Japan Trip 2018, Part 5
A shinkansen whisked me away from Tokyo and delivered me to Mishima. I grabbed my usual conbini fare before boarding the train.
I was supposed to be going from Tokyo directly to Osaka, but a timely post in an Aston Martin group on Facebook led to a detour to Gotemba.
Alpha-Classics Racing, Fuji Speedway, and Fuji-San
A few days prior a picture of Alpha-Classics Racing’s widebody V8 Vantage roadster was posted and the responses to it were overwhelmingly negative. I disagreed with the commentary and stated why in response to a couple of the comments that were posted. ACR is headquartered in Tokyo, so I reached out to their Instagram account - the way I’d known about them previously - and asked if I could stop by and check out the car while I was in Tokyo. I got a response saying they’d be at Fuji Speedway, but I was welcome to come visit. If I could get to Gotemba Station, they’d pick me up and take me to the track to check things out for myself.
Gotemba is approximately halfway between Tokyo and Osaka, which was a route I’d be taking when I left Tokyo, so I made plans to stop there en route to Osaka.
I got off the shinkansen in Mishima and transferred to a regional train to Numazu, then a local train to Gotemba. I had no idea what to expect, or who would be arriving to collect me, or anything else at all, really. But I was the only white guy standing in the otherwise-vacant passenger pickup zone, so I’d be easy to spot.
I was picked up by Hiroyuki Akane and his assistant, Luanna. Akane-san speaks only a small amount of English, so Luanna translated for us.
The car I’d be seeing wasn’t the widebody roadster whose image was shared in the Facebook group. Rather, it’d be the company’s coupe. The coupe shares the same widebody kit and bright red paint as the roadster, but this car was built for the track and racing, while the roadster was built for street and show. It was at the garage where it’s kept, just a few minutes away from Fuji Speedway.
I have a review of the car, which you can read here:
Alpha-Classics Racing is an Aston Martin Racing partner. While their widebody kit was made to be aesthetically interesting, it’s also functional. ACR isn’t currently competing in high-level series like Super GT but they are actively racing. The widebody coupe is tracked regularly and raced - it’s a street car rebuilt to racing specs that runs alongside the team’s own Vantage GT4.
Also in the garage was a neon yellow NSX GT3 that I’d watched race at Twin Ring Motegi the previous weekend. It was up off the ground with the wheels off, being maintained and prepped between races. I asked one of the crew guys about the car, and he said it wasn’t performing as well as they’d liked. He said the car was too slow in races. I said an NSX just won at Twin Ring Motegi, and he clarified that the GT500 class NSX is very competitive, but the one built for GT300 isn’t as capable in its class.
To the side were a pair of Lamborghini Huracans: one a Super Trofeo and the other a GT3. Akane-san, Luanna, and the crew left me alone while I poked around and took pictures, examined details, and soaked it all in.
Once I’d done as much as I could up to the point I wanted to start climbing into the cars, I went back to asking Akane-san questions about his widebody Astons.
I liked what he had to say, and much of his philosophy mirrored my own. He’s designed his signature bodykit to his own tastes. Each aspect of it draws from one of Aston Martin’s own design characteristics, or his own personal take on them. I got the notes, pictures, and even a quick video to write my review, and then wrapped up the visit at the garage.
Akane-san then suggested we go to Fuji Speedway to see what was going on at the track. He took me through the garages, stopping to chat with people he knows that were driving the course that day, and introduced me to people as we went. It was obvious that he was a regular at the track.
We had lunch at the track-side restaurant, which had an awesome view overlooking part of the track with Mount Fuji in clear view, a majestic reminder of where I was.
While we’d been chatting earlier that day, I had mentioned that the evening before was the first time I had ever seen Mount Fuji (colloquially known as Fuji-san). As we left Fuji Speedway, he suggested we go to the famous mountain. “It’s only about 20 minutes away, not a problem.”
He drove us out to the 5th Station - closest you can get to the peak by car. Any further would require hiking.
Continuing along my way to Osaka would require going back to Gotemba Station, then a couple of trains to get to back to a shinkansen, then an easy ride to Shin-Osaka station. But there was a problem: the next train out of Gotemba wouldn’t leave for an hour. My hosts told me they were driving back to Shinagawa, a Tokyo ward with a shinkansen station. It’d take an hour and a half to get there, but taking a shinkansen from Shinagawa to Osaka would be so much faster than the trains from Gotemba that it’d actually save me half an hour to drive all the way back and then take the one train. Yes, the bullet trains in Japan are that fast.
And so I rode with Akane-san and Luanna all the way back to Shinagawa in their seriously pimp Toyota Alphard (I would love to have one of these things). All would have been fine and I’d save half an hour of travel time so long as there wasn’t anything to hold us up. Like a traffic jam. Which, there was. The hour-and-a-half drive took three hours. So much for saving half an hour.
When we finally got to Shinagawa, I bade farewell to Akane-san. Luanna was taking a train from the station as well, so she took me into the shinkansen office to get my ticket to Osaka.
“The next train to Osaka leaves in an hour” the lady at the counter told us.
Luanna and I looked at each other and, in perfect unison, burst out laughing. The lady looked slightly concerned, but Luanna explained the situation. We drove all the way from Gotemba to Shinagawa because the wait for that train would have been an hour. Then we were stuck in a traffic jam that turned a 1.5-hour trip into three hours. And then we get to the shinkansen station and the hour-long wait we attempted to avoid was ended up being inescapable.
“Fuck it,” I said. “Do you want to get a drink with me?”
We got my shinkansen ticket and went to a bar inside Shinagawa Station. A couple drinks later, I had to run to make my train. I made it with about four minutes to spare, but it wasn’t a rush per se, as Japanese train timetables are wonderfully accurate.
It was dark by the time I got to Shin-Osaka Station and I didn’t check into my hotel until nearly 11pm that night. It’d been a ridiculously long day, but what an experience. Fuji Speedway is a fantastic track, and seeing Fuji-san up close like I did was incredible. But the most important thing that day was getting to know Akane-san and Luanna from Alpha-Classics Racing. I knew it’d be a relationship worth continuing, and it didn’t take long for it to grow.
Click the link below for Part 6 of this article.