Not lost in
Champ Car's product is truly global
by Scott Morris
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
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
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
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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