Fuji Speedway star-finish straight
Shadowed by the mighty Mount Fuji volcano, there are few circuits more iconic than Japan’s Fuji Speedway – venue for the first SUPERGTxDTM tie-up race.
Like its fellow F1 track Suzuka, Fuji has a unique place in world motorsport, and a unique and colourful past.
This is its story.
Fuji Speedway, as its name suggests, was originally conceived as a banked superspeedway – but when finances ran short, and with only one banked corner complete, it was completed as a regular road course. Those initial races – sportscar events and even a 24-hour race – still used that banked first corner, until a number of fatalities prompted the authorities to abandon the configuration.
The circuit was the venue for the final race of the epic 1976 season. That’s year title race had been dramatically fought out between rivals James Hunt (McLaren) and Ferrari’s Niki Lauda, who had sensationally returned to the sport after a life-threatening fiery accident at the Nurburgring earlier that summer.
In typically wet conditions, Lauda had the courage to park his car at the end of the opening lap, effectively conceding the title to Hunt. First, though, Hunt had to finish third to earn the necessary points – a feat he duly achieved, but not without the drama of a late pit-stop to change a punctured tyre.
Hunt won the race the following year, but a fatal accident between Gilles Villeneuve and Ronnie Peterson, which killed a marshal and a photographer, overshadowed the event. The Japanese round of the world championship dropped off the calendar for a decade, before returning, to the Suzuka Circuit.
A change of ownership, to Toyota, and that marque’s F1 involvement, helped restore the Japanese Grand Prix to Fuji in 2007 and ’08. It also brought about an extensive re-profiling of the circuit – by renowned F1 architect Hermann Tilke – resulting in much of the original circuit being redesigned. Crucially, it lost little of its original character, and remains a daunting challenge.
Again, Fuji’s flirtation with F1 was brief – two more races – before the race returned to Suzuka.
Formula 1 at Fuji Speedway
During the 1970s and ’80s, the circuit became a busy international venue, notably hosting a 1000km sportscar race and a round of the WEC championship. Toyota’s sportscar programme also brought the circuit back onto the WEC calendar, with the rechristened Six Hours of Fuji becoming a staple from 2012.
Nowadays, it’s also a regular venue on Japan’s two biggest national series – SUPER Formula and, of course, SUPER GT.
For video gamers, the track became legendary due to its appearance on the original, iconic Pole Position arcade game, and later as a circuit on the Japanese Gran Turismo series.
WEC series at Fuji Speedway
The SUPER GT guest drivers at Hockenheim all noted that Fuji’s surface would be much bumpier than the German track. That will make it harder for the visitors to find an optimal set-up (the car will be more unsettled around the lap than on a billiard-smooth F1 circuit); that, in turn, will make practice more important as the DTM drivers work to find the best set-up.
Using modern simulators, expect the DTM regulars to waste little time learning the circuit, although it would be foolish to expect Audi and BMW to enjoy the same advantage over their SUPER GT rivals as they had at Hockenheim back in October.
Whatever happens, events are likely to be unpredictable!