Friday, June 29, 2012

Interior Dress Up - Robson Carbon Fiber

So back to some car mods…

A while back, I had visited Robson Leather and had made some inquiries. As many of you also know, in addition to their wonderful custom leather work, Robson also is known for their carbon fiber work – specifically, their carbon fiber overlay work where they take a stock trim piece, actually shave down the piece a few millimeters, overlay the carbon fiber cloth and then coat with varnish.  Actually, over a dozen coats of varnish.  The advantage of shaving down the piece, of course, is so that the dimensions of the piece do not change – most manufacturers of true carbon fiber pieces simply overlay without shaving down – resulting in pieces that look “bulky” due to the added, well, bulk.

There are other “carbon fiber” pieces out there as well – but these are pieces that are either painted with carbon fiber patterns, or even printed with carbon fiber patterns.

Here is an example of a piece with a printed carbon fiber pattern – yes, the OEM cover for the 3 gauge cluster.

And here is an example of a painted carbon fiber trim piece –again the same OEM cover.

OF course, the advantage of the painting/printing method is, it allows for pieces with structures and shapes that are not conducive to carbon fiber overlay to be “carbonized.”  For example - these gauge cluster covers actually have a small lip on the sides of the holes… and the holes themselves are actually not equal in diameter!

There is of course one more type of “carbon fiber” which is known as the “carbon fiber wrap” – that is, using 3M’s DIN-OC product imprinted with a carbon fiber pattern – and I’ve used this too.

But in the end, there is no substitute from real carbon fiber. Wet or dry, the real stuff is beautiful if done well.

And so – as one of my pet peeves about the R33 GT-R is how cheap some of the interior materials are, I decided to replace the most glaring problems, the imprinted carbon fiber trim.  The two pieces that are imprinted are, the plastic trim surrounding the main gauges (tach, speedo, etc.) in the instrument cluster, and yes the aforementioned 3 gauge cluster surround.

Here is a closeup of the imprint next to the speedo (taken from a close up of a Nismo gauge cluster).

This bothered me enough that I found, purchased and applied a thin carbon overlay - but not only did it now mismatch the stock 3 gauge cluster, it looked somewhat cheap.  

So I was thrilled when the main cluster surround came out beautifully - the top piece is the overlay, and the bottom is the Robson version.

However, the 3 gauge cluster one took some time, because of the difficult shape of the trim piece, as I noted above.  But in the end, it came out very nice, and any “flaws” I think can be justified by the hand made nature of the work! BTW - this was the first time EVER that Robson had attempted to carbonize this certain piece!

Installation is a straightforward affair – pop out the shift lever surround, unscrew the two screws holding the dashboard piece cover, pop that off being careful to unhook all the wiring, then unscrew the 3 gauge cluster and the main gauges. For the main gauges, gently pop off the clear plastic cover to open up the cluster, then pop off the plastic gauge surround itself (ie the item that got carbonized). For the 3 gauge cluster, the front cover is plastic, so pop that off and replace with the carbonized piece.  When done, reverse the above steps.

As for how the whole dash looks now - I'll have to show you in an upcoming post, as I've been so busy lately that I haven't seen my car in the daylight, and want to get a good shot of both pieces in the sunlight! Stay tuned!

PS I had mentioned in my link about my visit to Robson that I had conferred with them to do something unusual, something that had not been done before. That 3 gauge cluster trim was not it! Stay tuned

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Video: Tarzan Yamada Drives My Car to Demonstrate the Tarzan G-Box!!

Apologies for the delay in getting this up.

Tarzan Yamada drives my car at Honjo Circuit to demonstrate the difference between the standard "normal" Do-Luck digital G-sensor and his Tarzan G-Box.  I won't comment on the difference the G-Box makes, except to say that it is hard to understand the difference in the braking, because that really has to be felt.  But you CAN see how the car is more stable on this small circuit - although Tarzan does say that he can take the car to its limits better because he knows what the G-Box is capable of.

Anyway - if you've ever wondered what it's like to be sitting next to a pro who shows you what your car is truly capable of, let me tell you it is simply amazing! And, highly recommended... some of us (myself included) should spend more time and money improving our own driving skills, than trying to mod our cars to perfection...

And yes, I know my 3-4th gear is on its way out...

