CIRCUITS: AIDA (TANAKA INTERNATIONAL)

Name: Aida (Tanaka International)

Like the Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet in France, the Tanaka International circuit was named after the man who built it. Hajime Tanaka inherited a string of golf courses in Japan and with the demand for golf in Japan at a peak in the late 1980s and membership fees having become astronomical, he decided to sell a couple of courses and use the money to apply the same idea to motor racing. He spent $100 million to buy land at Aida and to 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 for plenty of garages in which the members store their cars. Tanaka was able to sell 350 memberships - mostly to private individuals although some corporations also invested - notably Toyota and Nissan.

The circuit was opened in November 1990 with the opening event being attended by Stirling Moss.

The biggest problem for Aida was that it was simply too far from civilization to be able to attract big crowds. It was located in a remote, densely-wooded and mountainous area, 12 miles along narrow roads from the nearest town. Hotel accommodation was so scarce that F1 people had to travel 30 or 40 miles to get to the track and there was nothing for race fans. The major Japanese cities were all out of reach with Osaka being 150 miles away and Tokyo 500 miles.

Tanaka's dream was to host a World Championship 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.

There were two Pacific Grands Prix: the first in 1994 being won by Michael Schumacher after Ayrton Senna's Williams was punted off at the first corner by Mika Hakkinen's McLaren.

The 1995 race was scheduled for April but in January Japan was hit by the Great Hanshin Earthquake which destroyed the city of Kobe and seriously damaged the local infrastructure and communications, making it even more difficult for spectators to reach the track. The local authorities felt that the problems of transportation might be overcome in time for the race, but decided that it would not be correct to host such an event while there was still a lot of emergency work to be done in and around Kobe. The race was pushed back to October and Schumacher pulled off another victory to win his second World Championship and become the youngest ever double World Formula 1 Champion.

Having achieved his ambition and spent a vast amount of money Mr. Tanaka and the politicians from Okayama decided that the experiment was not worth continuing.

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