The Final Indycar Race At Motegi: The “Closing” Of Japan

In 1852 American Commodore famously “Opened” Japan to the outside world.  In 2011, Indycar will finally have the pleasure of “Closing” Japan and leaving after over a decade of boredom.  Indycar at Motegi.  It’s been a long and unhappy partnership.  The track has never produced great racing and the fact that it’s televised late at night/early in the morning (midnight-2AM) does not endear it to fans.  The good news is this is the end.  Next year Indycar won’t go back.  While rumors of a race in China continue to fly, I would hope that Indycar fans and the series itself takes a minute to reflect the lessons from Motegi.  The TV ratings are bad.  Most fans won’t watch a race at 2AM.  A race in Japan takes weeks out of the schedule where Indycar falls completely off the radar as all of it’s stars are out in another country.  It causes a 3-4 week gap in the season.  2am out of continent racing is a complete buzz kill.  Thank god it’s over. It’s time to celebrate the “Closing of Japan”.  In the (paraphrased and slightly changed) words of US General Douglas McArthur, “WE SHALL NOT RETURN!”  I hope that’s extended to, China, and the rest of Asia and the Pacific.

Motegi Is Safe: Indycar Still Shouldn't be there

Indycar should not be in Motegi this year.  That’s not due to safety concerns.  From all  reports Motegi is safe enough.   The problem is the track that Indycar agreed to run, the Motegi oval, is out of commission.  That should have given Indycar an out clause in the contract.  From what I’ve heard Texas and Fontana were both interested in running a “replacement” race. A race at an oval in America where passing would have been possible was passed over for an extra Motorcycle track!?!?!?!?!?!?   Only in Indycar.  7 ovals and 10 road/street courses is Champcar.  Plain and simple.  It’s not about lack of support for Japan but I contend running a race at Motegi by Indycar doesn’t do a whole lot for Japan.  I seriously doubt it has the economic impact that say, MotoGP has.   I mean, they got our Women’s World Cup!  Surely they can give us an Indycar race back!  I’ve fought that debate once already and I can’t say I’ve changed my opinions at all.

The Only good thing to happen at Motegi

Motegi has hosted CART and IRL.  It’s been the “Honda Home Race” and is a track that is owned by them.  Motegi’s only real claim to fame is that Danica won here lone Indycar race here.  It was a big moment in Indycar and I was one of the 5 people watching live.  Looking back it’s sad to see Indycar’s only known star win her only race in Japan, when no one was watching.  A missed opportunity to say the least.  The potential of having the title decided when no ones around is also terrible.  That’s the thing about international races.  Even if they’re in our timezone, most of the media doesn’t go there.  So it’s pretty much a dead zone.  To potentially have the Indycar title decided there is insane.  Imagine IF an American or a driver who had a lot of media attention was in contention for the title and won it at Motegi?  No one would know it had happened!

Resist Champcarification! Just say NO to China!

But thankfully it’s over!  No more Motegi.  And I’ve heard no rumors about a race at Fuji or Suzuka either!  It’s a VICTORY for American Open Wheel.  It’s not all good news for Indycar however as China still exists.  Who can really say that they’re excited about that?   No one will watch.  Run it before Indy and it dampens momentum into the Month of May.  Run it in the summer and it wastes the precious summer stretch of Indycar.  Run it in the fall and kill momentum into the season finale.  So let’s just not run it at all!!!!  Surely the lessons from Motegi show that races at 2am are not the way to go.

What I think about 2am Parades

But that’s for the future.  Right now it’s time to celebrate!  While we should and could have gotten away from Motegi faster, the fact we’re getting away at all is an all too rare positive sign for Indycar.  I’m not against all racing at Motegi.  The MotoGP should stay.  And it’s not like the area around Motegi is unsafe.  Am I being selfish?  Yes.  But, Indycar’s done a lot of charity work for Japan and that’s a great thing.  I personally liked the idea of running a race in America (where people might actually see it) and doing some charity stuff during that race.  That would be a way to really show/do support for Japan.  What we’re doing instead?  Adding another motorcycle course to a series already full of them?  Continuing the slide to Champcar?  Running the 3rd to last race when no one’s going to watch it?   Sounds like your typical Indy Failure League idea to me. Thankfully we’re “Closing” Japan and most likely won’t be back.  On a side note, for a much more positive/supportive view of Motegi, look to Eric Hall (our F1 writer and host of his own Indycar blog, AnotherIndycarBlog).  Eric’s reaction to the announcement of Japan was 180 degree’s different than mine.  So if this was too negative, go there and you’ll feel better.

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Posted on September 15, 2011, in Indycar and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I like the way the road course looks at Motegi and was wondering if the road course at IMS could be improved by making it longer and running outside the track via tunnels. I know any more changes to IMS offends some people, but it seems TG sunk a buttload of money into a twisty track that no one likes. I’d like to see it improved for motorcycles, possibly an Indycar race or maybe in some distant future the return of F1 to Indianapolis.

    • Hell no to indy at the road course. Way too narrow. It’s okay for bikes the problem is the pavement can be too slippery. I don’t think Indy could put the track outside of the course the way other tracks do.

  2. AMEN!! I agree with your article 100%. I’m glad to see Motegi off of the schedule. People think this race is for Japan. Yeah right! IndyCar couldn’t care less about Japan. Seriously, if they cared about Japan they would send MONEY to Japan, FUNDING to Japan, support to Japan, etc. Holding a race at 2am on a road course built for motorcycles that nobody’s even going to watch is NOT supporting Japan, it’s supporting Honda…

    Anybody who can’t see through this is brain dead…

  3. Don’t know why I keep trying…

    “From what I’ve heard Texas and Fontana were both interested in running a ‘replacement’ race.”

