Champ Car eyes Otaru, Japan UPDATE #11 AutoRacing1.com can reveal one of the two choices for the location of the Otaru, Japan track. This one is on the waterfront, and much like Monte Carlo, the mountains rise up from the sea to make a spectacular backdrop.
11/11/05 The Japanese contingent from Otaru, Japan stayed on the day after the Surfers race and were quite impressed how quickly the race track was dismantled, particularly the walls and fencing, so that the roads could be open to traffic on Monday. AutoRacing1.com has learned that instead of the six people that came to Surfers this year, next year they will bring 20 to 30 people who will be involved in their event the following year (2007). In addition, look for a Champ Car demonstration run in the streets of Otaru next September or October when the PR campaign will begin in earnest for their race. They expect to get FIA approval for their circuit in the first quarter of 2006. Two alternatives are still being evaluated, but the waterfront location appears most likely right now. Mark C. 10/25/05 The Otaru Grand Prix now has an official website. Our story that this race is 80% certain to happen as told to AutoRacing1.com by the Chairman of the event, Yukihiro Arasawa begins to look more believable. This related website has photos of the various visits by Champ Car officials and shows some photos along the proposed track(s).
(L) View from helicopter out at sea. (R) Aerial view of possible track location
10/24/05 AutoRacing1.com has learned that two dates are being discussed by the promoters for the inaugural Otaru Grand Prix in Japan - Sunday, September 23, 2007 and Sunday, September 30, 2007. Don't book those hotel rooms just yet though because a lot depends on scheduling with South Korea, China, and Australia. Would Champ Car do a whirlwind 4-race Pacific Rim tour on consecutive weekends? Doubtful, but that would be the most economical from a transportation standpoint.
10/23/05 As promised you can find a full report on the status of the Otaru Grand Prix on our Home page.
10/22/05 Six delegates from Otaru, Japan are here in Surfers Paradise surveying the action, and we hear they are quite impressed. We spotted them meeting with Champ Car President Steve Johnson and Marketing Director Will Wilson. We will have more on this story Sunday.
The delegates from Otaru already have their Otaru Grand Prix garments made (right)
Standing in the back in the left photo is Chairman Yukihiro Arasawa
Photos by Mark Cipolloni
10/15/05 Kevin Kalkhoven and his entourage were in Otaru, Japan last week as reported here elsewhere. We hear that good progress is being made with this event and the goal is still a 2007 race.
08/27/05 AutoRacing1.com has learned that a track designer from the USA will be visiting Otaru, Japan next week to review 3 or 4 possible track layouts, measure them, and recommend which one is most likely to get FIA certification. The track designer will do the preliminary design of the chosen circuit. The Otaru project team will meet with local businesses to solicit their feedback and to present the preliminary plans for the event. The Japanese police will be in attendance as an observer. The police department ultimately must approve the race.
08/12/05 This rumor is upgraded to 'fact' today. The Otaru race press conference held in Tokyo made headlines in the Japan newspapers as can be seen from the image to the right. Pictured meeting Japanese dignitaries is Jim Michaelian, boss of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Jim made the trip to lend his expertise to the planning of the race. Kevin Kalkhoven said to AutoRacing1.com Friday, "If there ever was a challenger to Monte Carlo, Otaru is it. It is absolutely beautiful and much like Monte Carlo with the mountains right there and the track overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Things are moving ahead nicely for this race. The Japanese are doing their usual thorough job of planning the event." The headline above reads, Otaru Street Race in 2007, First time in Japan, will bring Champ Car from America." Mark C.
07/31/05 There will be a major press conference regarding the Otaru race on August 8th in the Tokyo Imperial Hotel. This weekend about 1/2 million people visited the Otaru GP booth with a Champ Car on display. A lot of signatures were obtained on a petition that will go to the police Department to get their approval. Another conference will be held August 7th in Otaru with a number of delegates and officials.
07/16/05 Word in the Champ Car paddock is that Seattle is one of the eight cities interested in a Champ Car race. It would mean the end of the Portland race if it were to happen.....Otaru, Japan city council has now made the Champ Car race an official project, meaning that the city is serious about making it happen. We hear a Formula Nippon driver might be eyeing Champ Car.
03/30/05 We are splitting this rumor off from the China one. This Champ Car article sheds a lot more light on the Japan race - key excerpts (Photos by Hiroshi Nakajima) - The Otaru Grand Prix organization was formed in 2003. So the Otaru group set up a symposium to discuss their next move. They invited former F1 driver and well-known Japanese team owner Satoru Nakajima and some Japanese motorsports writers to the discussion and Japan’s Autosport magazine published a story about the city’s wishes to run a street race.
