FedEx Championship Race at Motegi

By: Earl Gandel

As a follow-up to the tour of Dan Gurney?s All American Racers by the FCA Southwest Region in February, we decided to follow the team to their second race of the season in Japan. (We had other reasons for going, but it makes a good story.)

The CART FedEx Championship race on March 28 was at a new track at Motegi, about 100km north of Tokyo. It?s the first oval track in Japan, 1-1/2 miles, and the complex includes a road course, test track, a hotel, two museums, and a 1/4 mile dirt track that is literally a copy of Ventura Raceway! It?s a truly spectacular plant that makes some of America?s best look temporary. $400 million is the official development cost, but there are estimates that the real cost, to Honda, its owner, is closer to $1 billion. Carved out of the side of a mountain, Motegi with its concrete and expensive wood look has a feeling of permanence more like a major airport than a race track.

Qualifying speeds of 217 mph were comparable to Miami/Dade, another 1-1/2 mile circuit where the season?s first race ran March 15. The race was won by Adrian Fernandez, followed by Al Unser Jr. and Gil de Ferran, and was an exciting one, marred slightly by a horrendous near-flip by Bobby Rahal. He wasn?t injured, but the car won?t be the same. The AAR and Arciero-Wells teams didn?t do too well, although the reliability of their Toyota engines greatly improved. (Two races later at Nazareth, PA, Robby Gordon finished a respectable 7th, so the Toyotas are finally getting there.) It looks like America has a successful export to Japan in oval racing.

But, the real story was the logistical miracle of getting 60 cars and all the bits, pieces and people it takes to support them to Japan on 3 FedEx 747?s ?then, back to Long Beach the next day, where they raced the following weekend! (Sorry, there?s no Ferrari news in this story, but we hope your automotive interests will stretch this far.)