Germany's roads are enough to give any grown man nightmares. You've heard of the Autobahn, right? As rumor dictates, Germans aren't afraid to give love taps with their front bumpers if you drive too slow. Well, that's no rumor. Here's how they think: "Hey, this guy's going 120 mph! What is he, Dutch? Hmm, maybe if I bump him enough, he'll move!" And so they bump you as if their Audis, Porsches, and BMWs were built for a carnival. They bump you at 120 mph, relentlessly, never skipping a word of their cell phone conversation unless they need to add spice to their flip-off. All this happens while your in-car navigation yells at you like the disgruntled wife of a Third Reich officer because you've missed your ausfahrts, or exits. It's terrifying.
This was how our journey to the legendary Nrburgring began. There we were, Boyd and I, along with three of Falken's PR dudes, packed like licorice in a rental car with all windows blocked by camera gear, suitcases, and duffle bags, careening down a foreign highway at what we assumed to be an adequate speed. Now we know how the elderly feel when they hit the road. Zooming all around us were curious Germans, busy Germans, irate Germans, and the occasional Dutch slow-ass. They all honked at us as if we were George Dubya himself, and we just had to pretend that they were big fans of Super Street, otherwise we would have wet ourselves. And we really didn't need that, since it was already raining.
So it makes sense that the Japanese Falken team came ghastly well-prepared to the 'Ring with a smoking-hot car, this Skyline GT-R R34, a vehicle that has likely burned through an entire Japanese forest full of rubber trees during its time on the track. Why a Skyline in a race dominated by Bimmers, Vipers, and Opels? Because the team wanted to be ready for anything. The crew knew the track conditions and weather changed by the minute. It had practiced every dangerous chicane, tuned each bolt on the car, and knew the shocking feeling of plowing into an immovable redwood. After all, this was the team's fifth year in the race. It's not like it was a newbie. Plus, Falken is Japanese. Is a Porsche GT? Nope.
Back in 1999, Falken started things off right by creating a monster of a Skyline GT-R 33, usurping Sixth Place like it was taking a leisurely cruise down Sunset Boulevard. And yet, 1999 was the first year the team took on the Nrburgring. Unfortunately, beginner's luck sloughed off the team real quick. Come 2000, fortune faded like Nutella dumped Kobe: fast, sudden, and right when everyone was looking. In a new, gigantically tuned Supra, the Falken team seemed to be headed for another Top 10 spot, until its driver got cut off and took the scenic route via a riotous blast through the safety fence. Falken busted out the GT-R 33 to salvage the event, which jetted up to Fifth Place until the clock counted down to the final 40 minutes. That's when the team's race jockey ate the Skyline's transmission by shifting like a driver's ed student, dropping the car, and Falken, out of the race.
Then 2001 comes along, the debut year of Falken's use of the virgin Skyline GT-R R34, but the sake was just not destined to flow quite yet. Though the vehicle proved to be enormously rugged, an internal powertrain injury caused the R34 to commit suicide by shutting down and sitting in the middle of the track. Falken threw out another R34 it had been tuning in reserve, one that crashed during a preliminary round, but the team just didn't have enough time to repair the extensive damage thoroughly enough to take home a top spot.
Frustration mounting, it seemed that Falken would never pull off another victorious finish like its first time around.
However, 2002 proved everyone wrong. The team powered through all 24 hours flawlessly, taking Fifth Place overall in the R34. Invigorated once again, Falken vowed to return in 2003, and we couldn't have been happier. The team called and gave us the exclusive chance to not only feature the car, but to witness it in action as well. You probably read about that last month ("Up Since May," Oct. '03), but if you didn't, here's what it was like: Drink 28 Red Bulls, stay up on your flight to Germany, run a marathon, stay up another night for the race, and then keep yourself awake to shoot the car after everything is over. It was tiring, but this is the reward: Falken's Skyline in our book. Chew on that one, suckas.
So, how did the race go? It was an adventure to say the least. Endurance is the name of the game here, and the R34 proved to have more spirit than a troop of cheerleaders in a naked pep rally. What, your school doesn't have naked pep rallies? It embraces every sweeping curve and each harrowing straight with the calm lucidity of a native Hawaiian on a 16-foot wave for hours and hours on end. This dependability kept it firmly in Third Place until a con-rod unfortunately split off and ripped an ausfahrt in the oil sump. The searing hot oil splashed onto the glowing exhaust pipes, causing an instant fire. Fortunately, the track staff, like a German version of Backdraft, extinguished the flames before a forest fire broke out, but not before it had a chance to melt the engine's cables, hoses, and everything else in its path. So was that the end? No way. The Falken team re-entered two hours later with the same car at 56th Place, winding up at 53rd overall.
Though this may be the last year for this particular R34, we hope Falken feels up to the challenge to build another beauty and bring it to the Nrburgring in 2004. We trust the team has some tricks under its belt, and we're looking forward to another chance to witness the underdog take its fans for a ride, hopefully next time to First Place. But before then, we'd just like to enjoy the memories of a spectacular race involving a highly inspirational car. R34, we salute you.
Fast FactsOwner The Falken Tire CorporationHometown Osaka, JapanRide Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 (Nr-special)Daily Grind Rolling blackoutsUnder The Hood Nissan RB26DETT Nr special engine displaced at 2771 cc, Getrag six-speed manual transmission, twin-plate metal clutchRollers 11x18-inch Enkei wheels, Falken 290/60R18 tiresStoppers Project disc brakesInside Bride seat; Takata harnessStiff Stuff Tein coilovers