Takihiro Itsu was considered by everyone in his office to be the person who most clearly did not want to be there.
He was the hardest worker out of all of them, even for work hungry young men like himself like several other salary men in Japan. But from the moment he clocked in and sat in at his desk, he appeared to drift off.
Takihiro could only think of his car parked outside. The S13, and the red sticker on its side that had spread respect and fame throughout the street racing world from the Akina Speed Stars to Racing Team Katagiri.
Takihiro stopped working on an assignment at his desk. He stopped typing, and for a moment he put his pen down.
'Is this really the rest of my life? Stuck in this office? Doing nothing but paperwork? Ryosuke's disbanding the team after next week. I can't just spend my next few years living like I have now.'
Takihiro pushed his desk chair out. He needed some coffee.
He smoothed out his long dark hair with a sigh in the break room, brewing a fresh cup of coffee quietly.
'The last few years haven't been that tough. Before we started our expeditions I had the team, or at least Ryosuke and Daito to train with on the mountains almost every week some nights. But that's all over with, I can't just keep street racing forever. Not with what I've learned on the Red Suns.'
'I could apply to Nismo I guess. I don't think I could make it as far as the K2, not in a million years. But even with Aisuke and Kenta's connections, it would take years of practice on lower circuit league tracks to even be considered. And by that point I'd end up like Daito. Burnt out on sponsorships and ownership until I would be forced to quit.'
'Nismo. That's all I want. Working at Nismo with Aisuke and Kenta. That would be ideal. The three of us would still be doing what the Red Suns did best, using Akagi bred technique and proving its worth in circuit racing except for a living. We could still continue the Red Suns.'
Takihiro eyed the clock. A few more hours and he could go home.
He could go to Akagi Pass.
"I mean it's not a terrible idea." Aisuke said taking a drag from his cigarette. "I have considered transferring to the Racing division at work instead of the testing division. I have the times for it too."
Kenta chuckled nervously and scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, dad says I'm still way too young to move up from karting to big time Nismo work. But who knows, maybe next year."
Takihiro sighed. "Guys my paycheck at the office hasn't gotten any bigger from the last four years I've worked there. Still, every night after the years I've known Ryosuke. The only part of my day I enjoy is racing with you guys."
"Our office is flooded with applicants." Aisuke said. "You're not the only person even in Gunma who thinks they have a shot at an official Nismo Racing sponsorship. You can ask Daito for how hard it was to get into Mazdaspeed. Hell, it's even tough for me, even with all the years I have working for them."
Kenta sighed. "Taki, my dad basically runs the entire Nismo Rally and Circuit division, even he can't guarantee me a spot."
Takihiro frowned. "I just thought after doing so well in the Red Suns we could all go pro."
"I mean. It is going to happen at some point, but not soon at all. But even the downhill is a joke compared to professional racing. The level of mental conditioning and focus that goes into it puts street racing on a much lower level." said Aisuke.
Kenta nodded. "I mean Ryosuke is a genius. He's the only reason why we were able to beat a team as professional as the Todo School and the first two teams in Kanagawa."
"Exactly." Aisuke said tapping his cigarette before taking another drag from it. "While we have come a long way. Going from teams like the Speed Stars in a few practice runs on Akina to clearing Kanagawa mountain by mountain, the pro leagues are well. In a league of their own."
Takihiro was still distraught. "But all the praise we got. All the fans we made. We set the racing world on fire."
Aisuke shrugged. "We did. I mean, you saw how many people turned out to watch Ryosuke race Akina's 86. And how essentially every team in Kanto had to start preparing to race us after how good our timed records were against the Speed Stars. But street racing might have its own charm and style, but circuit racing is a whole different thing."
Takihiro kept frowning and Aisuke smiled. "We'll get there man. I promise."
"But if Ryosuke and Daito were a huge part of street racing a few years back. Why were Mazdaspeed so interested in sponsorships with them?" asked Takihiro.
Aisuke took a moment to respond. "From what I can tell, they either didn't know or didn't care. When they found drivers as good as them, it probably was clear they could turn a very strong blind eye if it meant taking them on. I'm pretty sure that's why Ryosuke and Daito turned them down in the long run. There just wasn't a reason to stick with people that just had no regard for ethics."
"Ironic for street racers wouldn't you say?" said Takihiro.
Kenta shook his head. "Not really. Think of what Ryosuke's done. People look at street racing differently now. Sure it's still really um. Unofficial. But he's made it clear there has to be strategy and technique involved."
"It's still really hard for me to believe, even after how much Ryosuke's made the team win over the years. That this little team we started here on Akagi would springboard us into so much fame and glory. We're heroes, here in Gunma. Gods. No one will touch our course records for generations." Aisuke said.
