Driver Frenzy at Autopolis

Written by Cheryl Tay on . Posted in Cheryl Tay Blog | Blog Post of Cheryl Tay

If you remember, three weeks ago I was in Kyushu, Japan for a media familiarisation trip and part of the trip was a weekend at Autopolis International Racing Course for the Autopolis Super2&4 2011. 

 

I have no idea why it is called Super2&4 though – the races held that weekend included Round 2 of Formula Nippon, Round 2 of the MFJ All Japan Road Race ST600 and Round 1 of the Honda Exciting Cup One-Make Civic Series.

 

I met so many different groups of people over that week-long trip – from JTB to Japan Race Promotion to the owners of Autopolis and of course the teams. There were so many driver and team interviews arranged for us and I had to juggle those as well as get out onto the track to shoot the races! 

259991_217591371608441_131620790205500_671372_3575413_nThe first interview I had was with the Nakajima Racing team. Founded and headed by Satoru Nakajima – Japan’s first full-time F1 driver – it is no surprise that both his sons are in racing as well. You probably would already know one of them – ex-Williams F1 driver Kazuki Nakajima. Now, Kazuki and his younger brother Daisuke are both racing in Formula Nippon. 

250436_217591474941764_131620790205500_671377_717003_nWhile Daisuke races for his father’s team, Kazuki is racing with the prestigious TOM’S team. He has always been supported by Toyota and returning to Japan to race has always been an option for him. Kazuki was waiting for a drive with new F1 team Stefan GP last year but the team was refused entry into the spot and so he ended up without a drive too late into the year, resulting in a one-year hiatus from racing.

248751_217591508275094_131620790205500_671378_7007224_nThe other driver for Nakajima Racing in Formula Nippon is Takashi Kogure who has been with the team for eight years. The 2010 Super GT champion and also the 2002 All-Japan Formula 3 champion, Kogure is 31 this year and hopes to win Formula Nippon and to win Super GT again.

254236_217591554941756_131620790205500_671380_5113972_nThis is Kogure! Can you see his abs through the t-shirt? Whoa!

252896_217591384941773_131620790205500_671373_2999928_nAfter that, this journalist came to interview me! You know, this Kyushu media fam trip was quite an experience because I kept getting interviews by their local news media! Upon landing at the airport I immediately was interviewed and then along the way we had these cameras interviewing us too! Satoru was laughing at me in the back, saying the roles have been reversed!

247436_217591751608403_131620790205500_671388_3928023_nIt was on to the Honda Civic one-make series drivers next. When I saw the name NOB Taniguchi on the interview schedule, I smiled because I already know him and have interviewed him on multiple occasions before. Like I said, I met him in Singapore at Carrerista Jamboree when he did drifting demos for HKS Garage R, then he was in Malaysia for the 12-hour Merdeka Millenium Endurance Race, at Macau for the Macau Grand Prix, at Fuji for HKS Premium Day and now here in Kyushu for the Autopolis race.

 

He recognised me too and said “Long time no see!” when he shook my hand, haha! During the interview, the translator was explaining the answers to me and Taniguchi’s eyes landed on my camera. He picked it up and then started playing around with it and even took photos of me! Here’s a shot he took:

249676_217591731608405_131620790205500_671387_7391929_nHe laughed when I looked up and realised what he was doing, and then he continued taking more photos. I think he’s a great guy, very professional in his job as a driver and has a fun personality too.

251151_217591964941715_131620790205500_671396_3259901_nNext I interviewed Takuma Aoki, a wheelchair-bound driver who started racing in bikes at a very young age but fell off his bike during testing in 1998 and had a spinal injury that caused him paralysis waist down. Though he couldn’t ride bikes anymore, he could drive soon after recovering from the incident but the authorities refused to grant him a racing licence and he had to wait for 10 years before he could return to racing. He loves 4×4 rallies and has taken part in the Asia Cross Country Rally as well as the Dakar Rally.

251326_217591811608397_131620790205500_671391_228806_nI interviewed Toshihiro Kaneishi next and he reminded me of a Japanese ‘pai kia’ (meaning bad boy) for the way he looks, talks and behaves. I asked him funny questions like if he had a son would he let him go racing and all that. He’s single and has no kids so he found it quite hard to answer.

254291_217592198275025_131620790205500_671402_8196269_nThe last Civic driver I interviewed was Shinichi Itoh who is a motorbike racing champion but races in cars for the fun of it too. He prefers racing bikes to cars anytime and has gone at speeds over 300km/h on his bike before, omg! Going over 300km/h in a car is already scary enough, imagine such speeds on a bike!!

I also got to interview both TOM’S drivers – Takato Iguchi and Kazuki Nakajima. Iguchi is very very cute and chirpy, a total delight to interview! He’s only 23 years old and he stopped studies after high school when he went on to Formula 3. He told me his parents are crazy about motorsports too and upon hearing he wants to race full-time, encouragingly said, “Ok let’s go!”

250458_217609148273330_131620790205500_671963_123650_nWhen I asked him if racing has made him more popular with girls, he was quick to shake his head and proclaim loyalty to his girlfriend. LOL!

247556_217599351607643_131620790205500_671657_4847202_nI had to wait for Kazuki because he was busy with the team engineers and the team is very protective of his time. I finally had the chance to speak to him and I must say, he is a very charismatic person. There are no airs about him and he was very honest in his replies, telling me that he wishes to be back in F1 and will do all he can to get back there. He also said he wasn’t great in his studies so racing was perfect for him!

