My story in words and images: Cyndie Allemann Racing diary. Episode 2012.02: Cyndie meets Super GT.
Thursday, 2012-03-15. Tokyo, Japan.
Back in Japan for the real start
After her successful test last month a Fuji Speedway with Hitotsuyama Racing, It is with great confidence that Cyndie left her family and karting business behind for a few days and jump on a flight to Tokyo for her first real start in the Japan Super GT with the series official pre-season test on the 17-18 March weekend, at the twisty Okayama International Circuit.
South by Southwest: night train to Okayama. As soon as Cyndie landed in Tokyo, it was time for the long trip to Okayama, for some track time on Thursday. Due to a late travel schedule, the Tokyo-Okayama trip was done the old school way using the midnight train on a never-ending 8-hour ride in the Japanese countryside. Long and tiring, but somehow part of learning a new culture.
After a long day at the track, it was now time to find the hotel, almost an hour away from the track. Once settled in at the hotel, it did not take long for Cyndie to find her sleep as she had been up since Tuesday morning. The life of a race car driver is never easy....
“I still can’t believe the amount of travelling we had to do in a few days, to get here in Okayama. And that train ride was insane but nevertheless funny. Next time, we’ll take the Shinkansen for sure... We’re just starting to get around in Japan. But it was all worth it. I got to see some beautiful areas of Japan and the track here is interesting and very technical with a lot of twisty turns.”
Friday, 2012-03-16. Okayama, Japan.
Cyndie gets her new car
Friday should have been an easy and relaxing day, as there was no track action planned. But in Cyndie’s world, there is no such thing as a relaxing, and as soon as she got to the track, a full program was already planned: technical meeting with her team, administrative formalities with the Super GT series, seat fitting, discovering the track, walking the paddock and have a look at the competition, etc.
But, best of all for car-crazy Cyndie: her first ‘encounter’ with the car she will drive this season: the Hitotsuyama Racing Audi R8 LMS sponsored by Zent, with its spectacular chrome-based livery. It is indeed a beautiful car and Cyndie could not resist to do an impromptu photoshoot with it.
And new race car also means new racing seat. The rest of the afternoon was pretty much spent on making a customized racing seat for Cyndie and making the necessary fitting. It is an essential part of having a perfectly adjusted working environment for any race car driver.
“Discovering the Super GT paddock was impressive. Those teams are high level operations, the same way see in Europe with top series such as F1, DTM or Le Mans. The cars are amazing and now I’m even more looking forward to this whole season – for me, it’s positive all the way. And today, I saw my new Audi R8 LMS race car with this amazing livery. I can’t wait to try it on track tomorrow and push it to its limits.”
Saturday, 2012-03-17. Okayama, Japan.
Tension buildup: the nerve-racking Super GT rookie test
It has been more than a month since Cyndie Allemann past with great success her first test with Hitotsuyama Racing on the Audi R8 LMS GT300 car, at Fuji Speedway. Since that decisive day, a lot of water has gone under the bridge: a formal race contract has been signed with the team, a whole world of opportunities has opened up for the Swiss racing star.
But before moving to stardom level, Cyndie knows she still has to past the Super GT series rookie test at Okayama, and also gain respect from the series and her competitors. Never easy to be a girl.
The rookie test, in which drivers aspiring to race in the Super GT series must make 10 laps at a minimum speed with no spin or off-track excursion, was the main focus of Saturday, and even the whole weekend. And did she passed the test? Absolutely and with great honors, as she passed it on her very first attempt, despite the difficult and treacherous weather conditions, clocking the mandatory ten laps all faster than a minimum set time.
“The main thing for me to remember this weekend was the rookie test. Needless to say that there was some pressure, as it was under difficult conditions with sometimes rain, sometimes sun and sometimes greasy track conditions. In addition, the rookie test is fairly strict, as we must make good lap times and if we’re too far off the pole time, or if we spin or go off the track, we don’t pass the test. So I must admit that with the difficult conditions, my stress level was a bit on the high side.”
Sunday, 2012-03-18. Okayama, Japan.
Already a massive fan attention for Cyndie
All it took was one day. And already, Cyndie is a favorite among the Super GT fans. By Sunday at noon, the deal was sealed: Cyndie just had a quick peak out of the Hitotsuyama Racing pitbox during the fan pitwalk and in a few minutes, she was surrounded by a massive crowd of Japanese fans. All of them wanting a photo of her, or even better, a photo with her. And of course, all those fans also wanted an autograph of the new Super GT star. Most surprising were all the fan gifts received by Cyndie - she is used to the attention, but actually getting presents from fans is somewhat of a novelty.
Once the pitwalk madness over, it was back to work for Cyndie, with the Sunday afternoon test session, the last of the weekend. That session was spent getting to know her team a little bit more, as well as her new teammate, Akihiro Tsuzuki. Cyndie also made a run of flying laps, getting quicker and quicker. A drivers change practice was also on the menu, but it had to be held inside the team pitbox as a light rain put a stop to the session as well as the whole weekend. It was now time to go back home, before having to come back at the same track in a mere 12 days.
“Coming to Japan, I know I’m starting anew. It is an exciting opportunity, but also full of unknowns to me: a new series, a new car, new people and a different culture, both on and off the track. I have to learn all this in a very short period of time if I want to make an impact. Expectations are high, from both sides. Many Japanese fans are already following me this weekend, which I find amazing. It’s great to see that a race car driver coming from Switzerland can have a lot of success in another country, especially in Japan.”
Thursday, 2012-03-22. Tokyo, Japan.
Under the limelights at the Audi R8 GT Spyder launch event
Not all was track action for Cyndie during the Okayama pre-season official test. She got to stay in Tokyo for a few extra days, and network with different potential partners. And even better, she was invited to take part of the Audi R8 GT Spyder launch, an event organized by Audi Japan in which the Super GT teams racing the Audi R8 were invited.
And once again, Cyndie was the center of attention, as she was the official guest of honor, performing the duty of driving the R8 GT Spyder on stage and taking part of the official photoshoot, along with the Audi Japan President Mr. Hiroshi Okita. She was the perfect person for the task at hand as an R8 race car driver, but also with her amazing personality and look, perfectly in line with the image of performance and sophistication of the Audi R8 GT Spyder.
Once all the many video and photo opportunities completed, it was time to mingle with the crowd of VIPs and special guests, as well as give interviews with different Japanese media outlets. Cyndiemania has just reached Japan and this is only the beginning...
“Tonight I had to attend my first Audi event in Tokyo, meeting the President of Audi Japan. It’s a very fun part of my racing career as this time, I didn’t need to perform on track but in front of the photographers as I was driving the new R8 GT Spyder in front of the media and all the people from Audi Japan. It was a very nice evening, gave lots of interview and for once, not wearing my driving suit but a very nice and chic black dress with high heel shoes. It’s another part of my job which is very different but I enjoy it a lot and feel very comfortable doing it.”