Takihiro now smiled. "Something tells me Ryosuke was smart enough all along that we were going to come this far."
"We might not officially be part of Nismo's Racing Division yet. But to me, we're already members. True downhillers." Kenta said. "We're legends already guys."
Takihiro continued to smile. Kenta and Aisuke's words had calmed his anxious thoughts.
Takihiro felt odd driving up to Nanamagari to challenge team Spiral with the rest of the team.
He thought of the years of racing. The memories he had with the Red Suns.
The screeching of the tires when the FC and S13 battled for the first time ever on Akagi's downhill.
The corners, and the conversation the two had years prior at the bottom of Akagi's hill.
Takihiro was still in his dorky work uniform from the business office, red bowtie and all. Ryosuke was only 20 years old.
Ryosuke spoke honestly. "I need another favor to ask. I'm going to need a partner of sorts here on Akagi's downhill. And then I'm going to put together a team, starting with you. Called the Red Suns."
"Red Suns?" asked Takhiro.
He explained. "Akagi Red Suns. It's going to be just you and me for now. Then my brother when I can put together the money to get him an FD."
"Akagi? I'm some idiot with a day job who just got this thing two months ago." Takihiro turned to his S13. "I can't represent Akagi in the street."
Ryosuke explained. "Look let me explain something to you. It's going to become common knowledge that the drivers from Akagi are going to become the fastest in Gunma. And then the fastest in the entire country, and then arguably the world."
Takihiro smiled, holding back tears at the memory. At what it now meant.
'Year later. I get what he wanted. He wanted to make more than a street racing legend. More than to ingrain Akagi into immortality. He wanted to make a brotherhood. Of drivers, who shared a common goal.'
'The Akina Speed Stars. The Emperors. All of Saitama. The Todo School. It's all over at this race for me. We've defeated them all. And I'm about to step up. This is my time. And it's already over.'
'It's painful. Very painful.'
Takihiro still held back tears, knowing the meet was ready for him to appear.
'I can't believe it myself really. Even now, I couldn't then and it's only tougher. I can represent Akagi in the street. I can represent it on a pro circuit too someday. But it feels like a dream almost. Like the fact I'm about to race the third line of defense, the second best downhiller in Kanagawa just doesn't feel real.'
He reached the top of Nanamagari's hill and parked his S13.
When he appeared, Takihiro Itsu was no longer the dorky out of place every man who had lost so badly to Ryosuke on Akagi's downhill years prior.
The entire meet watched a true Akagi Red Sun step out of his silver S13 and ignore the cheers.
He looked confident. Not tearful.
He looked intimidating. Not dorky.
He was a Red Sun. Not a racing fan.
And the dozens of people there, including Ryosuke Takahashi, the rest of the Red Suns, and nearly every important street racer in Kanagawa knew it.
Takihiro looked over to his opponent, and the meet stopped cheering as the team began to work out the practice session and the following race.
Yakuma took his side, nodding to him, and the two walked forward to shake hands and bow to their opponents.
Hiroya Okuyama, a sour and calm looking young man, snorted when he and Takihiro had started speaking to each other when the rest of the people on the Red Suns and Team Spiral were preoccupied speaking to each other.
"This is your car?" asked Hiroya Okuyama.
"Excuse me?" asked Takihiro.
"I mean I like Silvias." Hiroya said. "I even drive an S15 myself. But I thought the Red Suns would've brought something more competitive to the table tonight for the downhill."
Takihiro looked at him. "I don't need to tell you how well S13s have done on the downhill here in the mountain passes."
"You don't. Because the only people S13s are popular amongst in street racing are just fans. Not racers. You can make this S13 look all pretty, with the Aero kit and all the fancy knick knacks. But you can't cover up the fact that it's still an S13." Hiroya said. "And the same goes for you."
"I wasn't making a joke." Hiroya raised his voice slightly and cut him off. "I heard the way you got recruited on the Red Suns was by pure coincidence. Apparently Ryosuke Takahashi happened to find you on the downhill. You're not like the other drivers, the ones to me deserve to be there. You're not a racer. You're not from the circuits. You're not even from the mountains really. You just happened to be there."
Takihiro balled his fists. "How can you possibly know all that? How can you say something when you have no clue what you're talking about?"
"It's written all over your face. Ever been part of Nismo's Qualifying Leagues to try out on a team?"
Takihiro said nothing.
"Thought not." said Hiroya. "The drivers there are made of different stuff than you. They look like they actually belong." Hiroya eyed Takihiro's long haircut and S13. "I'll be generous tonight. You can take the lead."
Hiroya walked off without a word.
Takihiro nearly ground his teeth.
