A die-hard Japanese motor racing event is a bit different to your equivalent British one. For them, putting on as good a show off the race track is as important as the racing itself.
The Japanese motor racing fan is a different breed to their British counterpart, too. They, much like the Americans and Australians, take brand loyalty very much to heart, picking a manufacturer and sticking with them, adding in a larger turbocharger and a matching livery to their road cars to boot.
Put the two together and you get an event like the Nismo Festival, held annually at the Fuji Motor Speedway at the end of the season. It’s a Goodwood Festival of Speed-style event made up purely of high-performance Nissans.
On the track, which is marshaled at one end by imperious Mount Fuji, races take place between everything from the crowd-pleasing GT1 racers and Japanese Super GT-spec GT-Rs to the more unlikely Datsun Sunnys and 350Z Roadsters.
Like Goodwood, the performance differences and levels in skill between the drivers prevent the on-track action becoming anything other than for show. So the real excitement and intrigue can be found patrolling the paddock and trade stalls.
One thing all the cars dotted around the event have in common is artistic liveries. One rather creepy example was to be found on the back of a GT-R. Being followed by the eyes of Michael Jackson would be a good incentive for me to get past. Still, if you were inspired by the race car, one of the trade stalls was offering such artwork for road cars, although the Japanese gangster look didn’t really do it for me.
If such artwork was out of your price range, there were plenty of other more affordable souvenirs to be had. The Japanese-style numberplates spelling out tuning company names were one way you could show your brand loyalty, with a key ring bearing the name of your favourite hybrid being another. Oddly, no ‘I love Leaf’ key ring could be found despite this being a Nissan event.
The Japanese love drifting. Unfortunately, there was no such action on the track, but one trade stand owner had mastered the art of drifting a remote-controlled car in the pit lane. He could position the car sideways through all of the cones with ease and didn’t knock a single cone in the five minutes I was transfixed by him.
The grandstands are also rather lively places. The fans are not there to sit and idly watch the action in their civvies. Most come in full Nismo-branded attire, and if they don’t own any, join endless queues at the merchandise tent to buy some. Those who get there the earliest come armed with large flags and the loudest voices.
Had you have been sitting in the grandstand in the morning you would have seen a very odd sight: tour buses driving around the circuit with race cars driving around them at near-racing speeds.
The ‘Safari Buses’, as they are known, allow fans to get as close to the action as is possible. Quite whether health and safety would allow this in Britain is doubtful, but the buzz of seeing a GT1 car whizz past your window just a metre or so below is as bizarre as it is brilliant.
It’s this experience that best sums up the Nismo Festival: all a bit odd, but strangely enjoyable.