The races use a flying start. These full bore takeoffs are one of the features that make motorboat racing in Japan so exciting. A big clock marks the start of the race. The competitors make three 600 meter laps for a total of 1,800 meters in all racing arenas. Under the running start system, boats must have crossed into but not left the start zone in the second before the clock reaches zero. Boats that exit the start zone early are classified as 'flying', and boats that enter it late are classified as 'late'. In both cases all bets related to the disqualified boats are refunded.
Two minutes before the start the trumpets sound and the big clock lights up. The six racers rush out of the pits and vie for starting positions in the waiting zone. As the big clock clicks down the seconds to the start of the race, the racers watch it to time their running approach to the start zone - where they must be positioned exactly one second before the start time. As the race proceeds, the clock's three meter hands show the elapse time.
Number of laps per race: 3
• Distance per lap: 600 meters
Boat speed: Maximum speed about 80 km/h
Boat identification: The 6 boats are identified by the colour of their drivers helmets and uniforms, and by their flags.
Number of races per day: 11 or 12
• Number of stadiums: 24 (the maximum permitted)
Boat type: Hydroplanes and runabouts
Racers: Racers are either ranked A or B based on the percentage of win/place finishes and accidents over the previous 6 months. Currently there are about 1,550 drivers registered, who travel to racing venues throughout the nation.
Placing a bet: You buy a betting slip at the "Tokyojo" or betting window (above). The minimum bet is 500 Yen.
The income generated by the racing increases each year. Of these revenues, 75% is paid out for winning bets. The remaining 25% goes to the local governments that operate the stadiums. It is applied to civil engineering, education, welfare and other programs of the local government.
Photos by Mike Ward
A giant TV screen also shows each decisive maneuver as they occur during the heat.
The Kiryu stadium is one of 23 located around the lower half of Japan which enables year-round racing.
Race boats in the pre-race security area at the Kiryu stadium.