Monday, October 22, 2007

Suzuka, 2004 (Part 3)

Sunday, 10/10

Awakening too early (5:40AM) we went back to sleep before arising @ 6AM. We hastily depart for the racetrack around 6:45AM. Turning onto the first main street leading to the circuit, I’m amazed by the amount of people walking towards the track. A few blocks later we encounter heavy traffic.
Clyde drops us off at the main entry gate around 7:20AM, where we’ll wait until he arrives from parking the van.

Once again the main entry gate is packed with people hoping to catch a glimpse of drivers or team members entering the circuit. One policeman is constantly urging pedestrians to clear the entryway. Another policeman paces in front of us, preventing cyclists from chaining their bicycles along the fence and blocking the sidewalk.

When a team van arrives, hoards of bodies rush the barricade. Cameras flashing madly as young girls scream gleefully. The popping flashbulbs create a true paparazzi effect. The traffic is so bad that some team’s members simply walk on foot into the circuit. Clyde arrives and we join the massive crowd entering the facility.

Inside the main gate a sea of bodies is moving in all directions. Clyde asks if I wish to view the Mercedes exhibit. We join the line viewing the 3 cars on display. Facing downward @ 45 degrees, Kimi Raikkonen’s race car juts towards us. The McLaren F1 show car is sandwiched by 2 “Up-Scale” Mercedes 4 door “saloons” Backing our way out of the stream of bodies we angle towards the Ferrari display.

There's another large crowd hovering about the Ferrari booth. A Ferrari F1 chassis towers horizontally above the masses mounted on a billboard as we continue walking towards the second entry gate. Shuffling through the line we flash our tickets before proceeding towards the actual ticket takers gate. Interestingly there are never any searches of backpacks, bags or personal belongings performed as we trudge forward into the actual circuit. With the massive throng of spectators it would take forever to accomplish this!

Walking inside the packed circuit for 20 minutes, we turn at a stairway leading to grassy stepped general admission seating. Unfortunately the typhoons deluge has doused the entire facility grounds. Walking through the slick and muddy grass is questionable at best.

We slither our way down the stairs and along the track fence before finding an open patch of grass seating. Under cloudy skies we arrange our plastic tarp on the muddy ground, eating breakfast at 8AM while patiently waiting for the first qualifying session. More spectators arrive oozing their way past us along the straightaway seating while safety cars circulate on track.
The racetrack’s relative serenity is broken by the barking high pitched shrill of a lone Formula One engine. At 9AM sharp the first car rolls onto the circuit to begin provisional qualifying.

Sounds of screaming RPM’s continue growing as the accelerating race car approaches the uphill portion of track directly opposite us. The sound bleeds off momentarily while the car completes the far away corners. Suddenly the shrieking red missile hurtles past us quickly accelerating to maximum RPM’s!

Disappearing as quickly as it arrived on its warm-up lap, the speeding driver prepares to start his single qualifying lap! Clyde mentions seeing a cloud of spray misting into the sky along the front straight as the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello continues his second flying lap.

“Rubeenoe” screams past us with the Ferrari’s engine wailing at 19,000 RPM’s. Shortly after a second car blazes past on it’s warm-up lap. Its Jenson Button’s BAR-Honda, having a slightly different engine note, the Honda engine is rumoured to be exceeding 19,200 RPM’s. While “Jense” accelerates into full qualifying mode, Rubens saunters by dramatically slower on his cool down lap. Kimi Raikkonen’s McLaren Mercedes-Benz appears next on track as the single car qualifying proceeds. The twenty car grid will each complete three laps prior to inverting the order for final qualifying.

Since I only partially know the qualifying order, Clyde asks who was that. What number was it Clyde? Responding I don’t know, there TOO DAMN FAST! It was a green car. I attempt identifying the remaining chassis by colour…

Unaccustomed to running 12th, Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari appears to be much quicker then the rest of the field. After the Yellow car runs its cool down lap the sickly sounding Minardi approaches. Being the lowest budget team on the grid they soldier on with inferior equipment. Sadly the Minardi’s are running 3yr old Ford-Cosworth engines which are detuned for reliability, peaking at a lowly 17,500 RPM’s.

While the clouds start burning off during the 10 minute break between sessions a Formula One chassis passes by dangling on the end of a tow truck’s hook. Poor DC (David Coulthard) I gleefully rejoice once Clyde informs me that it’s a McLaren. With the track now ready for action, the “slowest” car takes to the circuit (Slow being a relative term for F1!) Of course the 2 Minardi’s are first, ultimately ending up some 4 seconds slower then pole position. Clyde & I continue our what colour was that routine, surprised to see a Ferrari this early in the order (15th) prior to the “heavy-hitters.”

There’s a great roar of applause as local countryman Takuma Sato completes his flying lap. Running last, Michael Schumacher scores his 63rd pole!

Afterwards Clyde & I depart in search of restrooms and explore the track. Nearing the top of the muddy crowded stairway we come to a complete stop as bodies jam every open space.
Waiting impatiently, Clyde finally forces his way through by shoving past the idly conversing Japanese unwilling to move aside.

Shortly after Clyde spots a row of “Honey-Buckets” at the bottom of a small hill, managing to slide myself down the embankment, we slop through the mud towards a long line. Standing in line opposite the honey-buckets is a row of stalls without doors. Clyde tells me, here ASSHOLE use this one.

I skeptically step into the open door booth thinking something’s really strange about this? Unzipping my fly as I prepare to go to the bathroom Clyde suddenly says; “it’s a sink!”

