For as long as cars have been racing, companies have endeavored to find a way to incorporate the wisdom gleaned from track work into everyday products. The prevailing logic for most of these developers is that no greater proving ground exists for parts and even entire vehicles than the harsh extremes of competition. The Honda faithful are intimately familiar with this idea; the OEM regularly boasts about how its performance infused offerings-think Type R's and the like-pretty much come from, and are made for, the circuit.
Another outfit that ostensibly understands the benefits of racing is 5Zigen. For close to 20 years, the Osaka, Japan-based business has been hawking its brand of aftermarket goods, developing the parts using knowledge derived directly from its track experiences. In that span, it has managed to participate in virtually every level of automotive competition in Japan, including stints in F3, N1 Endurance, Japan Grand Touring Cars (JGTC, now known as Super GT), and Formula Nippon.
Among its current campaigners and test beds is this attractive 2005 Euro Accord R built for the Super Taikyu touring car endurance series. Constructed to run the ST5 class (formerly known as group N+), the racer is a far cry from its grocery-getting roots. Recently, it was shipped to America to take part in our sister pub Super Street's Time Attack, and while here we had a chance to examine the Accord-R up close.
Under the hood, the K20A mill has been prepped for the high-revving demands of competition. Highlights of the balanced and blueprinted bottom end consist of custom reinforced chrome-moly, I-beam rods and forged 14.2:1 pistons, both by Toda Racing. The cylinder head rocks more Toda via its VTEC killer, high-power profiled camshafts and individual throttle bodies bolted to the cold side. Directing air to the ITBs is a custom 5Zigen carbon-fiber intake system, while on the hot side, a one-off 5Z header and exhaust setup evacuate burnt mix. 5Zigen also incorporated its ProRacer oil catch can into the engine compartment as well.
For our cameras, 5Zigen broke out a set of its Sports Engine SC3000 wheels wrapped in Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber, but on the circuit, the Accord-R normally rides on a foursome of ProRacer GN3+ rollers shod in Direzza 03G stickies, a Dunlop tire found only in Japan. Tasked with road hugging are Swift springs wrapped around custom hlins Dual Flow Valve (DFV) dampers. Brembo calipers and slotted rotors control the job of slowing wheel momentum.
5Zigen's influence extends into the cabin, too, as evidenced by the custom cage and carbon-fiber center console. The gutted interior also flosses a trick MUGEN racing digital dash display that supplants the factory gauge cluster. A MUGEN steering wheel, Bride bucket seat, and Takata harness should make many of our JDM-loving readers feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. We also spied an Odyssey dry cell battery and FEV fire suppression system (more JDM) in the cab, an ATL fuel cell and Denso filter in the trunk, and more MUGEN in the form of a rear wing.
Driving this beast for the SS time trials is one of 5Zigen's go-to pilots, Ryo Michigami. The 34-year-old driver is shaping up to be something of a modern legend in Japan, flossing an impressive resume of accomplishments that stretches back to the late '80s when he won a pair of national karting titles as a teen. In 1993, he took top honors in the F4 Championship TI-Suzuka series, and followed it up with Rookie of the Year in Japanese F3 a year later. Perhaps his greatest feat, though, is the GT500 class championship he earned in the 2000 JGTC behind the wheel of the #16 Castrol MUGEN NSX.
Most recently Michigami-san drove the #18 Team Honda Racing Takata Dome NSX-R in Super GT, another GT500 contender, last year, and has run the open-wheel Formula Nippon series since 1998. For his American debut, he finished third in the Time Attack's Unlimited FF class. While he was in town, we had a few minutes to sit down with the venerated driver and rap about-what else?-racing.
Honda Tuning: How did you become involved with 5Zigen? How did that relationship start?Ryo Michigami: They first sponsored me in 2002 in Formula Nippon; they asked me to drive for them, then again in 2003 and also 2006.
HT: How did you get mixed up in 5Zigen's American Time Attack campaign?RM: 5Zigen invited me. I am very interested in showing American audiences how fast I am. There are a lot of drivers in Japan who have become famous because they are characters, but many aren't very fast. As far as this car goes, it was originally involved in the Super Taikyu series in 2003 and I was driving it for 5Zigen, so I know this car very well. That was part of the reason they asked me to drive it.
HT: But you've had limited time to shakedown the car before the event. Have any worries? Do you think the car's ready? RM: The car is very easy to drive, very neutral. You'll be surprised at how fast it is.
HT: How did you become involved in racing? Do you come from racing blood? RM: My father raced as well, and he used to take me to Suzuka circuit a lot to watch the races. That's where my interest came from.
HT: You started driving in karts?RM: Yes, when I was 12.
HT: You've driven several types of racecars through your career: open-wheel, formula-style cars; touring cars; Super GT cars. Which is your favorite? RM: Because I started in karting, I always wanted to be a formula driver. When I was very young, I wanted to be an F1 driver. My priority now is still formula driving, but as a Honda works driver both in Formula Nippon and Super GT. I view them both the same-both have advantages and disadvantages.
HT: Is it difficult to go from driving one type of vehicle to another? RM: I get asked that a lot. There's not really that much driving difference these days because technology in Super GT is very close to that of formula racing. Additionally, because I drive an NSX in Super GT, a mid-engine car, vehicle dynamics are almost the same as formula driving because those cars are mid-engine also, so driving styles are the same. In the [Takata Dome] NSX, it's sort of like getting the engine of a formula car in the body of an NSX when you're driving-essentially a formula car with no aero.
HT: Do you have a favorite circuit? RM: Suzuka.
HT: How about a favorite or least favorite driver to compete against?RM: As far as drivers, my least favorite are those that have no road manners.
HT: Do you have a day job, or is racing it?RM: Racing is my profession, but I've also started a karting school. I'm a coach for that.
HT: Where do you see racing ultimately taking you?RM: At first, my priorities were Formula 1, but honestly I think it's a little too late in my life for that now. So my priority now is to be number one in Formula Nippon, which is the top category racing in Japan. I also want to race internationally and maybe be a LeMans driver.
HT: Do you have any interest in GP2?RM: GP2 is very expensive. They require the drivers to bring a lot of sponsorship.
HT: What are your impressions of Super Aguri's F1 efforts? As a Japanese driver, do the hometown fans rally behind Super Aguri out of national pride? Or are the Japanese just huge fans of F1? RM: I'm just glad they finished the 2006 season without too many problems. According to Aguri-san himself, he says he will be able to do much better next season, and I'm looking forward to that. It is difficult as a new team. But I think the main reason they're loved so much in Japan is because it is a national team.
HT: You have had a very long relationship with Honda. If they gave you a car tomorrow, which would you pick?RM: I would like a NSX Type R, but right now I'm driving an Odyssey.