Kagawa visits the Nürburgring (Part Two)


With all the video that Kagawa shot on his recent trip to Nürburg, Germany, the article was divided into two parts.

In Part 1, Kagawa visited the Nürburgring for the first time, and talked about the race as it unfolded right in front of his eyes.

In this part, Part 2, Kagawa digs into why Toyota feels the need to take part in races, which he explores through interviews from his exclusive behind-the-scenes access.

8. Toyota’s Test Driver

Having experienced the race down in the pits, Kagawa was finally ready to interview some of the team members.

The first team member he talked to was Hisashi Yabuki, one of Toyota’s test drivers.

For this race, Yabuki wasn’t a driver, but was helping support the team as one of its veteran members.

Yabuki first joined the project team in 2007, when TOYOTA GAZOO Racing first took part in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring. At the time, he was one of the mechanics.

Yabuki remained on the team after that, and by 2017, he was also a driver.
In 2019, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing planned to take part in the 24 Hours using a GR Supra, and Yabuki was one of its drivers.

This photo is from the 2007 24 Hours of Nürburgring race. On the left is Yabuki, serving as mechanic. The vehicle is the No. 109 Altezza driven by “Morizo.”

Yabuki is introduced in Kagawa’s video as “Test Driver,” but this is simply his normal day job at Toyota.

He is a test driver, along with chief mechanics Toshiyuki Sekiya and Yasuo Hirata, who were featured in Part 1.

In Toyota, a test driver is someone who is considered capable of communicating with a car thanks to driving skills honed over long years.
While not on the interview video, listening to these men talk, this can be sensed about them.

When developing a vehicle, a test driver will drive it and use all of his/her senses, all parts of the body—hands on the steering wheel, feet on the pedals, bottom on the seat—to listen to what the car and the road are saying.

The goal? To find out the gap between what the ideal ride should be based on where it currently is while imagining what should be done to bring the vehicle closer to the desired end goal.
The driver then translates this into words that people can understand, sharing the insights with the other engineers, and sometimes even fixing things on their own.

Once the identified issues are addressed, the driver takes the vehicle out for another drive to see if it’s performing the way it was imagined. It is this test driver’s role to repeat this action over and over again as the team works to create the car.

It is very difficult to tell if a car has been improved unless it is driven the same way as before the issue was fixed.
Toyota’s test drivers therefore are expected (and they are said to have the ability) to recreate the same style of driving again and again.

In the development of a car for a race, it isn’t just about driving fast. The important thing is consistency – they need to accurately recreate the same driving style, whatever the speed.

These test drivers are also constantly refining the “sensors” in their bodies. It is these natural senses they hone so as to accurately capture what the car or road is telling them.
The test drivers, therefore, need to practice their driving on a daily basis.

Outside taking part in races like this, Yabuki and the other test drivers often come to the Nürburgring to test vehicles in development, and, while there, use the time to train and improve their own skills.

9. A Challenge Laid Down by the Test Drivers

The challenge for Toyota to take part in the Ring’s endurance race was first laid down by what these test drivers do, and it continues today.

The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing website shares the following explanation:

In 2007, “GAZOO Racing” was established, led by Akio Toyoda—who drove under his pseudonym “Morizo”—and the master test driver Hiromu Naruse. GAZOO Racing was founded on the desire to refine people and cars through motorsports, and to thereby contribute to the making of ever-better cars. In other words, GAZOO Racing intended to return to the starting-point of motorsports.

Naruse said: “Races are the ultimate stage for passing on techniques and nurturing human resources. Car-making is not debated using words and data; instead, discussions must center on actual vehicles that can be touched and seen at first hand.”

Chosen to be this “ultimate stage” was the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, widely regarded as the ultimate endurance test for touring cars on the most pushing circuit in the world.

The name Hiromu Naruse appears again later in this video.
It is also a name that has appeared in one of “Morizo’s Musings,” in “The Ring, the Supra, and Morizo.” published in Japanese on January 14, 2019, “Morizo’s Musings” is a collection of posts by Akio Toyoda on Toyota Times (Japanese edition).

Below is an extract from that post, translated into English for your reference:

Looking back on it, when I was invited by Naruse-san to start driver training over 20 years ago, my partner was an A80 Supra. This was my first time on the Ring, and I still clearly remember how desperate I was to reach the pit, constantly looking at the tail lamps of Mr. Naruse’s car ahead of me and my rear-view mirror, and how scared I was.

“Even if you’re in a race, don’t race.”

That was what Naruse-san told me.

As is clear from the words of “Morizo,” or Akio Toyoda as you might know him, Hiromu Naruse was the man who spurred him to become a driver, the master who taught him how to really drive.