249536_217598561607722_131620790205500_671637_385694_nAnd then guess who I interviewed? MATCHY! He’s called Masahiko Kondo and he owns a racing team called Kondo Racing (Yeah the team names aren’t all that creative.. Nakajima Racing, Kondo Racing…). He is famous for his singing but used to compete in races for the fun of it and when he stopped racing he decided he wanted to do something for the industry and hence started his own team.

248976_217599468274298_131620790205500_671661_2565389_nWoo! Pit walkabout time… which also means race queen time! I like the third girl from the left… she’s just soooooooooo hot and pretty and sweet!!!

251296_217599411607637_131620790205500_671659_5165471_nI felt quite overwhelmed standing with them… felt totally off!

251316_217593658274879_131620790205500_671461_2356292_n

If you look closely, the logo on this race queen’s outfit is SG CHANGI! Yes they sponsored a team in Formula Nippon as well as in Super GT. Here in Singapore construction stopped due to lack of funds and a whole series of other incidents, but there they are sponsoring money for people to go racing. Not sure what deal is being cut there but it doesn’t look good!

251181_217593634941548_131620790205500_671459_5376337_nWOW this stand is so totally for me man! I wanted to buy the t-shirt that says THINK PINK but they didn’t have it in my size so I only got some stickers, boo!

251701_217592668274978_131620790205500_671422_4740724_nThere was a pit walkabout specially for kids only and it was so so cute seeing big groups of children walking around the pits getting photos and autographs of drivers.

248661_217592831608295_131620790205500_671428_5147926_nI found this boy especially adorable! He was with his father but he knew how to go up to the drivers and get their signatures or to take a photo with them. 

254856_217592324941679_131620790205500_671407_1148379_nThis photo was accidentally taken during the pit walkabout. I was shifting my things around and then I snapped the shutter unintentionally, but the photo turned out cool!

254071_217593474941564_131620790205500_671452_4174221_n

255646_217593391608239_131620790205500_671449_1281907_nI thought this photo was very scary! It’s like in memory of him or something.. but he was somewhere inside the garage…

253481_217592448275000_131620790205500_671412_7229512_n

I’m not sure if that is his mum? LOL.

 

I paid more attention to the Formula Nippon and Honda Civic one-make races instead of the motorbike one, but was on the starting grid just to snap shots anyway.

260486_217598708274374_131620790205500_671642_6459623_n

I also went around the track to take photos of the Formula Nippon and Honda Civic races. I was the only female photographer out there and it didn’t help when it started pouring!! I forgot my rain gear so I had to wrap my equipment up in multiple plastic bags and towels, while I shivered in the thin plastic raincoat I had on. Well, the price of good photos is never too high!

253506_217598364941075_131620790205500_671631_7053402_n247213_217608471606731_131620790205500_671931_4473398_nNOB Taniguchi won the Civic one-make series in the wet, followed by Kaneishi in second. 

 

The Formula Nippon race was an interesting one. Still damp from the rain, the cars started on wet tyres but the track seemed to be drying up and rain didn’t seem to be imminent so drivers like Kazuki Nakajima and Kazuya Oshima came into the pits after the first lap to change to dry tyres. The rest of the grid only came in after a few more laps. Gaining that advantage, the first place battle was left between Nakajima and Oshima. Nakajima was slowly but surely closing in on Oshima and he finally took him in the final few laps. 

251046_217630944937817_131620790205500_672218_3773327_n252576_217630908271154_131620790205500_672216_7371037_nYou should have seen how happy Nakajima was man.. He was practically waving that “No. 1″ finger non-stop! He said during the press conference that he used to find it interesting how Sebastian Vettel always does that whenever he qualifies in pole or wins the race but now he totally understands how it feels like to do it and he couldn’t stop doing it either!

253560_217632211604357_131620790205500_672276_1361918_n248969_217632234937688_131620790205500_672277_7727769_nI waited until the whole press conference was over and for all the interviews by the local media to be completed before I spoke to him. He was simply overjoyed as he last won a race in 2006 so it has been a long time since he stood atop the podium. 

247835_217632258271019_131620790205500_672278_7128001_nI felt very happy for him because he is genuinely a nice chap and it was great that the strategy paid off for him. When I asked if he is thinking of winning the entire championship, he went, “Whoa not yet, I don’t wanna think about the championship now. It is my first time in Formula Nippon and I will just focus on doing the best I can at every race.”

260326_217599551607623_131620790205500_671663_1316630_nI was brought up the hill so we could see the entire view of the circuit… Wow it was cold up there but the view was amazing! Thank you Autopolis for a wonderful weekend…

 

To read my interviews of the Civic one-make series drivers, get issue #11 of 9tro later this month.

To read my interview of Kazuki Nakajima, get the July issue of Autosport Asia.

Cheryl Tay

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Singapore’s only female full-time motoring and motorsports photojournalist. Independent automotive consultant and prominent local motorsports personality Cheryl Tay is uniquely passionate about all things cars and motorsports. She also has a strong passion to share her interest and knowledge, hence having a dream to become the ‘Oprah Winfrey of cars and motorsports’ and create a multimedia platform for her sharing. - A female in a male-dominated world, Cheryl Tay is Singapore’s only female full-time motoring journalist and motorsports blogger and she regularly writes for prominent titles in Singapore, Asia and internationally. (See full list of titles that Cheryl Tay writes for here.)

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