This special guest Article is written by Vinod Jacob, an automotive engineer and a freelance journalist covering travel and automotive topics. Its about his visit to the Fuji Speedway which will be hosting the 2007 Formula One Japanese Grand Prix. While we all may be missing Suzuka, we gotta agree the Fuji Speedway is great track and its pretty too. In essence there cant be a better preview to the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix.
It was about six days before the inauguration of the speedway that I made a visit to one of the world’s most famed tracks. The bus dropped me at the Fuji Lane bus stop around 11kms from the Gotemba station. As I walked towards the west gate I could see numerous closed garages and even a transporter left rusting. However I could rarely see a few coupes stopping at some of the garages which were dusting back to normal as the three year old renovations of the speedway came to a close.
The main grand stand which overlooks the famed 1.5km straight gives an overall view of the entire pit building, the pit lane entry, the main control centre, the medical centre including the helipad and also the last corners. Behind the grand stand is the event square dotted with information kiosks and shopping malls and the Speedway boasts of 21 parking areas and 6 tunnels, good enough for the expected 140,000 spectators for the race.
The stand at the first corner will put the viewers closer to the action at the end of the longest straight. The view of the home straight from the first corner should stir up in any spectator the glory of the speedway.
Down the racing lane
Fuji Speedway inaugurated four decades back, was originally designed to be a highly banked super speedway. The removal of the dangerous oval banked turn brought the Formula One to Japan in 1976. That race run at wet conditions saw the championship finale between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Due to heavy rain and dangerous wet conditions Niki Lauda withdrew the race, leaving Hunt bagging the championship even after suffering puncture during the final laps. The 1977 Grand prix was won by James Hunt, in an incident packed race with Gilles Villenue’s car veering off-course killing two spectators.
The racetrack will see the cars go flat out at the 1.475km main straight, the longest of any Grand prix circuit. The first corner puts the cars hard on the brakes for a sharp 27R right hander and then will accelerate down towards the Coca-cola corner. Then the car takes a 100R sweeping right hander before braking into the hairpin.
Then the car accelerates downward towards the tight chicane at Dunlop corner, a possible passing point. Then it goes through the newly introduced section designed by Hermann Tilke, the Netz corner. Earlier it was a very high speed corner passing into the main straight. The Netz corner leads uphill to the last and the tightest corner in the circuit, Panasonic corner, an inside right hander leading to the straight.
It will be interesting to see the cars going on the straight braking for the pitlane entry which is at an angle. SEIKO will be the official timekeeper of the race.
Toyota’s breeding ground
The Fuji Speedway was bought by Toyota in 2000 as part of its plans for motor racing. More than a home circuit, it means a lot to it. During the 1935 Toyota’s first product, G1 truck was test driven through Gotemba and Susono when run from Matsumoto to Kariya.
The Higashi-Fuji proving ground at Susono-cho, around 30 minutes from Gotemba was opened in 1966 and was developed by Toyota to test faster cars as it started exporting cars. This proving ground has a four lane high speed 3.7km oval track to test for a maximum speed of 200kmph. It also has test areas for evaluating acceleration, handling and stability, turning and braking performance at high speeds. It does skid testing in icy and snowy roads and roads to replicate cobblestone, bitumen, grooved, corrugated, gutter dips and re-created roads with a dimensional precision as high as 1mm.
The Fuji Speedway has a drift course denoting Japan’s popularity for drifting, created under the supervision of the drift king Keiichi Tsuchiya. Nearby is also a gymkhana course where the drivers can freely test their skills.
The Fuji Lexus College inside the speedway campus is used by Toyota’s luxury marquee to impart and train the Lexus dealers and employees as it started launching the brand in the domestic market. The Safety Education block, mobilitas, conducts safe driving courses to stress the importance of safety in racing and for training of juniors. Inside the Speedway is also a short course mimicking a Formula One circuit with all facilities like pits, control tower and stands where anybody can try their cars out.
As in any Toyota event it wants its spectators to participate in this experience under the theme “Know it. Enjoy it. Feel it.”. “Know it” will feature a display of historic F1 cars which includes a comparative display of F1 car parts with that of regular passenger cars. “Enjoy it” will play host to photo poses in front of historic F1 cars finishing with a demonstration of tire change. “Feel it” will introduce to the fans a typical F1 car jack-up and will let them feel the weight of different F1 car parts.
Fans march to Gotemba
Gotemba is a city located at the foot hills of Mt Fuji. On any clear day the majestic view of the cone shaped Mt Fuji is breathtaking. But it is a city lost to the mountain as the trail from Gotemba is considered to be tough. However it is not going to be the same again as it is going to play host to Formula One’s 2007 Japanese GP. Red and white paper lanterns swayed in breeze in front of shops and houses as if to welcome the fans.
The Ferrari-Matsuda museum at Gotemba will play host to the Ferrari fans with collection dating back from 1940s to the latest Enzo Ferrari with cars like Testarossa, F-40s and F-50s, GTOs, Dino, Spyder and a beautiful Pininfarina designed Maranello. Also on display are old posters, brochures, awards, monograph and chronograph watches and clocks, mementos of pole position, podium finishes and the Tag Heuer collections.
The racing palace museum on the way to Fuji Speedway from Gotemba has a huge collection of racing cars of Renault, Ferrari and Nissan of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Bugatti and Lotus racing cars of the 1970s were also on display. An Aryton Senna section houses the F1 cars he raced, his collectibles and a video screening of some of his interviews and practice sessions.
Akin to other races it still remains to be seen whether the podium will be decided in the qualifiers or until the chequered flag is lowered. Hopefully it will remain as one of the toughest circuits which will put the team and their car to complement with the driver to as what Kimi puts it “getting everything right, every time”.