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The Best Racetrack Youíve Never Heard Of

Sat, 08 Nov 2008 00:00:00 -0800

Last week I had the opportunity to ride one of the best tracks in the world, but youíve probably never heard of it. Itís 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 Japanís 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 trackís 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. Tsurumakiís dream ended in 1993 when Japanís 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 Kawasakiís exclusive test track for its production and racing bikes when itís not being used for Japan Superbike races or automobile events.

Check out my review of the 2009 ZX-6R to see footage from Autopolis, including a dual-camera lap of the circuit that can be found in that articleís video gallery.

By Kevin Duke

See also: POW! 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R at Autopolis, Finally, a Gun Rack for your Motorcycle!, A Weighty Issue.