It’s like being transported into Best Motoring’s ‘Hot Version’ segment. This decades-old show is hosted by Manabu Orido, Nobuteru Taniguchi, and Keiichi Tsuchiya, and has a bit of a following worldwide. Thank you, YouTube, for the English captions. My favorite episodes feature the touge battles, where these three professional racing drivers flog sports cars on a black ribbon of mountain road. I guess growing up in Baguio City has something to do with my love of smooth, tight, twisty, and tree-lined asphalt.
Now I have to pinch myself because here I am in Japan doing the same thing—except with a few elements that make it seem even more unreal. I’m ripping it on the access roads that snake around the Sportsland Sugo with professional rally driver Yoshihiro Kataoka at my side. He’s calling out each approaching corner like he was reading out pace notes. “Easy left. Hard Right. Medium left long. Long. Long. Open. Open.” By our third stint together, we are going quicker and quicker, and braking harder and later before the sharp corners approach. I can feel the suspension underneath me being loaded as I ease into the throttle, and the delicate dance the car makes as I string together a series of easy-lefts and easy-rights.
“You are a very good driver,” he says, and I’m beaming inside. I respond by saying he is a good teacher, and he replies that I am a good student. The back and forth between us continues and I am feeling shy as hell. As we both exit the car and inspect it, he gets on one knee and touches the surface of the 275/35 R19 rear tire with an ungloved hand. It’s hot, he says with a smile. It is then that I know for sure that Kataoka-san isn’t pulling my leg. Someone pinch me, please.