JAMES ROBERTS

“Van­doorne is al­ready at home with Honda”

Motor Sport News - - Racing News -

It looked like a scene from the 1960s. A cou­ple of hun­dred Honda en­gi­neers and me­chan­ics, all dressed in the same im­mac­u­late white over­alls and green caps stand­ing re­spect­fully in the bright au­tum­nal sun­shine.

They had gath­ered at the gates of Honda’s Suzuka road car fac­tory last Thurs­day morn­ing to send off their three driv­ers – Fer­nando Alonso, Jen­son But­ton and Stof­fel Van­doorne – and wish them well for the forth­com­ing grand prix.

Each driver was pre­sented a bou­quet of flow­ers and said a few words to the troops from the car pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity. But­ton in par­tic­u­lar de­lighted the as­sem­bled crowd with his Ja­panese: “Kon­nichiwa. Suzuka GP Tanoshimidesu, gan­bari­masu!” Which trans­lated into “Hello. I’m ex­cited for the Suzuka GP and I’ll try my best!”

Then, af­ter a team pho­to­graph and an en­thu­si­as­tic, but po­lite round of ap­plause, Alonso and But­ton sat in the driver’s seat of two brand new Honda NSXS (Alonso chose red, while But­ton drove the sil­ver one) while I sat along­side Van­doorne in the pas­sen­ger seat of a sporty Honda Civic Type-r.

As the 2017 Mclaren race driver climbed aboard he fed out be­hind the two NSXS and the Honda em­ploy­ees parted to cre­ate two lines. He wound down the win­dow and high-fived them out of the fa­cil­ity be­fore light­ing up the tyres to their de­light.

A right turn out of the fac­tory gates, and the Suzuka Cir­cuit is 10 min­utes south, as you head to­wards Ise Bay and the Pa­cific Ocean be­yond. Not to be out­done, Van­doorne jumped ahead of Alonso’s NSX and got to the head of the queue of traf­fic turn­ing right, floor­ing the Type-r once the lights turned green…

At the pre­vi­ous week­end in Malaysia, But­ton was cel­e­brat­ing his 300th grand prix and there was a sense this was the be­gin­ning of his farewell tour.

In Suzuka, one week later, there was now a feel­ing that Van­doorne was be­ing wel­comed into the sport through the Honda fam­ily. On the jour­ney into the track he spoke of his year rac­ing in Ja­pan, how he’d come to love the cul­ture, the food and the way of life.

“Af­ter win­ning GP2 there weren’t many op­tions to go rac­ing in Europe, so with Mclaren and Honda they de­cided I should come and race here in Su­per For­mula,” said the Bel­gian. “I think that was the best thing for me, it’s a very com­pet­i­tive car and the im­por­tant thing for me was to build a strong re­la­tion­ship with Honda – which is mas­sively im­por­tant for our fu­ture to­gether.”

Hav­ing vis­ited their F1 base in Sakura, he’s learnt a lot about the way Honda op­er­ate, its cul­ture and un­der­stand­ing its phi­los­o­phy. And not to be out­done by But­ton (who’s seat he’s re­plac­ing at Mclaren-honda), he’s also picked up the lo­cal lingo too.“Ari­ga­tou goza­imasu,” he said as the gates to the Suzuka cir­cuit were opened. “Thank you very much.”

Wel­come to F1, Stof­fel.

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