GALLERY: Typhoons Didn’t Stop The Skittles From Coming To Fuji Speedway For Lotus Day
Photography by Alex Sobran
From a foreigner’s perspective, Japan’s enthusiast car culture is easy to define by its extremes. Because of them, it’s the one country that’s inevitably brought up for being a little further “out there” than the rest when it comes to how they design, modify, and generally wring enjoyment from their cars. A few minutes on YouTube is plenty of time to gather a fat stack of supporting evidence.
A highlight montage would include: chains of 2JZ-powered sedans descending a mountain road at night like a live-action sequence torn from Initial-D; a circuit racing series for Dodge panel vans with slick tires, huge headers, bucket seats; and a group of Lamborghinis wrapped up in chrome cheetah prints, a few of which are driven around late at night by costumed folks that look like half of a fat Elvis (the neon lights of Tokyo playing out over Ray-Bans and the raked glass of an Aventador making for a truly bizarre triptych of three countries’ cultural exaggerations).
There would also be scenes like this one, because only in Japan can you find a masked man wearing white gloves coaxing rev-limit bounces from a metallic pink Toyota Crown with exhaust pipes where its roof used to be and a rear spoiler that looks like a teenager’s spray painted plywood skateboard ramp. But like most content on the internet, what you’re seeing are just the most radical bits drowning out the more reserved majority.
Thanks to Lotus, I finally got to visit Japan for the first time last month and was provided with firsthand proof that one is more likely to come across a tidy Evo VI or a Type 72 Exige in his travels than a semi cab that looks and blinks and probably goes down the road like a dozen arcade machines welded together.
Still, Japanese car culture is remarkably unique, it really does produce builds, characters, and entire sub-genres that are unlikely to be found anywhere else, and I did get to see some of that stereotypical zeal manifested on a scale much larger than a few loons parked in the corner of the Daikoku parking lot. Namely, a couple hundred people driving Lotus Exiges, Elises, Elans, Esprits, and all the others that were thought up in Hethel, England but are decidedly averse to precipitation. They drove them to a track in the mountains during a typhoon, they must be a little nuts.
Next week I’ll follow up with what it was like to drive an Exige in Tokyo and the mountains outside of it (as if you need me to tell you that it was “fun”), but the reason we’d been invited out was to attend Lotus Day, which was at Fuji Speedway during a weekend that all forecasts said was going to be a washout. With severe storm warnings dominating public radio stations for the drive up to Fuji Speedway in the cockpit of “my” Exige, I and hundreds of others headed to the track to try our meteorological luck.
The drive up at night was slowest-speed-on-the-wiper-stalk weather, but the morning of the event was the wettest and most humid I can remember, and I’ve spent enough time in Florida to give something like credence to the claim. The sun would split through every so often to turn the most recent deluge into steam, and then the clouds would go all black and leaky again. It was downright tropical as far as this coddled LA resident was concerned, but none of the car owners seemed to care iota number one about having to swap between umbrellas and sunglasses by the half-hour.
It didn’t stop anyone from going on track for the various Lotus-specific historic and modern racing series either, and getting taken round the course for a few laps in the passenger seat with a JGTC veteran showing me how to countersteer a short-wheelbase car with 400hp in the rain made me understand why all these men and women (there were more female racers here than at any other track event I’ve been to—take that for whatever it’s worth to you, but it was something easily noticeable) were happy to put up with occasional hydroplaning. If you see a lot of blue sky below, it’s because it would have just seen grey nothing if I shot the earlier half of the day.
By the time the Formula group was sent out the surface was more or less dry, but there were only a few who got to take advantage of the late afternoon’s gift of grip, as it was soon time for the Skittles in the parking lot to head home, and for our little group of journalists to hop back in the Daihatsu to Tokyo.
I regret not bringing a plastic bag for my camera, but I regret having it in my backpack while the Lotus 59B was crane-lifted into the bed of a truck that looked like it had just come from a fish dock. I hope that the rest of this gallery is enough to convey the fun this tourist had taking pictures of cars and the occasional vending machine.