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Fuji set to get F1 race, will Champ Car get Suzuka? UPDATE #14 Honda is making a last-ditch bid to ensure that its Suzuka circuit keeps a place in the Formula 1 world championship. It was announced last March that the Japanese Grand Prix would move to Toyota-owned Fuji International Speedway in 2007. The deal was a major coup for Toyota, which had been trying to lure the country’s big race away from its rival manufacturer for several years.

However, Autosport reports that Honda is now lobbying Toyota to come to an arrangement whereby the race would alternate between the two venues. Yasuhiro Wada, head of Honda Racing Development, told the magazine: “We want to see if there is any possibility of both circuits sharing the Japanese GP.

“I cannot blame Toyota for wanting to host the race. But Suzuka is one of F1’s classic tracks, like Spa or Monza, and to lose it would be a great pity.” Fuji staged Japan’s first two world championship grands prix in 1976 and 1977, but the race has been held at Suzuka since 1987.

When the Fuji deal was announced, F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone handed Suzuka a lifeline by holding out the possibility of a second Japanese race. It has been suggested that a ‘Pacific GP’ at Suzuka could slot into the three-week gap on the current draft calendar between the Australian GP (March 18) and the Malaysian GP (April 8). ITV-F1

03/15/06 In the 'Yomiuri Shimbun' newspaper, the 75-year-old F1 supremo was quoted as saying that Fuji - owned by Toyota - had convinced him to take the race away from Honda-owned Suzuka, home of the GP since 1987.

The newspaper said the deal was for multiple years, and does not include the possibility of a second Japanese race, such as a 'Pacific' or 'Asian' GP.

We said this a long time ago which is what generated the possibility of a Champ Car race at Suzuka since the track will no longer have a 'big' race after this year.  Sure Champ Car is talking to Otaru officials, but this race would have the backing of Honda, a major plus, especially if the two series merge.  Would Honda want back-to-back weekend races at Motegi and Suzuka?  Seems far-fetched, but the cars and teams would already be in Japan so the incremental cost would not be as great.  The tracks are also far enough apart, but in the end it may simply be too much for Honda to support two races, which is really too bad for Suzuka as it is a great facility. 

03/14/06 This rumor is upgraded to 'fact' today.  Toyota's Fuji Speedway will host the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix, replacing Honda's Suzuka circuit as the venue for the event.  The news was confirmed to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper by Bernie Ecclestone.

03/13/06 Reports from Japan on Monday suggest Suzuka has lost its race, with the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper claiming Formula One commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone has confirmed the deal.  But Ecclestone offered hope to Suzuka, suggesting a second race in Japan, as happened in the 1990s, could yet be arranged.  Suzuka president Ikuo Shimizu told Yomiuri Shimbun: "I'm not surprised at all. I'm going to keep on negotiating."

With Honda and Ford set to compete head-to-head in a merged IRL/Champ Car series (rumored) would it make sense for them to continue to race at Motegi, or race at Motegi and then Suzuka on consecutive weekends (both tracks are owned by Honda).  Of course this assumes Suzuka does not get a 2nd Japanese GP.  We doubt they will unless they line Bernie's pockets with gold...er, money, because the F1 schedule already has too many races on it.

12/03/05 Fuji can seat up to 120,000 spectators, plus general admission.  The new track will have 20,000 permanent covered seats and 100,000 temporary seats. 11/22/05   This rumor is close to going to 'fact.'   Bernie Ecclestone has reportedly granted Toyota's wish by adding the renovated 'Fuji Speedway' to the 2007 calendar.

Toyota, with the Cologne based grand prix team, also owns the track situated at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Japan.

Fuji hosted the pinnacle of racing in 1976 and '77, but every other F1 race in Japan has been staged at Suzuka, run by arch carmaker-rival Honda.

'Sources close to the negotiations' told Japanese publication Asahi Weekly that Ecclestone, the F1 boss, and the FIA, have decided - but not announced - the Fuji coup.

Suzuka's F1 contract runs out in 2006.

''One possible outcome of negotiations,'' Asahi Weekly wrote, ''would be for Suzuka ... to share the event with (Fuji).''......or for Champ Car to race at Suzuka when Bernie drops Honda (Suzuka) in favor of Toyota (Fuji).

[In a related report, Grandprix.com reports Suzuka's contract with Formula One Management is understood to expire after the 2006 event and much effort was being made by Suzuka and the local government to keep the race but it seems that Toyota (with its much deeper pockets) has outbid Honda for the event, despite fears that Fuji might not have sufficient hotel capacity. Toyota, it appears, has undertaken to sort out this problem in the time available and construction of new hotels is expected shortly in the towns of Gotemba and Hakone. Access to the track is also expected to be improved.]