Trampling through the mud we rejoin the main pathway to explore the various vantage points. The path is completely swamped by hoards of spectators. Scanning the crowd I spot several black & white BAR-Honda Takuma Sato baseball caps being worn.

Walking past a series of curves we discover that every seat is taken. This year the Spoon curve is absolutely jam-packed! After trying to watch the Formula Dream race that’s been Red flagged we decide we’d better go back to our seats.

The pathway has become even more constricted with spectators forcing us to abandon the path and walk through the mud in many places.
Several times I heard people say Santa Claus as Clyde passed by…
After trying to leave the track and missing our stairway, we come to a complete halt in a sea of unmoving bodies. Uncertain of our location Clyde scurries for the first stairway that looks semi-familiar.

Once again we’re forced to shove our way down the stairs as I’m pushed forward by those behind me. I manage to only step on 3 feet while slewing my way down the muddy staircase. Trying to slither my way along the track fence line through the mud, the over-filled row of Japanese spectators nervously monitor my progress. Attempting to not step on anybody I finally fall down on one knee. Knocking over a small folding chair before Clyde instructs me to just start walking on their tarps! Nearing the end of the row Clyde discovers that we’re now at the correct stairway!

Rejoining Nellie almost 3hrs later, she asks where did we go? As all the Formula One cars complete their final warm-up laps, Nellie informs us we missed the driver parade. They’d come by on the back of a classic truck we’d seen being brought in that morning. After a brief pause, the twenty F1 cars left in unison to complete the parade lap.

The cars slowly approached in their typical zigzag swerving motion to scrub and put heat into the tires. The unique aspect of this lap was that almost every car stopped directly in front of us. The obnoxious ratchet sounds of traction control screamed in protest as tire squealing burnouts proceeded as the smell of burnt rubber wafted overhead!

Two women sit next to me with their heads covered by towels, one using her program as a shade against the now blazing sun while awaiting the start.

The scintillating sound of twenty unbridled F1 engines dizzily revving as the drivers anxiously awaited the red lights going out droned over the circuit. The banshee wail of the twenty angry hornets feverishly increased as the cars past us on the first lap. It was amazing to see that Michael Schumacher had already opened a gap on the second place car, which I incorrectly assumed was Juan Pablo Montoya. Thus the Schumacher brothers were having their own “rubber match.”

Behind Michael and Ralfanso ran a four car Japanese freight train as the two Honda’s and two Toyota’s ran in lock step, while the Ferrari and Williams continued to pull away from the rest of the field. As the sun blazed down upon us Michael Schumacher continued stretching his advantage every single lap. Once I counted a 14 second gap over second place with 21 seconds over the third place car!

Dominating the race, Clyde inquired if I wanted to go view the action from other areas? I declined, citing that I didn’t wish to fall in the mud again (prophetically spoken) as the race neared its end we decided to finally change location with Clyde helping me down to the fence line. While Clyde went back for Nellie I proceeded to land firmly on my caboose! Picking myself up, Clyde & Nellie arrived to see me clutching the fence with both hands completely covered in mud.

Unknowingly we reached the top of the stairs as the race ended with Michael Schumacher leading flag to flag! Capturing his 13th VICTORY of the season (84th career victory)

We slogged our way over to a sink where Nellie tried to wipe some of the mud off of my behind before leaving the circuit. Rejoining the overwhelming departing crowd we became engulfed in a sea of non moving bodies. And although the mammoth crowd was constantly shoving forward while trying to hasten their exit, little progress was made. We continued our slow march of being pushed along 15-20 minutes before the solitary pathway splintered into multiple paths.

After a ½ hour of walking we neared the empty ticket taker’s gate where Clyde noticed a Toyota F1 car on display. We quickly looked over the chassis surrounded by fans as a kid was having his photo taken with Clyde remarking how small the car was…

Nearing the main gate’s exit the crowd became mammoth again being forced to wait as police controlled traffic. Corralled like animals in a pen, the shoving spectator’s intensity increased before being released. Sprung like a bottled cork the massive pulsating sea of bodies overflowed onto the single four lane road scattering like crazed ants.

For several blocks we walked briskly in the road as the gauntlet of pedestrians, moped’s and motorcycles overwhelmed the slow moving traffic. While some of the masses headed for the nearby train station, we continued following Clyde’s hectic pace towards the van. Jumping in at 5PM, there was no time for me to change clothes as we needed to leave Suzuka ASAP.

Of course traffic was still horrendous as people continued streaming past the slow moving vehicle lanes. Trying to find the road out of Suzuka became quite challenging. As we lost the route sign once again, detouring onto side streets before reconnecting and noticing a huge line of traffic,

Then Clyde attempted taking the scenic route. Suddenly we ended up following a procession of vehicles driving further and further into a residential district. Retracing our steps, we drove in circles looking for any road signs with names of vaguely familiar cities.

After two hours of harried driving Clyde finally located an expressway entrance leading to Osaka, proclaiming we’re OK now!
The vans annoying warning bell chimed for the next few hours as Clyde pegged the speedometer above 140K. Wishing to get as far past Osaka as possible without getting lost in the city (last year) Clyde sailed past the city’s center via the expressway before Finally relenting for petrol and food as we exited the expressway at 10PM.

Replenishments accomplished, Clyde re-entered the expressway to click off more kilometers. With no Monkey-Davidson & empty jerry cans the three of us settled down to sleep nestled in the rear of the van in a farmer’s field around 12:30AM, approx. half way home…