In Depth Interview with Shinichi Kobayashi

TJ: When did you start liking cars?

Kobayashi-san: Actually, I became interested in cars late. Is it ok to say what age I started?

I was 23 when I became interested in tuning cars. Usually, Japanese people started at 18 but I had been interested in surfing until 23 and I wanted to be a professional surfer. I was not interested in cars at all at the time. I started getting involved with cars after that.

TJ: how did you start racing?

 Kobayashi-san: Well, when I was 23 there was a boat race in Toda. There were 3 or 4 corners there and people use to meet. There were usually between 100 and 200 cars there a Saturday or Sunday. I was just passing through as people were attacking the corners and I thought it looked interesting, so I began driving. I became number 1 there and I started driving in the mountains in Chichibu. While I was there, I heard that the fastest drivers in Kanto area raced on the Wangan. So, I started driving the Wangan and became number 1 there too. I drove the Wangan for 15 years. Now, I can’t drive there anymore because of the traffic situation or the police. That’s my story about street racing

 TJ: how did u become a member or 565? 

Kobayashi-san: Honestly, I wasn’t interested in 565 at the time. I was like a lone wolf and I didn’t hang out with people. While I was working for Nismo I met Mr. Igarashi who was chairman of 565. He said that he would quit Nismo and retire from 565 and that I had to be chairman of 565. So, suddenly he forced me to become chairman of 565 about 15 years ago. To be honest I didn’t want to join at that time. Just… he was a very important person in Nismo and he said I had to. 565 is a great, famous team from that time. Those in the know, know its very famous team. I can say that now but to honest back then I didn’t want to do it

 TJ: How did you become a professional racer?

Kobayashi-san: I don’t think I’m a professional. It’s not my intention to earn money driving cars professionally. It’s just that, I can understand what part of a car isn’t working when I drive a car. As a person who builds cars, its easy for me to make them faster by identifying their weak points by driving them. NISMO, TEIN and oil companies asked me to be their test driver so that’s how I became a professional driver. I’m more semi pro than professional though.

TJ: When did you start MCR?

Kobayashi-san: I started MCR in 1994. At the time I didn’t have any money so I couldn’t take my car to the mechanic. So, I did everything myself and then MCR was born.

TJ: can you tell us about some of the hard times MCR had?

Kobayashi-san: I’m always trying to improve cars and find ways to make them better. What annoys me, is that Japanese cars aren’t interesting anymore. In my opinion, the performance of Japanese cars is inferior to cars made in other countries these days. So, as you saw, I’m trying to build McLarens or Mercedes. These days, the only Japanese car that can compete is the R35 GTR. I mean, look at the new supra. Its not good at all. Honestly, I can’t do anything for this car. In the end, we only have the GTR. The other thing is that young Japanese people don’t drive cars anymore. They don’t know how to enjoy cars. That’s what annoys me the most. But I like cars so I’m trying to spread my passion of cars to people all around the world. So, that’s why I don’t build cars that can be driven on the street. While cars with big wings and elaborate front splitters look cool and I understand why people do it, for me tuning a car is ultimately about drivability on the street. Those are all of my concerns, but if I work hard enough, I can solve anything.

TJ: What’s the difference between the car scene in japan and the car scene in the USA?

Kobayashi-san: Hmmm difference? It’s a bit difficult. You want to hear my thoughts about America? Ok I think it’s better in America to be honest. Not just the car scene, but I think they know how to have more fun in America. I went to America many times. I went to a circuit one time and I saw a 70-year-old grandpa driving and it wasn’t just him there! His whole family was there with him so they could enjoy together. They know how to enjoy a lot compared to Japanese people. We don’t have that kind of thing in japan. In japan, people have a bad image for playing with cars. At that part, there is a big difference. I think the know how to play and enjoy things in America. Amazing.

 TJ: 3 or 4 years ago you told us that in America, there are 2 levels of cars: high and low and that Japanese cars are middle class. Do you still think this?

 Kobayashi-san: Well not only in America, but people do things that Japanese people can’t imagine. For example, a 2000hp GTR. In japan, we can’t drive that kind of car so we don’t do it. Also, in America some people build cars very rough. Japanese don’t do this. Japanese car builders preform much more delicate work. But there are only a few that can do that kind of work. There used to be many people that preformed delicate work in the past but that number has shrunk over time. Its sad. It was like that in the old days, there were many serious people in japan but not anymore. Its really sad. So now I think cars from Europe are very high level.

TJ: What is your image of the car scene in the future?

