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Japanese GP: Does Honda Own Suzuka International Racing Course

Published 04/02/2024, 2:29 PM EDT

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Back in 1987, Japan had the urge to have a professional race track within the country. After the Fuji Speedway was taken off the calendar in 1977, many fans wondered what would be next for the Japanese Grand Prix. And to their rescue, came the Suzuka Circuit.

The circuit that brought back F1 to Japan after 1977, has become one of the most challenging and prestigious races on the Asian continent. The track has been the home for many world champion-deciding races, where over 13 drivers were given the title at Suzuka. Many mysteries revolve around the Suzuka Circuit, and although this is not a mystery, who owns the track is a lesser-known fact.

Who owns the Suzuka International Racing Course?

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In the Japanese car company called Honda, the founder, Soichiro Honda decided that they needed a track by the late 1950s in Mie prefecture. Honda made a statement saying, “I want to have a venue for motor racing. Automobiles cannot be improved if they are not put through their paces on the racing circuit.” He said this in 1959 during a meeting to propose a track for the Suzuka Factory.

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He needed a place to test out his vehicles and this became the reason Japan’s most famous track was made. Honda’s statement led to Japan’s first full-scale road racing circuit, the Suzuka Circuit. This venue was proposed initially as a welfare facility for the Suzuka Factory.

Land acquisition began in 1959, with construction commencing the following year. Initially, Honda’s proposed layout featured long straights around a lake complex, but further expertise was sought to refine the design. Dutchman John Hugenholtz, renowned for designing circuits like Zandvoort, was invited by Honda to assist in the circuit’s design. Hugenholtz’s approach aimed to minimize earthworks and incorporate a variety of corners to challenge racers.

Dutchman John Hugenholtz, renowned for designing circuits like Zandvoort, was invited by Honda to assist in the circuit’s design. Hugenholtz’s aimed to minimize earthworks and incorporate a variety of corners to challenge racers.

The high-speed figure of eight circuits comes with many challenging turns that test the very limits of the drivers. Reaching a top speed of 315 km/h with average speeds of 230 km/h the 5.81km track can be lapped in just over 2 minutes and 10 seconds. But what was the main reason behind Honda creating this track?

The History behind why Honda proposed the construction of Suzuka Circuit.

When the street racing fad broke out, many young riders took part in illegal, risky street races, which came to the attention of Honda. That’s when Soichiro Honda stepped up as he believed that as a motorcycle manufacturer, they had a responsibility to prioritize safety and build a race course to develop high-speed machines demanded by consumers.

via Reuters

The manufacturer also needed a track to test out their vehicles before making a production bike. Although the history of Suzuka stems from Moto GP, Formula One has adapted the circuit perfectly into its ecosystem. Before the construction of Suzuka Circuit, motor racing events like the Asama Volcano Race were held in the Asama Heights area. In 1961, John Hugenholtz, the designer of the Zandvoort circuit, received an unexpected telegram from Soichiro Honda expressing his intention to build a new circuit in Tokyo. Hugenholtz travels to Tokyo and is presented with plans and a 3D model of the proposed site.

The site presented challenges due to its hilly terrain and existing roads between rice fields. Hugenholtz’s objective is to minimize the amount of earth that needs to be moved during construction. However, the construction of the Circuit did not come without difficulties.

The difficulties faced while building the Suzuka Circuit

The original design of the Suzuka Circuit, completed in 1960, faced obstacles such as rising construction expenses and logistical setbacks. Notably, the design featured complex elements like hairpin turns and multilevel crossings, which presented construction challenges.

via Reuters

To address these challenges, the project team embarked on a journey to Europe in December 1960. Their objective was to visit local circuits, study racing rules, and examine operational systems. By dissecting surface materials from various circuits, including Germany’s Autobahn, the team gathered invaluable technical information crucial for finding solutions to their construction problems.

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Nippon Hodo, the company tasked with paving the course, lacked experience in road racing course construction but had expertise in oval test courses. Analyzing surface materials from Europe, particularly river sand samples, led them to identify a suitable rock type from the Kiso River.

The construction phase encountered its own set of challenges. Flexibility was essential, as adjustments to specifications and drawings were frequently necessary to meet the project’s evolving needs. Additionally, innovative construction methods were employed, particularly for the multilevel crossings, to ensure flatness and consistency despite the rigorous requirements.

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That being said, Suzuka has been one of the most important races in the calendar, with many fans looking forward to the complicated circuit. Do you think Suzuka will remain on the map after its new contract ends in 2029? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Written by:

Viren Mirpuri

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Viren Mirpuri is an F1 Writer at EssentiallySports. With a Degree in Mass Media and a Specialization in Journalism, Viren is known for his speedy race day coverage outside of discussing the engine technicalities. Whether he's dissecting the latest technical innovations or unraveling the drama on and off the track, he ensures that his readers stay engaged and informed.
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