Mie: F1 city Suzuka goes full throttle to attract fans

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yoshishige Nakano, right, shows Suzuka Circuit’s attractions to participants on a tour of the facility on June 19 in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture.

SUZUKA, Mie — Local people are utilizing Suzuka Circuit, where the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix takes place, to revitalize the community in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture.

The city has a population of about 190,000 and developed as a town around Honda Motor Co. The automaker began operating its Suzuka plant in 1960 as a manufacturing center for the Super Cub, a small scooter that became popular worldwide.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Race of the Japanese Grand Prix in 2019

A Honda affiliate opened Suzuka Circuit in 1962, and the race track has become a sacred place for motorsports fans, attracting visitors from across the nation.

Honda founder Soichiro Honda was named an honorary resident of Suzuka.

A group of volunteers, the nonprofit organization Suzuka Motor Sports Supporters Association, is planning to utilize the circuit to revitalize the city and is working with the local government to make it happen.

Touring the facility

The Suzuka Motor Sports Supporters Association conducted a tour of the facility in the northern part of the prefecture on June 19, when amateur races were being held. Participants toured the track on a bus and visited the special VIP suite.

“It’s a rare experience, isn’t it?” said Yoshishige Nakano, 63, to those on the tour.

Nakano is secretary general of the association and used to work at the circuit. With Nakano as their guide, the tour group was able to see areas that are normally off-limits to the public. A 34-year-old man from the prefecture was able to stand on the winners podium and experience what it would be like to win a race.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Participants tour the track and check a hairpin turn at Suzuka Circuit.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Participants on a tour stand on the podium at Suzuka Circuit.

After Suzuka Circuit succeeded in attracting F1 in 1987, the name of the city became known worldwide. Tourists from overseas began to arrive, and the city became more vibrant.

Residents’ enthusiasm

However, in the 2000s, the wind changed direction. Reports circulated that the venue for the Japanese Grand Prix would be moved to Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka Prefecture.

As the city did not want this to happen, the Suzuka city government declared itself a motorsports city in 2004. The residents also took action to protect Suzuka as an F1 city, and an organization that became the predecessor of the Suzuka Motor Sports Supporters Association was established in 2005.

The enthusiasm of the city eventually paid off. Although the Japanese Grand Prix moved to Fuji Speedway in 2007 and 2008, it returned to Suzuka in 2009.

“We need to have everyone be familiar with the circuit and make use of it,” Nakano said.

Celebrating 60 years

To further promote the track and the city, the association launched projects unique to Suzuka, such as allowing local elementary and junior high school students to ride in a professional race car and experience what it would be like to be a race car driver.

The municipality is also making efforts to increase the number of F1 fans by publishing articles in the city’s information paper and organizing F1 tours.

“In cities overseas with race venues, you see that motorsports have become a part of the local community, bringing liveliness to the area,” said Osamu Hatagawa, president of the association.

The 74-year-old former race car driver hopes that motorsports will be a part of the culture in Japan as well.

The circuit will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year, and the association is planning to accelerate its efforts. It plans to create an activity that will convey the history of the track to the public.

“I want to make the most of our treasures and create a community that is full of dreams and hopes,” Nakano said.

Suzuka Circuit

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The 5.8-kilometer track opened in September 1962. The site also includes an amusement park, a hotel and an auto campground. In addition to the Japanese Grand Prix, the other famous event is the Suzuka Eight Hours endurance motorcycle race, which started in 1978.