A photo of Naruse hangs in the pit, as if to keep a watchful eye over everyone

Naruse was also actually employed as a test driver for Toyota, and in fact was considered the company’s top driver, given a title known as the “Master Test Driver.”

A book about Akio and Naruse, Ren Inaizumi’s Toyoda Akio ga Aishita Test Driver (The Test Driver Akio Toyoda Loved), published by Shogakukan on March 7, 2016, details the relationship between Toyoda and Naruse, and tells the story of lessons learned.)

In the book, one finds something Naruse told Toyoda that became the impetus for him to start driver training.

“It’s only a nuisance for somebody in your position, let alone someone who doesn’t have any basic driving skills, to make superficial comments about cars simply because you have driven them.”
However, it was almost in the same breath that Naruse also made Akio an offer: “If you feel like it, even if just once a month, I’ll teach you how to drive.”

Toyoda has talked about the training he started as a result of this conversation.

He started off by practicing braking as hard as possible, practicing turning into the same corner again and again, and even practicing escaping from an overturned car. It was day after day of basic training.

Later, as Akio wrote in his “Musings,” he started training by tailing Naruse and the other veteran test drivers.

Yabuki and Hirata were, at the time, involved in vehicle evaluation along with Naruse.

In 2007, following years of driver training, Naruse, Toyoda, and the other evaluating drivers commenced tackling the challenge of the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.

“Races are the ultimate stage for passing on techniques and nurturing human resources,” Naruse said at the time. This phrase has been passed on down and even more than a decade later, it is still embodied at the Nürburgring.

Kagawa later mentioned that it was while he was here, starting with Yabuki’s interview, where he was finally able to get a deep understanding of this fact.

10. The Dichotomy of “Racing for Safety”

In his interviewing with Yabuki, Kagawa immediately asked a rather direct and candid question.

“Why is Toyota taking part in this race if it carries such high risk?”

Yabuki responds that it is because the track can replicate pretty much every type of road in the world. He explains that if a car can make it around the Ring safely and reliably, it is judged to be able to handle pretty much any road a driver may wish to take.

Hearing this, Kagawa decided he wanted to know more about the roads along the Ring.
But there was another issue that was tripping him up.

In his head, Kagawa held the stereotype that companies or drivers enter races to win. After all, the point of driving fast is to win, and you take on a bit of risk to be able to drive that fast.

But Yabuki’s response explained that for their team, it was about making it around safely and reliably.

This intrigued Kagawa. Why would he be saying “safely and reliably” for a race? Kagawa couldn’t get past that part.

In a separate interview with Hiroaki Ishiura, a professional racecar driver, Kagawa wanted to ask a similar question.

For some background, Ishiura drives in the top category races in Japan, and in 2017, he took the championship in the Super Formula, the fastest race in Japan.

He has been part of the Ring project since 2011, and has a lot of experience with the roads here.

Just how committed is he to racing? Ishiura spent his honeymoon at the Ring.
That was back in 2010, when he and his new bride decided to spend their time together by traveling to the Ring to watch the 24 Hours. It was after that when he decided he wanted to drive at the Ring, so he applied to drive for GAZOO Racing. Within a year, he was out on the track.

He told these stories while the cameras weren’t rolling.

When Kagawa was able to ask Ishiura what the roads around the Ring were like, Ishiura was quick to reply:

“It’s an unforgiving place.”
“You run over things, jump, and generally put a tremendous strain on the car.”
“In running the course, we often find problems we couldn’t see in Japan.”

When he called the Ring “unforgiving,” he wasn’t necessarily saying it was “insanely dangerous.” Instead, the word meant “a harsh road for cars,” “a road you need in order to make good cars.”

So, upon hearing this and what it meant, Kagawa brought up the issue of “safe and reliable” – the very issue he was finding it hard to get past.

“So, for Toyota, Nürburgring is a place where you can find safety in the extremes?” asks Kagawa.

To help Kagawa better understand, Ishiura decided to explain the differences between TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and other professional teams in the competition.

“Other teams might prioritize race results, letting the car run as it is. But the Toyota GAZOO team will never let a car out onto the course until they try to resolve all the problems [no matter how small].”

Kagawa, by giving a big nod of acknowledgement, implied an understanding of that logic.

Next, Kagawa spoke with Chief Mechanic Hirata, the man labeled a “demon sergeant” and “Deva King” in Part 1.
Despite his reputation for being harsh, he was relaxed and calm as he replied to Kagawa’s questioning.

“If the car is not secure and safe, the driver cannot concentrate on the race. It increases the stress and mental distress, which I think is the same for our customers.

Hirata’s words seemed to be the kind that someone who was normally engaged in developing cars for the public would say.

Kagawa nodded in understanding.

Having heard a number of stories, Kagawa, while in the pit, pointed out that the extreme conditions help the engineers uncover problems, and, as they discover the issues, the solutions can often lead to greater safety or making a car more “Fun to Drive.”