'I'm going to beat this guy if it's the last thing I do.'
I began typing on my computer as Fumihiro spoke to me. "This opponent seems to be of a higher skill level than the rest. What's the strategy?"
"One that Spiral just gave to us." I said. "Okuyama's overconfidence just cost him this race. Takihiro has a very strong hidden talent, one I noticed during training in the Winter during the off season last year. He can block out a tremendous amount of pressure, it's how he was able to adapt his S13 and his driving so well in heavy snow."
"And he's very fast Fumihiro, extremely fast. Faster than his opponent. There's a reason why I chose him to be the last downhiller other than myself to complete Kanagawa. He's got what it takes pure and simple. All he has to do is gun it, and he can pull away in the high speed section in the middle of the course."
Fumihiro nodded and walked off to help set up Yakuma and Takihiro's practice runs.
This was a tricky simulation, but not nearly the hardest I'd run.
Takihiro and Okuyama were both driving extremely similar cars. The only difference was Takihiro had something Okuyama didn't something Kenta had shown last week, a complete disregard for his own life in lieu of pursuing the fastest line.
This was a certain fearless factor everyone on the Red Suns developed. It was even apparent on the very first matches we had ever had, even in the first episode of the anime actually. It was what set us apart from everyone else really.
Only a few street racers were this fearless or skilled. Hiroya Okuyama was not one of them. He was fast and skilled sure, even for Kanagawa's level. But compared to Takihiro Itsu? No.
Their cars looked different because one was far newer, but they actually weren't that different in terms of performance.
They were Aero Spec tuned Silvias, designed perfectly for maximum speed and throttle on the downhill.
I only needed to glance at Okuyama's S15 for a split second before the Gamer gave me everything I needed to know about it.
In terms of grip, power, stability, and aerodynamics, the S15 and S13 were tuned in equal fashion and equally well. The hard part was that Takihiro would be unable to realize his speed difference until rather late into the race, around an entire third of the race would pass before it became apparent he could start to pull away.
Until then, he would be rather outmatched in the first third. It happened to the best drivers on any new course they had against a local opponent.
Takihiro's times in qualifying, or his practice sessions really, wouldn't be anything impressive. But they didn't need to be.
Above all else, what Takihiro needed to do was focus. If he just kept his eyes on the road, and drove at his best he could reach the point in my simulation where he could read the course well enough and adapt well enough to Nanamagari's ideal line to win.
Takihiro sat quietly in the S13 ahead of the blue S15 with what appeared to be the same tuning to its aerodynamics.
Ryosuke walked over, laptop in hand. "This course will remind you a lot of Akagi. At its core, the pace and corners are the same. We both know you lost your first race there. Redeem yourself Takihiro, if you win here. You were my true first choice for the Red Suns all along."
It likely would've made him tearful to hear such a thing, but Takihiro smiled. "Hey Ryosuke. This whole time, I know we care so much about winning. But that night on Akagi, the night we raced for the first time ever. It was just. Fun."
Ryosuke now smiled. "Then you got the point. Forget about the stopwatches, forget about your opponent. See the course, and drive. I have a simulation, but it's based on you driving past your limit the entire time. If you just stick the gas down and drive, I promise you'll win."
Fumihiro called out. "First run on the downhill! Start your engines!"
Takihiro ignored the nerves. The number of people on the mountain in the galleries, the dozens of crewmembers analyzing him for pace.
He gripped the steering wheel, tapping the gas in neutral to rev up the CA18.
'It's just like Ryosuke said. You're a Red Sun Taki. The first Red Sun. You didn't come all the way from Akagi, beating the Speed Stars and all the Kanto expeditions to lose here. Flat out Takihiro. Flat out.'
The SR20DET of Hiroya's S15 roared, equally matched in the revs and whistling of its turbo with Takihiro's CA18DET.
"Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Go!"
Takihiro got such good traction off the line he sent air whistling directly through Fumihiro's hair. Hiroya followed with equal speed.
With equal grip and horsepower, down the first straight, both Silvias were in second gear after nine seconds.
Approaching the first corner, Takihiro merely started taking his foot off the throttle earlier, steering lightly to get a sharper angle and better traction into the sharp right.
Hiroya followed right on his tail, braking late and getting lower entry speed but better stability.
On the exit, Takihiro floored the gas just before the apex, millimeters from the guardrail as the crowd roared.
The silver S13 was flying through the next corner with slightly better entry speed and slightly lower exit speed through the next sharp left, clearing the first S hairpin section smoothly.
Takihiro's method of barely braking on the entry while getting extremely good stability from his steering and line positioning shocked the crowd.
