Amid safety and health concerns, earlier this week, INDYCAR announced that they will indeed return to Japan to run round 15 of the championship. The caveat to the news is the race will be staged on the full road course, as opposed to the egg shaped oval that has been the site of the 13 previous editions of the event. Motegi track officials have expressed concerns over the racing surface of the oval. The pavement has apparent waves in the corners (Ed: Think Pocono), making the thought of running an indycar at 180 miles an hour… scary. With supplies and labor extremely limited due to repair efforts from the March 11 disaster suffered by the country, the Motegi Facility will not attempt to fix the surface in the near future. The decision was made by series and track officials to instead stage round 15 on the 2.98 mile road course.
The series opted to go ahead with plans to run the event as scheduled. For INDYCAR and team owners, this is the largest payday of the year. Honda foots the bill and shells out a very large sanctioning fee to bring the series to its private test track annually. With the fragile state that indycar racing is in right now, I don’t think that anyone in the series can say no to such a large monetary windfall. Concerns about the safety of the area in regards to radioactive contamination are being publicly spoken, and justifiably so. Moto GP had already postponed their April 24 race date to October 2 because of the same concerns. Formula 1 will visit Suzuka on October 9. How safe is the Motegi area right now? I have no idea, and the media would lead you to believe that it really isn’t that dangerous in the area outside of the exclusion zone around the plant. The pilots of Moto GP and F1 have also voiced their concerns about the safety of Japan. Some have been on the record to publicly state, we do not want to go to because of the radiation. We can take peace in that divers and riders are prima donna’s, and you can’t trust a word they say. I do however, trust our series, not Formula 1 or Moto GP, officials to make the right decision based on the information they are given. If Randy Bernard and his posse think it’s safe to go to Japan, then let’s go.
The egg shaped Twin Ring Motegi oval has never produced stellar racing to my knowledge. Add to this, the green flag dropping between 11 pm and midnight eastern, and it’s no wonder why this race has never had many supporters. The decision on whether to even make the final trip to Motegi had to be made soon. Tires, fuel and I am sure a few other things are shipped by sea to Japan for the race. Only people, cars and pit boxes are flown across the Pacific. The trip by boat is not a short one, taking two and a half to three weeks to complete. Given this lead time for such important items to the running of the race, INDYCAR could not drag their feet about the decision.
The move to the road course has been lamented by fans across the interweb. I do not think the race will be too bad. Yes, the course was originally designed with motorcycles in mind, but the designers actually still had indycar in the backs of their heads when putting the facility together. The track is designed in a start/stop style of construction; long wide straights, followed by tight turns, followed by long straights. The track is wide throughout and a nice rhythm section leading to the long, downhill back straight. This design has been knocked by Moto GP riders due to its fragmented and odd flowing nature. This is a layout that will complement indycars. When I first saw the new layout of Edmonton, it immediately reminded me of the Motegi road course. The worst aspect of this switch is simply the loss of balance to the schedule. This represents a two race swing towords an overweight road and street portion of the season.
I have already said that I think that it’s a bad idea to stage indycar races outside of the Americas. For once though, this is a more than worthy cause to make the long trip. Plus Japan needs this. The misgivings about the configuration can be overlooked for the simple gracious gift of international motorsports to a country with a rabid fan base and rich history in the automobile world. Japan also has, most likely, had a large hand in not letting the series die over the past few years. Honda and Bridgestone, the daddy company and the one who let firestone race by approving budgets, have pumped huge amounts of money into our cherished sport. As long as safety is concern number one, I don’t see any reason not to go and give Motegi one final race as thanks and social support to a wonderful nation.