CIRCUITS: MOUNT FUJI

Name: Mount Fuji

In the foothills of the perfectly conical dormant volcano the Mount Fuji circuit was opened in December 1965, built as an American-style 2.5 mile anti-clockwise super speedway, beneath a huge imposing grandstand. The money for the project ran out and so only one of the two sections of daunting 30-degree banking was ever built. This meant that the circuit ended up as a road course. The banking was used but after a series of huge crashes it was deserted and a new section of track built to bypass it. The result was a clockwise 2.7-mile road course. In 1976 the Japanese applied for a round of the Formula 1 World Championship and were granted the final race of the year. It was the end of October and Niki Lauda, despite missing several races after his awful accident at the Nurburgring, arrived at Fuji with a three point lead over James Hunt in the World Championship standings. On race day the track was awash when the start was given. Lauda did only three laps and withdrew. Hunt led but eventually ran into tire troubles and had to pit when one tire disintegrated. He rejoined in fifth place with four laps to go, one place below what he needed to win the title. Hunt forced his way past by Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni and won the title although Mario Andretti had won the race.

The following year the Grand Prix teams returned and Hunt won, although the celebrations were muted as the new rising star Gilles Villeneuve collided with Ronnie Peterson's Tyrrell and crashed into a group of marshals and photographers beside the track, killing two of them.

Fuji was finished as a Grand Prix track, though it would continue to be a venue for international showdowns as an important round of the World Sportscar championship.

An equally nail-biting finish occurred during the final round of the one and only FIA World Touring Car Championship in 1987 when the race leading Sierra Cosworth of Klaus Niedzwiedz and Klaus Ludwig needed its sister car, driven by Pierre Dieudonne, to finish second to prevent Italian BMW star Roberto Ravaglia from taking the place and the title. With just a handful of laps to go Dieudonne had a puncture and had to pit, leaving Ravaglia to take the title at the last gasp.

The following year Denmark's Kris Nissen was critically injured in a sportscar accident when his Kremer Porsche crashed at the first corner and caught fire.

The track continues to be used for Japanese national races but plans to host a CART event in the late 1990s were abandoned and it was not until the autumn of 2000 that the track was bought by Toyota, as part of its motor racing plans for the future. it is anticipated that the track will be updated and that a bid for the Japanese GP will then follow.

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