The Suzuka International Racing Course (鈴鹿国際レーシングコース, Suzuka Kokusai Rēsing Kōsu), more famously known as the Suzuka Circuit (鈴鹿サーキット, Suzuka Sākitto), is a motorsport race track located in Ino, Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture, Japan and operated by Mobilityland Corporation, a subsidiary of Honda Motor Co, Ltd. It has a capacity of 155,000.
Soichiro Honda decided to develop a new permanent circuit in Mie prefecture in the late 1950s. Designed as a Honda test track in 1962 by Dutchman John "Hans" Hugenholtz, The most special part of the track is the "figure eight" layout, with the 1.2 km back straight passing over the front section by means of an overpass. It's one of only two FIA Grade 1 licensed tracks to have a "figure eight" layout, the other one being the Fiorano Circuit.
The circuit has been modified four times:
In 1983 a chicane was inserted at the last curve to slow the cars into the pit straight and the Degner curve was made into two corners instead of one long curve; the circuit was also made considerably safer by adding more crash barriers, more run-off areas and removing straw bales leading into vegetation. The original circuit was an incredibly fast track with only one slow corner; without the Casio chicane some cars would go past the pits at more than 200 mph (320 km/h).
In 2002, the chicane was slightly modified, 130R (marked as 15 on the diagram) was also modified and some of the snake curves were made a bit straighter and faster; additionally, the runoff area at the Dunlop Curve was doubled from 12 metres to 25 metres, and the corner itself was made slightly tighter.
In 2003, the chicane was made slightly faster and closer to the 130R.
Following the death of Daijiro Kato at the 2003 Japanese motorcycle Grand Prix, Suzuka reconfigured the motorcycle variant of what is now known as the Hitachi Automotive Systems Chicane before the final turn, and added a second chicane, between the hairpin and 200R.
The circuit can be used in five configurations; the car full circuit, the motorcycle full circuit, the "Suzuka east," "Suzuka west car," and "Suzuka west motorcycle" configurations. The "east" portion of the course consists of the pit straight to the first half of the Dunlop curve (turn seven), before leading back to the pit straight via a tight right-hander. The "west" course is made up of the other part of the full circuit, including the crossover bridge; the straight leading to the overpass is used for the start/finish line and the grid. The chicane between the hairpin and 200R separates the west and full course sections between cars and motorcycles.
The Degner curve was named in honour of Ernst Degner after he crashed his factory Suzuki 50 there during Suzuka's inaugural All Japan Championship Road Race meeting on 3 November 1962.
In 2014 Jules Bianchi suffered a fatal crash after colliding with a recovery vehicle.
Suzuka, openly touted by F1 drivers and fans as one of the most enjoyed, is also one of the oldest remaining tracks of the Formula One World Championship, and has a long history of races as venue of the Japanese Grand Prix since 1987. Its traditional role as one of the last Grands Prix of the season means numerous world championships have been decided at the track. Four years consecutively in its early history the circuit saw the world championship decided. These include the 1988 championship, which went to Ayrton Senna, the controversial 1989 championship, which went to Alain Prost, and the 1990 and 1991 world championships, which both went to Senna.
Suzuka was dropped from the Formula One calendar for the 2007 and 2008 seasons in favour of the Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway, after the latter underwent a transformation and redesign by circuit designer Hermann Tilke. Suzuka and Fuji were to alternate hosting the Japanese Grand Prix from 2009. However, after Fuji announced in July 2009 that it would no longer be part of the F1 calendar, Suzuka signed a deal to host the Japanese Grand Prix in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
The circuit closed for a year for renovations to make it F1-compliant for 2009, with the last major event held on November 18, 2007, although some annual events (for instance, the Suzuka 8 Hours and Suzuka 1000km) were still held. The track held a re-opening day on April 12, 2009.
Suzuka also hosts other motorsport events including the Suzuka 1000 km endurance race. Previously a part of multiple GT racing series including the now defunct group C class of the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, the Suzuka 1000 km as of 2006 is now a points round of the Super GT Series, and is the only race of such length in that series. In 2010, the GT500 pole position time was 1:55.237. In 2007, the GT300 pole position time was 2:06.838.
