There are roughly 1500 active volcanoes quietly burbling away on the earth’s surface and the snow-capped peak in full view over my shoulder is a reminder one of them lurks close by.
It’s better known as Mount Fuji, however, right now I couldn’t care less if a cataclysmic eruption is imminent. My attention is focused instead on a bizarre-looking Skyline that’s squaring up the inside of the bus I’m aboard.
As we trace a wide line around a corner, the red and black beast jumps forward to seize the space beside us, filling it with comically-sized pumped guards sprawled with the text TOMICA.
MOTOR’s at Fuji Speedway for the NISMO Festival – an annual motorsport party Nissan’s thrown for loyal petrol heads every autumn since 1997. About a two-hour drive west of Tokyo, Fuji Speedway’s NISMO Festival spans two days and this year attracted 30,000 spectators. Not an enormous crowd by perhaps V8 Supercar standards but quite a turnout nonetheless, and attracting punters from all over the world.
And while its point is to celebrate Nissan Motosport’s history, I didn't ever suspect I'd be sharing one of Japan’s most magnificent racetracks with one of Nissan’s most storied racers.
Japan’s written attempts at English are often more comical than informative, so I dismissed the ‘Circuit Safari’ written in my schedule with a chuckle as nothing more than some poorly translated ‘Japlish’.
That was until our early-morning shuffle through Fuji Speedway’s gates, when I spied buses full of people traversing Fuji’s billiard smooth tarmac through a gap in the fence, trundling over apexes like giant oblong streakers.
They looked lost, or perhaps part of some strange Speed tribute demonstration, unable to drop below 50mph, but it wasn’t until our 30-strong group was installed on a similar bus, watching in awe as the priceless Skyline vanished in a turbocharged rush that the words ‘Circuit Safari’ clicked.
A Nissan employee coughs into the intercom to explain what we just witnessed. But before he begins, another racing Nissan – this time a GT300-spec GT-R – rockets past as we crawl down Fuji Speedway’s endless 1.5km pit straight, so close and so fast its aerodynamic wake sends shockwaves through each seat.
It’s followed in quick succession by its big brother, one of this year’s GT500 GT-Rs (the number stands, roughly, for the horsepower produced) then a 1969 V12-powered R382 Can Am racer and the R390 GT1 that took Nissan to the Le Mans podium in 1998.
Some of these beasts are putting in practice for the NISMO GP, a ‘friendly’ race between all of NISMO’s current competing cars which bookends the day’s events, while some are warming up for the NISMO heritage run after lunch.
That Nissan would thrust us on track with priceless racing artefacts tearing around at such speeds, some just so we can see them in the ‘wild’, should be all the convincing you need to attend the NISMO Festival.
We complete two laps of Fuji, seeing legend after legend shoot by, then set down in the pits.
The circuit schedule moves on to historic runs and one-make races. I meander past the garages, where the safari wildlife rest, to end up in the bustling paddock.
It’s marquee city here, a real-life eBay, swarming with tuning parts. There are racing seats to plonk in, ornamental looking exhausts, and if you’re looking for an original, mint-condition right rear light for a third-generation Skyline, there are plenty of those too.
I spot some punters poking around a modified Silvia crate engine. Japanese tuning gods Tomei are raffling off a swathe of goodies. It’s all happening.
But the busiest tent by far is NISMO’s. It’s swarmed with people eager to get inside to buy official merchandise. The queue snakes upon itself numerous times. Yet as ever, the Japanese are patient and jovial.
For me, it’s this sight that is the most powerful image I take away from the NISMO Festival. Today more than 30,000 people will flood the grounds of Fuji Speedway. But they haven’t made the biggest effort today. Nissan has.
Out in the carpark Nissan’s staged a photo booth for punters to photograph their own cars with a Group A R32 Skyline GT-R and Super GT 350Z.
Fans will meet their hero drivers this afternoon during the grid walk for the NISMO GP, watch pit stops from mere metres away, and see Nissan’s precious competitive cars tussle on track.
But the highlight has to be the Circuit Safari. For Nissan to dust off 34 legendary racers and not just display them but exercise them at speed among both each other and lumbering coaches seems not only risky but ludicrously expensive too.
However, it shows heritage is a hugely marketable asset. And Nissan knows having it simply isn’t enough. It’s something you need to immerse people in, to breed new loyalty.
It may take place at the foot of an active volcano, but it’s the eruption of passion that will keep Nissan fans returning to the NISMO Festival for years to come.
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