09/09/05 The word on the street in Japan is that Toyota is pushing hard for a Grand Prix at Mount Fuji early next year, presumably fitting it in with the plan to hold the first three races in Bahrain, Malaysia and Australia. Logically-speaking if there was to be a fourth race on the early season swing to the Orient it would have to take place on April 16 when the teams would be on the their way back from Australia. This would mean that either the San Marino Grand Prix is dumped from the calendar, easy enough given the recent tobacco legislation decision in Italy and the poor crowd numbers at recent years, or the Imola race would have to be slotted into the calendar later in the year.

There have been two races in Japan in a year before but they were close together on the calendar and thus took spectators away from one another. With a race in the spring at Fuji and another in the autumn at Suzuka, Japanese fans would get the chance to see F1 twice in the same year.  Grandprix.com

03/01/05 Added photos courtesy of Reuters below showing Ralf's run at Fuji and an aerial view of the revised circuit with the snowcapped Mt. Fuji in the background. 02/28/05 A handful of laps by F1 ace Ralf Schumacher gave life to Fuji's plan to sneak the Japanese GP. Owned by Toyota, current F1 venue, Suzuka, is run by arch Japanese carmaker rival, Honda. Fuji, after extensive modifications, is now F1-ready, having won a Grade-1 FIA license. ''It looks really great,'' said 29-year-old Schumacher, who steered a year-old TF104 prior to setting off to Melbourne. "While the changes have been great, the long straight is still there, so the character of the circuit is still there," said the German. "It's great. It's obviously a bit difficult, but I was enjoying it."

The circuit, at the foot of Mount Fuji, will formally open with a ceremony on 10 April, with its first race a Super GT Fuji 500km race on 3-4 May. Toyota executive director Tetsuo Hattori said the company wanted to bring F1 back to the circuit, which held Grands Prix in 1976 and 1977. "We want to do it (F1) here by all means," he said.

Suzuka has a contract to stage the F1 race until 2006. Toyota upgraded the track with an enlarged paddock meeting Formula One specifications, winning approval of a 'Grade One' license by the FIA in January. Toyota, which holds 93.4 percent shares of Fuji International Speedway Co. Ltd., and Honda intensified their motor sports rivalry in 2002 when Toyota made its F1 debut as a full works team. Honda has its own circuits at Suzuka, 300 kilometers (185 miles) southwest of Tokyo, which has the rights to stage the Japanese Grand Prix until next year, and at Twin Ring Motegi, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Tokyo. 

10/31/04 Some people are now speculating that the Pacific GP could be resurrected and between Fuji and Suzuka, one would get the Japanese GP and the other the Pacific GP. Bottom line - with all these new races coming aboard (Bulgaria, Cancun, Fuji, Russia, etc) how are they going to fit on the F1 calendar which is already at 19 races next year. The Concorde agreement calls for 16. If Champ Car is positioned correctly, they can take some of the venues F1 does not, be they new venues or existing ones such as Silverstone. Mark C.

10/13/04 This week's Autosport Magazine reports that the Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway is set to snatch the Japanese Grand Prix away from Suzuka in 2006. The track has undergone extensive redevelopment and has facilities that are said to far outstrip those of Honda-owned Suzuka, where the Japanese GP has been held since 1987. The $600m (£336m) redevelopment is being overseen by modern-day F1 circuit guru Hermann Tilke and is due for completion by the end of February. Fuji president Sam Shimada said the track is “almost ready”, with the pits complex and grandstands due to be finished in time for a February opening ceremony. One source close to F1 supremo Ecclestone said Fuji, which last hosted the Japanese GP in 1976 and 1977, was “as good as on the 2006 calendar”, notwithstanding Suzuka’s existing contract to host the race until 2006. FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting was due to fly to the track immediately after last Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix to carry out a preliminary circuit inspection. While a revised Fuji would fit the current F1vogue for a calendar based around state-of-the-art race ‘facilities’, such as those in Bahrain, Shanghai and Malaysia, a number of problems remain to be resolved.

