The F1 Travel Guide : Suzuka Circuit, Japan

Japan is one motorsports crazy nation! Their passion for motorsport can easily rival that of the Europeans. The Land of the Rising Sun boasts of some legendary tracks - Fuji Speedway, Suzuka Circuit & Twin Ring Motegi which host races both on two wheels and four!

Suzuka Circuit has seen some memorable races over the years..be it the battles between Senna and Prost, the victories of Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen or the unbelievable win of Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 after starting 17th on the grid and setting the circuit lap record in that race! Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 won the Constructors' Champions for the 2019 Season also at Suzuka! 

Degners, Dunlop Curve, 130R are some of the iconic portions of the track and have seen some stunning overtakes over the years! Rains, a regular feature due to frequent occurrences of Typhoons make it one of the toughest circuits to race at!

I had the privilege of attending this race in 2019 and unfortunately, all sessions on Saturday had to be cancelled due to the onset of the Super Typhoon named "Hagibis". 

I would like to share my travel recommendations for those who plan to pay a visit in the future!


The Circuit Layout :


Official Website :


Location :

The circuit is situated in the Town of Suzuka, in the Mie Prefecture ( Province ). It is a small industrial town but well connected by road and rail to other parts of Japan. The town does seem to get overwhelmed by the congregation of Fans over the F1 Race Weekend since the circuit can accommodate more than 150000! Its another one of those "old school" tracks capable of running races in 5 different configurations ( catering to various other racing series )!


Closest Airports :

Chubu Centrair International Airport ( NGO ) is the closest airport to Suzuka, situated near the city of Nagoya. It has connections to multiple international destinations. Those planning to travel from India can fly on Cathay Pacific ( via Hong Kong ) or Singapore Airlines to Nagoya. Nagoya is also connected with other cities of Japan by domestic carriers ( although its best to use trains to commute inter-city )

Osaka Kansai International Airport ( KIX ) is one of the major International Hubs in Japan with a wide range of connections to the Americas, Australia, Europe and the Rest of Asia. 

Tokyo Narita International Airport ( NRT ) and Tokyo Haneda International Airport ( HND ) are the furthest but offer more connections than any other airport listed above. Tokyo Narita was the airport of choice for me. The national airline All Nippon Airways ( ANA ) offers direct flights from multiple cities to Tokyo with the option of onward connections to Nagoya.

I opted to fly ANA from Mumbai to Tokyo Narita. The experience is shared here :

https://tech-know-crat.posthaven.com/the-flying-diaries-bom-nrt-bom-ana-business



Where To Stay :

The Town of Suzuka has very limited options for accommodation ( which are sold out on race weekends every year ) so its best to find a room in cities like Nagoya or Osaka.  There is a camping facility at the circuit.  

There are a few F1 personnel, media reporters who prefer the town of Yokkaichi which is only 10 km from Suzuka but the story there is no different. Nagoya which is only 50 km away is the best bet for fans with options for all budgets! Osaka is a bigger city but it increases the commute time to the circuit ( more on that later ). Barring a couple of hotels ( adjoining the Central Stations of either city ), all others offer really good prices for stays over the weekend.

Nagoya was the city of choice for me and I stayed at the ANA Crowne Plaza in the area of Kanayama in Nagoya. Kanayama is only a station away from Nagoya's main terminal. The City has a great transport network along with multiple options for wining, dining and shopping! It isn't rare to meet some famous face from the F1 Fraternity on the streets of Nagoya! 


Japanese Rail Network :

I would like to share some info on the Japanese Rail Network before I get to "Circuit Access" since this information will be of great assistance to many. When I drew up plans to be at the Japanese GP, I was pretty apprehensive about using Rail Networks in Japan. At first, it felt so confusing that I almost gave up on the idea of attending the race. However, my good friend & avid F1 Traveller Mr Raul Martinez who had been to Suzuka a few times allayed all my fears and apprehensions over a telephonic conversation; having experienced first-hand the efficiency, the quality and the ease of use of Japan Rail, I can say that they have one of the best rail networks of the world. 