    Can you outline for me exactly how you go from a track being “interested” to “fans coming through the gates” in under 5 1/2 months? Earthquake/tsunami: March 11. We’ll spot the folks in Japan 3 full weeks to figure out if their extended families are alive or buried in rubble and whether or not the entire northern half of their country was about to be irradiated before they figure out if Motegi is still usable. That puts us at April 1. Let’s pretend that Eddie Gossage is the most incredible sponsor finder in the history of ever and has a multi-million dollar title sponsor signed in 2 weeks (and, of course, we’ll assume that Eddie completely ignores the fact that putting a race on on September 18 might just leech ticket sales away from the Cup race that’s happening there less than 2 months later). OK, that gives him exactly 5 months to print tickets, promote the event, have IndyCar change every schedule they printed for the 2011 season in the preceeding 7 months to say “Texas” instead of “Motegi” and on and on. This is a shorter time frame than has EVER been attempted to put together a major motor race (I will challenge you right here to name me another race that has gone from “concept” to “gates are open and cold beer is for sale on the right” in under 6 months). Did you notice how California just announced the date for NEXT year’s race, which is taking place 12 full months from now? Why should we think that somebody saying on TrackForum “maybe California would like to run a race in September” should equal “maybe they’ll throw together a half-assed attempt at a race that’d be guaranteed to be less than 15% sold out in well less than half what they’d usually attempt”?

    There were two real options: “race on Motegi’s road course” and “no race at all”, the latter of which would have been directly spitting in the eye of one of the Series’ most faithful supporters (Honda). The talk of running an oval race on the same weekend was just that: talk. It was never going to happen, because even the most talented promoter in the world could not have made such a thing work in the time frame given. I know that you have a vendetta against the Motegi IndyCar race (notice how I’m not saying that you have something against Japan, because the people claiming that crap are being melodramatic; I’m just saying that you have something against the race taking place), but I’m pretty sure nobody is holding a gun to your head making you watch tomorrow night. How’s about you chill out and relax until Monday, when everybody will be on their way home and you never, ever have to put up with the “abomination” of an IndyCar race in Japan again? You won. Just grin and bear it for the next 72 hours, would you?

  4. First off, hope you read James and Ross and Eric’s stuff, all of whom are Pro Motegi. So that should make you happier.

    Going into a “relief” race no one’s expecting a full amount of promotion. The sanctioning fee won’t be as high either. No one’s expecting full stands. Texas can do promotion at the June race plus at their spring Cup race.

    As for who’s ever done a race in that short of time? I’m pretty sure some Truck and Nationwide races have gone up in similar times, but can’t specifically say which ones. NASCAR Cup races have been delayed (New Hampshire and Daytona) and they were run at the end of the year. The best response to you I have is MotoGP at Argon last year. That was a “backup” race that was organized and put together in a short amount of time.

    But what Indycar really needs to do (and I really need to write out) is have 2 “replacement” races on standbuy.The IMS infield road course for road/street races and Texas or Kentucky for ovals. So that if a race, for whatever reason, falls through, they have a backup already lined up.

    Maybe this was the best option… but I just in general cannot get behind putting a race on in the middle of the night. It is momentum killing. And I can’t get behind having only 7 ovals to 10 road/street courses. But you’re right, this is the last article I plan on the subject. I had to defend Motegi last week in an article where I came to the conclusion it was safe, so I needed to cancel that out with this piece.

  5. Dude, that makes like zero sense.

    “Going into a “relief” race no one’s expecting a full amount of promotion. The sanctioning fee won’t be as high either. No one’s expecting full stands.”

    So, Eddie Gossage is suposed to put on a race at a loss in less than half the time that it usualy takes him to promote a race…why? Imagine selling that to SMI’s shareholders. “We’re only going to have 20,000 people in the stands and the race sponsor had to be signed on for less than half the usual amount becuase they only get 5 months worth of advertising value out of this, so we’re going to take about a million dollar loss here, but I swear, it’s for the best!” He’d be laughed out of the room.

    “I’m pretty sure some Truck and Nationwide races have gone up in similar times, but can’t specifically say which ones.”

    Well, what I’m asking for is specifics, not guesses. If you’re going to rail against something for months and months, you probably ought to base your criticisms on actual facts instead of guesses. What I’m telling you is that in my 20 years of following racing (F1, IndyCar, NASCAR, sports cars, all the junior formula) very, very closely, I can’t remember a race coming together in such a short amount of time. You could, of course, choose to listen to me and learn from what I’m telling you instead of fighting me tooth and nail on every point, but I guess you don’t have to. Your choice.

    “The best response to you I have is MotoGP at Argon last year.”

    You mean in motorcycle racing crazy Spain? Where they could throw together 5-6 last minute MotoGP races and sell them out because Jorge Lorenzo is the national equivalent of Dwayne Wade or LeBron James? There’s a world of difference between that and the current IndyCar picture, where only 2-3 races sell out per year.

    “But what Indycar really needs to do (and I really need to write out) is have 2 ‘replacement’ races on standbuy.The IMS infield road course for road/street races and Texas or Kentucky for ovals. So that if a race, for whatever reason, falls through, they have a backup already lined up.”

    Two things: 1) Such an occurrence, an act of God, affecting a race going of on time, happens like once per decade, at the most. You want to spend a bunch of extra time and money protecting for that one occurrence, when 9 years out of 10 that money is just going down the toilet for 2 events that won’t happen? 2) How does this work, anyway? You print up tickets for IMS and Kentucky, just in case, even though you don’t know when the race might theoretically take place? How do you organize safety crews, trafic control, concession supply, etc., when you don’t know when the race might happen? Impossible.

    “Maybe this was the best option…”

    This is about where the debate starts and ends. It’s dealing with reality and making the best of a bad situation. That happens in life sometimes.

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