Kobayashi-san: My image of the ideal car hasn’t changed at all. I don’t want a car without number plates (street legal). Its my style. For example, if I wanted to drive to a mountain in Hakone, I can go there in a second. I can’t be satisfied with a normal car so if I bought a new car, I would need to modify it before I can enjoy driving it. It depends on the car, but for a R35 GTR I need to be able to reach 320km/h but also stop and turn corners. Its my style. I know that people in other countries have 2000hp cars that can do 400m in 6 or 7 sec... but I’m not interested in that kind of thing. In the future I want to continue driving in the mountains.

TJ: Rumor has it that you were the inspiration for the mechanic in the Wangan Midnight Manga. Is this true?

Kobayashi-san: It was well made, but in reality, it was much harder.

TJ: Can you tell us about any new projects?

Kobayashi-san: There is nothing planned, I just want to find a car that I like. I tried to build a McLaren but it didn’t match me, my style. So, I bought a Mercedes AMG A45S yesterday. It’s the only one of its kind in Japan. I will quit working with Japanese cars exclusively to honest. From next year I will star trying to build Mercedes. I was building Audi up until last month actually. I’m just trying to find a car that matches my style, so I can enjoy it I hope I can find the one.

TJ: Do you think there is the same level of respect within the car community now as there was in the middle 90s?

Kobayashi-san: I feel like that tuners in those days were more interested in the cars and that they liked them. Tuners these days are much more interested in business. I don’t feel like they enjoy cars. People in those day had more passion. Every tuner driving themselves but there few tuners now that still drive themselves. I think there are only a few tuners that still drive these days.

TJ: How do you know Ogose-san from GruppeM and what kind of relationship do you have?

Kobayashi-san: Ogose -san was doing top speed races, and I was driving the Wangan with some curves. At the same time, people doing top speed races did so on a different highway and didn’t come to Wangan, and people driving the Wangan didn’t go to that highway. Back then, things were very territorial like the yakuza, so we didn’t mess with others territory. But we both survived in our own territory so we both feel like we have known each other for a long time. Actually, I’ve only met. Ogose-san just a few times but I feel like we both feel that way. Many people form those days died in car crashes. There aren’t many survivors left. Ogose-san has been a mentor within this car society. I respect him so much. He was not a person that started for profit, he started racing on the street and became a tuner so we have something in common. We can share this feeling. That’s why I asked GruppeM to make all my racing suits.

TJ: In the past you were famous for driving and modifying only GTRs. Why only GTR?

Kobayashi-san: The reason I always chose the GTR is because it was the fastest. It was number 1. But sometimes it was difficult for me because I only saw the GTR as a tool or kind of a weapon. To be honest, I never found the GTR to be fun to drive. The car was always just a weapon for me so I want to find the car that I can enjoy driving.

TJ: Why does it seem like everybody including Smokey Nagata and all other famous tuners hate the new Supra?

Kobayashi-san: I’ll speak directly to the camera for this one. BECAUSE ITS SO SLOW!! I can’t battle using that thing at all. That car can’t drive at all. It’s a BMW inside anyways. It was a complete waste of money. There are Toyota drivers that will only tell you good things about the new Supra. So, I went and bought one and started driving it. I thought it was impossible for a car to be that bad. ITS SLOW! After my Supra arrived, I went to Fuji Speedway to test it. I was building an Audi R3 until last month. It has a 2500cc engine and the Supra has a 3000cc. on the Fuji Circuit strait, the Supra hit 248km but the 2500cc Audi hit 255km. and the Audi was 7km faster in the straight course even though it has a 2500cc. the new A45 here is only 2000cc but I think its faster than the Supra. The new Supra is really not made well at all. It really sucks! I just want be completely honest to those reading this. There will be puff pieces in magazines and/or DVD’s about the new Supra. Do you know what a puff piece is? For example, if Toyota sponsored the magazine the writer can only say good things about the Supra. Writers that lie for a purpose is called a puff piece... there are a lot of things like that, so a Toyota driver tells us that this car is good. So, then I bought it for 7 million yen only to drive it and think.... WHAT?! This car costs 7 million yen? I’m not working with Toyota. I want to tell the truth, real things about the car to everyone. The reason why I don’t like this car is because ITS SLOW, CAN’T STOP and CAN’T TURN.

TJ: What’s your image of the ideal street car?

Kobayashi-san: The R35 GTR is my ideal image of a street car for now. But if I had to choose a fun car for driving it’s a R34 or R32.

TJ: It’s very difficult for young people to buy a R35 or R34 GTR. What would you recommend for them?

Kobayashi-san: Now I recommend the Suzuki Swift. Its cheap. I you try to modify that ca, you can make it faster. It depends on the tuners style, so there are many different options though. Now im driving circuit. So I try to focus on the breaks or suspension system instead of chasing power. I want young people to brush up on their driving skills and enjoy driving.

TJ: it was so much fun to hear your stories and history of MCR. Thank you so much.

Kobayashi-san: Thank you!