Even though we're in the middle of the off-season for racing, the action still continues on tracks throughout Japan. Wintertime usually means festivals, and everyone who's anyone in the world of Japanese motorsports likes to throw circuit-based parties to thank their loyal fans for their dedication over the year. These last few months alone we went to track days from companies like Nismo, HKS, Honda and now Toyota.
Specifically, Toyota Motorsports put on a fan appreciation day in late November last year similar to what Honda Racing did for its fans on its Thanks Day (/articles/anmviewer.asp?a=2854&z=43). It was held at Fuji Speedway and drew some 30,000 to the famed facility to celebrate Toyota's 50 years of participation in auto racing. On tap was a full day of events put on by Toyota drivers and guest riders from Yamaha.
Believe it or not, Toyota's first attempt at racing was not in Japan. The company decided to take the leap into motorsports by participating in the Round Australia Trial, an endurance rally across the country of Australia. Toyota sent two drivers from Japan and recruited a native Aussie to act as their navigator in one of their Toyopet Crown Deluxe Sedans to conquer the Land Down Under. Even though they did not win, Toyota did become the first Japanese auto manufacturer to complete an overseas rally.
Toyota invited 2000GT and S800 owners to come out and display their vehicles, and 28 GTs and eight S800 took up the offer. Not only were they set up to show in the main pit area, they also got to make a lap around the famous Fuji circuit.
Toyota Motorsports paid tribute to its past, but also came out flexin' some contemporary muscle with a few of its latest technologies. Two F1 cars participated in the event, with the actual factory works driver Jarno Trulli and official test driver Kamui Kobayashi behind the wheels.
Toyota staged a really cool relay race for event attendees. Two teams of drivers lined up on the starting grid, in addition to several pairs of race cars. The first pair of cars was a set of Nürburgring touring cars, the second duo two GT300 MRSs, third was Formula Nippon cars and the last pair was GT500 SC430s. After taking their respective laps, each driver had to jump out of the cars to a certain spot on the track before the next driver could take off.
While Super GT cars were taking hot laps, we got an exclusive on-track bus tour. All of the Toyota-backed Super GT cars were circulating around Fuji while we were in a coach getting a tour from an actual Super GT driver. He was pointing out various braking points and giving everyone some insight on driving a Super GT car.
In between the tour guide's personal comments, live radio communication between our guide and approaching drivers was going on over the transport's PA system. Our tour guide would ask passing drivers questions and everyone on the bus was privy to some very entertaining responses coming from inside the race vehicles. As the one driver sped away, another would come up next to the bus and start in with his comments. This had to be one of the best ways to watch race cars taking flying laps ever invented.
An A-list of drivers came out to perform a well-synchronized drifting performance on the main straight away at Fuji. The list of drivers included Manabu Orido, Nobuteru (NOB) Tanaguchi, Yasuyuki Kazama, Ryuji Miki and Yukio Matsui. Besides a small fire at the end of the exhibition, everything went smoothly.
Not only did the Super GT cars come out on track for the bus tour, they participated in a 20-minute exhibition race. All of the GT500 SC430s and the GT300 MRSs took part in a mock battle in front of 30,000 fans. After witnessing a couple off-track excursions, it became apparent that these guys were pushing their cars to the limits.