Some final thoughts about these new digital G-sensors, based on questions I have received since my first two posts:
1) The ATTESA computer is fine, and does not need to be upgraded or replaced.  Ito-san told me that "even the R32 ATTESA computer was way ahead of its time.  It is really a magnificent piece of work." There is a difference in the V-Spec and standard ATTESA computers (because the V-spec has the active rear LSD), but even the standard ATTESA is a superior product.  And remember the ATTESA computer not only gets input from the G-sensor, but also is wired into the car's engine ECU and ABS systems.

2) According to Ito-san, the "bottleneck" is the OEM G-sensor - especially if in an older car. The digital ones promise not only digital precision and no parts to wear out, but respond 30 times faster in the R32/R33, and 15 times faster in the R34.

3) Once the OEM G-sensor has been replaced with a digital one, the next area owners should examine is the transfer.  Ito-san told me that adding additional plates, torquing up the transfer, would reduce slip and get engine torque to the wheels even better.

4) As of this writing, there are 4 digital G-sensors on the market here in Japan.  Both Midori Seibi and Do-Luck have their "standard" replacement digital G-sensors, designed essentially to replace aging OEM units for a fraction of the price, and provide consistent inputs to the ATTESA.  This alone should bring back the ATTESA's capacity as if it were brand new.  Midori Seibi has their "Midori-Spec" -an all around more aggressive version, and Do-Luck has the Tarzan G-Box.  The Tarzan Box is the only one of these 4 that has been specifically "tuned" using input from a racing driver.  Tarzan Yamada spent months testing the unit out in varying conditions, roads and weather.

5) Naturally, people want to know if there is no need to even consider the standard digital G-sensors. I would say that if you are almost never on the track, then this version is fine and you don't need the Midori Spec or the Tarzan G-Box.  OR, if you are a purist and want to experience the GT-R as Nissan intended, the standard version is the one for you.  And, before people ask, I really don't have much if any experience with the Midori-Spec unit. The description states that it gets the torque to the front wheels more aggressively than the standard version, but I would have to drive on the track with one to give any kind of honest feedback.

6) Despite his racer reputation, Tarzan Yamada wants people to know that his "tune" is designed to make the cars easier and safer to drive fast, by anyone - you don't have to be a race driver to enjoy the benefits.

7) As of this writing, the only place to purchase the Tarzan G-Box is via Do-Luck, and in Europe, through my friend Wouter's company (See first post). Ito-san tells me he is working on increasing the number of dealers worldwide who will carry the product - and hints that Sumo Power will do so soon in the UK.

As always, if you have questions I would be happy to answer them. Leave a comment!

Hope everyone enjoyed the video!

Part 1
Part 2

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tarzan G Box Digital G-Sensor from Do-Luck (Part 2)

So continuing from yesterday’s post:

So what exactly makes the Tarzan G Box different than the standard Do-Luck unit, as well as the units offered by Midori Seibi?  Obviously, it’s the fact that racing driver and World Time Attack champion Tarzan Yamada worked for several months with Do-Luck’s Ito-san to create a device that, while replacing the stock analog G-sensor, works with the ATTESA computer to actually change the characteristic of the car in a way that Tarzan himself thinks is appropriate.  So the question is, exactly how is the car different from the standard or stock set-up?

When I posed this question to Ito-san, he told me that there were several things that are different but that the most noticeable differences would be under severe braking as well as accelerating out of a curve.

First, however, I wanted to know why I wasn’t convinced of the utility of the standard Do-Luck G-sensor.  I mentioned my experience at Dunlop Corner at Fuji, but also that strangely, the torque meter needle was no longer moving up and down as aggressively.  Ito-san explained that the more accurate unit means the application of power to the front wheels is also more accurate and smoother. As for the needle, well it’s not necessarily accurate…hmm. Starting to make sense I guess?

Anyway, back to braking at the limit: Under severe braking, the ATTESA unit sends power to the front wheels in order to help stabilize the car.  As the ATTESA ECU is wired into the ABS unit and its sensors, the more accurate and faster G-sensor allows the ABS to work to its maximum potential in conjunction with the ABS sensors.  This is true for both the standard Do-Luck G Meter and the Tarzan G Box, but the Tarzan G-box gets the ABS sensors to “work faster” and hence the ABS to be applied more accurately and linear in a severe braking situation (and this is where I should have asked more questions, but basically at this point I didn’t believe him.).

Tarzan then explained it to me this way: the second generation GT-Rs have a tendency, under full braking and ABS applied, to unload the rear a bit, causing some instability. With the Tarzan G box installed, he confidently told me that under full braking, the car would be absolutely stable, with none of that tail shake wiggle that GT-Rs are known for.  And not just on the track, but in the rain on the expressway for example, as well.

