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The Japanese Grand Prix

The Japanese Grand Prix

There is no getting away from it, a trip to the Japanese Grand Prix involves a lot of travelling and that’s before you take on the daily commute to Suzuka Circuit.

After a total of eighteen hours in the air split by a ten hour layover in Bangkok followed by a thirty minute train ride from Chubu Airport I arrived at Nagoya, my chosen base for the weekend. A city not on the tourist trail but with good transport links and enough about it to provide all that is needed, including a little sightseeing. I had the same journey in reverse going home except the layover in Bangkok ended up as twelve hours (congestion). And then there’s the eight hour time-zone difference to apply.

Public transport from Nagoya to the circuit is easy to follow and well-managed but with a variety of rail options it is best to do a bit of research in advance. My hotel was close to Nagoya station, therefore cutting down on the commute but from hotel door to circuit entrance still took up to two hours each way each day. For the record, I used the Kintetsu express train to Shiroko (51 minutes) which was a lot quicker than the stopper train, nor required the added complication of a seat reservation as per the faster Limited Express. I was hoping to see a bit of rural Japan on the train journey but it was built-up or industrialised virtually all the way.

At Shiroko there were shuttle buses to and from a drop-off near the circuit – a perfect example of efficiency and crowd management in how to move thousands of people in minutes in an orderly and controlled way. A contrast to the free-for-all chaos at Silverstone and Spa.

The trains were generally packed, commuters and school children joining the race fans, so I did have to stand all the way each day. From the bus park there is a one kilometre walk to Suzuka Fun Park which you pass through to access the circuit entrance behind the main stand. There were no security checks entering the circuit, the gates were manned/womaned by youths who simply marked my ticket with a pen, no electronic scanner, bag search or body frisk.

As ever, I had a general admission ticket which also gave access to all but the main stand on the Friday. So for the morning practice session I worked my way around the stands from Turn 1, through the Esses to as far as permissible – Dunlop Curve, Turn 7. All these stands provide a good view but those overlooking Turns 1 and 2 are a mighty long way back from the track.

General admission (West Area) is the area from just before the final chicane to the exit of Spoon curve and consists of several grassy banks, some with rudimentary wooden terracing or rows of plastic benches. It is linked by a tarmaced perimeter road and because of Suzuka’s figure-of-eight configuration you start off walking against the direction of track and then after the crossover, with the direction of track. The views between the permitted areas are screened off and marshalled to keep people moving which is a shame because there is no traffic, it is not congested and you are right alongside the track. The hairpin section is totally screened off and you cannot see it unless you make use of the grandstand – which I did for a time on the Friday afternoon.

The furthest point of the circuit and as far as you can go is Spoon Curve with variations in the amount of visible approach or exit depending where you stand.

Another general admission area alongside the West Stretch is reached by crossing under the track through a deep dark gully – quite spooky. It provides a lateral view of the cars on the straight, not very spectacular unless pure out and out speed is your thing, but I had to try it.

For spectators, Suzuka really is a circuit of two halves. The first part of the track is where all the stands (apart from the Hairpin), infrastructure and associated buildings and amenities are. But the general admission area is as primitive and undeveloped as could be. All the facilities are temporary – portable toilets, mobile catering and the odd tent for shelter. There are tannoys but no giant screens. The viewing though is good with plenty of room especially around the areas of Spoon Curve and Suzuka’s unique crossover where I amused myself for most of Friday afternoon trying to capture the perfect shot of two cars crossing each other.

If anyone wants to know what watching motor racing in the early 1970s was like then go to the general admission area at Suzuka.

What is not so evident from television is that because the circuit shape is generally long and thin, in places the outward and return legs run very close to each other, giving good views of both at the same time. Also the track is quite hilly and there is a lot of walking to be done, especially to the general admission areas.

The race programme was disappointing, with only a Sunday morning Porsche Supercup race as support and the Suzuka 30-year anniversary parade laps. Apart from some interviews with those drivers taking part in the demonstration (mostly in Japanese) there was no live music nor the street-style entertainment such as you get in Austin, Mexico, Sochi or Azerbaijan. An interesting circuit but overall poor entertainment value.

And a final warning. Although the temperatures were not excessively high the humidity was and with a lot of water in the vicinity the insects (probably mosquitos) left their mark.