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. The track is noted to have a high standard of facilities and infrastructure. 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 Aso Kujū National Park, 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 to the WSC event 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, the track's event slot for 1993 was given to Donington Park, and 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.
In March 2019, the circuit was added to the video game Gran Turismo Sport through a game update. It has also been featured in Need for Speed: ProStreet, Need for Speed: Shift and Shift 2: Unleashed.
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. The start/finish straight is located at an altitude of 820 metres (2,690 ft).
The official race lap records at the Autopolis are listed as:
|Grand Prix Circuit: 4.673 km (1990-present)|
|Super Formula||1:26.960||Naoki Yamamoto||Dallara SF19||2020 Autopolis Super Formula Championship round|
|Group C||1:30.615||Yannick Dalmas||Peugeot 905 Evo 1 Bis||1991 430 km of Autopolis|
|Super GT-GT500||1:35.246||João Paulo de Oliveira||Nissan GT-R GT500||2015 Autopolis Super GT-GT500 round|
|Super Formula Lights||1:37.114||Sena Sakaguchi||Dallara 320-Volkswagen||2020 Super Formula Lights Autopolis round|
|FRJC||1:43.165||Dome F111/3||2020 Autopolis FRJC round|
|Super GT-GT300||1:45.028||Kenta Yamashita||Toyota 86 MC||2017 Autopolis Super GT-GT300 round|
|TCR Touring Car||1:56.798||Takuro Shinohara||Audi RS 3 LMS TCR||2020 Autopolis TCR Japan round|
- 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
- Cooper, Adam (April 17, 2020). "Why Japan's second F1 race didn't take off". Motorsport.com. Retrieved October 28, 2020.
- 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.
- Google Earth
- "Sportscar World Championship Autopolis 1991". Retrieved 5 April 2021.
- "Autopolis 300 Kilometres 2015". Retrieved 5 April 2021.
- "FRJC Autopolis Round 14 Results" (PDF). Retrieved 18 May 2021.
- "300 km Autopolis 2017". Retrieved 5 April 2021.
- "2020 TCR Japan Autopolis Round 4 Saturday Race Results" (PDF). Retrieved 7 August 2021.
- 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