As for accelerating out of a curve, Ito-san and Tarzan both explained to me that you can get on the gas much quicker simply due to the more “sensitive” programming.

So what to make of this? As I had just learned the track on the standard Do-Luck G Sensor, I decided it was time to head back out and explore what the difference was for myself.

The result? When I took the car out on the track at full speed on the straight, and then braked HARD - I mean really hard, activating the ABS -  I could NOT believe it, but what they said was true! So I found myself braking harder and harder, finally mindlessly stomping on the center pedal , and having the car SLOW DOWN but without any drama whatsoever - in fact it made me so confident of the car's braking capacities that I found myself being able to think about the upcoming curve, its apex, while shifting down to take it in second -but it felt like slow motion!  In other words, while I might normally get flustered on a new track (even after a few warm up laps) trying to process all various sorts of information, having such incredible braking meant one less thing to worry about. Stomp away at full force, shorten your braking distance, and have enough mental breathing space to actually think about that corner!

And what about powering out of that corner? Yes, on tight corners I could still get the tail to swing out in the classic FR style, but when I wanted to clip the apex and accelerate for maximum speed, I would feel the rear slip a bit but then the ATTESA would activate to pull me out and forward REALLY quickly!  So I guess it was somewhat 4WD but without the understeer? But somehow really intuitive and natural.  This was the first time I had my car where I could claim this, as before the tail would slide and would require lots of steering lock to recover - here I just kept calm and pointed where I wanted to go, it seemed.

So after a few laps, completely excited and blown away, I went back to the pits to have a chat. Dino was already there (check out the stunned look of disbelief on his face, LOL), so I joined him, Tarzan and Ito-san to discuss what we had experienced.  Ito-san is laughing by the way because I had just accused him of having sold me a faulty standard Do-Luck G-sensor! That's how incredibly different the two G-sensors are!

I then spoke to Tarzan himself about some of the things I had experienced driving.  His response to me was, "I'll show you, let's go for a spin" - in the stock R32 GT-R that Do-Luck had brought.  So off we went...

Here is video of Tarzan with Dino in the passenger seat, driving poorly on purpose to demonstrate how the Tarzan G Box makes it easy to fix a slide (well, easy for him!)

And when we were done with the white R32, I then asked Tarzan if he wouldn't mind driving MY car - first with the standard Do-Luck G sensor, and then swapping over to the Tarzan G Box. I plan to, in the near future process the video in the camcorder and show the full length video, but for now here is what I got on my iPhone, from the passenger seat!

And here are some photos - as we head out:

And then of us at speed. What you can't see are my knuckles turning white as I grab the passenger door grip handle, nor my flailing back and forth (the reason I gave up on the iPhone video).

So in conclusion: this is one mod I will definitely have to get in the future (no, I did not get a free one).  It would be silly not to! Not only does it make my car easier to drive, I feel like a better driver because it makes the car so much more controllable and predictable.  And while of course I have not had a chance to test it on the street, I see no reason why it would not work well there either.

Tarzan was concerned that because of his image as a racing driver, people would be afraid to buy the unit, thinking it would be more than they need.  OR that it would super aggressive, for track/racing drivers only.  This is absolutely not the case – while it is true that this device allows track savvy drivers to explore the limits of their car, it makes the car safer on the street, where it is unobtrusive  Heck if someone like ME could feel and enjoy the difference, then this device will work for the average driver as well, on the street.

Ito-san also wanted me to let everyone know that the Tarzan G Box is fully compatible with the "ATTESA Controllers" that wire in to send more signal up front. In fact he mentioned how the controller installed in one of the ATTKD BCNR33 track cars had reached its adjustability limit, but when after installing the Tarzan G Box, was able to reduce the setting to half-way!

Please feel free to leave a comment or question, my write up has probably left some stuff out!

Thanks for reading!


Part 1
Video of Tarzan driving my car; some comments

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tarzan G Box Digital G-Sensor from Do-Luck (Part 1)

So late last year after seeing some discussion on the GTROC forum about the new Do-Luck G-sensor, I went out and bought one. (See photo below)

And yes, it was everything that Orito-san, chief mechanic at Do-Luck explained to me over the phone. A 21st century digital g-sensor, one less thing that would degrade and possibly break on my car like the stock analog ones were known for. And, during the track day that followed  I DID feel a difference. As a reminder, here is an article on the track day by Dino, who was there that day.

