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Archive for October, 2010

‘That’s’ my loaner?

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Just a quick post for now; while I promised an upcoming review of the new Honda Insight I was supposed to receive as a loaner car, I’ve been given a 2003 Honda ‘That’s’ in it’s place. Not entirely the substitution I was looking for, but it will give me a chance to make some pretty interesting comparisons between a very traditional architecture and a very modern one, the old turbocharged E07Z four valve engine and the new P07A two valve iDSI engine and some other changes. Initial impressions: the JC life has a much more sophisticated interior, smoother ride but feels, overall, less like a car if that makes any sense, while the That’s reminds me of my old Integra. Let’s see how it pans out over a week, with a full write-up to follow.

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Japanese Grand Prix wrap-up part 1: A circuit walk-around

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Welcome to part 1 of my Japanese Grand prix wrap-up! My goal is to give a sense of what it’s like to attend a grand prix in a country whose fans are renowned for their knowledge, enthusiasm and civility, and at a circuit that is a perennial favorite amongst drivers, journalists and fans alike. It’s a tribute to Suzuka and all the people who attend this great race.

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Seriously atmospheric

 

I’ll start the same way I started the weekend – by walking all over the place. Due to the additions of an awful lot of seating during its two year absence from the F1 calendar, all ticket sales are for assigned seating – no more general admission to be had. Recognizing the need for a bit of variety, though, the organizers came up with what is to my mind an absolutely brilliant concept: open seating on Friday. Excluding the main stand (section V), every area of the circuit was open to anyone, meaning that I was able to watch FP 1 from stand D at the esses, FP 2 from Stand Q2 at the Casio Triangle chicane, and check out every other seating area in between. What’s more, following the end of the race, the VIP stands opened up as well, leaving those who stayed a chance to watch as the mechanics hurriedly packed up for what was, at the time, an uncertain trip to Korea. Thus I had the chance to, in one weekend, sit in every seating area at every curve in the entire circuit, with nobody hassling me to see my ticket. Pretty neat, yeah?

So with no further ado, we’ll begin our 5.807 KM journey.

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Looking back on the main straight

 

Stand A offers fantastic views of the start, as well as the mess that tends to happen at the entrance to the first corner. Looking west, you get a clear overview of the pit lane exit, to the east is the long sweeping first and second corner complex, and the Kamui Kobayashi cheering section set up in stand B2.

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A great overview

 

From stand B, you can take in one of the most technical sections in modern F1 racing, with the decreasing radius turn 2, the esses and the anti-banked curve 6. You also get great glimpse of the famous ferris wheel, and of the paddock, which is far less exciting without the motorhomes from the European season.

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The esses

 

Perhaps the most challenging element at Suzuka, the esses reward precision – a mistake at the entry multiplies with every curve, while accurate braking can help a driver carry tremendous speed. Stand D is a simple concrete affair poured directly into the side of the bank, but it’s in an ideal location, close to the paddock tunnel and the best eats at the circuit for this event, with local delicacies such as garlic pork steak (四日市とんてき – Yokkaichi tonteki), Matsuzaka-beef buns (松坂牛まん – matsuzaka-gyu man), Ise Udon (伊勢うどん – a kind of thick wheat noodle in light sauce), and of course Suzuka takoyaki (鈴鹿たこ焼き) a kind of fried octopus ball covered in sweet sauce, mayonnaise, powdered nori and dried fish flakes. Seriously tasty!

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Local gourmet

 

The esses are followed by the the Dunlop and Degner curves, the latter of which sits atop an embankment and has no stands at all, regrettable as it had a propensity for picking up McLarens at this grand prix.

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The crossover

 

A double apex right-hander, it bears the name of an East German motorcycle racer who competed for Suzuki after defecting from his home country, and suffered a horrific crash there in 1963. A surprising amount of speed is carried into the second turn of the complex, and a lot can go wrong with a very agressive curb ready to catch out anyone trying to cut it too close. Paired with 130 R which runs parallel to it, it’s one of the most dangerous spots in grand prix racing.

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The hairpin

 

The circuit then dips under the crossover, and off toward the hairpin, site of some heroic maneuvers by Local hero Kamui Kobayashi. Astonishingly, he hadn’t raced the circuit in seven years, having spent most of his youth racing in Europe and in the GP2 Asia series (which doesn’t include Japan, which has it’s own second tier racing series, Formula Nippon). I stand is a great place to get pictures as it’s the slowest part of the circuit as well.

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200R from the gridwalk

 

Following the hairpin is 200R, gateway to the lightning quick west circuit. A lap of Suzuka requires a driver to shift mentality, first technical and precise, then fast and flowing, and this latter section is exemplified by Spoon, a multi-apex high speed thrill ride where an accurate line will let a driver get on the gas and blast down the west straight, gaining tremendous time in the process.

