Autopolis Circuit - unique race track at the top of the mountain
Autopolis is a racing circuit located in Oita Prefecture on the Japanese southern island of Kyushu. The circuit was opened in 1990 but the financial crisis and bankruptcy of circuit owner closed the doors in 1993. The circuit was fully re-opened in 2005 when Kawasaki bought the venue, and since then Autopolis hosted many races of the Japanese national series, such are Super GT, Super Formula, Formula 3 or MFJ Superbike.
Autopolis was a brainchild of Tomonori Tsurumaki
The idea of racing circuit in the middle of nowhere, some 3,000 meters above sea level at the top of the mountain in the Aso Kujiyu National Park, was born in the head of Japanese multimillionaire Tomonori Tsurumaki. He thought that Japanese businessmen would like to escape from noxious cities to the peaceful natural environment and enjoy in art and races.
51.3-million Picasso for the Autopolis gallery
Tsurumaki planned to incorporate the art gallery at the racing circuit because he owned lots of artworks of known artists. He made world headlines in 1989 when he paid $51.3 million for a Pablo Picasso’s painting Les Noces de Pierrette. The auction was held in Paris but Tsurumaki participated over the phone from his hotel room in Tokyo. When he bought the painting, Tsurumaki said it would be shown in the gallery at his racing circuit.
Notable guests at the opening ceremony
The circuit, designed by Yoshitoshi Sakurai, was opened in November 1990. Tsurumaki spent estimated $500 million and it wasn’t a problem to spend few more million for the glamorous opening ceremony. The special guests were Benetton F1 team drivers Nelson Piquet and Alessandro Nannini, together with team boss Flavio Briatore. The Autopolis was a sponsor of Benetton F1 team in 1990 because Tsurumaki had the intention to bring Formula 1 races to his circuit.
USA vs Japan duel in the first ever race at Autopolis
The first race at Autopolis, held during the opening event, was the race of the Buick single-seaters, which were shipped from the United States together with some famous CART drivers, such were Johnny Rutherford, Stan Fox, Dick Simon or Gary Bettenhausen. They competed against Japanese drivers in the inaugural race at Autopolis. In 1991, the Formula Crane series was founded with that cars but only a few races were held.
Michael Schumacher has won the world championship race at Autopolis
The first and only major international event at Autopolis was the 1991 World Sportscar Championship race. The winners of the race, named 430 km of Autopolis, were Michael Schumacher and Karl Wendlinger in the Sauber’s Mercedes-Benz C291. The race was held on October 28 and it was the last round of the season. Teo Fabi, who finished third in the Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-14, took the title.
Location is beautiful, but too far from hotels
The track was modern and all facilities were built according to the highest standards but Tsurumaki’s idea of the Formula One race at Autopolis was the mission impossible. The location, for which Tsurumaki thought it was a jocker, was in the fact the major weakness. The nearest city is 40 minutes from a circuit, so too much driving for guests and visitors from hotels to the track simply didn’t fit in the Formula One standards.
Kawasaki bought and relived the track in 2005
Despite all that, Tsurumaki was one step from Formula One when FIA published the draft calendar for 1993 season, with Asian Grand Prix at Autopolis. Unfortunately for Tsurumaki, the financial crisis ruined his company Nippon Tri-Trust and the dream about F1 on his track vanished. In a fact, after a bankruptcy, he lost the track and the Hazama Corporation became the new owner. In the following years, the circuit was almost inactive. The new life started in 2005 when the Autopolis was purchased by Kawasaki Motors Corporation.
Japanese GT cars at Autopolis since 2003
The 19-turn circuit is 4.673-km long and features an elevation change of 52 meters. The circuit offers one more layout with the 3.022-km long lap.
The first race of the Japanese GT Championship was held at Autopolis in October 2003. The first winners were Manabu Orido and Dominik Schwager in the Denso Team SARD Toyota Supra. In 2004, the last season of the JGTCC, the winner were Satoshi Motoyama and Richard Lyons.
In 2005, the Super GT championship was formed and the winners at Autopolis were Daisuke Ito and Ralph Firman. Ito and Firman repeated the victory in 2006 to became first double winners at Autopolis.
Triple GT winners Motoyama, Matsuda and Quintarelli
Satoshi Motoyama has won in 2006 and again in 2008, becoming the first driver with three wins at Autopolis. In recent years, the GT masters of Autopolis were Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli, who won two times in a row in 2014 and 2015. Both Matsuda and Quintarelli scored one victory each before their joint success, so now they also have three GT wins in total.
Single-seaters returned to Autopolis in 2006
In the single-seater racing, Autopolis hosted the races of the Japanese Formula 3000 in 1991 and 1992, with Akihiko Nakaya and Marco Apicella as the winners. Formula Nippon came to Autopolis for the first time in 2006, when Tsugio Matsuda won the race. In 2006, Matsuda won two races, both in GT championship and Formula Nippon.
Two more drivers scored victories at Autopolis in different racing disciplines – Kazuki Nakajima and Andre Lotterer. Nakajima scored his first win in 2011 Formula Nippon race, then in the 2013 Super GT race and finally in the 2015 Super Formula race.
Lotterer and Matsuda record holders with four wins
Lotterer celebrated for the first time at Autopolis in 2009 at Super GT race. He scored the second victory in the 2010 Formula Nippon and added two more victories in the Super Formula in 2013 and 2014.
So, after we add up all victories, the record holders at Autopolis are Tsugio Matsuda and Andre Lotterer with four wins. In 2016, Autopolis would host both Super GT and Super Formula races, so maybe the new records would come. In 2016, the Japanese Formula 3 also would return to Autopolis, for the first time after 2010.
Video : Onboard lap around Autopolis
Address: Autopolis International Racing Course, 877-0312 Hita, Oita Prefecture Kamitsue town, Kaminoda 1112-8, Japan
Phone: +81 973-55-1111
Official website: www.autopolis.jp