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Loïc Duval: “Japanese fans are loyal!”

Frenchman Loïc Duval spent several years racing in Japan where he won both the Formula Nippon and SuperGT titles. On September 11, he will join Team Peugeot TotalEnergies team-mates James Rossiter and Gustavo Menezes in the #94 Peugeot 9X8 at Round 5 of the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championsip. Ahead of the Fuji event, he talks about his fondness for the country, as well as its passion for motorsport.





“My very first visit to Japan to test for Satoru Nakajima’s team at Suzuka at the end of 2005 was a life-changing moment that played a part in shaping the driver and person I am today.

“I had just completed the F3 Euroseries season with the Renault Driver Development squad and my sights were set firmly on Formula 1. As a young European, my only previous experience of Asia had been races in China and Macau, and the mental picture I had was that of a bustling, almost aggressive and slightly foreboding world.

“When I arrived at Tokyo’s Narita Airport for that test, I had some directions in my pocket about how to get to Suzuka via the Shinkansen high-speed train. It was very much a Lost in Translation moment, though, when I attempted to change my ticket in Tokyo’s vast underground railway station. Incredibly, I came across fellow F3 Euroseries driver Fabio Carbone. He had already raced in Japan, so he knew what he was doing and we ended up traveling to Suzuka together.



“I had never previously raced at Suzuka and it was my first time in the car. Simulators didn’t exist back then, or at least not the sophisticated ones we use now. With the tools we have today, I would have been able to familiarise myself with the car and track before leaving home.

“In my opinion, Formula Nippon was – and still is! – the best thing in single-seater racing after F1, and Suzuka continues to stand out as a benchmark. So I knew I faced a huge challenge, but there were some pleasant surprises in store, too.

“My first encounter with the world of Japanese motorsport began at the circuit’s gates where I was greeted by fans brandishing photos of me competing in different championships. They offered me cans of hot coffee from vending machines where you could select the temperature you wanted. The weather was quite chilly for the test and they took care of me, a newcomer to Japan.







“The team and I hit it off right away. My engineer spoke English, but I had to use sign language with the other members, which led to a few comical situations. It was after my first few laps in the car that it struck me that I was experiencing a life-changing moment. The car, the technical and human resources and even the approach to racing were far superior to what I could ever have imagined, and perhaps even better than what I was accustomed to in France!

“In Japan, everyone is extremely professional, meticulous and conscientious in their particular field, whatever role they play. It’s a philosophy. Nakajima’s team was no exception. After the test, he made me my first offer to turn professional – to be paid to race. It didn’t take me long to make up my mind once back at home. My parents expressed their concerns about the distance and how the move might affect my potential career in F1, but I decided to accept.

“At the beginning of 2006, I moved to Gotemba [Shizuoka Prefecture], near the team’s base. The mechanics, engineers and everybody helped me to settle in, check that the internet functioned and advise me on the different shopping centres – the things I needed to know in my new life.”



“We hit the ground running that first season. The opening fixture at Fuji was halted after running behind the Safety Car, but I won the first real race, at Suzuka. It was the perfect way to win everyone’s confidence. You may be wondering why Japanese teams like to recruit European, and especially French drivers when they have their own home-grown talent. Because I wasn’t alone. There were also Benoit Tréluyer, André Lotterer and others. Well, they appreciated our unruliness, how we would sometimes do things our way and not always follow instructions, albeit respectfully. They are incapable of that and found it amusing to observe us at work. There’s a Japanese proverb that says, “The nail that stands up gets hammered down”. We Europeans aren’t always like that, and that’s something that pleased them.




“I won both the Formula Nippon and SuperGT championships and spent several fantastic years in Japan which is such a clean, safe and respectful country. Accompanied by Gaëlle, now my wife, I lived in Gotemba initially, then in Tokyo, after obtaining permission from the boss. I was enchanted by everything: the culture, the food, the flavours… I would even wear a kimono occasionally for tea ceremonies.”

“At the circuits, we sparked the same sort of enthusiasm that F1 drivers generate in Europe. It was hard to walk through the paddock because of all the fans and, in keeping with tradition, I even had my own Manga portrait.

“When my first son was born, he received dozens and dozens of gifts from the fans. He also lived in Japan and still hankers after certain savours today. The whole family knows how to use chopsticks and we have a chalet in Switzerland that Gaëlle and I decided to baptise Gotemba, as a souvenir of our time in Japan.”



“On both the personal and professional levels, those years were an extremely formative experience for me and my family. We got to discover a new way of life in a country where there is a fundamental sense of respect, something that is vital with so many people occupying such little space, as is the case in Japan.”

“My career eventually brought me back to Europe, but I returned recently to Suzuka as F1 commentator for the French TV channel Canal+. While there, I saw that I still had my banner in the grandstands, along with those of Hamilton, Vettel and the rest. That’s Japanese fan loyalty for you!

“Today, my family and I are very happy where we are and there’s only one place that could tempt us away. That’s Japan. So it’s easy to guess how much I’m looking forward to traveling to Fuji with Team Peugeot TotalEnergies!”

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