I chose to fly into Tokyo Narita ( as mentioned earlier ) even though it was the furthest of all airports from Suzuka ( pricing and flight connections were the reasons ). The airports in Tokyo or Osaka are outside city limits. 

Both airports operate Airport Express Trains to bring travellers into the city centre ( the most economical, fastest way and used by almost everyone ). There are Taxis, Uber and private car hire but they are very expensive! 


Shinkansen or Bullet Trains are used to travel inter-city. There are 3 types of Shinkansen :

Nozomi: the fastest and stops at major cities only

Hikari: slower than Nozomi and has more stops

Kodama: stops at all stations, the slowest train services.

Tickets are of 2 types: Open Date & Fixed Date with 2 classes on offer ( Ordinary and Green ). Information for these tickets is given on their website ( mentioned below ).


Tickets for the Airport Express and Inter-City Shinkansen are available online on :

https://shinkansen-ticket.com/


Like many countries, Japan Rail offers a Pass called the JR Pass ( Ordinary & Green ) which allows nationwide travel for a limited time ( 7, 14 & 21 days ) to foreigners. Travellers can reserve seats from any JR Office after producing their pass at the booking office. JR Pass is eligible for use on Hikari and Kodama trains.

Nozomi Shinkansen is not included in the JR Pass and tickets for those trains have to be purchased separately.


All information on the JR Pass can be found on this website :

https://japan-jr-pass.com/


Rail Tickets and JR Passes can be delivered to other countries ( shipping fee applies ), to hotels or the nearest post offices in Japan. 


The journey from Tokyo Narita International Airport to Nagoya :

I purchased a Green Ticket on Narita Express up to Tokyo Central and a Green Ticket on a Nozomi train to Nagoya

Travel time on the Narita Express is approximately one hour. Tokyo Central is a pretty big station and can get confusing. Its advisable to travel up to Shinagawa Station ( on the Narita Express ) instead of where connecting to inter-city Shinkansen is easier. The Nozomi train to Nagoya takes about one hour forty minutes.

Tickets were purchased from the Shinkansen Website and I opted for delivery to the Post Office at Narita International Airport. It is important to ensure one has ample time at hand while selecting trains from Narita Airport and Tokyo Central / Shinagawa Stations so that there is no last-minute rush for ticket collection or connections.

The journey from Osaka Kansai to Nagoya is no different... Haruka Airport Express from Kansai Airport to Shin-Osaka Station and then a Shinkansen Service to Nagoya.


Important Tip : 

There are 2 Prepaid cards ( Suica and Pasmo ) which can be used for Rail, Bus, taxi services and even for shopping within Tokyo and Nagoya ( similar to an Oyster Card in London ). I used a Suica Card purchased from one of the vending machines at Tokyo Central. A card costs 2000 yen, which includes a refundable deposit of 500 yen and 1500 yen is immediately available for train rides. These are available at any JR East Station ( only within Tokyo, so get one before leaving for Nagoya )

Do note that the cards issued at the Airports are against non-refundable deposits.

Leg 2 of the journey ( Nagoya to Suzuka ) will be shared in the Circuit Access Section.


There is the cheaper option of using a bus as well to commute to and fro from the airport and inter-city :



Circuit Access :

The fastest way to get to the circuit is by train. We did try a car hire ( a friend had already booked one ) on Friday but the journey was long and the bottleneck near the circuit meant that we missed a good part of Free Practice 1. We ditched it for the tried and tested Rail Option. There are taxis available to and fro from the circuit but they are the most expensive option.


