Last week I had the opportunity to ride one of the best tracks in the world, but you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s called the Autopolis International Racing Course and is located in northern Kyushu, Japan, a 90-minute bus ride from the nearest city, Kumamoto.
Autopolis is a wonderfully flowing, 2.9-mile track that rises and falls like a symphonic overture, with inclines that range up to 7.2% uphill, 10% downhill. The course winds up and down a total of 170 feet during its 19 turns! But how did such a magical track end up being built in such a remote location?
Autopolis was the brainchild of Tomonori Tsurumaki. Flush with cash during Japan’s economic boom from the late 1980s, the Japanese industrialist had a dream of bringing international racing to a park-like setting, complete with luxury hotels and an art gallery. And so Autopolis was constructed in 1990 at a reported cost of a whopping $400 million, and Tsurumaki bankrolled the Benetton F1 team with Autopolis-branded sponsorship.
However, the track’s remote location made spectator attendance a difficult proposition, and the only major international race held at Autopolis was the 1991 season finale of the World Sportscar Championship won by Michael Schumacher and Karl Wendlinger. Tsurumaki’s dream ended in 1993 when Japan’s economy tanked and his company went bankrupt.
After more than a decade of neglect, Kawasaki bought Autopolis in the spring of 2005 at a fraction of the original investment. The track received a thorough rehabilitation and currently serves as Kawasaki’s exclusive test track for its production and racing bikes when it’s not being used for Japan Superbike races or automobile events.