The gap between the blue S15 and silver S13 wouldn't change from the half car length, and the crowd couldn't believe their eyes.
Down the long straight, with both cars at full power with the gas flattened, the gap wouldn't change either. Takihiro didn't look backward not even for a second.
All he did was keep his eyes attached to Nanamagari's downhill.
Shifting into third gear as the gearbox clicked, Takihiro thought of nothing, only keeping his foot down on the gas.
Hiroya was troubled, but still knew how early on his pace would pick up.
Requiring full brakes, Takihiro was almost making the S13 slip from how hard he began to push it, keeping the tires on the edge of drift while keeping grip.
Hiroya's S15 drew a bit closer on the entry of the sharp left followed instantly by a sharp right.
Staying stable the whole time, Takihiro never lost speed or traction through the turns, flattening the gas again on the exit as the S13's engine roared and the car accelerated at full speed.
Starting to enter a tight left hairpin, Takihiro went wide, tapping the brakes and drawing so close to the mountain wall and the inside the S13's rearview mirror nearly flew clean off the guardrail.
Right before passing the turn's apex, Takihiro tapped the gas, waiting for full traction to return to his tires and for the S13's direction to be proper before flooring the gas on the exit.
Shooting off the apex at full power to follow the other Silvia, Hiroya was able to draw closer because of his better entry speed and the exit lacking enough difference.
However, while it was clear the S15 was a bit faster, the S13 didn't lose any pace and its driver looked completely unfazed.
Gasping loudly, Sayuki spoke from behind the guardrail as the crowd glowed at the display of speed from both Silvias. "Awesome!"
Mako was playing the hairpin through her mind again. 'Ryosuke's developed the entire team's technique based on speed. Even still, the way I take my turns on Usui are very similar to this S13's.'
Takihiro was keeping his foot flat on the gas until halfway through the straight leading to the wide right corner.
He began to take his foot off the gas slowly before using neither pedal and letting the S13 sail around the turn before keeping it down flat again.
Hiroya began to think, following the S13 down the next straight. 'He has a level of throttle, brake, and traction control I was not expecting. I underestimated this guy. Badly.'
Through the left and right 90 degree turns, Takihiro was barely using his brakes, but the speed and stability he got through the turns made the crowd think he was full exploiting the S13's ABS.
"What incredible cornering from the S13!" a gallery member shouted.
His tires screeching, Takihiro determined the exact moment to start throttling again judging from the way the road appeared to curve on the exit and how predictable it was from the previous and identical 90 degree corners.
His exit speed spiking upward, Hiroya followed easily, still distraught by how much skill Takihiro displayed.
Kenta was shouting, laughing, and jumping up and down in glee as a Team Spiral member spoke into his walkie. "The Silvias just flew past the first checkpoint with some out of this world pace! The Red Suns' S13 is already two seconds ahead of the course record and Okuyama is only a third of a second behind him!"
Hiroya gripped the steering wheel harder, staring at the S13's tail lights calmly. 'I know my line was better through the first section. So why can't I get any closer!?'
Down the long straights leading to the string of hairpins between the third and second checkpoints, Takihiro was flooring the gas, actually shifting into fourth gear in a mountain pass race from how much grip, downforce, and power the S13 had.
Hiroya was following in his S15 well, but his nerves wouldn't subside, meanwhile Takihiro looked like he was taking just another drive to work.
On the last third of the straightaway before the right hairpin, Takihiro and Hiroya began to take their foot off the gas and the S15 drew closer to the S13's tail.
Both cars went wide and tapped the brakes, downshifted twice, sharply decreasing their speed and both zipping past the guardrail in seconds before throttling hard just before the apex.
Having about a second to recover before the previous identical left hairpin, Takihiro and Hiroya were pushing their Silvias as hard as they could down the straight.
Harder on the brakes this time because of the length of the straightaway, Takihiro now got better entry speed as he began to build his line better.
As both cars exited the gap that Hiroya had barely closed opened again, and Takihiro's S13 was throttling hard down the straight.
The S13 and S15 zoomed down the straight loudly, their engines roaring, accelerating as fast as their cars would allow, Takihiro continued to ignore Hiroya's presence while he tried drawing as close as he could.
"Second checkpoint!" said Aisuke. "Itsu is still in the lead, but the S15 closed the gap to a quarter of a second! If you ask me, this high speed hairpin section is gonna decide it all!"
Seeing the first turn, Takihiro thought quietly at the top of the straight leading to it. 'Ryosuke was wrong. This course is nothing like Akagi. But if I can just find the same line through each turn, then I suppose it could be exactly like the last set of hairpins back home.'
Into the first hairpin, the S13 gained a bit of distance due to Takihiro timing his braking better.
