It seems like only yesterday that Hiromu Naruse was showing me the highlights of his latest creation, the MRS hybrid sports concept. That was six years ago. I can still remember his quiet voice and those piercing eyes that made you hang on every word he said.
Exactly how the accident came about on 23 June that killed Naruse and seriously injured two occupants in a BMW 3-Series near the Nurburgring will reveal itself in subsequent police investigations.
But for now, the motoring world in Japan and abroad is just trying to come to terms with the loss of one of its brightest and most experienced stars. Toyota’s CEO Akio Toyoda, who considered 67-year old Naruse a life-long mentor, wrote in his blog, “In Germany, at the Nurburgring, driving an LFA… Naruse-san has gone to that holy circuit in the sky. His spirit will live on inside my heart. We will pick up where he left off and continue to make better cars. Naruse-san, thank you and farewell.”
As Toyota’s chief test driver, Naruse’s enthusiasm and passion for his work was infectious. He had entered Toyota in 1963 and rose through the ranks to take the hallowed position of chief test driver by the early 90s. The ‘Nur Meister’ as Ferrari had named him, was involved in the development of nearly every major car from Toyota for the last 40 years. From the legendary 2000GT to the Celica, the MR2 to the Corolla AE86, the Supra to the Lexus IS, his DNA flows through many of Japan’s greatest cars.
In the end, it was the Lexus LFA that became his swansong performance. More than ten years in development, Toyota’s fastest and most expensive car finally got the kudos he had sought when it won the SP8 class in this year’s Nurburgring 24-hour race.
His enthusiasm and desire to succeed knew no bounds, something I witnessed when he visited our team in the pits at the 24-hour race as we prepared to do battle in a Lexus IS-F. Always wanting to impart his vast knowledge and experience and nurture a new generation of engineers, Naruse advised our mechanics on suspension and aerodynamic settings that helped us the finish the race and place fourth in class. When we thanked him after the race, he just smiled and nodded and said, “Well done.”
As chief development engineer for the Gazoo Racing Meister of Nurburgring project (a tribute to Naruse), he was a powerful force in Toyota’s plans for a new generation of sports cars. But while he will not be here to see the fruits of his labours, Naruse’s special touch will live on through the GRMN lineup.
When they made Naruse-san, they broke the mold. We will never see the likes of Toyota’s master test driver ever again. No Japanese driver has done more Nurburgring laps nor influenced the development of more cars than Naruse-san. He made a huge mark on Toyota’s handling and performance prowess and his loss is profound.
Farewell, Naruse-san. It was a true honour to have known you and raced with you.