Being steamed slowly inside your t-shirt, on a 100-degree day with 72 per cent humidity, is hardly the ideal introduction to any circuit, but this was my first time at Tsukuba, and I was going to take photos if I dropped dead doing it. – P1 Race Photography for My Life at Speed.
Of course, the excitement that comes from being at one of the world’s most famous race circuits certainly helped. The atmosphere at Tsukuba is something else, and starts the moment you enter the car park. After all, where else can you step out of your car and see three Kenmeri four-doors? That set the scene for an incredible day.
Once you go through the underpass and emerge in the pits, it gets even better. I don’t know whether it was the heat or just my excitement, but the intensity of it all was unbelievable. I’ve walked around pits full of million-dollar classics and Can-Am racers, but while such experiences blew my mind, their actual intensity had nothing on this.
I think a lot of it had to do with how small the Tsukuba pits are. Being a small circuit, one easily lapped in around a minute in a fast-enough car, the pits are sized to match. And when they’re crammed with historic machinery, it gets pretty full-on.
Ah, the machinery. If you were a classic JDM fan, this was the place to be. From a super-rare S54B Prince Skyline…
To a more common, but still awesome little Isuzu Bellett (one of three), it was hard to stop the drool.
There was plenty of European machinery there as well, for those interested in cars from the Occident. The majority were modern Lotuses, here for the British Track Day category, but you had the odd classic gem, like this concours-condition Triumph TR4 A below. This went as hard as it looked, too, taking out its category in the S65 race for machines made prior to 1965.
Separate from the tin tops sat a bunch of old Formula Ford and F3 cars, too, all of Western origin.
In some respects, these were nothing special, being found on many continents, but in true Japanese fashion, it was their condition that took your breath away. This Lotus 59, for example, probably looks better now than it did when it rolled out of the factory.
I have to say I rather fell for this little Ginetta G4, too, even though it wasn’t a real ‘classic’, being made in 1994.
Out on the track it was even better, with the sights and sounds of these moving marvels coinciding with views of the circuit I’d only seen before in Gran Turismo and Best Motoring videos.
For many Westerners, even with all the other metal on offer, it’s this combination of old-school JDM machinery and the location itself that makes this day so special. After all, who wouldn’t want to watch a Hakosuka hurtle around Tsukuba?
Sadly, it was actually these Japanese legends that gave out first amongst their contemporaries, with almost every one in the Japan Run 1 category slowing to a crawl before the end of their race. It was a pretty sad sight to see race replica GT-Rs with their indicators on.
Others in the same category fared rather better, though, with this Sunny (below) pounding around with no problems.
It was joined by, rather remarkably, this Cedric Special competing in the same category. For those unaware, the Cedric was, until its death, a wallowy luxury sedan. What this one was doing at Tsukuba I have no idea.
These Japanese champions of old were followed by some European metal in the form of the S65 category. One of the standouts of which, for me, was this stunning Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sebring Spider. I’ve never actually seen one of these before, and to be honest, did not know a thing about it until after the race, but the chance to see something like this is another reason why it’s worth attending if you can.
While it was the Europeans that dominated this race (see the Triumph TR4 A above), the Japanese went in hard with their own creations, too. One particularly close to my heart, given my dad’s love of sporty Hondas, was this lovely S600…
Joined by another of the Isuzu Bellets I saw earlier in the pits.
Stepping back in time a little bit, it’s worth taking a look at the first race I actually saw (due to time spent shooting the pit area) – the British Track Day. While it may seem strange to see a bunch of modern cars at a classic car meet, it certainly wasn’t unwelcome to see this phalanx of Lotuses, Ginettas and Caterhams come down the main straight towards me.
And, while the drivers of these cars were mostly inexperienced guys after a bit of light fun…
There were a few who went hard.
Towards the end of my time at Tsukuba, I got to see what were, to many locals, probably the two biggest attractions of the day – the Historic Formula and TS Cup classes. These were filled with great-looking machines, and to see and hear them come around Tsukuba was a wonderful experience.
As with so many cars that day, plenty of these machines were unfamiliar to me. Not being in the program, and not having the time to check it out in the pits, I still have no idea what this red and white example is, for instance.
This Titan Mark 6 was also unfamiliar, but looked great doing the rounds.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case with older machinery, especially in such hot and humid conditions, there was at least one casualty. As the driver walked away, the marshals and I actually saw this car start to smoke, which is never a good sign, but thankfully it never developed into anything fiery.
The final event I got to see, the TS Cup, was clearly the standout favourite. You’d think that a group almost entirely composed of Datsun Sunnys wouldn’t be that exciting, but it was, with a capital E.
Not only could these things shift – amazing, considering their 1300-1500cc engines – but the noise was incredible. In retrospect, this shouldn’t have come as a shock, given any high-revving, carburetted four cylinder using side-exit race pipes is going to sound awesome, but the metallic banshee wail of these race cars will stay with me forever.
These TS Cup cars also went hardcore with the racing. In fact at one point, race control was radioing marshals, telling them to watch out for potential crashes between the second and third, and fifth and sixth-placed cars. Nothing happened, but it was pretty close at times.
Sadly, thanks to the need to move on to Sevens Day at Daikoku PA that afternoon, I had to leave the racing at that point and head back through the pits to meet my ride, but I still managed to snap a few final shots on my way to the meet point, including this indicator of how much drivers were suffering in full Nomex on a 100-degree day.
And while it was sad to leave, I will be back, just hopefully on a cooler day.