One Last Motegi Rant…

FYI: This is a rewrite of an article I posted back in June containing about 40 percent new material. I have a bit wider audience now days so I figured I’d stand on my Motegi soapbox one last time.

Its seems the searing wound caused by the format change from oval to road has subsided a bit, now attention is focused on the safety of the paddock. Danica recently went on record about her personal concerns about the radiation to her health. Although many of these comments are a bit off target, she still voices concerns that, I am sure, are not hers alone.

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 one of the largest paydays 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? The media would lead you to believe that it really isn’t that dangerous, if at all, in the area outside of the exclusion zone around the plant. The FIM financed a very extensive radiological study of the area and concluded that it was absolutely safe for the series to run the track. Doug at Open Paddock wrote a very good article about the radiation levels in Japan in comparison to amounts we all receive on a daily basis. He concluded that the risks are minimal at best.

The decision on whether to even make the final trip to Motegi was one the series could not drag their feet on. INDYCAR has always used ocean liners to ship certain key items each year.  Previously the series has shipped tires, fuel and engines by way of container ship. This year it seems to be just the tires and support equipment from what I can find. 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. This year, the boat left of August 19 and after 16 days at sea, arrived at the track on September 4, almost two weeks before the actual race.

The move to the road course has been lamented by fans across the world, but I do not think the race will be too bad. Yes, the course was originally created with motorcycles in mind, but the start/ stop style of construction; long wide straights, followed by tight turns, followed by long straights is a winning formula for closely matched racecars. 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.

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 the INDYCAR war chest throughout the years. 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.

Eric Hall

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