There’s never a bad time to visit Japan. Well, maybe between June and August when the rainy season’s humidity makes it feel like you’re walking around covered in honey. But if you’re visiting Japan solely for the purpose of getting a taste of Japan’s car culture, time it during a big event.
The obvious ones are the Tokyo Auto Salon in January, the Japanese Grand Prix in October, and the Tokyo Motor Show in late October/early November. There are also the various rounds of the D1GP, Super GT, and Super Formula race series. But Japan also has a few events you may not have heard of before, like the Motor Fan Festa.
There’s a good reason for that: the first one was only held in 2016. Last year more than 20,000 people attended this one-day bonanza of motoring excess. 2017's event saw clearer skies, bigger crowds, and many, many crazy cars.
The event kicked off Japan’s Golden Week holiday, the biggest break most people have during the year. If you’re planning a trip to Japan based around the Motor Fan Festa, put this at the end of your schedule. Come earlier to enjoy the few days the cherry blossoms are out and explore Japan with the spring weather in your favor. Otherwise, everything and everywhere will be packed during the week-long holiday that follows.
Having a motor-related festival at a famous racetrack in Japan isn’t a new idea; the Sound of Engine festival held at Suzuka Circuit is a similar concept. But the problem with Suzuka is it’s about a six hour drive from Tokyo as opposed to Fuji Speedway, which only takes quarter of that.
From Tokyo, it’s about a 90 kilometer drive to the circuit. The event goes all day, with gates opening from 8 a.m. and wrapping up at 6 p.m.
Despite the early start, if you’re lucky you might not need that double shot espresso to help wake you up, as the traffic heading towards Fuji is anything but dull.
On a clear day like it was on the Sunday I went, Mt. Fuji becomes visible. I know, I know, this isn’t a travel blog, but seeing Japan’s most recognizable mountain in person does have its charms. Also, if you’re able to see Mt. Fuji, it means you’re heading in the right direction.
Another telltale sign you’re heading towards the right place is when convoy of supercars overtakes you. It was quite a sight to see several supercars, including a dozen Aventadors and Ferrari F40, zigzagging through traffic to try and get the best parking spots at Fuji.
Despite their best efforts they were stuck in the traffic at the toll gates, which made for an incredible sight.
After the long walk from the parking lots to the main paddock at the speedway, it became obvious this was more than just a normal track day. On the main paddock it was basically a mini-Tokyo Auto Salon. The organizers teamed up with the Auto Salon folks to get some of the exhibitors at the Salon to make an appearance here too.
Various tuners, aftermarket brands, and motoring clubs set up booths and displays to show off their latest wares. Big names like Liberty Walk, Varis, and HKS had bustling displays while some of the smaller and new brands like Morohoshi-san’s Fighting Star, Pro Composite, and Energy Motorsports pulled out all the stops with eye catching cars to pull people in.
It was hard to miss or ignore the gold chrome-wrapped Aventador with the Fighting Star kit on it. It’s certainly made with very unique tastes in mind.
The Energy Motorsports matte purple BMW i8 with the ridiculous body kit was also a standout. Their previous show car had a chrome/silver wrap, but this one with a red interior was something else.
Pro Composite are known in Japan for their rather subtle kit for the Huracan, but that wasn’t the main attraction there. It was the Huracan Super Trofeo with number plates registered in the town of Mount Fuji. Hats off to the owner of that car.
Everywhere I turned, there was another interesting car to look at. The two-tone Mitsuoka Orochi confused me at TAS and still confused me here.
I understand the two-tone concept, but why can’t the two-tone interior match the exterior? Luckily the retro-cool Flatnose-inspired style of the Porsche 996 Turbo more than made up for the Mitsuoka’s grotesqueness.
Two of the standouts were the Ferrari F40 at the Hyper Forged stand and the Bugatti Veyron displayed at S&Company’s.
Elsewhere, there were several tuned R34s, because Japan, including a black R34 with practically the whole HKS catalog thrown at it. It was great to see kids and families looking around excitedly at all the different cars here. Events like these help keep the passion of cars alive in a country where fewer and fewer young people are getting driving licenses.
Varis showed off new accessories for the recent facelift Toyota 86 and the not-so-recent facelift GT-R, but they were nothing compared to the Stance Magic kit for the Honda S660.
For those unfamiliar with this peach of a car, the S660 is Honda’s sports car in the kei-category. That means the S660 has to make do with a 660cc three-cylinder engine and must adhere to the strict size limitations for kei cars. I’m not sure if the giant wing and over-fenders will declassify this as a kei car.
The local arms of big manufacturers also take part. Even the most antisocial of them, Ferrari, brought a F310 V10 F1 car and a 599XX Evo to do several demo runs around Fuji.
As epic as it was to hear the scream of a V10 F1 car in 2017 and as entertaining as it was to see the driver of the 599XX do a bit of a slide around the first section of the track, the MVP of the day was the driver of the Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R.
Apparently he was challenged by the folks at Renault Japan to drift the front-wheel drive hot hatch. He certainly did so with great awe from the crowd, but only after he overtook both the Aston Martin DB11 and Ferrari 599XX on their “attack runs.” The moment he got the back of the Renault out and when the crowd collectively gasped in amazement summed up what the Motor Fan Festa was all about.
About mid-afternoon, after everyone had a bit of rest from all the excitement in the morning, some cars made their way onto the main straight for the Grand Grid Walk. Unsurprisingly, the racing cars, classics, and exotics were the crowd pleasers. Ferrari was even kind enough to let kids sit inside their F1 car.
That was only half the day. Next time, I’ll show you how the supercars took to the track, as well as one of the biggest Liberty Walk gatherings in the world.