On Saturday 11 November, less than a week before FORUM8 Rally Japan 2023, a fan exchange event “ENJOY! Rally Fan Meeting in TOKYO/ ODAIBA” was held along with a press conference featuring top category WRC competitors and legendary drivers.
■ Solberg father and son all smiles as they talk about the ‘Blue Army’.
On a cold and windy autumn day at City Circuit Tokyo Bay, the venue for the event, 200 rally fans selected by lottery were waiting for their heroes who had come to Japan for the forthcoming Rally Japan to make their appearance. First on stage were father and son duo, WRC legend Petter Solberg and Rally2 driver Oliver Solberg.
During the stage talk, one topic of discussion was the demo run at the Japan Mobility Show held the previous week, where Akio Toyoda, aka “Morizo”, Chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, appeared wearing a Subaru blue jacket. Solberg and his son said, “That’s great to hear, that’s further lifted our expectations for this week”, a comment that resonated with Japanese rally fans and filled the venue with beaming smiles.
■ Guest speakers from all manufacturers.
Next to take to the stage were the top category competitors. Among those visiting the stage that day were Takamoto Katsuta and Elfyn Evans from the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team (TGR), Adrien Fourmaux from the M-SPORT FORD World Rally Team (M-SPORT), and Thierry Neuville and Martin Wiedega from the HYUNDAI SHELL MOBIS World Rally Team (HYUNDAI SHELL MOBIS). From the HYUNDAI SHELL MOBIS World Rally Team (HYUNDAI), the pairing of Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe. Neuville said, “Most of you in Japan will be cheering for TGR, so we will be the ones standing in the way and we might disappoint you”, and while the nice guy Neuville’s character was there, the one could tell his comment fired up the atmosphere for the competition. However, several of the audience members wore Hyunde shirts to cheer him on, and Neuville and his team responded with a thumbs-up and a smile.
■ World-class karting competition
Next up was the karting event everyone had been waiting for. At the circuit, a hot new attraction in Tokyo, the current drivers and legends, who routinely race in hybrid rally cars, on this day took the steering wheel of EV karts. The first step was a free run to check the feeling of the new wheels. These professionals who compete around the world are also very serious even when it comes to fun. After quickly getting a feel for the car’s habits, they each advanced to the starting grid. The national flag of japan was dropped, and all the cars were off in a frenzy. Oliver Solberg jumped out from pole position with a quick glance to the rear. Despite careful driving and efforts to avoid collisions, the racers, who normally ‘push to the limit’, showed no mercy to the barriers on the trackside. Course officials were scrambling to correct the position of the barriers. Flags with the Belgian flag and the Welsh red dragon were flown at the side of the course, and everyone cheered for their favourite driver. The excitement was so great that even the cold wind was briefly forgotten. The circuit staff were also surprised by how fast the karts could go in the hands of pros, saying “No, this …… this is really fast.” The rally fans were also delighted with the mini Grand Prix.
■Finish with a social event and photo session.
A long queue for Meet the Crew at the WRC venue. On this day, the lucky 200 spectators had the racers all to themselves, signing autographs and taking photos with big smiles on their faces. The competitors also seemed to enjoy a moment of camaraderie before the hotly contested rally to begin next Thursday. The karting results were Thierry Neuville (winner), Oliver Solberg (runner-up) and Takamoto Katsuta (third). As a prize for the podium, a giant Atago pear from Toyota City was presented in place of a trophy. The bidding price for one pear is a whopping 500,000 yen (about 3,000 euro). Hopefully, the players ate them with their team members as soon as possible.
The final phase of the competition is now underway, as the Forum 8 Rally Japan 2023 is about to start. The fans seemed to be well prepared, saying “I’ll be there from Friday” and “I’ll be cheering for you at every SS”.