Contrary to what most F1 team social media accounts suggest, when the drivers aren’t racing, it’s not all just frolicking around tourist spots and signing autographs.

When F1 was in Japan for the Japanese Grand Prix a couple of weekends ago, most teams posted countless pics of their drivers wearing kimonos, drinking green tea or peering through dense clouds of cherry blossoms. But one driver was keen to taste some authentic Japanese car culture.

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I met up with France’s Esteban Ocon and Australia’s Jack Doohan from the BWT Alpine F1 Team at an event hosted by Alpine Cars Japan. The location: City Circuit Tokyo Bay – a new outdoor electric kart track.

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But this wasn’t a karting session. Alpine Japan planned to let the boys loose in a new A110 R, for a friendly time attack battle.

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With Esteban and Jack taking turns at the wheel, the little French coupé ate up the tight kart track with ease, pulling through corners at a simply frightening pace.

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Esteban had other press engagements planned for the evening, so Jack and our small crew of drivers and videographers set off to explore the Wangan expressway before curfew. 

“Have the two cars back by 10:00pm; they’re being transported down to Suzuka early tomorrow morning,” Alpine Japan said.

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Jack didn’t seem to be listening. He already had Google Maps loaded and was busy selecting some tunes for the drive, starting with DJ Shadow’s Six Days. The 21-year-old has good taste in music.

A surprising number of fans have followed Jack, even before his time in F1. Jack’s racing success undoubtedly comes in part from his parental pedigree. Those of you into top-tier motorsports of the two-wheel variety will no doubt be familiar with his father, Mick Doohan AM.

Having won five consecutive 500cc Motorcycle Grand Prix world championships from 1994 to 1998, Mick is one of the most celebrated motorcycle racers of our time. In 1996, he was awarded Member of the Order of Australia (AM), a royal honour bestowed on Australian citizens to recognise outstanding achievements. What was Mick’s weapon of choice on track? The legendary Honda NSR500.

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Unlike his dad, Jack started his racing career in karts. His first kart was given to him by the Doohan’s then-neighbour Michael Schumacher.

At 15, Jack entered Formula 4. At 17, he progressed to Formula 3. The next year Formula 2, and in 2022 Jack joined the Alpine Academy, a program run by Renault to foster future F1 talent. Jack spent time as a test driver for the Alpine A521 F1 car until he secured a seat as the reserve driver in 2023.

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Getting behind the wheel of an F1 car must be an incredible experience, something I am sure we all dream we could do. But when it comes to attainable street cars, there is only one in Jack’s crosshairs – the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R.

What better place to see Godzilla on its home turf than Daikoku Parking Area?

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There were plenty of examples to look at on this particular night, but Chiro-san’s self-modified monster piqued Jack’s interest.

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It’s not just cars you can spot at Daikoku, though. If you are lucky, you might run across a celebrity.

By some divine coincidence, Hiroshi Tamura – AKA Mr. GTR – had also come to Daikoku PA to see what is new in the tuning world. Tamura-san’s involvement in the culture surely influenced the development of the R35 Nissan GT-R in ways that corporate-minded engineers could not have.

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Jack and Tamura talked about driving dynamics on a level that most people – myself included – couldn’t truly comprehend. I snapped away, eavesdropping as best I could.

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Andy Gray, four-time Formula Drift Japan champion and the owner of Power Vehicles at Ebisu Circuit, was also kicking around.

Daikoku PA really is the living room of Tokyo car culture.

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What an incredible night with Alpine and Jack Doohan – something I doubt I’ll ever forget. I really hope we can do it again sometime.

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_
tobythyer.co.uk

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