10/12/04 Toyota motorsport boss Tsutomu Tomita took the opportunity at Suzuka to gently warn Bernie Ecclestone that the fees he is trying to charge race promoters are too high. Toyota is currently redeveloping the Fuji International Speedway and will be challenging Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix in 2007. Tomita was asked about Silverstone and said that "of course, we don't like to lose such a traditional Grand Prix event" and then added that "sorry to Bernie, but 10% increase every year is a little bit too big." Toyota's Hisamitsu Shimada, the Mt Fuji project leader, was at Suzuka and says that the work at Fuji will be finished in April 2005 and that the company will then begin to bid for the Grand Prix in 2007 as Suzuka's deal with Formula One Management ends after the 2006 race. As Honda is supporting Suzuka and Toyota supporting Fuji there is the possibility of an impressive auction for the event, although Bernie Ecclestone may conclude that he will get more money if he agrees to host two Grands Prix in Japan: reviving the old idea of the Pacific Grand Prix. This of course will increase the pressure on the old races in Europe. Grandprix.com

[Editor's Note: We don't see any room on the F1 schedule for two races in Japan. The IRL is already locked in with Honda at Motegi, so one of two things will happen, Toyota will win the F1 bid and Honda will no longer have a use for Suzuka and can plow it under and build a housing development or leave it and use it as a test track for their passenger cars; or Honda will win the bid and Toyota will have spent all that money to reconstruct Mt. Fuji for nothing. It remains to be seen whether Champ Car is again a major player in the motorsports market by then such that Honda or Toyota would want a Champ Car race at their facility. Neither currently is involved with Champ Car, though Toyota does have some fringe involvement with the Champ Car Toyota Atlantic series. Whether they continue that involvement beyond 2005 is highly speculative, though OWRS and Toyota are talking. If Champ Car were to adopt the new Force 10 car being supplied to the Superfund Euro 3000 series in 2005, a car that is fast enough to qualify for a F1 race, there could be some hope of that happening. However, there is no sign that Honda or Toyota are interested in supplying engines to Champ Car in the future, and without their involvement in the series, it's questionable whether a Champ Car race at Mt. Fuji or Suzuka makes any sense at all.] 

4/16/03 This Grandprix.com article says, The Mount Fuji racing circuit will close this autumn so that construction can bring the track up to full Formula 1 specification. The program of work is huge and it will mean that the Toyota-owned circuit will not be opening again until the Spring of 2005, at which point it is expected to bid for the Japanese GP in 2007 and beyond. F1 circuit designer Hermann Tilke was commissioned by Toyota to redesign the circuit, which sits in the shadow of Mount Fuji, within easy reach of Tokyo. The plans will retain the general shape of the original race track, the topography making it difficult to do otherwise, but the actual track layout will be very different. The character of the track will not however change, with the long main straight being retained, but all the corners will be reprofiled to a lesser or greater extent with the result being a circuit which will be 150m longer than the current track. Safety will be completely revamped with wider run-off areas, better drainage, FIA specification spectator zone protection and new service roads. The rebuild will include a completely new pit and garage area which will house a Media Center capable of housing 500 journalists and all the necessary race control functions. The vast main grandstand will be revamped to give individual spectators more space and a huge new grandstand will be built at the first corner. This will provide views of most of the rest of the circuit. In order to improve access two new entry roads will be built.

11/27/03 - Did you know? In 1966 USAC, then the sanctioning body of Indy car racing ran a race at Fuji. The winner was Jackie Stewart in a Lola Ford owned by John Mecum and wrenched by George Bignotti. Stewart also came within about ten laps of winning Indy that year with the same team but had engine failure and his teammate Graham Hill won in a controversial finish over Jim Clark.

11/26/02 - A reader writes, Dear AutoRacing1.com, I could not help but notice the reports that Toyota's Lee White led everyone to believe that Toyota would be back in CART in 2005 at the CART Awards banquet in Miami. I also saw today's story you published about the Toyota F1 test at Fuji before the track is closed for a major overhaul. It would seem to me that the finish of the track and Toyota's return to CART would coincide. If that is the case, it would seem to me that Toyota would want CART to race at the new Fuji in 2005. After all, Honda has a F1 race (Suzuka) and IRL race (Motegi) and Toyota has no big race of their own. Lisa Perotta, San Diego, CA Dear Lisa, Indeed it would make absolute sense for CART to race at Fuji, especially since it is a road course and that appears to be CART's new emphasis. Now we will see just how sincere Lee White and Toyota are about returning to CART in 2005. If they are sincere, one would think they would open up a dialogue with CART immediately for a 2005 event before CART signs with Beijing or South Korea, which our sources say is quite likely. Chris Pook says CART will have one race in Asia, so if CART goes to Beijing, F1 stays at Suzuka (very likely), and the IRL stays at the oval in Motegi (very likely), Toyota will have made a major investment in Fuji and won't have a major race to show for it. Mark C.

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