A couple of veteran Japanese journalists, photographers and racing magazine and book publishers have covered American racing for more than ten years and their company is called the ARMS Corporation. They publish a quarterly magazine called US Racing and run a website by the same name. After reading about Otaru in Autosport, they contacted the mayor and told him that they believed Champ Car was the solution to their problem.
“We met with the people at Otaru early last summer and we told them about Champ Car,” Hiroshi Nakajima commented. “They were surprised to learn about Champ Car and that Champ Car ran more street course races than any other international racing organizing body. We educated them about Champ Car and they were very excited.”
They then contacted Dick Eidswick. “We’ve been talking to Champ Car for most of the past year,” Nakajima said. “Dick Eidswick has been very helpful from the beginning.”
The enterprising Japanese journalists organized a trip to Surfers Paradise for a member of the Otaru Grand Prix committee.
“We invited them to come to Surfers Paradise and they met with the promoters in Australia and also met with Kevin Kalkhoven and Dick Eidswick,” Nakajima related. “They were very excited after their visit to Surfers Paradise. It’s a very successful event of course, and a great role model for how to run a street course.”
Work continued on the project through the winter and Kalkhoven and Chrnelich finally were able to visit Otaru four weeks ago. They spent just twenty-four hours in Otaru but during that time Kalkhoven and Chrnelich agreed to target 2007 for a Champ Car race in the city.
“Kevin was very excited and energetic. He stayed up past midnight talking about the project,” Nakajima remarked.
The next day Kalkhoven and Chrnelich toured the city and met the mayor and city officials. It was a clear, cold day, with the temperature below freezing and substantial snow on the ground. Kalkhoven and the mayor exchanged gifts and also took part in a press conference to announce their plans to the Japanese media. The track would run beside Otaru’s harbor with a three-lane road on either side of the track.
“I think the location is perfect,” Nakajima asserted. “It’s right by the ocean front and the roads are wide. There are hotels and shopping malls and a lot of open land, but it’s right in the city. It looks very good. There is no rain season in the spring and fall in Hokkaido. It’s very cool. There’s snow in the winter but the weather is very nice from spring to fall.”
Fifteen people from the Otaru organizing committee will visit Long Beach next week as will representatives of the South Korean and Chinese races. Nakajima says they plan to bring Otaru’s fire department and police officials to San Jose at the end of July.
“The most important thing now is to convince the police authority and fire departments that this is a good idea,” Nakajima said. “The city officials are very excited and want to do it, but you must remember that the Japanese authorities are very conservative and something like this has never happened before in Japan. So they are very cautious and have not said, ‘Yes, you can do it.’ They are our biggest obstacle. We have yet to convince them, but we’re continuing to work on it.”
They have also been working on getting Champ Car back on TV in Japan.
“According to a poll on our website Champ Car is still the number one American category for Japanese fans ahead of IRL and NASCAR,” Nakajima added. “We believe in Champ Car and we have always believed in Champ Car. Even though Champ Car is not on television in Japan right now it’s still ahead of IRL in popularity on our website. A lot of people come to our website because they want to see Champ Cars even though there are no Japanese drivers or manufacturers. It’s fading away a little but the interest is holding on.”
Nakajima believes in Otaru just as strongly as he believes in Champ Car. “I think everyone involved with Champ Car will really enjoy Otaru,” he grins. “They will have much more fun. The hotels and the restaurants are good. The location and the train station is right there. People can have high expectations and those expectations will be met. If it happens, it’s going to be a great venue.” 03/30/05 We hear that one possible venue for Champ Car in Japan is a street race in the seaside resort city of Otaru, about 12 miles from Sapporo (where the Winter Olympics were held). Otaru is a small city of 150,000 people situated in the western part of Japan's northern island, Hokkaido. It's a far cry from the neon lights and technology driven culture of Tokyo and Osaka. This is the place where the Japanese come for their local holidays to experience the gentle, quaint and peaceful rural culture of their country.
The Japanese call Otaru the 'Venice of Japan'. Otaru has a lovely canal running through its centre, testament to its heritage as a thriving sea port. When sunset falls, lamps light up along the canal creating a warmly romantic atmosphere. In Otaru, tourism is the main growth industry.
Another possibility of course is Suzuka. Toyota has every intention of outbidding Honda for the Japanese GP to go to Fuji in 2007 so Honda might want to land another race to replace it. Whether Honda wants to do business with Champ Car is another matter.