Steering lightly, Takihiro guided the S13 into the hairpin tightly, not throttling or braking for a split second before being on the verge of reaching the turn's apex and slamming the gas back down.
The tiny increase in the gap only began to increase more on the next hairpin.
Takihiro ignored all pretense that he cared for his own safety or his cars, driving so close and fast to the inside on the left hairpin's entry with barely any brakes that Hiroya thought he was seeing things.
On the exit after Hiroya floored the gas again, he saw the S13 already starting to clear the straight while he just started it.
Takihiro's traction and throttle control was so good that on the longer right hairpin he didn't brake at all, instead letting the tires hang on just the precipice of slipping while keeping grip on the entry.
Takihiro floored the gas again and approaching the next turn a left hairpin, he went wide, braked lightly and held the inside tightly, this time finding a faster line through the hairpin than the blue S15.
As the silver S13 accelerated out of the turn, Hiroya was wide eyed. 'I'm struggling to find my pace here. He's- wait!'
On the entry of the right hairpin, Takihiro found such great traction through his cornering skills that it shocked Hiroya. He hadn't left the S15 behind instantly, however it was clear how much faster the S13 had gotten.
Trying to push harder and stay closer, Hiroya watched as Takihiro was already about halfway down the next straightaway while he was still exiting the hairpin.
Hiroya tapped the brakes, staying close to the inside struggling to keep the S13 still in his sight from the line Takihiro began to build.
He wasn't building multiple, he was building an adaptive one. Even though each hairpin had important variations in the length and severity of each turn, Takihiro was keeping it flat out on the exit, and finding just the right speed to slow down to and the right part of the mountain pass to stay on to get the right stability.
Hiroya was able to see the S13 more on the straights, but soon after a set of left and right hairpins, the S13 was gone from his sight completely.
Takihiro had successfully pulled away and continued to clear turns just as well as he had so far that race.
Entering a sharp left turn, Takihiro had to go wide, keeping the S13 as far to the right of the road as he could before approaching the turn, tapping the brakes lightly and sticking to the inside, nearly reaching the apex and flooring the gas once more before upshifting.
He floored it down the straights, and entering a left corner used the same technique of just barely braking while using as much throttle as he could and keeping the S13's line as straight as possible through light but precise steering.
Takihiro kept the throttle pinned down, just barely taking it off to brake lightly and continue to guide the S13 around the turns before accelerating once more at full power.
Accelerating as fast as he could down the straight, Takihiro waited until the last second to take his foot off the throttle and brake, slowing down and nearly reaching the apex of the turn and accelerating.
The third checkpoint exploded into cheers when the S13 passed by itself, and a crew member spoke into his walkie. "The S13 just pulled away! It's all over!"
Approaching the finish line, Takihiro could see the excitement and celebration that were already going on at the finish line.
Crossing the finish line at full speed, the crowd exploded into cheers as the S13 slowed down.
Takihiro had barely stepped out of the S13 and the crew members and fans of the Red Suns surrounded him.
Amidst the cheers, a stopwatch was held aloft.
"Six seconds! A six second course record improvement!"
Takihiro teared up, grabbing Matsumoto and the others and hugging them tightly as he laughed.
Kanagawa watched as an S13 beat an S15 soundly, and set a course record of over six seconds.
As the crowd roared, Takihiro looked like he was on top of the world. Laughing, crying, hugging his teammates, and there was nothing but cheers.
Takihiro grabbed Matsumoto and lifted him up into the air. "86! S15! S2000! There ain't a car in the world we can't beat!" he shouted. "Red Suuuns!" he roared with tears in his eyes.
"Akagi." Takihiro chuckled hugging Yakuma tightly. "For Akagi."
After the cheers had died down, a man in a dark blue track suit approached Takihiro.
"Hello there. Can I talk to you?"
Takihiro nodded as he was finally left to speak alone to someone after several minutes. "A fan I take it?"
The man chuckled. "Of sorts. My name is Junichi Yushitake. I represent Nismo's Rally endeavors."
"Do you? Well, did you like the race?'
"I sure did. Legally speaking, I can't really recruit drivers from groups like your own. But while I have known misters Kano and Nakamura for some time. Your driving is something else."
Takihiro's eyes widened, dead silent.
"I've been a part of Nismo for well over a decade. I haven't seen anyone drive a Silvia as fast as you around a curve. I'd like to make you a preliminary offer. About a month after you sign up at some local tracks and the like and start setting some times, I can officially hire you as a driver for Nismo. The pay won't be anything to be excited about yet but-"
"Yes." Takihiro said. "Absolutely. A million times yes."
The Nismo representative smiled. "Again, contractually I can't fund your first month in Rally without being fired. However, I can speak to the right people to make sure your transition to something more official is smoother."
