If you wanted to drive in Japan, what car would you choose?
Visiting the home of performance cars, we had high expectations – easily met by the 348kw Lexus IS-F.
The first F car from Lexus, I knew the IS-F this would be the perfect car for the job – raw performance and luxury topped off with a smooth 8-speed auto that would make Japan’s heavy traffic a breeze.
Lexus’s F cars are all developed at Fuji Speedway (where the F naming convention is derived) and so we thought it only fitting to take the Lexus back to its stomping ground to witness the Japan’s premier motorsport event – the Super GT.
Departing from Tokyo, our first stop was the Tokyo Aqua-line. Built in the mid 90’s, the 23km long bridge-tunnel combination is unlike anything in Australia. The privilege of driving this engineering wonder cost us 5000 yen (around $60), however we were happy to cruise out to the tunnel crossover point on the artificial island, Umihotaru. The journey involved travelling some 45 metres below sea level with a composure of lighting reminiscent to a science fiction movie.
The motorways leading to Fuji were fascinating because of the standard of cleanliness and efficiency, however high standards come at a high price – tolls are expensive, especially in a ‘large’ sedan.
The first service station we encountered was full service and it took us a good 10 minutes to communicate to the clerk that we needed premium fuel. With the language barrier overcome, the clerk cleaned our windows, checked the cars fluids and directed us back out into traffic.
A few hours later we arrived at Fuji Speedway – a picturesque racetrack surrounded by stunning scenery and Mount Fuji towering in the background.
Being one of the premier motorsport events in Japan, the Super GT was a flurry of activity. I spent half the day walking through the sponsor stall checking out the merchandise and cars on display before heading out to the pit area to check out race cars.
Following two days at the Super GT, we decided to tackle Mt Fuji by car. A longer drive than expected took us up to the ‘5th station’ which is the highest drivable point on the mountain where the temperature was a crisp eight degrees.
A short while later we set off for a country town called Gifu to meet our friend Kazumasa, a Japanese racing driver. Kazumasa owns a number of Toyota MR2’s and was nice enough to take us out to dinner and karaoke with some of his MR2 owner friends. Gifu doesn’t attract many tourists, which resulted in more of a language barrier than prior destinations but gave us a more authentic perspective of rural Japan.
After recovering from an intense karaoke session, we set off for our next destination, Mt Haruna, which has some incredible driving roads that weave up to a lake some 1300 metres above sea level.
Back in the IS-F, we wound our way back down the mountain, tackling tight hairpins and sharp elevation changes.
At our next destination, Ebisu Circuit in the Fukushima Prefecture, we left the twisting roads behind in favour of wide-open motorway. Ebisu Circuit is a world-famous motorsport facility famous for its seven tracks that hold numerous competitions every year. Built in an old quarry, Ebisu had one of the strangest features for a race track – a zoo.
The temptation to take the IS-F for a few laps was strong, however we were lucky enough to befriend some Japanese drivers who took us for some runs along the circuit.
With so much going on at each of the seven circuits it was easy for us to spend hours checking out the action, but a looming deadline to return the IS-F forced us to depart the circuit.
Our last Tokyo highlight was visiting Toyota Mega Web, a theme park showcasing all the technological feats of Toyota, past and present. Visitors with an International Driving Permit (IDP) could even take a brand-new Toyota out for a test drive on a closed circuit.
I spent a lot of time checking out the details on the Toyota WRC cars, mostly the 222D which never hit the competition circuit.
There was so much to do in Japan that two weeks really wasn’t enough time. Despite the trip being too short, the IS-F really made it enjoyable and I couldn’t see myself renting anything else in the future. Besides, can you really do a road trip with less than 300kw?