NEW DTM WORLD: LOÏC DUVAL HAS BEEN THERE
Audi factory driver Loïc Duval is familiar with Japanese car racing like no other DTM driver. For seven years, from 2006 to 2012, the Frenchman did his high-speed job in Japan and won two championship titles in the process. From 2013 to 2016 Duval raced for Audi in Japan as part of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) commitment. And in 2017, he took part in the DTM and Super GT show events at Hockenheim and Motegi as a driver ambassador. What can the DTM expect in the Land of the Rising Sun? What does their European visit hold in store for his former colleagues from Japan? Loïc Duval provides some answers here:
“DRIVING IS SOFTER IN JAPAN”
Loïc Duval: “In Japan, touring car racing is typically very, very accurate. In Europe, it’s not uncommon for you to touch your rival’s car in a door-to-door battle and while overtaking. This type of racing with contact is usually forbidden in Japan. If you do it anyhow you’ll be handed a penalty in most cases. That makes the races of the Super GT series different – but not necessarily fairer. Maybe this is the best way to put it: in Japan, touring car racing is softer than in Europe.”
“JAPANESE TEAMS ARE PERFECTIONISTS“
Loïc Duval: “Be it as a racing driver or in any other type of job: being a European and working in Japan will initially come as a culture shock. Especially the language is a huge problem because few Japanese speak English, let alone French, German or other European languages. And why didn’t I learn Japanese? Because that would have meant having to take classes regularly and for a longer period of time and I simply didn’t have that time. So, initially, I just exchanged fragments of English words with the teams I raced for in the Japan Super Formula and Super GT. We often talked with our hands and feet as well.
Somehow it worked, though, especially because the Japanese are particularly helpful when dealing with foreigners: they want to understand you and want to you to feel comfortable. In that respect, like in many others, they’re absolute perfectionists. In a race team, for instance, if you have a problem with your car they’ll keep asking you questions about it until they’ve understood every single detail and found a solution. For Japanese drivers coming to Europe to race the situation might not be as easy in this respect.”
“YOU PAY DEARLY FOR MISTAKES”
Loïc Duval: “Race tracks in Japan are rather different from the ones here. Except for Fuji, they’re built according to older layouts. In most cases, there are fewer and smaller run-off areas. And unlike those on most of the more modern European circuits, they don’t consist of tarmac but are still made up of grass or gravel. As soon as you’re too fast in such a section, you risk damaging your car a lot more in Japan. Putting it bluntly: you pay dearly for driving mistakes – and it definitely costs you more!”
“THE BEST MOTORSPORT FANS IN THE WORLD”
Loïc Duval: “I haven’t lived in Japan since 2012 and only visit a maximum of once or twice a year now and then the following happened to me in October 2018: I attended the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix as the racing expert for a French TV station. Right at the entrance to the Suzuka circuit I was approached by fans that recognised me. They asked me for a lot of autographs and photos just like in the old days when I was Super Formula and Super GT Champion in Japan. There was even a grandstand at Suzuka where the spectators were holding up a Loïc Duval banner and cheering me.
The Japanese, no doubt, are the best motorsport fans in the world. In fact, they often turn out in very, very large numbers and you have to work your way through such huge groups of fans step by step. But it feels great to be appreciated so much personally and for the work you do. And as soon as Japanese racing fans run into you offsite they’ll totally respect your privacy and won’t bother you. That’s the way they treat any driver, even superstars like Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton.”
“CLEAN, PUNCTUAL – AND FRIENDLY IN EVERY RESPECT”
Loïc Duval: “Generally, I took an immediate liking to the Japanese culture. Before coming to Japan, I barely knew the world of Asia and was sceptical. But then Japan came as a totally positive surprise to me: clean, punctual – friendly in every respect! I initially lived for a year in Gotemba near Mount Fuji and then for five years in Tokyo. What impressed me there particularly as a Frenchman and fan of very good food was the fact that no city has more restaurants with Michelin stars than Tokyo. I spent a lot of time with my fellow German racing driver André Lotterer, who lived in Japan and Tokyo for many years as well. He extremely enjoyed his time in Japan too.
Travelling in Japan is another thing that was and still is a special experience for me because it’s a lot easier than travelling in Europe. Trains for example: stations, platforms, departure times and even ticket prices remain unchanged for many, many years. So, as a foreigner, you can easily find your way round and feel safe. Plus, in Japan everybody and everything is punctual, really punctual.”
“EARTHQUAKES ARE A NORMAL PART OF LIFE FOR THE JAPANESE”
Loïc Duval: “Someone who like me comes from the middle of France only knows earthquakes from television. When I experienced my first earthquake in Japan I was totally shocked. But all my engineers and mechanics said was, ‘Yes, that’s an earthquake, so what?’ and went on with their normal garage business. For the Japanese, it’s normal that their buildings shake now and again.
However, the big earthquake in 2011 in which so many people were killed and the Fukushima nuclear power-plant was severely damaged remains my most horrific memory of Japan. My pregnant wife and I were in the middle of the street when it started. All we were able to hear anymore were the hissing and popping sounds of the power cables being ripped off the poles. For a moment, I thought that the ground would break open underneath our feet any minute. After that, we gave up our apartment in Tokyo and moved to Europe. Since then, I only returned to Japan for individual racing commitments.”
“OUR JOINT RACING WILL BE REALLY COOL”
Loïc Duval: “I’m incredibly excited about the two races the DTM and Super GT will contest together and against each other in the 2019 season. Our joint racing will be really cool, especially the event in Japan. I can promise all my DTM colleagues that it’ll be absolutely brilliant, a really tremendous new experience! And conversely that of course applies as well to all the Super GT drivers from Japan that’ll visit Europe for the first time in 2019.”
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