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What you may not know about Aida

THE biggest problem with the Tanaka International racing circuit at Aida is that it isn't near anywhere. TI is located in a remote, densely-wooded and mountainous area. The nearest small town is 12 miles away along narrow roads.

Why was the track built in such a remote location? Because in Japan land is expensive, even for multi-millionaires, and the only people who can afford to build race tracks near cities are major corporations such as Honda or Yamaha.

Like the Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet in France, the TI track is named after the man who built it, Mr. Hajime Tanaka, president of the Tanaka International Co. The company was founded by his father and was a hugely wealthy enterprise because it owned a string of golf courses around Japan. The demand for golf in Japan - the membership fees are colossal - is such that many Japanese prefer to fly abroad to play. Tanaka's passion was cars, and so when he had the chance he sold a couple of his golf courses and spent $100 million to buy the land and then carve a circuit out of the rock. In order to help pay for the track, Tanaka came up with the idea of selling memberships for the TI Sports Club, a members-only motor racing club with life membership costing $100,000. In order to keep the members happy, Tanaka built a plush clubhouse and a hotel on-site, in addition to plenty of garages in which the members store their McLaren F1 supercars, their Ferraris, Bugattis and so on. When they feel the need they can fly down from Tokyo and drive around the track, playing at being racing drivers. In the booming late 1980s, Tanaka was able to sell 350 memberships - most to private individuals but some to corporations such as Toyota and Nissan.

The circuit was opened in November 1990 and hosted motorcycle and car races in 1991. Until the Grand Prix teams arrived in early 1994, Tanaka himself held the lap record, with one of his own personal Tyrrells.

Tanaka's dream was always to host a full-blown F1 Grand Prix, and he was helped in this aim because the Okayama Prefecture - the local state government - wanted to promote the region as a tourist destination and high-technology center. Okayama hoped that the Grand Prix racing would attract people to see its pagodas, shrines and castles. The region also boasts the spectacular Seto Ohashi bridges - which span the islands of the inland sea - and link Shikoku to the Japanese mainland.

The only F1 race at Aida took place early last year, with Michael Schumacher winning after Ayrton Senna was punted off at the first corner by Mika Hakkinen's McLaren.

The 1995 race was to have taken place in April, but the local authorities pulled out of the World Championship as a result of the devastating Kobe earthquake in January. This seriously damaged the local infrastructure and communications, making it very difficult for spectators to reach the remote track from Japan's big cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. The local authorities in the Okayama prefecture felt that the problems of transportation might be overcome in time for the race, but decided that it would not be correct to host the race while money could be better spent repairing the damage to Kobe.

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