I've not been back since I raced here in the 90's, and what a transformation the whole Fuji area has gone through over the last 18-20 years. The city itself has grown and been cleaned up with a much better infrastructure and international flavor to it. This is obviously something that's both good and bad. Before there were no places you could go and find a menu in English and that made for a very interesting experience every time you went out for dinner or to buy some groceries. You still have those small 'mom & pop' places but, in general, you can find a more international menu, if not in the English language, at least with some representative pictures of what you can expect to get served.
The race track has also gone through a complete rebuild and design. The first six corners are the same, but after that it's a completely new layout with much more stop-and-go, and first and second gear corners. The corner leading onto the front straight away before was flat out in fourth or fifth gear, depending on what car you were in, at speeds well in to the 100 mph's. Now it's a second gear corner with much less speed. The facility itself has got new garages, new modern world class suites and all other amenities F1 standard requires.
As far as the fans, nothing has changed here. They were as enthusiastic and excited as I remember from back in the 90's. The racing fan in Japan is not just very educated on the cars, teams and drivers with statistics etc., they also are extremely loyal to their favored manufacturer and or driver/team. The atmosphere is more like at a hockey and or college football game in the United States with the fans singing, cheering, waving flags, playing drums and other instruments. It's really an event that everyone gets into 100%. What's fantastic to see is that there is a great respect between the different fans and they respect and accept the rival manufacturer/driver win, even if it's not their favorite. You never see any fights or crazy acts from a pure Japanese race fan.
For me, it was great to be back. I never thought anyone would remember me from the 90's, but I was wrong. I had many people come up asking me to sign pictures and merchandise from when I drove for "Mugen" and wanted to have pictures taken with me and their kids. This got me to realize how fortunate I am to have been able to do this for such a long time. And it was very amusing to my teammate and team owner who reminded me that I had to be pretty old having such long time fans!!!!
The race itself was another good result for us at Krohn Racing with a second place finish. We had a good, reliable car after have had struggled a little in practice to get the rear tires to last through out a full stint. But we made some changes before the race after the warm up that made that much better. Since there are so many first and second gear corners, this race was very much about being able to conserve the rear tires and we ended up doing a good job of that. Tracy had another good, solid drive at a new track he never seen before.
It was a great feeling for me to be back at Fuji Speedway and see all the improvements that had been done, and to be able to stand on the podium at Fuji again after so many years, together with my Krohn racing teammates.
Now I get to go home for about a week before we head out for China and the last WEC race for the year.
I'll be back telling you another story in a few weeks. Till than be safe and careful and take care of each other. Thank you for your support. - Nic