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The First Trip To Japan, A WEC Diary

Sam Tickell's experience travelling to Japan for 6H Fuji

When I got the opportunity to cover the World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Fuji, I jumped at the chance. It presented two new things to me. 1, going to Japan and 2, going to the WEC.

I had covered the European Le Mans Series some 10 years ago but given the closest WEC race to my house is a 10 hour flight away I had never been able to make a race.

I had also never been to Japan, usually heading onto Europe when I travelled overseas.

When I landed it was immediately clear that I was somewhere quite different. I didn’t even have to get out of the airport to realise that I was in the East. The Customs staff were so polite, efficient and enthusiastic. This was a theme that would dominate throughout, at the circuit and the cities.

My first few days were spent in Tokyo with RadioLeMans’ Jacki Wornock and a few F1 journalists that were left over from the weekend’s Grand Prix at Suzuka.

japanese-pagoda-tokyo

It was a fantastic eye opener to the city. The bars, the great food, meeting Godzilla, playing a little inner-city baseball. There was also time for a little bit of Mario-Kart. I took a race win, so score one for the sportscar guys!

godzilla-tokyo

It is a city that has to be experienced to be believed. We explored markets that were full of every Japanese item you can think of, and more that you can’t. There were ice cream flavours that even Mr Wonka ESQ would never have thought of. And tradition sits nicely in amongst the lights and the noise, the city that really ramps up as the night draws on.

But the track beckoned. A trip to Fuji Speedway with my pals from dailysportscar, Radio Le Mans and elsewhere.

If you understand where I live, Toowoomba, I have to travel more than 1000km in any direction to get to an international standard race track. And that is not a Grand Prix level one, so this is something to behold.

The Mountain was obscured by cloud on the first day we got there but the garages were open, the teams were busy and there was work to do. The news never stops and this race was no exception.

We did however find time for a track walk, Stephen Kilbey and I formulated our weekend ahead and waited for Graham Goodwin to finalise our plans.

There was a lot of fun with Andrew Hall and David Lord documenting my first experience of this circuit.

One quite amazing experience was a trip to the old banking. Thirty degree banking, entry at more than 200km/h with changes in topography as it goes through. So much skill needed, so much heartache experienced there. It was eerie and spiritual. Well worth a trip. Take a look online at the racing there, you won’t believe it. Fuji Speedway deserves a pat on the back for preserving it.

old-fuji-banking

Quite frankly, I couldn’t wait for track action which would come the next day. I had Practice 1 off so I could go and take in the first 90 minutes as an eager spectator.

It was immediately clear that there had been an awful lot of progress since I had last seen these cars. The noise was there as I remembered it. Though the speed was much higher than I remembered. The whole experience saturated every sense you have.

porsche-night-pit-stop-practice-fuji

Nothing can beat it.

The weekend went on, interviews happened, Webber announced his retirement, news was found. Nights were late, mornings were early. But, it was all an adventure.

You work hard and play hard. Dinners full of laughter at Japanese BBQ restaurants. Late night escapades to Sake bars were a must. The locals were very welcoming, if a little confused as to why people would visit Mishima, the town that housed my hotel.

Then the race, again I had the start of the race off, so I could watch from the stands, well worth the trip, but it was the start of an amazing race. The best LMP2 race on record and an incredible LMP1 event.

I doubt there has been a better WEC race.

But sadly things must come to an end and so did this. So a return to Tokyo. There was a plan to scale a part of the legendary Mt Fuji but weather prevented this on the Monday.

gg-drive-through-tokyo

So Tokyo and a dinner at Outback Steakhouse, an ironic trip as the dinner party held three Australians. But more touring came. Seeing more the sights, the gardens, a birds eye view of the city, and amazingly, Mt Fuji.

tokyo-market

I can certainly say this won’t be my last trip to Japan and I will be at more WEC rounds. And Asian LMS and Super GT if I have my way. But until then I will have to make do with other motorsport as I won’t be able to make the year ending rounds.

But don’t feel too bad for me, I round my year out with WRC Rally Australia.

Mission 2017 awaits.