He passed Takihiro a business card. "My office. You'll be hearing from us soon, the moment you set at least five proper times around a WRC sanctioned track you can expect to get a call."
"Wait, what about my friends?"
"Hm." he nodded slowly for a moment. "Well we've had our eyes on both of them for a while. They'll likely join you after you've already been signed. Take care." he said walking away.
A few minutes later and an orange S14 reached the bottom of the hill.
Kenta ran to Takihiro and hugged him tightly, laughing.
Takihiro smiled at his friend and cleared his throat seeing that I had accompanied him in the passenger seat. "Can you give me a second?"
Kenta nodded and walked off as I spoke to him. "Six seconds. I'm not going to lie I thought you would've done worse than that, no offense."
"Look um. Nismo just reached out to me. But they said until I actually start in rally I can't get hired."
I looked at the business card he handed me. "Well that makes sense. The amount of money you'll need to even get started is a whole lot. You should be able to do it. I can help you, but just for a bit."
"Thank you Ryosuke. You have no idea how much that means to me."
I smiled lightly and walked on to speak to Yakuma who was sitting in the driver's seat of his Supra.
"Your car is lighter and has over 200 more horsepower." I said. "Even with inferior course knowledge you're going to win this."
Yakuma nodded. "Any advice?"
"Yeah. The same I just gave to Takihiro. Keep the throttle pinned down. You're going to be so much faster in the straights and in the corners. In the turns the speed difference will be smaller but it won't matter. You'll be able to finish this quickly, in the straights after the multiple hairpin section you'll leave him in the dust."
His opponent was a dark haired man in his late thirties, leaning on his red Z33 Nissan Fairlady Z. Ryuji Ikeda was looking at the times the crew had produced for him.
"Their pace on the downhill was absurdly fast." Ryuji mumbled. "The hill climb should be different."
He looked towards the white Supra. Ryuji nodded slowly to himself as a crew member spoke to him. "Nervous? They've outpaced every single driver they've gone up against since their first race."
"I would be nervous, if this wasn't our own hill." Ryuji said before getting his Fairlady in position to follow Yakuma uphill.
Yakuma's 2JZ-GTE dwarfed Ryuji's VQ35DE in revs. Both had twin turbos, but the 2JZ seemed to shake the ground with its monstrous 500 horses and well tuned frame.
"Four! Three! Two! One! Go!"
Yakuma got better traction off the line, holding the lead strongly as both cars smoothly began the race.
His twin turbos whistling, Yakuma held the gas down, shifting into second gear quickly as the 2JZ-GTE began to sing.
Up the first straight, a gap began to open up as Yakuma's JZA80 Supra held so much advantage in horsepower and grip.
Yakuma tapped the brakes and steered to the inside around a long hairpin that nearly doubled as two ninety degree corners.
Ryuji was able to close the gap a little here and the red Z33 drew closer, but it opened instantly by the same distance the moment both cars throttled again on the exit.
Ryuji continued to watch, again losing ground as the Supra was rocketing up the uphill looking like it was a fighter jet about to take off.
Into the next corner, when both cars began to brake, although Ryuji's car was heavier, the Supra had a worse line due to Yakuma not knowing the hairpins as well as his opponent.
The Z33 again closed the gap a little on the right hairpin's entry but on the exit the white A80 recovered the ground lost instantly.
'They must've spent a lot of money to do so much weight reduction on that Supra. There's no understeer when cornering, and the balance is all changed. But the driver, the way he understands his car. It's impressive.'
Controlling all 500 horses of his car perfectly, Yakuma never let the car slip despite its speed when needing to de-accelerate approaching the left hairpin.
With a light tap on the brakes, Yakuma cornered quickly and exited at full speed, Ryuji's Z33 in hot pursuit, although losing ground after every corner exit.
Their tires screeching as they flew around the left ninety degree corner, the crowd cheered from behind the guardrail.
Yakuma was flooring the gas and up the straight gaining even more distance on the Z33.
"First checkpoint! The Red Suns just opened up the gap to three quarters of a second! They're going in really fast into the hairpin section! They're already a second past the course record!'
Ryuji was able to keep up and even begin to close the gap a little on the entry of each turn, however, the Supra had so much better tuning and power that the gap changed in favor of Yakuma every time.
Still, Yakuma by no means was losing entirely on the entry of each hairpin. Ryuji had superior braking and timing but Yakuma was able to adapt well enough to the course to not let the Z33 get closer to the A80's bumper than necessary.
Yakuma gripped the steering wheel hard and turned after braking, sticking close to the inside and widening the gap again on the exit of a right hairpin.
