If there’s one event you should experience in Japan, it’s the Richard Mille Suzuka Sound of Engine. Now in its third year, the Sound of Engine is possibly the closest thing Japan has to the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Except rather than watching cars go up a hill they go around one of Japan’s most well-known circuits for an entire weekend.
It’s a celebration of all things with engines that go ‘pop bang crackle’. You won’t find any EVs or fuel cell vehicles here, though a couple of hybrids did manage to sneak in. Instead you’ll find everything from historic Formula One cars, Group C racers, classic motorbikes and cars, as well as some of today’s rarest exotics.
The Sound of Engine came about after Suzuka Circuit held their 50th Anniversary Celebrations in 2012 when they brought together old cars and motorbikes. This was to commemorate some of the iconic events they’ve hosted in the past such as the Japanese F1 Grand Prix and Suzuka 8 Hour Endurance Road Race. After this event, Mobilityland Corporation, the people in charge of Suzuka Circuit, decided to “spread the wonder and real pleasure of motor sports” by creating the Sound of Engine event in 2015.
This was my second time at this event and it seems to have gotten bigger and better since last year. However, it’s still quite a relatively unheard of event in Japan and more so overseas. Which is a shame. The quality of machines that showed up is something that needs to be seen to be believed.
Getting to Suzuka is a pretty direct drive from Tokyo. It takes about five hours, so I’d recommend going on the Friday and staying near the circuit for the whole weekend for this event. It usually happens in mid-November which isn’t too bad as a spectator. It’s not yet too cold and most days are generally clear. It did rain one morning, but that wasn’t the worst thing.
It at least made for some cool scenes as the historic F1 cars and Group C cars went out around the track. I was surprised by the number of people coming out to watch on the first day too. They weathered the rain and wind to get a glimpse at these rare icons in action.
It’s a two-day event with a full schedule, so definitely go for both days. All the cars in the pit garages, with a couple of exceptions from Bingo Sports, will go out on the track at some point during the weekend, so you can then plan which events to see trackside and which ones to skip to check out the paddocks and pit garages.
Unlike dedicated race events, you don’t have to stick to one seat. There’s just enough people to allow you the freedom and, ahem, mobility to go around the track to get different vantage points if you so wish. You could check out the 1980s Group C cars on the first corner, walk over to the S-Bends to see the 1970s F1 cars go by, then take the tunnel over to the last corner to see the ‘60s racing machines floor it down the main straight.
The day is split into two; in the morning are all the practice runs for the various categories. In the afternoon the ‘Demonstration Runs’ are held. The highlight for me were Group C cars, in particular the Mazda 787B. There’s something extremely cool about these endurance racers that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s. There’s nothing quite like them today which is probably why I liked seeing and hearing them so much.
The four-rotor engine of the Mazda did not disappoint, even shooting flames out of its side exhausts on a downshift into the hairpin corner, like the 767B out on track as well. It wasn’t just the Mazdas that were out of this world, but also other Group C icons like the Porsche 962LM in full Rothmans livery and the Nissan R92CP.
The best part was that the drivers really went for it. It felt as if I had been transported back to the late ‘80s/early ‘90s watching these cars genuinely battle it out for a real championship title. Seeing these cars take the inside line to pass a slower car and flooring it out of a corner was one of those ‘Holy Shit’ moments. The Japanese people around me probably thought I was on something.
For sheer aural pleasure the old F1 cars were no disappointments either. Compared to the Mercedes W205 that was at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, these old F1 racers were pure unadulterated ear porn. It’s not very often you’ll get to see F1 cars from various eras out on a circuit all together. Hearing the different V8, V10, and V12 engines was a symphony of how these cars should sound.
The Historic Formula Registry, with about 30-odd cars from various classes took part in a demonstration run, too. I’ll be honest I know very little about these cars, but it was cool to see them zip around the S-bends overtaking one another.
It was the same story for the ‘60s racing machines class. I only recognized a couple of them such as the Nissan Skyline GT-Rs, the Honda S800 and Austin Healey, but it was the Porsche 907 and Ford GT40 MkII B that really caught my eye. Seeing these cars drive as the sun set made it feel like they were part of a 24 hour endurance race.
If you haven’t gotten the feeling that this event is one that looks to the past then the ‘Time Travel Parking’ will seal the deal for you. It’s exactly what it sounds like; a parking lot filled with cars from before 1977. There was a whole variety of cars from another Ford GT40 (this time a Mk.I) to a Mazda Cosmo. A full original Kenmeri Skyline GT-R and Ford Escort RS1600 were among the highlights. And a Corvette with NSX headlights snuck in somehow.
For most of the two days, the VIP guests of the event and their cars were kept in heavily guarded parking lot, so it was difficult to see them up close. But they all went out on the Richard Mille Supercar parade, which gave us peasants a chance to see them in motion. They did a 40-minute parade on both days and like everything else at this event the cars were varied. From McLaren P1s (yes, two of them), a LaFerrari and a couple of Liberty Walk Lamborghini Aventadors to a Lancia Delta S4, a red Mercedes-Benz 300SL and a rare RUF CTR3 in a gorgeous dark green.
But, saving the best for last, was the McLaren P1 LM and Pagani Zonda Revolucion demonstration on Sunday. There was no Saturday tease; it was a straight out run for these track-focused cars. Except it was a bit delayed from what looked like some difficulties with the Zonda. But once they were out the unrestricted 6.0-litre V12 in the Pagani let out a deafening scream. If the people in the town around Suzuka weren’t awake by 11 AM, this car made sure they were.
The P1LM was a special surprise. It’s the first time this car has made its outing in Japan. Only five of these road-legal cars will be made, this particular car being ‘LM3,’ third example, and the only one in Asia.
It’s without a doubt in my mind the Sound of Engine is by far the best event I’ve been to the year in Japan. This incredible gathering of racing cars, supercars, and bikes on one of the best circuits in the world is about as close to motoring nirvana as it gets in terms of events in Japan, if not Asia. When the world becomes silent with EVs and FCVs, I hope events like this are still held to remind us of what cars truly sound like.