Saturday, 26 September 2015

Love Suzuka … hate Nagoya

Date: September 26th 2015

Weather: Hot and a little sweaty … I think I got a little sun burnt.

Mp3 track of the day: Flash Gordon – Queen (the song featured on the circuit's chosen music list for the day … honestly)

- Friday 25th September 2015 -

Now; when I usually start one of my holidays, after finishing school on a Friday, my first lines indicate that there was some kind of rush … that I couldn't wait to leave school … that I was battling against all the elements. Not this time. I casually finished work at around 4pm and said goodbye to all of the other teachers. I may have even left school late, I can't remember. I proceeded to walk home at a leisurely pace and, once home, I checked the days news. Today, I would be boarding the 9:30pm night coach to Nagoya. I had planned on leaving my apartment at around 8pm; giving me three and a half hours to eat dinner, check my emails and relax. I even had time to, sort of, get ready for bed by taking a shower and brushing my teeth after eating dinner. At 8pm I unplugged all electrical equipment and locked my apartment.

I arrived within the centre of Sendai at around 8:30pm. I walked to the bus centre and waited forty-five minutes for my coach to show. Before leaving my apartment, I'd gone onto '' and order the latest novel in the 'Wars of the Roses' series. Conn Iggulden is quickly becoming my favourite author and 'bloodline' – the third novel in the 'Wars of the roses' series – was released yesterday. I eagerly turned on my Kindle and read the first chapter, which basically reminded me of how the previous book had finished. Once that chapter had been read, my coach arrived and I got on.

When the Japanese do a night coach … they really 'do' a night coach. All of the seats were separated and had plenty of legroom. The driver was partitioned from us passengers by a huge curtain which stopped all light from disturbing our sleep; each passenger also had their own curtain so that they could also create their own area. I reclined my chair as far as it could go and was surprised to find that it was almost horizontal. Once I'd worked out that it was better for me to use my blanket as a pillow, rather than as a blanket, I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately.

- Saturday 26th September 2015 -

The coach stopped three times on our journey. Each time I woke up and peered out between the join in the curtains to discover that we had stopped at a motorway service station. When the coach stopped the first two times, I eagerly got my shoes on as a toilet break, plus a walk, was very welcome indeed however, neither came. I couldn't understand why we had stopped if it wasn't to allow us passengers off for a toilet break. Guessing that the stops were either mandatory breaks for the driver – or they had some stuff to deliver – I unlaced my shoes and fell back to sleep. When we stopped for the third time I had grown wise to this phenomena and kept my eyes shut … only to discovered that this was a rest stop for the passengers. I quickly got on my shoes and headed into the toilets to freshen up before arriving in Nagoya.

The sun was rising and after a further hour of driving, the coach stopped within Nagoya's bus station (located right next to Nagoya's train station). Nagoya is Japan's forth largest city and 'functional' would probably be the best word to describe it. Unlike most cities in the UK, the surrounding motorways all feed into the city and are elevated above it using bridges and stilts. This means that, though Nagoya is one of the ugliest cities I've ever visited, it's also the only city where, after making one right-hand, and one left-hand turn, you end up off the motorway and at the cities bus station.

I had a few jobs to do in Nagoya before taking the train to Suzuka. First of all I had to find my hotel and drop my 'night bag off'. Then I had to get some breakfast, withdraw some money, respond to a 'call of nature' before finally finding out where the train, bound for the Suzuka circuit, departed. I have to tell you now that, only the 'bag dropping' went like clockwork; what follows below is a report of pure anger, frustration and amazement.

My hotel was a good twenty minute walk from the train station. This I knew when booking it; I had done so because it was the cheapest room left in the whole of Nagoya (and it still cost me nearly £50 for a night). With my trusty map I found the hotel with ease and left my bag. I then proceeded back towards Nagoya's train station.

Nagoya is Japan's forth largest city. Formula One is a 'world championship' sport and had been coming to Japan for over thirty years. There was not a single poster, sign or person, within the whole of Nagoya's station, which helped with getting an anticipated 50,000 people to the Suzuka formula One track. Nothing in English, or in Japanese. The stations information centre was shut and wouldn't open for another two hours. Same could be said for all shops bar McDonald’s and for the ATM I wanted to use. As for the toilet situation; I queued up in one of the stations 'facilities' to discover that there wasn't a single western toilet (I walked to another toilet block where I found a western toilet). After eating at McDonald’s – due to lack of choice – I found the first person who looked official and told them to come and help me. Finally, with my train ticket bought, I made my way to the platform to discover lines upon lines of people dressed in every F1 racing teams colours from present day, all the way back to the 1970's. Though the majority of people were Japanese, a hell of a lot of people standing in these queues were foreign and I did feel sorry for them; for me to get this far, I'd had to use Japanese … I wondered how these other people had managed to get here. Finally a ridiculously small train arrived and I squeezed myself onto it, leaving a few people to wait for the next one. The train then proceeded to stop at eight places before arriving at the Suzuka circuit train station, even though everyone wanted to go and see the race … and that no one else would fit onto the train.