Another major motorsport event is the Suzuka 8 Hours for motorcycles, which has been run since 1978. This event usually attracts big name riders and with the exception of 2005, due to the importance of the major manufacturers' involvement, the FIM ensures that no motorcycle races clash on the date.
NASCAR organized the NASCAR Thunder 100, a pair of exhibition 100-lap races on the east circuit, a 1.4 miles (2.3 km) layout which utilizes the pit straight and esses, before rejoining the main circuit near the Casio triangle. The cars were Sprint Cup Series and Camping World West Series cars and the field was by invitation for the two races, run after the 1996 and 1997 seasons. The 1996 event was marred by tragedy when during practice, pace car driver Elmo Langley died of a heart attack in the Chevrolet Corvette pace car at the esses during an evaluation run. The pole position speed was 83.079 miles per hour (133.703 km/h). During qualifying for the 1997 race, rain caused Goodyear to use rain tires on Winston Cup cars for the first time in the modern era.
It was announced on June 21, 2010 that the east section of the Suzuka Circuit would host the Japan round of the 2011 WTCC season instead of the Okayama International Circuit. At the 2012 event, the pole position time was 52.885 seconds, for an average speed of 94.875 miles per hour (152.687 km/h).
Following two major accidents in 2002 and 2003, one of the main issues in safety has been at the corner 130R (marked 15 in the track map above). In 2002, Toyota F1 driver Allan McNish suffered a high-speed crash through the bump, which sent him through a metal fence; he was not seriously injured.
Track officials revised the 130R, redesigning it as a double-apex section, one with an 85 metres (279 ft) radius, and then a second featuring a 340 metres (1,115 ft) radius, leading to a much closer Casio triangle (chicane), with the chicane becoming a "bus stop" type for motorcycles.
However, the problem continued for the new revised section. During the 2003 MotoGP Grand Prix of Japan, the track's first major event since the revisions, MotoGP rider Daijiro Kato was killed when he crashed in the new section, on his way to the braking zone for the Casio triangle. MotoGP has not returned to Suzuka since the incident.
The official lap record for the current circuit layout is 1:30.983, set by Lewis Hamilton during the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix. Previously, the record was set in 2005 by Kimi Räikkönen with a time of 1:31.540. The unofficial all-time track record is 1:27.064, set by Sebastian Vettel during final qualifying for the aforementioned 2019 race.
In video games
Along with Fuji Speedway, the Suzuka Circuit was one of the four tracks featured in the video game Pole Position II. The track is referred to in the Namco Museum versions of the game as the "Wonder Circuit" ("Orange Circuit" in Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade), after Namco's "Wonder" series of amusement parks, despite its logo appearing on the starter's box since 1983.
Suzuka 8 Hours was released for the Super NES in 1993; the motorcycle variant of the race. The Suzuka Circuit is also featured in the Final Lap and the Ferrari F355 Challenge arcade games and video games such as Super Monaco GP, Forza Motorsport 2, Forza Motorsport 3, Forza Motorsport 4, Forza Motorsport 7, Gran Turismo 4, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, Gran Turismo for PlayStation Portable, Gran Turismo 5, Gran Turismo 6, Gran Turismo Sport, RaceRoom, iRacing , R: Racing Evolution, Shift 2 Unleashed, Le Mans 24 Hours, The Cycles, MotoGP 3 of PlayStation 2, MotoGP 4, Tourist Trophy, Auto Modellista, , Real Racing 3, and as the final race in Taito's racing game Continental Circus. The east course was featured in NASCAR 98. Suzuka's Ferris wheel was paid homage in the "Big Forest Track" in Virtua Racing. A mod for Mario Kart Wii, CTGP Revolution, exists that adds the track.
Project CARS and Project CARS 2 have a Japanese circuit inspired by Suzuka, called Sakitto Circuit. Sakitto has numerous visual differences from the original Suzuka, including the change of position of the Ferris Wheel near to Degner curves, as well as the absence of the Casio triangle and the Hairpin, a very modified esses section, and a road pass through the real life location of the Ferris Wheel.
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