The Prides Of Japan

The Prides Of Japan

Tsukuba Circuit

It may be tiny and it rarely hosts major circuit championships these days, but Japan's Tsukuba is one of the most recognised circuits in Japan thanks being immortalised in countless video games. Known for being the home of time attack, Tsukuba is in fact these days two courses which enjoy year round popularity.

Tsukuba is one of the few Japanese circuits located in a metropolitan area, close to Tokyo, which has likely been key to its success and longevity. While one of the shortest tracks in the country, it has a seemingly endless stream of car enthusiasts on its doorstep, all keen for somewhere to show off their machinery.

The track was conceived in 1966, though it took several years to be ready for racing, finally opening in June 1970. The 1.271-mile course is U shaped, folding back on itself through a variety of hairpins and medium speed bends, with a final (seemingly never-ending) fast curve leading back to the start/finish. It is also billiard table smooth. Initially, the course had an even shorter variant, which cut out the final hairpin but this fell out of use in 1990 when a new chicane was added at the same spot for use by motorcycle racers only.

In its heyday the circuit hosted rounds of the All-Japan F3 Championship as well as the Japanese Touring Car series, both hugely popular events. Both series eventually moved on elsewhere, but on two wheels, it continues to host the All Japan Road Race Championship, better known these days as a heavily manufacturer-backed superbike series.

It was the sport of time attack which ensured Tsukuba's enduring popularity. Japan's car tuners began using the circuit to test their modifications almost from its outset and soon obtaining the fastest lap around the course became a badge of honour. Time attack competitions began being organised in the mid-1990s and Tsukuba became its holy temple.

In 2001, a second circuit was built alongside the main course, when the former mini-bikes circuit was completely renovated. The new course is used for a variety of events including driver training and also some club racing events. Known as 1000 course (after its 1km length), its opening caused the original circuit to be renamed the 2000 course to differentiate it.

The advent of video games like Gran Turismo, where time attack modes were a staple, meant that Tsukuba became widely known to an audience who almost certainly would never set a foot in the real circuit, let alone drive a lap in anger! Accordingly, Tsukuba has achieved near-mythical status and, despite now largely abandoned by major car and bike competitions, is as busy as ever and seems to have a long future ahead of it.


Fuji Speedway

Fuji Speedway began life in unusual circumstances, when plans for a NASCAR-style oval set in the foothills of the famous mountain were put forward in the early 1960s. With Honda's Suzuka test track already established, the new facility would also provide the other manufacturers of the burgeoning Japanese motor industry another track to test their two and four wheeled machinery.

Despite being as far removed from the Deep South as it could possibly be, the plans had serious intent, with the formation of the Japan NASCAR Corporation in 1963. An exclusive contract to host the stock cars in the Far East was also secured.

By June 1964, a 1.5 million square metre site had been identified and bought, with construction beginning almost immediately. The design took its inspiration from the Daytona Speedway and was to feature two long straights connected by banked corners. The first of these banked corners was well under way when a visiting Stirling Moss, invited by the Japanese to view progress, told circuit bosses that he thought it was unrealistic to complete an oval circuit in such mountainous terrain and had some reservations about the design to date.

History doesn't record whether this was a decisive intervention; with construction costs mounting, there wasn't enough money to complete the second banking even if they had been determined to do so. Plans were revised and the circuit completed as a road course, overlooked by a giant grandstand on the long main straight. The change in plans forced an abandonment of the NASCAR contract, although the Speedway name remained. In October 1965, the Mitsubishi company acquired a controlling interest in the project.

Despite now being a more conventional road course, the original Fuji was still fearsomely fast. The almost mile-long straight lead onto the banking in a clockwise direction. Unusually, the cars rose over the crest of a hill before dropping down into the banked right hand corner. Only a layer of armco barrier at the top prevented complete disaster – and often didn't.

The circuit opened in December 1965, though racing did not get under way until the following year. Among the first international stars to sample the course was Jim Clark, who was flown in to take part in a Formula Three race. The American connections remained, despite the loss of NASCAR, in the shape of the USAC Indycars, which held the Fuji 200 exhibition race in October 1966. Jackie Stewart took victory ahead of Bobby Unser. Can-Am also visited in 1968, choosing to run the course in an anti-clockwise direction, possibly to alleviate the dangers of the high-speed entry onto the banking.

Unlike many other international top-level tracks Fuji has always encouraged the sport of drifting, allowing the D1 series to run one or two rounds there each season. Furthermore Fuji Speedway also offers a small separate drift track inside its grounds as well as a smaller "Short track" which is used for track day events and driving courses.

