the second of only 9 foreign journalists invited to arrive, greeting Paul Nolasco, Assistant Manager of the Corporate Communications Department with a warm handshake and a grin you could have seen from the moon. I had told Paul on the way to the circuit that I thought the early bird “catches the LF-A” in this instance and so it proved!
Alex Gonzague from Nihon Car.com and I had the unique pleasure of being able to experience the full brutality of the car on the limit over two flying laps, thanks to the needs of some Japanese film crew. How depressing!
I really didn’t have much time to get ready; to mentally prepare for what was about to happen – everything was moving around with Toyota precision and before I really knew what was going on, I was being strapped into the LF-A, the Willan harnesses being tightened to restrict my movement in the tight cabin.
From that point on though, I can recount every single little moment to the second. It is burned into my subconscious never to be erased and short of being behind the wheel itself, this was the closest in my life that I have come to experiencing motoring nirvana.
The driver for this stint was Takayuki Kinoshita, a veteran in GT cars and one of the drivers who knows this cars behavior better than most.
With a push of the candy green starter button, the LF-A fired up with an intense, reverberating rumble; echoing each of the 10 cylinders intent on unleashing their power to the track – a totally frenetic engine if ever I have heard one.
The GT-R for comparisons sake has a relaxed, burbling swagger in its idle, indeed relying on its snails to help make it some power. This Yamaha V-10 on the other hand, is bursting at its aural seams; literally urging the driver to pull a gear and flatten the throttle, much like a racehorse champing at the bit. I was slightly intimidated.
And as if sensing that, Kinoshita mashed the pedal and as quick as you can say “What pit lane speed limiter?”, we were diving into the first corner and accelerating out hard for the run down the hill. I had already missed the first few seconds and my mind was playing catch up with my senses, trying to compute exactly what was going on here.
The cars engine was the first thing to grip me, widening my eyes to its melodically manic soundtrack; Yamaha being every bit as good at manufacturing engines as they are at making some of the sweetest mechanical music ears could ever hear. Its a sound you will never forget and one that pierces you and reverberates through you with high frequency vibrations.
I will sleep well tonight with that melody in my head – in fact, it has been on repeat for the last 15 hours straight.
The righthander heading up the hill toward the 130R jolts me out of the trance, the chassis taking a hold of my attention. What immense poise! Its actually comfortable too – I feel the LF-A is moving around predictably and it is sitting flat, neutral and working within the tolerances of its immense amounts of grip. And the grip IS immense.
130R, straight out of the pits, is being taken in 4th gear at over 200kph. I can feel gravity beginning to move me to the left and then Kinoshita shifts UP into 5th, the car registering only the slightest of movements mid corner. Absolutely staggering balance no doubt helped by the mountains of carbon fiber covering the chassis.
This was where the brakes decided to introduce themselves to me as we hurtled toward the downhill, slightly off camber left hander leading into the back section of the circuit. The LF-A was brutally assaulting me and every one of my heightened senses.
Kinoshita counters with a dab of opposite lock here and dials out a whiff of understeer there, all the while keeping the car in check, seemingly with ease and limited movement. The LF-A appearing at first glance to be totally predictable and with a power delivery that lacked teeth sharp enough to bite the hand that fed in its movements.
We are careening through the back section of the course now, Kinoshita allowing the car to float out wide on entry and then turning it in sharply; adding a measured throttle to get us through with a minimum of fuss. He’s an extremely efficient and smooth driver and I feel totally at ease in his capable hands.
As he ran as wide as possible on the last corner, so as to get the fastest entry onto the main straight, I started to really discern what was happening inside the car. The second lap was visceral ecstasy at its finest and the LF-A had suddenly halted its primal assaults on me and gone very quiet, allowing me to savor each of its distinctive flavors.
I glance over at the speedometer as we flash past the pits – 268kph. I found myself expecting more but the car needs grip at Fuji and I am certain the LF-A had been set up in a high downforce configuration to suit the track. Kinoshita is short shifting before the 9000rpm cutoff as well, no doubt looking to extend the cars engine life just that little bit extra. You can see the small marker he has here on the glowing readout.
I’m looking at the marker boards for the entry point now and he’s waiting for an eternity to stand on the anchors; 250 meters, 200 meters… 150… 100 ( !! ) and then with a jolt he stamps on them; the deceleration hitting us like a sledge hammer. I’m being yanked forward out of the harnesses and my helmet has become a lead weight. Bang, Bang, Bang – down through the gears and we are again hurtling toward the next corner.
The rest of the second lap flashes by just as quickly as the last and I feet a twinge of depression as Kinoshita takes to the pit road, albeit at flat stick, signaling an end to the LF-A cacophony. Would it be a crime to say that I felt that I could have approached the LF-A in a similar way from the drivers seat? It came across as a big vicious looking beast that you could actually reach out and pet without it maiming you for life…
It was an experience I will never forget and one I am deeply appreciative toward Toyota for providing. To invite us foreign press to the event was a big step of faith for the company and one that shall be humbly rewarded but it is heartening to see they know the value that we journalists, through our outlets, can provide them for our valued readers. And that benefits you guys and girls – so lets hear it for Toyota!
There is plenty more coming from the exclusive invite only Toyota event at Fuji Speedway in the days to come so make sure to check back on some more JDM goodness, including a hot video coming from Red Bull’s media magician, David Oshima.
Words: Adam Zillin
Photos: Adam Zillin and David Oshima