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Posts Tagged ‘Toyota’

An earthquake in Aichi

November 4, 2009 Leave a comment

The last two days have seen Bridgestone and Toyota both confirm their withdrawl from F1. This, with the laughable likelyhood of Sato, Nakajima or Kobayashi finding a drive next year all but guarantees that we will soon be seeing the unthinkable: a complete absence of Japanese participation in the sport.

The consequences are dire. The Tokyo Motor Show (coverage of which is delayed due to these events) was another indicator that, at least in the domestic market, the Japanese auto industry is no longer clinging to the edge – it has let go.

The issues with F1, specifically, are not
limited to the Japanese teams. Were it not for the prop of middle-eastern investment, the whole F1 circus would have come grinding to a halt years ago as costs escalated. Toyota’s inability to control costs to the parent company owes much to the rigidness of an organization fixed to a corporate parent.

The same applies to BMW, and it’s clear that, moving forward, the large automaker as F1 team owner is an unsustainable arrangement.

In that sense (as in many) Toyota will not much be missed. But the vacuum its absence leaves is hard to swallow as a source of national pride. Toyota was relevant as the last Japanese team, in a series that in April 2008 featured three, with more than a third of the grid powered by Japanese engines, the whole grid shod in Japanese rubber and with two Japanese drivers. In a country where perception is everything, this is a crushing blow.

One imagines the possibilities if Honda’s management was braver a year ago…

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Motorsport Japan 2009

October 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Tokyo is not the best place to be if you’re a fan if motorsports. Japan’s great circuits are hundreds of kilometers away, and none have any public transit access. Roads are narrow and clogged, expressways astronomically priced, and parking a scarcity. Even the famed midnight club was limited to a single stretch of highway.

Just don’t tell any of this to the people of Tokyo.

The Nismo Super GT GT-R abusing its tires

The Nismo Super GT GT-R abusing its tires

What can be found here is the Motorsport Japan festival in Odaiba. An aborted future metropolis in the center of Tokyo bay, Odaiba alternates between high rise condominiums, sprawling malls, broad car parks and vacant lots left fallow. It’s a surreal place, and a testimate to how hard it is to accomplish anything in Japan, even when the conditions are perfect.

But with all its open space, it makes the perfect venue for a festival of motorsports – easy to access, easy to park, central, and with plenty of space for exotic race machinery to spin donuts and shred very expensive rubber.

The event is sponsored and supported by all the manufacturers, but was typically a service to Honda’s (many) and Toyota’s (few) F1 fans. The vacancy of the former for 2009 – along with a truncated lineup of demos – greatly reduced this year’s turnout. But with plenty left to see, and fewer people getting in the way of seeing it, 2009 made for a solid showing.

Demonstrations included EVs and fuel cell vehicles doing their best impression of speed, along with Japan F3, Formula Nippon, Super GT cars and a TF107 piloted by Kamui Kobayashi.

Particularly noteworthy was the LF-A of Gazoo Racing, which failed to complete the 24 hours of the Nurburgring. Shortly to be unveiled in production at the Tokyo Motor Show, the long in gestation LF-A screamed with one of the finest exhaust notes I’ve ever heard from a production car, and looked as nervous at the limit as an unsettled chihuahua  – one twitch away from casting itself sideways into the crowd. Should be a monster to drive, but I won’t be finding out – we’ll see how many Arab sheiks bury theirs in the sand.

The Gazoo Racing LF-A

The Gazoo Racing LF-A

More noteworthy for me was the appearance of the MP4/5: its engine alight but stripped of its bodywork, the throttle being operated by hand, a team of engineers in attendance. It was akin to seeing your your childhood hero in a wheelchair – still filled with life, but helpless to use it. I believe the purpose of keeping old cars is to have them run from time to time, but apparently Honda disagrees.

The event is a reminder of just how much motorsport activity there is in Japan, at all levels – children darting about in karts, flyers advertising turnkey packages for spec series, rally bred Subarus and Mitsubishis, fire-breathing Super GT monsters. For everyday people, the opportunities abound.

It’s the people who sit atop the pinnacle of Japanese motor sport – and here, I speak of Kazuki Nakajima and now Kamui Kobayashi – who leave me uninspired. Beneficiaries of nepotism and corporate benevolence, I find it hard to believe that the pair have really earned their place in F1 from amongst all those who struggle through the ranks in Japan’s various series. When Toyota team principal Tadashi Yamashina strolled onto the stage to announce Kamui’s forthcoming grand prix debut, there was hardly a reaction – even polite applause was scarce. The only audible gasp was mine, and more for the consequences for poor Timo Glock, whose future in F1 swings in the balance. I trust other more competitive teams will be rushing to give him a drive, but it just reminds me that for Toyota, their aim is less to win and more to be present, regardless of what they say.

Kazuki Nakajima and Kamui Kobayashi speak to the crowd

Kazuki Nakajima and Kamui Kobayashi speak to the crowd

All that aside, the access at this year’s event was exceptional. I’ve never been so close to the drivers, the cars, the engineers – I felt like a kid in a candy store, everything within reach. So who says we don’t have good motor sport in Tokyo?

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