January 29, 2023

Best Canopy Tents

Exquisite Automotive

Getting An Itch For Racing At The 4 Hours Of Fuji

On The Grid

The problem with events like the GP1 4 Hours of Fuji, is that it makes me want to get my own car out on track for a good thrashing.

OK, so it’s not exactly a problem, but more of a prod of motivation to get Project GC8 track-ready. My WRX is perhaps not all that well-suited to the sweeping bends of Fuji Speedway, but Tsukuba is definitely in the crosshairs.

Fuji Speedway is more of a GT circuit, and it’s where I attended the final bout of the 4 Hours of Fuji pro-am endurance race a couple of weekends back.

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I was invited by Hiro-san, owner of ACR Aston Martin, who specializes in making carbon fiber body kits. He was out testing some new bits and doing some PR photoshoots with his Vantage N24.

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After qualifying Hiro-san was first in class, which was the NA Super category for over 2.5L, over 300PS, and slick or radial tyre-equipped cars. The noise this Aston makes at full throttle through the valleys and along the straights of Fuji Speedway is utterly glorious.

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The grid for this 4-hour race was eclectic mix, mostly GT cars but with a few Hondas, Mitsubishis and Subarus thrown in for good measure. It just goes to show, you can engineer anything to go around any circuit if you put your mind to it.

I tried not to look directly at the M3, but it did have a strangely commanding presence…

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This canary yellow Levin was a highlight.

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With drivers tucked away in their oven-like cabins and team posing completed, the grid was cleared in time for a late start. I’m not sure I could bear four hours in a race suit and helmet, but the drivers didn’t seem too fazed. The teams were pretty pumped too.

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This was my cue to find some good trackside vantage points. I’d never actually shot a race at Fuji Speedway before this, but the entire track is pretty open so finding a spot was relatively easy.

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As I crossed from one side of the circuit to the other, I walked through the pits to see the teams make adjustments to their cars before they hit the tarmac again. I was expecting more pit action, à la  F1, but this really wasn’t any kind of serious competition.

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The GP1 4 Hours of Fuji is a race hosted by Japan Racing Service, and is intended for privateers and professional racers alike to come and test their machines and hone their driving skills. It’s also a great place to get some PR photos or videos for sponsors and other promotions.

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Amongst the amateurs and semi-pros, there were a couple of big guns stretching their legs on this day. Audi Japan had a few of its privateer teams running tests on their GT300 and Super Taikyu cars.

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Here’s an RS3 LMS TCR, sold by Audi as a complete competition-ready car designed for customer-based racing. This one is owned by a local dealership, and I can only guess that it was being used by a customer for a private race day.

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It’s a great solution for those who want a racing experience, but don’t want to maintain and store a car. I’m sure it all comes with a premium price tag, though.

In the next garage were a couple of machines on another level.

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This is one of two Audi R8 LMS cars that make up Team Hitotsuyama – an Audi Japan-sponsored team since 2014. But actually, team founder Mikio Hitotsuyama has been racing in Japan since 1990.

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He began in an M3 in the All Japan Touring Car Championship, before progressing to a GT300 machine and then on to the GT500 class in a McLaren F1 GTR. Hitotsuyama-san has also been behind the wheel of a Ferrari 550 Maranello, an Aston Martin DBR9, 997 Porsche GT3 RSR and the incredibly cool Zytek 05S, a modified Le Mans car originally built by Reynard Motorsport.

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The R8 LMS only ran a few laps, spending most of its time sitting up on air jacks undergoing some laptop diagnosis. It all looked very serious.

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Shintaro Kawabata, meanwhile, was on the track for the full four hours of racing. Lap after lap, this Super GT car absolutely dominated. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was lapping most cars, which is not surprising given the NA V10 pushes out 585bhp through its air pressure-controlled 6-speed transmission.

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I get the feeling that Kawabata-san is a bit of a superstar for the team, probably because he brought them a long-awaited victory in 2020 during Round 6 of that year’s Super GT300 championship.

That’s the glory that teams like Hitotsuyama are striving to achieve, and days like this are perfect for getting some endurance practice in.

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Even though it was unbearably hot and humid, I’m glad I made the trip down to Fuji Speedway. Not just because it was fantastic to see such a diverse bunch of drivers and cars doing what they love, but also because it was a long overdue reminder to get my own car on the circuit. After all, that’s what it was designed to do.

As with any motorsport event, the cars that people drive to the events are always worth a look, so I’ve included a quick walk around of the carpark for your enjoyment below, plus some more images from the event itself.

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_
tobythyer.co.uk

Gallery

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