YOKOHAMA, Japan – Tatsuhiro Shibata's tempered but sonorous voice booms in a way that people hang on his every word. His garage, R31 House, is widely respected in Japan, specifically for its focus on the often-overlooked R31 Nissan Skyline from the late 1980s. Here these Skylines gain a second life guided by pure passion. And Shibata is the master.
He can talk about his passion projects at length with the warmth and familiarity of someone who deeply loves and understands his machines. But he prefers to let his cars do the talking.
"I was born into a racing family," he says. His garage's brick walls are a non-descript backdrop where his race cars pop with wild reds, yellows, and orange digital-camo livery. "As a kid, I was used to the smell of oil, gasoline, smoke, and dust. I was either going to grow up to be a racer or build race cars."
His hands run along his most beautiful creation yet: a 1,000-horsepower (or more) INFINITI Q60 drift car that's the crown of the Shibata Drift Racing Team.
For the uninitiated, drift racing is more about style than speed. It's about how sideways the cars can get in the turns, how close to the edge of losing control racers can skirt. Drift cars slide wide on tracks with millimeter precision like a choreographed dance amongst the chaos of screeching tires and roaring engines at redline.
Bringing this INFINITI Q60 to Shibata's garage for its monster-powered makeover was no easy feat.
"To put it simply, I wanted to compete with a good-looking car," he says with his hands at his waist. It's arresting commentary from someone who's so mechanically inclined, and the thick callouses covering his talented hands prove as much. "(The Q60 is) the best-looking car within the … INFINITI lineup. But they didn't sell any in Japan, so we had to go to the U.S. to find one. It's simple: I just wanted a good-looking racing car."
Just outside Shibata's garage are lots full of cars that he's collected since he was in his early 20s. More than four hundred cars line the yards, behind steel gates and spread among tall, wheatgrass. They're all waiting for their moment to be selected by one of Shibata's customers around the globe and then painstakingly restored to their former glory.
The Q60 may be an outlier here among hundreds of boxy Nissans from nearly 40 years ago, but all the cars in Shibata's care have a purpose. He crafts and creates his cars for fans, perhaps partly to offer what his father gave to him as a child.
"(My father) would race at Suzuka every weekend, and he would take me with him, in this," Shibata says, standing outside his garage next to a vintage Nissan Sunny dressed in identical race colors as his top-tier INFINITI drift car. "I always wanted to drive the car my dad drove, but then I thought, 'If I am going to drive it, I want to drift it.' And so, we painted the INFINITI, Skyline, and this Sunny in the same colors, to drift them all at once."
Shibata's cars are known the world over for their attention to detail and rarity. His creations have inspired others in Japan, and his shop makes highly detailed scale-model, radio-controlled versions of his racers for fans in Japan and abroad for their own drifting adventures.
True to Shibata's craftsmanship, the RC cars aren't flimsy toys. They're carefully crafted, high-power machines themselves, able to produce smoky tire burnouts and sideways slides. The garage transforms into a small-scale racetrack for the RC cars for bragging rights among staffers at night.
Koudai Sobagiri joined the garage radio-controlled drift Grands Prix as a kid. At 14, Sobagiri quickly climbed the ranks in Japan, dashing garage hands and dispatching with other children in local tournaments. Shibata took Sobagiri to Taiwan and Malaysia to compete, where he dominated.
"Around the time he was 14, he told us that he wanted to race a real drift car and become a champion when he was older," Shibata says. "And so, he grew up, we hired him here, and he started racing real drift cars. And last year, he finally made his D1 Grand Prix debut."
Sobagiri drifts the INFINITI Q60 with the exacting touch that his experience gives him, but his younger age belies. Unlike others in their 20s, Sobagiri respects the high horsepower of the Q60 drift car — upward of 1,300 horsepower in a race-day tune — and navigates carefully among the rolling clouds of tire smoke.
Celebrating the passion that Shibata has for his Q60 and the human connection that makes INFINITI special, a unique drift course was created for Shibata — and Sobagiri. Near the automaker's Yokohama headquarters, INFINITI rewarded Shibata's passion with a playground for a night.
As Sobagiri drifts his car along the waterfront on a cold night for the cameras, the INFINITI that Shibata built scatters symphonic exhaust notes and blowoff valve chirps throughout the crisp night air. Shibata selected the INFINITI Q60 not just for its looks but also for the car's potential. Under the hood of the red and yellow Shibata Q60 is a V-6 turbocharged engine, unlike anything found in a showroom or on the road. The heart of Shibata's drift machine is a custom-build, force-fed, fire-breathing extravaganza, carefully assembled to deliver one thing: earth-shaking power.
"When we got the car, we saw it was well-built, and it had the potential to become a potent race car," Shibata says. "I mean, the moment I drove the car, I knew 'OK, this is going to be a competitive car.' When we shook the car down, the raw potential the car had was on another level."
Sobagiri says filming the special event was nerve-racking, but intensely special.
"With a car as solid as this, I knew as long as I didn't make a mistake, the car wouldn't be unpredictable," he says. "I felt much better once I was driving."
"The (car) was incredible, and the film crew were a very motivated, intense group of people," Shibata says. "It was like filming a movie scene — something I'd never experienced before."
The film — a scorching tribute to the high-octane passion Shibata has for his cars and INFINITI — doesn't have any dialogue. His cars will do the talking.