The journey from Nagoya to Suzuka Circuit ( Leg 2 ):

Kintetsu Railways ( regional railway ) offer train services from both Nagoya to Shiroko Station, which is the nearest station to the circuit on this line. Both Express and Limited Express Trains ply on this route at frequent intervals. The trip takes about 40 to 50 minutes ( depending on the train ). It is best to purchase a Rail Pass for the entire weekend. There are shuttle buses every 15 minutes to take the fans to the main circuit gate. Taxis are also available at the station (which can drop VIP guests at the Paddock Club parking for their shuttle), be prepared to queue up for both options. ( Sunday evening is the worst hit )

More Details of the Rail Pass here :

https://www.kintetsu.co.jp/foreign/english/ticket/


The journey from Osaka to Suzuka Circuit :

Fans can also travel from Osaka-Namba Station via Kintetsu Railways to Shiroko. There is a direct service as well as one with a transfer via Tsu Station. One needs to reserve seats a day in advance even with a rail pass. The fastest journey takes about 100 minutes. 

It is best to stay at Nagoya and use a service from there.


Japan Railways Trains to Suzuka :

There is another station called Suzuka Circuit Inou which is also connected by rail to Nagoya. This line is operated by another company called Japan Railways. There are express trains tagged as "Suzuka Grand Prix" that run non-stop from Nagoya to Suzuka Inou. Reservations need to be made a day before travel. JR Pass ( mentioned earlier ) can be used for a partial portion of the journey on this route. However, it is a 30-minute walk to the circuit from the station and not such a popular option. 


 

F1 Village, Fan Zones :

The circuit has multiple merchandising outlets and the largest concentration of stores is near the circuit's main entrance ( closest to the final corner and pit grandstands ). These stores offer Circuit Merchandise, Support Races Merchandise, F1 Teams Merchandise and even Model Cars! The stores are well stocked and run late into Sunday night. Prices of some products are cheaper than those sold at races in Europe.  

Remember to carry sufficient cash since ATMs are limited around a track. Comfortable walking shoes and wet weather gear are equally important. 

Past the Ticket Scanning Gates, we have a huge F1 Village...known as the GP Square, behind the main grandstand area. It can easily rival F1 Villages at newer circuits. Each Team has its merchandising stalls and most of them are crowded! Kimi Raikkonen is the most popular driver and the Alfa Romeo merchandising stores were empty by Friday Afternoon! The F1 Store also puts up its kiosk and there are many unique products on sale, so do visit them. 

Fan Zones are pretty crowded. There are F1 Driver Appearances throughout the weekend and concerts are held every evening. Simulators, Pit Stop Challenges, Batak Machines are a regular feature. Food Outlets are reasonably priced ( both in GP Square and behind other stands ) with both local and western delicacies. Queues can be pretty long during peak hours of dining. 


Fan Experiences :

3-day Ticket Holders are eligible for a pit-lane walk on Thursdays. There is also a Drivers' Autograph session which is open only to ballot winners. There are multiple walks across various sections of the track at different times over the weekend. Refer the Circuit Website for more details. The circuit also offers "Free Friday" where fans can sit in any grandstand on a Friday (except for the Upper Grandstand ). This is a great opportunity to take in different views of the circuit. There is a trackside commentary both in English and the local language over the radio. 

F1 Experiences offer Pit Lane Walks, Paddock Guided Tours, Parade Truck Track Tours, Photo-op with Trophies and even Hot Laps ( in supercars driven by a racer ) of the track!

A Ride on the Iconic Ferris Wheel cannot be missed. The Wheel offers great views of the track and gets busier on the weekend. Best to visit on Thursday or Friday. 

I also plan on visiting their Amusement park and try the newly launched EV Attraction which one can drive on the F1 Track! ( details on Circuit Website )


Japanese People :

Suzuka is an iconic track but what makes it even more special are the fans who gather to witness their favourite sport! The Japanese are extremely polite, helpful and law-abiding citizens. They find innovative ways of expressing their love for the sport - from cardboard F1 Car hats, DRS Rear Wing hats, quirky helmets, cardboard cutouts of favourite drivers to having families dressed in replica racing overalls! They are extremely knowledgeable, respectful and will go that extra mile to help visitors. I was truly humbled meeting such an amazing race. They truly deserve a special mention!


Suzuka was a memorable experience. Once is not enough! I do hope to pay this country and circuit another visit in 2020 and explore more so that I can share more...God willing!