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by Scott Morris
 April 13, 2005

Japan will give Champ Car three races in Asia by 2007

This past weekend, as you may have seen reported here, dignitaries and officials from three markets in the Far East that are planning Champ Car races attended the much heralded Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - Beijing, China, Ansan (Seoul) South Korea, and Otaru, Japan.

AutoRacing1 had the first and exclusive opportunity to sit down and chat with the officials from the Hokkaido Otaru Street Racing Promotion Committee, which is a non-profit organization that is spearheading the event. President Osamu Kinosita and his colleague Yukihiro Arasawa were quite accommodating of my questions about their city and interest in Champ Car's brand of racing.

Otaru, Japan

Otaru, on the island region of Hokkaido Japan, might seem obscure to Americans, but is a popular tourist spot in Japan. Coincidentally it also shares much in common with Long Beach. Otaru is a port city serving as the primary port to the City of Sapporo. Otaru is on the seacoast about 45 minutes drive north-east of Sapporo on Ishikari Bay.

Sapporo, a popular winter-sports center, was the scene of the 1972 Winter Olympic Games. Population (2001) 1,811,165.

 In addition to being a very busy shipping port, it is a popular destination for visitors, with approximately 8 million visitors per year. In the summer the weather can be hot and balmy, but it snows heavily in winter from about November to March, and there is an excellent snow skiing mountain nearby. The area is also very well known for its sushi and hand-crafted glass.

Mr. Kinosita says that he is confident that a street race would bring a great deal of additional commerce to the region. He is convinced that the race would spur tourism to the area, which is down slightly from 10 million visitors per year. Additionally, the committee hopes to coordinate the race with an existing annual festival that attracts approximately 200,000 people, known as the Ushio (which means God of Ocean) Festival. Otaru certainly is one of the more picturesque Japanese cities in a vicinity which is abundant in natural beauty

On the waterfront, the exact track layout is not yet tied down

The waterfront area is the location of choice for the race, and the committee has a rough idea of the best spot to hold the race. Mr. Arasawa outlined with a pen, their vision of the course on a brochure for the Port of Otaru.

I have taken the liberty of adding to that layout (in yellow) a couple of interesting variations that would also aid in more passing opportunities, as well as the pit lane (in blue). This seems like it would be best to be run counter-clockwise. The course features very wide streets, a fast sweeping corner, and a large 180 degree turn that might be considered reminiscent of that of an oval course, and could see two or three cars abreast into the corner.

The Otaru waterfront

Like Long Beach, there is a Hilton Hotel within the confines of the track.

The approval of the race lies in the hands of the Japanese Police Authority (much like our federal government), who was deferred to by the local authorities, who simply did not know what to think of the concept of a street race. Currently, the race is undergoing public and community approval. The primary reason for this is a basic unfamiliarity with street racing in Japan.

The idea to host a street race in Otaru came about three years ago with a group headed by former Formula One driver Saturo Nakajima. Having never materialized, there were some people who still thought it to be a good idea.

A committee was formed and they visited the Macau GP, which is the most successful and world-famous (and only) street race in the Far East. They liked what they saw, and continued to do their homework. They contacted Champ Car and Kevin Kalkhoven when hearing of plans for a race in China and Korea, and the initiative quickly gained momentum from there.

As I sat with our Japanese guests, they mentioned a number of times that they were very excited about their experience at Long Beach, and said they were very impressed by the crowd, the excitement and festivities around the event, as well as the excellent execution and organization. They also mentioned that the F-18 flyover and National Anthem were "very touching".

Instead of the typical interview format, I preferred to simply chat with these polite and engaging gentlemen. They asked me what I thought about their prospects as well.  I consider the fact that it is a non-profit company seeking to promote the event, a testament to the economic impact of street racing on a given market. Also, as there is not a private or corporate-based profit motive, the longevity of the annual event is likely to continue as long as there is a positive economic impact on the community as a whole.

As they seem to have almost all of the same elements as Long Beach, in a culturally and traditionally rich Japanese setting, I could not help but agree that they are likely to enjoy a great deal of success with this event.

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