Before, with the old stock G-sensor, engaging the front wheels was rare (I think) but when it did, very noticeable as I would see the torque meter needle shoot up, and hear and feel the front transaxle transfer power.  But for some reason I felt like it almost never activated, except on wet roads and the track, when there was noticeable slippage on the back wheels.  So a quick start off the line at a traffic light would do it, and at Fuji Speedway it was most noticeable beginning at Dunlop Corner (lowest speed corner) all the way up the hill to Panasonic Corner (right before the long straight) – you could hear the “hunting” and surging as the torque transfer to the front wheels would be on/off/on/off, and the torque needle going from zero to max and then back down, repeat – I had no idea why but it was just something I thought was normal for GT-Rs.

Once equipped with the standard Do-Luck Sensor, the first thing I noticed at Fuji was, the car did not hunt or surge as it did before. In fact this characteristic was gone. Also, strangely, the torque meter also seemed to not be as responsive. On the street, I noticed though that off the line acceleration would more consistently engage the front wheels (and torque meter respond slightly).  But that was about all – so was I satisfied? In summary yes (the modern technology aspect, digital consistency), although to be honest I was not completely convinced of its utility – it made sense as a replacement for the stock one if it broke, but not necessarily as a performance upgrade [Note: later, when talking to Ito-san at Do-Luck, did I realize what was happening - more on that later].  Perhaps I had been hasty in my decision to go with Do-Luck – and that I should have gone with the more aggressive “Midori-spec” G-sensor put out by Midori Seibi and featured in GT-R Magazine (I did a translation), to rave reviews. At the same time, back on the GTROC forum there was someone peddling a “stand alone” unit that would replace the G-sensor and ATTESA in its entirety. Hmmm…

But it was back on the original GTROC forum thread that “Narface,” a BNR32 owner in Hong Kong, posted that Do-Luck had come out with ANOTHER G-box, this one called the “Tarzan G-Box.”   Which I erroneously assumed was the same as the Midori-Spec G-sensor.

It wasn’t long before my friend Wouter in the Netherlands (his company -Co-ordsport B.V. - is a distributor for Do-luck and Rays, etc. in Europe) put me in touch with Ito-san, the president of Do-Luck (who ironically, is literally 10 minutes from where I live) and I had been invited to accompany Dino to a special event on Sunday at Honjo Circuit, where we would be allowed to experiment with the Tarzan G-Box! So thanks very much Wouter for arranging this!

So on Sunday, we (I had Allen Lorenzo from Tomei Powered in my car -thanks Allen for all the pictures!!) accompanied Dino up to Honjo Circuit. On the road, Dino is an amazingly conservative driver, so I enjoyed blasting past him like this.

We arrived, introductions were made, and technical talk ensued as I peppered Ito-san and Tarzan with questions about the Tarzan G Box vs. the standard Do-Luck digital G-sensor.

We then went off to get our cars prepped for the track towards the rear of the paddock area.

As you can see here below, Orito-san simply zip-tied the Tarzan box on top of my Do-Luck standard G-sensor – as the leads in are the same, it would literally take only a few seconds to swap over during my runs.

Somehow Dino was ready first, and beat me out to the track. Here he is about to get passed by Tarzan in the bone stock R32.

Just as Dino described in his write up for Speedhunters, my first time out on the track I went out with what I had, namely the standard Do-Luck G-sensor.  This was my first time driving Honjo Circuit, so it took a while to get used to the tight circuit, but it was akin to a half sized Tsukuba. Honjo Circuit Map

Which meant some tight corners that required slow going, slow that is until the tires warmed up, at which point I was almost drifting in two of the tightest corners…but this was an opportunity to test out the G-sensor, in that I had to recover, point the wheels straight ahead, and then shoot out, classic GT-R style.

Here are some awesome photos taken by Allen – as they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking.  (there are many others but I will later post them all up on the R33 GT-R Facebook page, in my photo album)

Between runs, we let our cars cool off:

We then had a chance to explore what the Tarzan G Box could do. We also got to ride along with Tarzan himself in the white R32 that Do-Luck brought along.

But this blog post is getting long, so I will post the rest tomorrow! Seriously, there is lots to talk about, including what makes the Tarzan G Box so amazing, so I want to dedicate a proper page for that.

Stay tuned!