It took almost an hour to arrive at, what was effectively a bridge with a small platform. I read the sign in the middle of 'said platform' which told me that this was indeed the Suzuka circuit train station. If Nagoya had been a master class in 'how not to organise transport for a major sporting event', then Suzuka was the opposite. As soon as I left the train people in high-visibility jackets directed me to a ticket gate. This ticket gate split people up into 'different train ticket groups' which allowed for a faster exit. I was then greeted by a person, every one-hundred feet, pointing in the direction of the circuit … flags were also lining the streets all the way to the circuit (though ironically, none of this was needed as I just followed the huge crowd of people in front of me).

After a twenty minute walk I arrived at the gates to the circuit. Before arriving I'd past temporary car parks where farmers and businessmen a-like were touting to a continual moving line of cars – also heading to the circuit – to use their car park. Drivers had to be wary; parking could cost them anywhere between £16 and £32 for the day! Finally, heroically I presented my F1 ticket to a gate attendant and, once she had drawn a blue line on my ticket, I was allowed to pass.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with F1 and F1 races; it's more than just a ninety minute sporting event. An F1 weekend starts on the Friday and finishes on the Sunday. There are the F1 practice sessions, qualifying and of course the F1 race itself however, there are also support races and, away from the track, there are usually some other acts including bands, mini-race tracks and the occasional theme park. Suzuka is my third race. I have been to Spa, Belgium – which had most of the above – and Shanghai, China – which had hardly any of the above and it felt as though there was a lot of confusion over what the sport actually was. Even though F1 has few Japanese fans compared to Europe, the Japanese were still putting on a great show. There was an amusement park close to the track, a stage where interviews were taking place, music, a Red Bull DJ, old classic F1 cars on display, lots of merchandise stalls and many food outlets. It was a real, proper, F1 weekend and though some Japanese people looked a little shell-shocked, I dived right in looking at everything.

I spent quite a while looking at the merchandise. So far, I've come away with a programme from every Grand Prix I've been to and, I was determined that this wasn't going to change therefore, for my first act, I bought a programme which, I agree would have been better to get at the end of the day however, I didn't want to risk them being sold out. I then looked at boxes of cakes I could buy for my work colleges and small gifts for closer friends. I had also budgeted £130.00 to allow me to buy a 'Mercedes jacket'. Ever since Lewis Hamilton changed teams I've wanted some new clothing and I felt as though a light-weight jacket would be seen more often than a t-shirt however, when I looked at what was on offer, I felt that a t-shirt gave better value for money (which meant that I could also afford to buy a new baseball cap). None of this mattered at the moment as I had failed to get any cash out in Nagoya; I had hoped that the circuit would have had an ATM. It did … but there was no English option. I therefore found myself looking at things I would buy on Sunday.

Once I could look no more, I walked in the direction of my seat. It had been hot and humid all day and, not to put a to finer point on it but, my back was covered in sweat for the second time today. My seat was located at 'point D'; this – for those of you that know the circuit – is after the first corner and is located at the start of the three 'S-bends'. Once I found my seat I knew that I had struck gold; to my left, I could see all of the way down to the first corner and, to my right, I could see the track go up towards Suzuka's famous tunnel. I sat down feeling rather pleased with myself.

The time was around midday and I still had another three hours before qualifying started. Within those three hours was one practice session however, that still left two hours with very little to do. I didn't mind though; my feet were hurting therefore I just sat there, flicking through my race programme (which was in Japanese), trying to 'de-sweat' my back. Occupying the seats around me were a mix of Japanese, American, New Zealanders and some Brits. The foreigners were located in front of me and, it would appear, that the Americans and Brits formed one big party. It would also appear that, for some of them, this was their first Grand Prix and, most probably, the first race they had ever seen. I made this assumption based on two striking pieces of evidence; firstly, a British woman had to explain EVERYTHING to some of her party (which surprisingly, didn't really get annoying). Secondly, when a drivers time is shown on the 'timing board', only the first three letters of the drivers surname are shown (so for example, HAM means Lewis Hamilton). One of her party guessed that BOT meant Botterchelli – instead of Bottas – which even made me smile.

I mentioned above that an F1 race is a three day event. Well, Friday and Saturday morning only consist of practice sessions. These sessions are, quite frankly, boring and that's why I never head to a circuit on a Friday. The practice session occurring in front of me was no exception; I took a few photos, watched how close the cars got to the kerb and listened to the engines as they went past (quieter than in the past plus, the Honda engine sounded awful). Though my mother would tell me off, I found myself listening to other peoples conversations throughout the practice session as, sadly, I didn't have anyone to talk to. This all changed after the practice session had finished. I went to the food stores to consume a delicious – but over-priced – hamburger and get another bottle of coke; Once I returned to my seat, the Japanese lady next to me said – in Japanese – that it was okay for me to lie my umbrella down under her feet. I said thank you and, once she realised that I could speak a little bit of Japanese, a full conversation flowed which, admittedly, was lead by me and I hope I didn't annoy her.