Yakuma now began to get better traction on the entry of the next left hairpin, braking a bit later and getting a stronger line. While riskier, Yakuma was able to compensate with better steering and shifting.
Ryuji noticed this, and unlike the previous corners the Z33 was unable to close the gap at all on the entry, so on the exit the gap changed with much stronger favor to Yakuma's white Supra.
Ryuji tried applying more throttle and brakes to get better speed and do whatever he could to prevent the Supra from pulling away, however nothing worked.
Zipping past cheering fans as they cleared the last hairpin, a sharp left, Yakuma knew what lay ahead. The part of the course where Ryosuke told him he'd pull away.
Yakuma held the throttle pedal down completely. His foot flat on the gas, and with a car that accelerated much faster than Ryuji's Z33, the Supra's exit speed was much higher, and on the straightaway the gap began to widen quickly.
It widened more and more as Ryuji and Yakuma were both holding the accelerator down totally and it was a battle of horsepower and grip up the straightaway.
There was nothing Ryuji could do, the gap wouldn't stop widening as the Supra could reach its top speed much faster than his Z33 could and the Supra began to pull away entirely.
There was too much ground to cover in the twin hairpins linking the two long straights, and even trying his best to get the best line possible, Ryuji barely closed the distance between the red Z33 and white Supra A80.
Yakuma's gearbox clicked loudly and he flattened the gas on the exit again.
The crowd was cheering and watched as the Supra continued to win the uphill. "Second checkpoint here! Mito's Supra has over a second and a half lead going into the last high speed section!"
In the ninety degree corners, Yakuma now wasn't braking worse than Ryuji. His entry speed continued to improve to a point where Ryuji was equal in speed and stability when braking and turning, but on the exit the advantage remained for Yakuma.
Shooting out of the last corners smoothly and quickly, the Supra now was a full two seconds ahead through the remaining chicane to reach the finish.
Up the last straightaway before the pair of hairpins connected by a small straight before the finish line, Yakuma again stayed flat on the gas up the straightaway and pulled farther ahead of the Z33 yet again.
His tires screeching, Yakuma left the corners going for the finish line with far better speed than the Fairlady in all sections except the now equally matched corner entries.
Yakuma left the left hairpin and throttled hard, upshifting victoriously with the finish line in sight.
The A80 passed the finish line and a crew member spoke happily into his walkie. "The Red Suns just finished three seconds ahead of Ikeda! They've beaten the course record by four seconds!"
In Kanagawa, the mornings were bright and calm most of the time. At least they were for a black haired teenager of 16 who enjoyed sleeping in.
"Shinjiiii!" he heard a call from downstairs.
Shinji Inui's eyes opened slowly. He gave a quiet groan, looking up at the roof of his room, sprawled outward.
"Mr. Kubo's come to see you!"
Shinji sighed, rubbing his eyes. "One second mother!"
He walked downstairs with a yawn, greeted by the sight of the de-facto leader of Kanagawa's Four Line Alliance to stop the Red Suns.
"Shnji!" Eiji said happily. "We didn't see you at the race last night."
"I uh. Wasn't there." Shinji said reaching for a few sweets in his kitchen to start his breakfast.
Eiji looked at Shinji's mother. "Could you give us a moment?"
Eiji waited until he could hear her footsteps upstairs before speaking. "So how are things going for you?"
Shinji shrugged, starting to eat his breakfast. "Not too well. School is starting to get harder, most of my friends won't talk to me."
"I'm sorry to hear about that." Eiji then sighed. "Look we're in a tough position Shinji. For the first time in history, essentially unbeatable course records have been set over the prefecture. By a team from Gunma."
Shinji said nothing.
"I chose you and Go for a reason to be our last line. Not just because you're the fastest, but because should the Takahashi brothers lose you two would be the most likely choice to defeat them."
Shinji swallowed a bit of his breakfast. "What about Rin? Isn't he more experienced than me? Why can't he race next week?"
"I brought you on Sidewinder to be more than an apprentice. Shinji when you step into your 86, your father's 86, you become someone else. You become more than a racer, you. There's no other way to describe it. You become a part of your car."
Shinji frowned. "But, my father just made a deal with you right?"
Eiji shook his head. "I felt like I owed a debt to him after the incident. But I never would've put you on Kanagawa's top team if I felt you didn't deserve it."
Shinji again stayed silent before Eiji spoke. "If you really want to stay on the team and keep racing you have to come to training tonight. Otherwise, I'll have to make other arrangements. Think about what you want Shinji, and act on it."
His mother walked downstairs and spoke. "Shinji? Are you alright?"
Shinji finished his breakfast. "I think I know what I want to do."
"What is it?"