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The main grandstand

 

It’s also a great place to take in the race, so long as you don’t mind walking – from the main gate to N stand can be a 45 minute trek, and there’s little in the way of food or drinks. Still, the atmosphere is unique – it seems more like a rally stage, isolated and disconnected from the rest of the race.

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The Casio Triangle

 

Seating is sparse along the west straight, but through the infamous 130 R, G stand east provides a unique view. Best of all, however, is the Q stand at the Casio Triangle chicane, with a view to the west of the 130 R exit and to the east toward the last corner and down the main straight. Here the cars are close and moving slow, overtaking is a real possibility, a giant screen and leader board keep you in touch and the stands themselves are new and feature individual seats. It’s also vey close to the last corner gate, and a great way to get into and out of the circuit.

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The view from Q2 stand: Shiroko and Ise Bay

 

The top of these stands, and also the V stand on the main straight, also offers a great view of the Ise bay (伊勢湾 – ise wan and the Shiroko (白子) district of Suzuka city. It’s about as picturesque as Japan gets – only the ubiquitous power lines detract from the view.

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The main straight

 

Finally we reach the main straight, and seating V, which runs up to and straddles the finish line across from the pit complex. Newly rebuilt and considerably more modern, the V stand has great facilities at the entrance, luxury boxes up top, a full roof providing some shelter from the famously capricious weather and a big array of video displays, which are unfortunately necessary – the racing as seen from the main straight is the most dull to be found anywhere on this remarkable circuit.

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The main grandstand

 

What you do get is the most comfortable seat in the house, and the chance to watch all the goings-on in the pit lane, along with the champaign shower, the grid walk and, dare I suggest, the grid girls as well. Which might make it worth the perilously steep premium one pays to get in.

So that, in a nutshell, is one lap of Suzuka from a fan’s perspective.

Keep an eye out for part 2 for a recount of some of the action, and some insight on just what it is that makes this grand prix such a special event.

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Anybody for a swim?

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I come to you now not from my seat at the entrance of the Spoon curve but from my slightly less than waterproof tent, mostly because my rain gear proved less than a match for FP3’s weather, and it’s raining an awful lot more now than it was then.

Watching Glock go off was about the only highlight, and precisely the moment he did, a very rude child arrived in the row in front of me, standing on her seat and blocking my view of it happening.

I’m now hearing a the distinctive rumble of an AMG V8 in the distance, so I presume they’re having a think about conditions. But I’ll be watching qualifying from my car’s navigation system, if this downpour lets up enough to make a dash to my car!

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FP1

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment

See Lewis run. Grabbed with my iPhone!

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Greetings from cloudy Suzuka!

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment

And here we are, at the esses in stand D on a cloudy, humid morning and just half an hour from FP1. Weather prospects are not bright, and I expect to be making good use of my rain gear, particularly for what promises to be a wet qualifying. Shall we cross our fingers for a mixed-up grid?

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We made it!

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

It really did take all night, but I’ve arrived in Suzuka none the worse for wear and ready to set up camp (literally) and head to the circuit in time for FP1. Given that I’ll have slept all of 20 minutes during the night, don’t expect any stunning insights.

On the other hand, with open seating on Friday, do expect a pictorial tour of the circuit and facilities when I return. And as Friday may be the only dry day of the weekend, I’ll be taking as many shots as I can.

Coming up next: Can I remember how to pitch a tent?

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Suzuka-bound

October 5, 2010 1 comment

Call it a sabbatical. Or a hiatus. A long vacation. But from now, I’m back in business, with some really good stuff coming up:

First off, the Japanese Grand Prix is less than a week away, and things have already started coming together at the circuit. In a marvel of planning, the company which operates the area’s major expressways has decided that now is the time to shut down half of the only highway which connects Tokyo to Nagoya for repairs, so it’s going to be a long tedious drive, but come Thursday night (just 60 hours away) I’ll be loading up my minuscule transporter with camping goods a’plenty and heading to Suzuka. Armed with a gaggle of cameras and a solar iPhone charger (no lie!) I should be able to do a decent job of updating things from the scene.

In a way, this is the perfect convergence of my interests on this site: A cross-country driving adventure, a world class motor sports event and a chance to be in commune with the automotive public at large.

Also forthcoming: this month will provide the opportunity to do a one week extended test drive of the Honda Insight hybrid, and we’ll see what kind of replacement it makes for my tiny little Life (and whether it can actually better its real world mileage). Regrettably, this comes because my life will be a week(!) in the shop having its first major repair. I managed to correctly diagnose my air conditioner compressor as faulty, but thankfully it will be covered under warranty.

That’s all for now, but look out for a brief flurry of activity in the next weeks.

Oh, and one more bonus – it seems child seat reviews will be coming under the purview of this blog, so expect a roundup to be coming sometime before March of next year.

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