Due to getting and consuming lunch, plus chatting to this woman, the time between the final practice and qualifying flew by. I glanced at my watch and realised that today's main event was about to start. Hamilton headed qualifying one, with Rosberg leading qualifying two. None of the major players had been knocked out in either of the first two qualifiers therefore, the excitement was building up to a great final. Finally, qualifying three started. I watched the drivers do the start of their qualifying lap. Lewis had gone quickest in sectors one and two however, with a mistake in sector three, he was only second fastest. After the traditional 'qualifying three lull', the drivers took to the track once more. Lewis was pushing hard, setting a blistering time for the first sector before disaster happened. Up ahead of him, the Russian Red Bull driver had put one of his tires onto the wet grass by mistake. This meant that his car was placed into an uncontrollable slide, the result of which saw the car rolled and smashed into many pieces. The driver, thankfully, was okay however, it was too dangerous to complete 'qualifying three' therefore, the rest of the session was cancelled and Lewis had to settle for his first recorded time.

I sat down, feeling a little robbed by the accident. Most formula one fans would agree that the final lap of qualifying three was 'the lap' of the day. This was when the drivers would be going at their maximum, hitting every kerb with the aim of going as fast as possible and, for me, on this day, I was robbed of this lap by an accident. I wasn't sad though. As the drivers final 'race positions' were confirmed I smiled. A few drivers had 'under performed' meaning that their fast car was further down the grid than it should have been. With the possibility of rain, the race tomorrow was starting to look as though it could be epic and I was hoping, with every bone in my body, that it would be Lewis who found a path through the carnage that would surely occur tomorrow.

With the qualifying over I looked at my watch and discovered that it was 4pm. All around the circuit, scores of people could be seen getting out of their seat and making their way to their nearest exit. The foreigners close to me decided to stay put which, looking at the crowds, was a very sensible thing to do. I, on the other-hand did vacate my seat but not with the intention of leaving the ground quite yet. I wished the Japanese lady sitting next to me a pleasant evening and told her that I think that I'll have a walk around the circuit … and this what I did.

The Suzuka circuit is very, very long; it therefore took me a good half an hour to battle my way past the tide of fans heading for the exit and out into freedom. Evidence of fans watching the qualifying could be seen in all directions though, not because of rubbish; due to the hundreds of bins lying around the circuit, the place was relatively clean. Foot prints, banners and flags had been left in place ready for tomorrow. As I walked around the track I found a few fantastic spots to watch the race from however, for most of the time, my view was restricted by temporary fencing covered in white plastic sheeting. I could hear that a Porsche race was happening and I managed to get a few glimpses as I walked.

Sadly, I discovered that I couldn't walk all the way around Suzuka's '8-figure' circuit. I had covered about seventy-five percent when I came to the end of the path. In front of me was a slightly wooded hill. I therefore turned around, content that I'd seen as much of this circuit as possible. The time was about 5:15pm and the amount of people, heading to Suzuka's train station, had reduced to a small trickle. Once again everything was well organised; I bought my ticket from one tent before joining a smallish queue. In front of me I could see the platform; there were scores of people on the platform already, each person designated a carriage. Just to my left, people were lined up in rows. Each row was given a number which married up to a train carriage. The trains came pretty quickly and I soon discovered that, my walk around the circuit, had meant that I'd missed the rush and I found myself joining the last major group of spectators heading back to Nagoya. All-in-all I waited for about twenty minutes before I boarded a train and was on my way back to Nagoya.

The train made a lot less stops than this mornings train however, the amount of time saved was minimal. I therefore arrived in Nagoya at around 6:45pm … almost an hour after I'd left the Suzuka train station. I got out some cash, inquired as to when the first train left for Suzuka tomorrow and fought my way through the crowds and out of the train station. As I walked to my hotel I contemplated getting the earliest train; I didn't need to get to the track quite so early however, missing the morning rush was quite tempting. That whole idea came to an abrupt end when I got to my hotel to discover that breakfast started at 7am.

My room is okay; the bed looks comfortable and the bathroom is clean however, it is very small. I put on the air-conditioning and walked out of my hotel room almost as soon as I had entered it. I went back to reception to inquire about restaurants within the area. Apparently, If I wanted foreign food or tempura, I would have to walk back to the train station. Being totally shattered I opted to head to my local convenience store and pick up a boxed lunch, a cake and some ice cream. My hotel was a twenty minute walk from the train station and, apparently, there were no restaurants close-by. Though I thought it impossible, I soon discovered that my hatred towards this city grew.

I consumed my dinner and wrote this blog before noticing that the time was 10:30pm. I switched off my PC and went to sleep, dreaming of the endless possibilities and, when all was said and done, hoping that Lewis would be standing on the top spot of the podium.

Come on Lewis!

Toodle Pip!

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