OCTOBER 23, 1995
What you may not know about Suzuka
SUZUKA, in the Mie Prefecture of Japan between the cities of Nagoya and Osaka, is Honda's own racing circuit, built in 1961-62 to test the company's products. Suzuka was chosen because it was there in 1960 that the company opened its first mass-production facility. For Honda, the Suzuka factory was a huge risk. It needed a 10 billion Yen investment at a time when the company was worth only 1.4 billion Yen.
When it opened it was the largest motorcycle plant in the world, capable of manufacturing 30,000 motorcycles every month. Not far from the factory an automotive theme park - called Motor Sportsland - was established to help educate the Japanese about the cars and bikes. It has had a variety of names over the years, but the 2.5 million square meters of amusement park has become a huge attraction with hotels, golf courses, restaurants, swimming pools, ice skating rinks, monorails, big wheels and event halls - not to mention a racing circuit.
The racing circuit was designed by Dutchman John Hugenholz, the man behind Zandvoort, Jarama and the modification of Hockenheim, and was a most unusual design - one of the few figure-of-eight tracks in the world. In fact, it is not just one circuit but two, which can be used independently or combined, with each having a separate pit area and race control building.
The building work was completed in June 1962 and the inaugural event - an All Japan motorcycle race - took place in November. A year later the World Motorcycle Championships visited for the first time. The first car race took place in May 1963 - a sportscar race called the Japanese Grand Prix - which was won by a young British racer named Peter Warr, who would go on to become the boss of the Lotus F1 team. The track was granted an international license in 1966, and the Suzuka 1000kms became an important event. From 1974 onwards the track hosted the Japanese GP for Formula 2 cars.
In 1983, the chicane before the pits was added after a terrible accident the previous year, and in 1987 major work was done in preparation for the first F1 Japanese Grand Prix. Ironically, having won 11 of the 14 GPs of that season, Honda engines were beaten at Suzuka that year by the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger.
It did not happen again and in 1988 Ayrton Senna, who had made a dreadful start, put in one of the best drives of his career to catch and pass his McLaren team mate Alain Prost and win the World Championship. Soichiro Honda, the man who started the Honda empire in 1948, was there to celebrate a great victory.
A year later Prost drove into Senna at the chicane amid much controversy, to win the World title; but Senna got his revenge in 1990, when he drove Prost's Ferrari off the road at the first corner to win his second championship. In both years Benetton picked up the scraps: Alessandro Nannini winning his only GP victory in 1989, and Nelson Piquet and Roberto Moreno finishing 1-2 in 1990.
In 1991, Senna dominated but pulled over at the finish to let his McLaren-Honda team mate Berger win, to thank the Austrian for his help in winning Senna's third title. In 1992, Nigel Mansell did the same for his Williams partner Riccardo Patrese.
In 1993, Senna drove another brilliant race in wet/dry conditions to take his underpowered McLaren-Ford to victory. There was trouble after the race when Senna - at the instigation of a mischievous Berger - gave F1 new boy Eddie Irvine a clip round the ear.
The race was so often linked to Senna that in 1994 it was a sad affair, but Damon Hill drove a brilliant race in dreadful weather to beat Michael Schumacher.
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