Autopolis (オートポリス, Ōtoporisu) is an international racing circuit located near Kamitsue village in Ōita Prefecture, Japan (30 km Northeast of Kumamoto). Opened in 1990, it hosts a range of domestic and international motorsport events throughout the year. Although the track meets a high standard in terms of its facilities, it has never hosted a Formula One race. Due to the circuit ending up in financial difficulties, it has changed hands several times but still operates to this day.
The circuit, located within , was built at a cost of $500 million by the wealthy real-estate developer and investment banker who made headlines in 1989, when during a Paris auction, he successfully bid a Pablo Picasso painting Les Noces de Pierrette for $51.3 million from his Tokyo hotel room. Following his successful bid, he announced that his painting was to hang at the art gallery of the auto racing resort, under development at the time.
Tsurumaki ordered 30 Buick powered US built single seater race cars called "Sabre Cars" for a race to take place on his circuit's grand opening, on November 1990 consisting of a mixture of invited US CART drivers such as Stan Fox, Johnny Rutherford, Dick Simon, Gary and Tony Bettenhausen, against local Japanese drivers. After the grand opening, Tsurumaki planned on a series with the cars, known as Formula Crane 45. A few races were run in 1991, with only a handful of cars competing.
The only major international race held at Autopolis was the final race of the 1991 World Sportscar Championship season, the 1991 430km of Autopolis, which was won by Michael Schumacher and Karl Wendlinger in a Mercedes-Benz C291 fielded by Sauber.
Autopolis first hosted a Super GT race in 1999, the season-ending exhibition race, which was won by Tom Coronel and Hidetoshi Mitsusada in a Honda NSX-GT fielded by Nakajima Racing. After a three-year absence, the circuit has regularly been hosting races in the series since 2003, although with some exceptions. Autopolis first held a Super Formula race in 2006, and with some exceptions, the track has regularly been part of the series since then.
To promote the venue's intention to host a Formula One race, it sponsored the Benetton Formula One team in 1990 and 1991. The cars featured prominent Autopolis logos. Visitors criticized the track for being too remote to the hotels which required a several hours bus ride and felt that it was unsuitable for an F1 race. By then, hopes were fading, Tsurumaki turned up at the 1992 Portuguese Grand Prix. Whilst staying in Estoril, $250,000 of cash and jewels was stolen from his hotel room.
Tsurumaki also invested in race horse A.P. Indy and paintings of renowned painters such as Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Chagall, Renoir and Magritte before his company, collapsed, leading to his bankruptcy in 1993. The circuit plus the paintings and contents ended up in the hands of Hazama who was responsible for the construction of the race track. Ultimately, TI Circuit Aida would host a second Japanese race in Formula One calendar in 1994, but suffered from the same location-related criticism and was removed at the end of the following season.
By 1995, the company offered the site for sale at 10% of its build cost which consisted of three hotels, swimming pools and an artificial ski slope. The paintings by then remained in a bank vault waiting to be sold.
The circuit is located in an upland area of the island which means the air is thin with low atmospheric pressure, similar to Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City. It has an elevation change of over 50 metres (160 ft) with the first section generally downhill and the latter part of the course runs uphill.
- 15 Oct 2010 - 17 Oct 2010 Autopolis International Circuit, Japan - afos.com Archived May 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- Japanese Developer Buys Picasso at Record Price - New York Times
- F1 News - Grandprix.com > GP Encyclopedia > Circuits > Nippon Autopolis
- SPORTS PEOPLE: HORSE RACING; Sold! For $2.9 Million - New York Times
- National Museum of Racing - Hall of Fame Archived September 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld By David E. Kaplan, Alec Dubro
- The Art of a Failed Economy | www.japaninc.com
- F1 News - Grandprix.com: Autopolis going to the wall
- Kawasaki Takes Over Autopolis Racing Course - News Releases KHI Archived January 2, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
- "Gran Turismo Sport 1.34 Update Now Available: Five New Cars, Autopolis Circuit and More". GTPlanet. 2019-03-05. Retrieved 2019-09-08.
- Official website in Japanese
- Circuit map and full history at RacingCircuits.info
- Article about the origins of the Autopolis circuit
- Circuits' Map
- Satellite picture by Google Maps