Kyou wa, Peter-san wa Doko?

Where's Peter Today?

10th Oct 2004: Day 4-- Suzuka Formula 1 Race Day

After Super Typhoon 22 passed by Suzuka, there was a real worry that the circuit might have been damaged and the race would have to be abandoned altogether. Fortunately, the eye of the storm had veered away from Suzuka (to reek havoc 40km elsewhere), and the stadium survived unscathed.

It was decided that all the qualifying could take place in the morning and the race proceed as planned in the afternoon.

We set off early to Suzuka, in a clear and sunny morning. The temperature climbed to a unexpected high of 30oC and the circuit was jam-packed to the rafters with crowds, eager to see their hero, Takuma Sato, race his BAR Honda with our own Jenson Button.

Qualifying went fairly well, with Takuma taking 4th place on the grid, just ahead of Jenson in 5th. Meanwhile, the McLarens that I also support were languishing down the field in 8th (David Coulthard) and 12th (Kimi Raikkonen).

The race itself was fairly uneventful, everyone getting through the first lap without mishap. From our seats in area G, by the S complex at turn 6, we could see all the way down to the end of the start-finish straight, turn 1 and through to where we were. The place was jam packed but despite there being over 130,000 spectators, it was strangely quiet. The Japanese are the quietest race on Earth. When the cars were going round, the crowds sat quietly waiting their favourite cars came round. They waved their flags enthusiastically when they did but there was none of the jumping up and down or shouting that you'd usually expect. Indeed, having seen the seething masses on TV before, I'd expected them to be pretty crazy but the exact opposite was true.

A few of the crowd supported other teams, like Ferrari, but most were for either Honda or Toyota, not least because the whole of the main grandstand was filled with employees from one or the other manufacturer. Behind me, I did spot a girl with two flags--another McLaren supporter.

In the end, Sato's 3-stop strategy didn't quite pan out and Jenson beat him to 3rd place on the podium by leap-frogging him with a 2-stop strategy. The crowd was ecstatic all the same. Their man had come 4th, the highest finish for a Japanese driver since Aguri Suzuki finished 3rd at Suzuka in 1990. Kimi Raikkonen finished 6th, a good result given that he started from 12th, while David Coulthard had a coming-together with the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello and both went out of the race. Michael Schumacher finished 1st (predictably) and his brother, Ralf, embarrassed fellow Williams driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, by finishing 2nd to his 7th.

We sat around after the race until about 5pm, when the worst of the crowds had filtered past the narrow gap to the main grandstands and then did a bit of shopping at the stalls, meeting with some eccentric characters along the way.

The journey home was pretty amazing as well. Those who fail to see why there is a fun fair at Suzuka (you can see the giant ferris wheel from the race circuit) soon realise why it is there when they attend a race. Because of the size of the crowds, it makes sense to stagger people's journeys home. So rather than the mad dash to get out that happens at the British GP, the Japanese crowds sort of drift away as there are plenty of other amusements to keep them occupied for a few hours after the race. Even so, the roads were grid-locked and the queue to get on the trains stretched for about 300m from the station.

Thoughtfully, the JR staff had set up a special ticket booth at the end of the road to make sure everyone got their tickets sorted out before reaching the station and organised separate queues for the various destinations to keep everyone in their right place. They filtered people going up on to the platforms so that they didn't get over-crowded and laid on lots of extra trains to keep the queue moving along. In short, we couldn't fault their organisation.

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Prepare For Take-Off

Day 1 -- Tokyo

Day 2 -- Mikawa-Anjo

Day 3 -- Nagoya

Day 4 -- Suzuka F1

Day 5 -- Kyoto

Day 6 -- Kyoto

Day 7-- Himeji Castle

Day 8 -- Kurashiki

Day 9 -- Hiroshima

Day 10 -- Nagasaki

Day 11 -- Nagasaki

Day 12 -- Kagoshima

Day 13 -- Kagoshima

Day 14 -- Tokyo

Day 15 -- Tokyo

Day 16 -- Tokyo

Homeward Bound

View the day's photos