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Deja Fuji

Twenty-eight years ago I was standing on the roof of the main grandstand at Fuji Speedway in the October wind and rain of Typhoon Brenda, hanging onto the belt of my cameraman as we waited to film the start of the Fuji 1000 Kms, the seventh round of the 1985 World Endurance Championship, writes Mark Cole.

Fuji had been lashed by torrential rain from the moment we arrived at the track early that morning, and while FIA Sportscar Championship Coordinator Chris Parsons and the organising Victory Circle Car Club tried to save the race, the European drivers were voicing concern about the wisdom of starting.

Rothmans Porsche driver Hans Stuck – the acknowleged regenmeister – went out with the race director in the pace car (as it was in those days) and even he declared the superfast circuit unsafe for racing. It was reluctantly agreed that after 10 laps under yellows, the 14 European Group C cars and another six Japanese entries, Mazda included, would pull out of the race. 85,000 spectators had turned up – many queueing from the night before – disappointed not to see Porsche, Lancia, Jaguar and Sauber facing up to their home-grown heroes Nissan, Toyota and Mazda.

Only the locals raced on, their deep-tread Bridgestone typhoon tyres giving them the racers’ edge in such appalling conditions. Even so, the organisers threw the chequered just two hours and 62 laps into the 226-lap enduro, and Kazuyoshi Hoshino claimed the victory for Nissan, the first Japanese driver to win a world championship event. Like many, his factory team never employed its co-drivers, and in consequence, half-points were awarded to everyone whether they drove or not.

Fast forward to October 2013: Typhoon Wicha might have gone through Fuji midweek, but it still had a sting in its tail which lashed the Speedway on Sunday, only this time we didn’t even get a race. Just as in 1985, it was the spectators who lost out, despite every effort being made to start the Fuji Six Hours, and again half points were on offer to all, not just to the 29 drivers who splashed around in the safety car train.

I was not in Japan this time, but in South London, at British Eurosport with Carlton Kirby, waiting for the green light; our live coverage started just as the race was red-flagged for the third and final time, with only 16 laps completed, and all those were behind the safety car. Our 5am start and days of preparation ended with just 14 minutes’ coverage.

Perhaps I should have been prepared for it; I had been to see Ron Howard’s movie Rush last week, which climaxed in another typhoon at Fuji, as Hunt and Lauda fought out the final round of the 1976 F1 world championship. Lauda pulled out of that one, saying conditions were too dangerous. Thirty-seven and 28 years on respectively, little has changed.