Events: A first look on JAF 2012

Every time I visit the Japanese Autosport Festival I’m struck by the enormous diversity of cars showing up. It ranges from a completely stock Toyota Aygo to serious track tools. People are modifying their cars in various ways, and although the result may not be your cup of tea it is the thing that defines our hobby.

Most of the cars can be classified as either a show car with large body kits and custom paint jobs or a performance car, but sometimes a car doesn’t fit in either of those categories. A car in Bosozuku style is rather rare here in The Netherlands, and especially when it’s a old ‘80 SS80. Two-speed automatic, leather bucket seats, external oil cooler, fender mirrors and of course a huge vertical exhaust pipe at the back. I love it!

Amateur drag racing is quite popular here in Holland and although the sport is almost non-existent in Japan it is mostly done here with Japanese cars. Many racers use Honda Civics, they’re dirt cheap to buy and there’s a wide range of tuning parts available for them.

Some of the Honda’s are tuned to over 500 HP on the front wheels and it can be quite challenging to turn that amount of power into speed instead of tyre smoke. That’s why some people choose the more expensive option of using a AWD car like these two generations of a rally icon, the Subaru Impreza.

Time Attack is becoming more and more popular, with almost 70 competitors in four different classes. Again most of these cars are from Japanese makers, apart from the occasional German car, but when I was walking over the paddock I noticed something different. A Ferrari 360 Modena waiting in line for scrutineering behind another rare car, a Honda NSX. Seeing a prancing horse in real life is always a magical sight.

Both the NSX and the Ferrari do indeed compete in the Time Attack competition, although the Ferrari was no match for the other cars in its class, like Bruce Morris’ Skyline from the UK. This Skyline is sporting not one but two Wangan Warriors stickers and by the rules of Sticker Tuning this gives him an extra 50 hp, at least.

In the lower classes like Semi Pro the cars are a lot cheaper and a lot less powerful. But that doesn’t mean the drivers aren’t pushing their cars and themselves to, and sometimes over, the limits. Mechanical breakdowns are not an uncommon sight, especially in the lowest class where most people race on a tight budget, but luckily most of the problems are small and easily repairable.

The marshals were busy rescuing drivers after off-track excursions. When I was standing near the Tarzan corner at the end of the straight I saw more than one car miss its braking point and going into the gravel. Luckily not a single car had a serious crash at JAF and no serious breakdowns occurred, apart from one of the NSX’s which got a problem with its fuel system.

Between the Time Attack sessions a few drivers from The Netherlands and the UK were giving drift demos. Although the Dutch drifting competition, the NL Drift Series, is quite big the sport is almost unknown to the general public. Giving a demonstration for a large crowd is a good way to show people how spectacular the sport is and attract more visitors to the competitions rounds.

Talking about people, there were a lot of those at JAF! A big event like this is for a big part meeting friends and talking to people about the latest modifications to their cars. I think I spend as much time talking as I do taking photographs.

When you look around you can spot funny things too, like people sleeping. This is not an uncommon sight by the way, as some people need to drive hundreds of kilometres to Zandvoort for JAF so they have to leave very early. This particular guy had a can of energy drink on his dashboard, and I’m still puzzled about how someone can sleep after drinking that stuff. I stay awake for 30 hours straight after drinking only a few sips of that stuff.

Time Attack races are starting from the pit lane here in The Netherlands, and I always try to visit the pit lane right before the start of a race. The mood in the pits rapidly changes from the moment the cars enter to pit lane to line up until the start. Seeing mechanics franticly running around doing the last checks, while the drivers wait with tense faces. Their looks quickly change to bored while waiting in line to concentrated right before the start.

After a race everybody gets his or her phone to update their Facebook status or send messages to friends and relatives. My phone buzzed all day with Facebook updates or Whatsapp messages before and after a race and I send some messages about strange sounds heard from the cars back to the mechanics during the race.

Besides the visitors and the drivers there are more people that deserve our attention, the crew for example. Without traffic managers, the people manning the food stalls and countless other people the entire event would be in chaos. And let’s not forget the marshals, medics and fire fighters. They’re crucial for the safety and rescue of the drivers, something they unfortunately had to do at JAF. A car caught fire but the driver managed to reach the pit lane where the marshals and medics not only saved his life but also his car from burning to the ground.

And last but not least, the promo girls. There were a lot of them at JAF for various companies and of course as grid girls. I always take a step back when a group of promo girls appears, because it’s very funny to watch people’s reactions to them. Some people take pictures, some ignore them and girls are giving their boyfriends angry looks when they’re staring at the promo girls for too long.

Was JAF 2012 a perfect event? No, certainly not. I heard a lot of people complain about various things like the overcrowded club paddock, drag racing through the crowd and very expensive food and drinks. But next year I’m going to visit JAF again, because it’s one of the few events here in Holland that combines almost everything I love about cars and races. Goodbye JAF, see you next year!

– Alex Kamsteeg

Photos by Alex Kamsteeg