Built as a test track for Honda in 1962, Suzuka – located 30 miles to the south-west of Japan’s third largest city, Nagoya – was designed by Dutchman John Hugenholz, the man who designed Zandvoort and Jarama. The 3.64 mile track was part of a motorcycle theme park and situated close to Honda’s huge Suzuka factory. As Honda diversified into cars so the park grew to include automobile exhibits as well and today it boasts swimming pools, ice skating rink, monorails, big wheels, event halls, hotels, golf courses and restaurants.
The first Japanese Grand Prix took place at Suzuka in 1963 and was a sportscar race which was won a young British driver called Peter Warr, who would go on to become the motive force in the Lotus F1 team after the death of Colin Chapman. The Japanese GP remained a sportscar race until 1969 and was then held for Formula 2 cars between 1971 and 1975. Formula 1 arrived in 1976 but it went to Mount Fuji rather than Suzuka and it was not until 1987 that Honda influence finally swayed Formula 1 to return to Japan. The track was slower than Hugenholz’s original for safety reasons but it was still a great challenge for the Grand Prix drivers.