Kagawa said that as he looked at the people’s faces around him and he started to realize the true meaning for Toyota’s participation in motorsports like the 24 Hour at the Ring.

11. Nurturing Human Resources through Racing

At the close of his interview with Yabuki, Kagawa had another request:
“I’d like to experience the course…”.

The response was quick and energetic:
“I’ll get a car ready for tomorrow. Let’s meet at the course!” said Yabuki.

One of Yabuki’s jobs as a test driver is to add a little spice to the retail GR Supra.
When Kagawa arrived at the scene the next morning, a GR Supra was standing by waiting for him.

Quickly exchanging greetings, Kagawa then hopped in the passenger seat right away.

While that’s how he was on the video, Kagawa did give Yabuki a proper greeting and offer his thanks for preparing the car.

Then Kagawa looked over the Supra, examining the car from the outside very closely, and trying out the driver’s seat.

Finally, Kagawa took the passenger seat, and, with Yabuki driving, they head out onto the track.

In the video, you can see Kagawa’s reaction to the drive. Through his facial and vocal expressions, the narrowness of the course, the hidden corners following bends, and even the harsh ups and down can all be felt.

After experiencing the Ring at over 200 km/h, Kagawa started talking with Yabuki again.

He hoped to once again address the meaning of the race he had seen the day before.

“When it comes to races, results need to be shown in a short amount of time. This helps train people, including their mental capabilities.”

In essence, Yabuki was telling him how races actually help people grow.

This supported and connected to the words of Naruse, who had said that “Races are the ultimate stage for passing on techniques and nurturing human resources.”

To double-check that he understood all of this correctly, Kagawa confirmed: “So the emphasis here is not so much about winning the race itself?”
Yabuki replied immediately: “No, it’s not.”

This was consistent with what others had been saying about “nurturing human resources.”

Hirata had also commented, saying:
“The most important thing about results isn’t about the placement or rank, but about how much the people grew. Ultimately, good cars are made by people.”

12. What Hiromu Naruse Left Us

Next, Kagawa is seen in an interview with Chief Mechanic Sekiya. During their time together, they discussed a variety of topics, including one about addressing young mechanics tackling their first pit jobs, which was also covered in Part 1.

Sekiya discussed how the more experienced mechanics would talk to younger ones and of his own experiences of the same type of interactions when he was just starting out.

In the course of conversation, Kagawa mentioned the name Naruse.
Instantly, Sekiya explained that he was also taught a number of things by Naruse.

For the reader, Naruse died tragically in a car accident near the Ring on a public road in 2010.

To Kagawa, the influence and impact Naruse had on the project team was obvious, and just how much that influence was still alive in the project today.

In the interviews he had conducted thus far, mostly the team members had been cautious about how they talked, probably due to being on camera. However, whenever the topic of Naruse came up, each of them had no hesitation and were more relaxed as they reminisced on their experiences with the former master test driver, discussing the ideas that he had valued.

Yabuki noted: “Mr. Naruse had so much passion for cars, to make ever-better cars.”

Project Team Leader Nobuaki Kanamori stopped to explain how Naruse would nurture people, saying: “He kind of had a craftsman’s temperament. He needed to be everything himself. But I guess everyone saw that and also grew.”

“It is because I met this person and was taught that I am allowed to be here.
So I believe that what I really have to do is teach and pass on the things I’ve learned to as many people as I can. That’s what I think all the time,” said Hirata.

It was through words like this and the expressions on their faces that made it clear to Kagawa just how important Naruse was and how he was very much still alive in this project.

Hirata working in the pit with Naruse

Thinking about the impact of Naruse after finishing all interviews, Kagawa reflected:

“‘Making people…it’s not the end if the person is made. I guess the real story is continuing to make people. Passing it on. Mr. Naruse did that job.”

Prior to departing for home, Kagawa took a side trip to visit the site of Naruse’s accident. There were two cherry trees planted there. One from Germany, and one from Japan. Beneath these cherry trees, Kagawa said this as an ode to Naruse:
“What you risked your life for has not been forgotten.”

On the way home, Kagawa did not mention the word “hobby” as it related to Toyota’s involvement in racing again.

13. Making Ever-Better Cars

After visiting Germany and seeing so many people that knew and talked about Naruse, it seems appropriate to share one more passage from the book about Akio and Naruse, Ren Inaizumi’s Toyoda Akio ga Aishita Test Driver (The Test Driver Akio Toyoda Loved), (2016):

Looking back, it was only during the last ten years that I had the privilege of knowing Naruse-san, but it was such an intensely rich decade that it felt to me like more than a couple of decades. Our relationship cannot simply be described as that of superior-subordinate. Rather, it was a combination of relationships between a father and son, mentor, and apprentice, and childhood friends. And all of these relationships were built on what we love the most: cars. I took my relationship with Naruse-san for granted as a precious treasure that I would be able to enjoy forever. More than that, because it was all too natural for Naruse-san to occupy a part of my life, it didn’t even occur to me to imagine what the future would hold for us.

