The Tohoku Earthquake and Do Something Rally: One Year On

There are few things in life more frivolous than motor sport. In the grand scheme of things, only very, very privileged people can afford to expend large amounts of money and significant quantities of increasingly scarce natural resources in the pursuit of pure pleasure. Yes, there are those of otherwise modest means who make big sacrifices in other areas of their lives to be able to enjoy racing, but in the grand scheme of things I’d reckon it’s only the top 3% of the world’s population who can afford to compete in motor sport. When you think of it like that, it kind of puts things in perspective.

Another thing that makes motor sport – and, indeed, our whole way of life – pale into insignificance is realising that this same 3% of the world’s population are for all their wealth still completely at the mercy of the forces of nature. This was starkly illustrated exactly one year ago when a massive earthquake struck the north-east seaboard of Japan. The internet, computer games and CGI movies have done much to numb our senses to what’s actually going on in the real world around us, but the sight of watching people’s homes, livelihoods and loved ones being swept irretrievably out to sea makes you wonder why on earth anyone would ever seriously contemplate spending tens of millions of pounds on a single human being who can kick a football slightly better and slightly quicker than everyone else.

Looking north towards Tohoku

It was against this background of helplessness that my friend Kazuya Suzuki launched his Do Something Rally campaign on the 16th March last year. Suzuki-san was away from the worst effects of the earthquake in his Nagano base, but he did feel the big one and his prefecture was hit by some strong aftershocks. With the ground literally still trembling and the televisions still churning out rolling coverage, Kazuya emailed me to ask if I’d be able to help. We got a press release drafted and circulated round the Scottish rally community, and received a terrific response. The Ecosse Challenge competitors all chipped in at the first rally of the year, and series sponsors Brick and Steel generously agreed to match their contribution. RSAC Motorsport – the key organisation behind Scottish motor sport – offered their support, and with further aid from an anonymous benefactor the Scottish rallying network made a contribution that helped to take the total raised by Do Something Rally over the two thousand pound mark.

All of this money then went on to support the distribution of aid and relief to the areas worst affected by the Tohoku Earthquake. Japan might be one of the biggest economies in the world, but after the quake struck basics like food and clothing were in short supply. No country and no government has the right to be expected to single-handedly deal with something of this magnitude, but one year on the regeneration effort has been nothing short of staggering. This of course should not be allowed to mask the fact that thousands are still living in temporary accommodation – some of whom may never be able to go back to their original homes – but given the horrific scenes we witnessed exactly one year ago the regeneration effort has in the main been remarkable.

The same could be said for motor sport in Japan. The SuperGT championship got back underway after the earthquake, the season ending with a title for the Mola Nissan GT-R squad. Kamui Kobayashi had another battling season that proved he is a gritty, if not particularly quick, competitor. The same driver played a pivotal role in the Japanese Grand Prix, paying for scores of tsunami-affected families to come and watch the race weekend. And as the year ended, Honda and Toyota announced full factory returns to touring car and endurance racing respectively.

When we think about what really matters in the world, motor sport is going to be a pretty long way down the list. As the small but significant involvement of Scotland’s rallying enthusiasts in Do Something Rally illustrates, though, motor sport is one of the many ‘things’ that gives people in separate parts of the world a sense of affinity with one another. And if these frivolous things that we do in our spare time occasionally help to focus our attention on what really matters, then that is surely no bad thing. After half an hour of attempting to find a less pithy way to phrase this, I think it’s best to just let it stand as it is, apologise for my poor turn of phrase and hope you agree with the underlying message.

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