He looked towards a small shelf in the Inui household. A picture of his father sitting on the hood of the 86 holding a WRC Trophy, and dozens of other medals and trophies around that picture in his memory.
"I want to be Kanagawa's hero." he looked towards his mother and balled his fists. "I don't care if all the others who went up against them were older than me. Mr. Kubo picked me, and I have to step up."
His mother held back the tears and hugged Shinji tightly.
I was typing up the data necessary for the last simulation. The final race the Red Suns would ever have.
"Enter." I said.
"Hey." I could hear him close the door behind me. "So that it then right? We pack it up and break the team up for good?"
I shook my head, turning around in my desk chair to face him. "Not quite. There is one team left to face. As every race except the one against Purple Shadow has gone down, our speed in the straightaways on the uphill is too much to overcome. Your battle against Go Hojo is a win for us ninety four out of a hundred times. However, my battle will be far more difficult."
"Wait, it's just that kid right? What was he, fifteen?"
"Sixteen now. Nearing seventeen almost." I corrected. "This battle will be very unique. It won't be the most difficult race I have by far. But it will be the fastest in terms of pace, I'll be pushing the FC harder than I ever have. Harder than I did when I raced Joshima."
I rested my hands on the arm rests of my desk chair. "The simulation is very straightforward. The Tsubaki Line only offers a few key places for me to overtake and hold the lead. In order to win, I have to equip the FC just like every car we've used so far in Kanagawa has, an all out sprint. In terms of cornering speed, this will be the highest I'll ever reach on the downhill."
"But the kid?"
"See Shinji Inui knows Tsubaki better than anyone alive. Even as well as Joshima knew his course he never really grew up with it. Shinji Inui has spent about eleven years most likely being driven up and down the course. Its corners are incredibly fast, even the hairpins too. I'll be faster in the straights of course, but in the turns we'll be even enough for him to hold the lead."
I sighed. "My only advantage is experience. The 86 will be very fast in the corners, in my opinion, faster than Joshima in an all out sprint on the downhill on Tsubaki. This will be one hard all out battle. I don't think I'll lose, but I'll be pushing myself rather hard."
One week. There was one week left until I took the Red Suns to the Tsubaki Line. Keisuke would have his uphill battle with Go Hojo which would be one of the most certain victories we've had for a while, and I'd race the 86.
Technically the fastest downhiller in the series. While Joshima was technically faster, considering the age difference between him and Inui it really didn't count in my opinion.
If Shinji continued to race and practice until about the age of 22, or maybe 21, it's likely he could beat Joshima if they went all out on the downhill. There were very few natural born talents in the racing world who had as much Rally blood and potential in street racing like Shinji Inui, and I was battling him on a course he basically had ingrained into a part of himself.
I would race a racer similar to Takumi Fujiwara in many ways. Same car, virtually the same age and connection with his mountain, and same differences to me.
He held a certain speed to his turns, while I had a better discipline. I understood the lines better, I came in with a strategy while he would just drive.
On the Tsubaki Line's downhill, spotters from Team Sidewinder were measuring Shinji Inui's pace on every corner.
A Two Tone silver Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86 was going so fast through corners it appeared as though it was headed straight through the guardrail and off the mountain, but Shinji looked to be guiding it perfectly with complete control.
Go Hojo crossed his arms and looked at the computer logging all the times Shinji was setting lap after lap down Tsubaki's hill. "You certainly lit a fire in him sir." Go said to Eiji. "I haven't seen the kid train this hard in, well ever."
"Boys his age are probably more interested in looking cool to their friends and impressing girls." Eiji said calmly. "But Shinji's different. We may only have a week, but Shinji has a connection to this hill. His family history separates him from most other teen boys trying to street race."
Shinji controlled the 86' entry and exit speed through a hairpin so well and the 86' cornering speed was so high the crew members watching were having trouble believing their eyes, being forced to check their stopwatches for proof.
He continued to drive calmly downhill as Eiji went on. "I was part of Rally for a long time. That kid has racer's blood through and through. He doesn't seem interested in very much at all, at least from what his mother tells me. If he's here, trying this hard to improve for the race this weekend. Then I must've struck a chord with him."
The 86's N/A 4A-GE roared as Shinji appeared to be holding the throttle down for the entire run, and nearly during corners as well as impossible as it seemed to the crewmembers of Sidewinder, despite how slowly some hairpins needed to be cleared.
Shinji Inui was looking calmly at his own downhill, with only one thought on his mind. The car everyone kept telling him about.
'The FC. Akagi's White Comet.'
The 86' pace stayed strong on Tsubaki's downhill, and its driver kept pushing hard. For the battle he knew he'd have at the end of the week.