All too suddenly, in the early morning of June 24, I was hit with the news of his death, and became totally at a loss for words. In a state of shock, I could do nothing. I was steeped in a sadness that I did not know how to express.

The first time I met Naruse-san was when I was back in Japan after getting the company’s certified advanced driver’s qualification at the Arizona Proving Ground while assigned to the U.S. office. Naruse-san’s piercing words from this time still linger in my ears: “It’s only a nuisance for somebody in your position, let alone someone who doesn’t have any basic driving skills, to make superficial comments about cars simply because you have driven them. We test drivers are conducting test drives with our lives on the line – all for making good cars. At least I want you to remember this much.”

This was the beginning. It was what made me want to be able to evaluate cars properly, rather than be a simple car enthusiast, and this was why I started practicing by joining in the training with Naruse-san’s team. I did countless laps in the Supra, particularly on the Yamaha test track.

Naruse-san suggested in 2003, just as my skill was improving: “If you want to expand your knowledge of cars, you should consider racing at the Nürburgring 24-Hours.” What? A race? And of all races, the Nür?! It was only after our team entered the race with the Altezza and completed the 2007 race for the first time, that I was to truly understand Narsuse-san’s intent.

What Naruse-san wanted to teach us was not the importance of rank or how to win the race. Rather, it was to build a culture of cars, and, in order to pursue that goal, the importance of “making cars with character and automotive seasoning.”

A sound human resource development program is also crucial in realizing that goal, and this is why we launched TOYOTA GAZOO Racing – which is made up solely of Toyota employees – with no outside support. With Naruse-san’s expertise, we built it piece by piece, from the ground up and with our own hands, in preparation for the race.

In racing 24 hours alongside rival automakers at Nür, which is known to be the world’s most extreme circuit track, far more issues are exposed than we could find in three years of rigorous test track training. As a team, we strove together to tackle and overcome these problems that surfaced during the race.

Naruse-san has also taught us that “Roads build cars,” and we must make cars that can be driven comfortably on any type of road. Naruse-san was known to automotive professionals around the world as the “Nür Meister,” and it was apparent to him that Nür was the perfect place to “train man and machine.”

I believe that the Lexus LFA is to Toyota as Shikinen Sengu is to Ise Jingu, a famous Japanese shrine. Here, traditional techniques and skills are passed down by relocating and reconstructing the divine palace every 20 years.

Toyota introduced several sports car models such as the 200GT and 1600GT in 1967, and Naruse-san was one of the young mechanics who worked on these cars. Since that time, for over 40 years, Naruse-san worked strenuously as the leader or master carpenter to pass down techniques and skills to younger members of his team through genchi genbutsu.

While we reflect on the lack of structured human resource development programs at Toyota, Naruse-san took it upon himself to train young employees with his heart and soul. You could get a glimpse into Naruse-san’s character through his conduct at events such as those held at the Tokyo Auto Salon, as well as how people described him: “He is very demanding but warm-hearted,” or “He is intimidating when he gets angry, but he remembers to show his kind side too.”

Although Naruse-san talked passionately about cars while attending event, he also did not forget to talk kindly to the fans and kids who attended – doing photo ops and signing autographs when he was asked. At such times, he would say with a smile, “Are you sure it’s mine you want?”

I know that Naruse-san had many faces: those when he was behind the wheel, teaching the trainees, and leading the team as the manager. I know for certain, however, that he was most invigorated when he was behind the wheel.

I later learned that Naruse-san’s last comments about the LFA included the following: “This LFA has the best balance of all those I have driven.” “It feels something like, ‘This is it. Toyota can do it too!” “This car can conquer any road, any car. All those years of hard work have paid off.” I knew this car would not betray all of the hard work we have poured into it.”

Naruse-san had never given a passing grade to any car, but perhaps he gave one to this car with open arms as a sort of final farewell. And his praise was the greatest reward that the LFA development team could ever have hoped to receive.

Spending time driving on the track with Naruse-san, as well as just speaking with him, his passion to “share and spread the fun of driving to future generations” has become – and will remain – the source of what I do and say.

Naruse-san said, “There is no end to ‘making better cars.’” Those of us left behind are determined to carry on and push forward his passion, and the path he has created. We promise you, we will make ever-better cars.

Thank you for everything, Naruse-san. May you rest in peace and watch over us from heaven.

June 30, 2010
Akio Toyoda
CEO, Toyota Motor Corporation
A test driver from Naruse-san’s team