As well as national-championship events, Fuji also hosts the popular Nismo Festival and Toyota Motorsport Festival and the circuit is available for enthusiasts to lap when no racing or testing events are being held.

The Story Behind The Osterreichring Race Track aka Red Bull Ring

The Story Behind The Osterreichring Race Track aka Red Bull Ring

Originally built in 1969 to replace the bland and bumpy Zeltweg Airfield circuit, the Österreichring track was situated in the Styrian mountains and it was a spectacular, scenic and unique circuit.

The track was very fast, every corner was a fast sweeper and was taken in no lower than 3rd gear in a 5-speed gearbox and 4th in a 6-speed gearbox and the track had noticeable changes in elevation during the course of a lap, 65 metres from lowest to highest point.

Like most fast circuits it was a hard circuit on engines but more difficult on tires, because of the speeds being so consistently high. Many considered the Österreichring to be dangerous, especially the Bosch Kurve, a 180-degree downhill right-hand corner with almost no run-off area which, by 1986 when turbos pushed Formula One engine power to upwards of 1,400 bhp in qualifying, saw Derek Warwick speed trapped at 214 mph in his BMW powered Brabham BT55 on the run to the Bosch Kurve.

There were other testing corners such as Voest-Hugel, which was a flat-out 180 mph right hander that eventually led to the 150 mph Sebring-Auspuff Kurve (this corner had many names over the years, Dr. Tiroch and Glatz Kurve were others) which was an essential corner to get right because of the long straight afterwards that led to the Bosch Kurve.

Some of the track was just road with little to no protection at all, even up to the final Austrian Grand Prix there in 1987, a race that had to be restarted twice because of 2 progressively more serious accidents both caused by the narrow pit straight in a similar manner to the 1985 race when the race was stopped after one lap following a start line shunt that had taken out three cars including championship leader Michele Alboreto's Ferrari and local driver Gerhard Berger's Arrows-BMW.

In practice for the 1987 race McLaren's Stefan Johansson narrowly avoided serious injury or worse when at over 150 mph he collided with a deer that had made its way onto the track while Johansson was cresting a blind brow before the Jochen Rindt Kurve behind the pits.

Increasing speeds were also a concern at the Österreichring; during the final Grand Prix there in 1987 pole-sitter Nelson Piquet's time for the 3.692 mi of 1:23.357 set an average speed record for the circuit of 159.457 mph. At the time it was second only in F1 average speed to Keke Rosberg's 160.9 mph pole lap of the Silverstone Circuit set during the 1985 British Grand Prix. Both times were set using a turbocharged Williams-Honda.

American driver Mark Donohue died after crashing at the Vost-Hugel Kurve in 1975. In 1976, the Vost-Hugel Kurve was tightened and made into one right hander rather than 2 right-handers with a small section between, and in 1977 it was slowed down and became the Hella-Licht chicane, going from the fastest to the slowest corner on the track. It is also known that four-times World Champion Alain Prost often said that all tracks can be changed but that the Österreichring should remain unchanged, just adding run-off areas would be fine, which eventually did happen up until the original track's final year in 1995.

The track was known for having many crashes at the start of races (especially 6-foot-wide Formula One cars at the Austrian Grand Prix) because the start–finish straight was very narrow (about 30 feet wide, while most start–finish straights on other tracks were 60 to 80 feet wide) and it did not provide enough space for cars attempting to pass others, especially cars that stalled or broke at the start. Motorcycle rider Hans-Peter Klampfer died after a collision with another rider at the Bosch Kurve (where most fatalities happened) and 29-year-old Hannes Wustinger was also killed after a crash at the Tiroch Kurve (the part that was left out of the present circuit) at a race for the Austrian Touring car championship and this sealed the decision to build a new circuit.

Triple World Champion and long time hero of the home crowd Niki Lauda is the only Austrian driver to win his home Grand Prix. He won the 1984 Austrian Grand Prix at the Österreichring driving a McLaren-TAG Porsche. Lauda went on to win his third and final championship in 1984, beating his team mate Alain Prost by the smallest margin in F1 history, only half a point. He announced his permanent retirement from driving at the circuit before the 1985 race.

The Österreichring's safety concerns had reached a head in the mid 1990s, and in 1995 and 1996 it was totally rebuilt, at the same site, by Hermann Tilke. Its length was shortened from 3.692 mi to 2.688 mi, and the fast sweeping corners were replaced by three tight right-handers, in order to create overtaking opportunities. Its three long straights, as well as a twisty infield section, asked for a setup compromise.

As much of the construction work was paid for by the mobile phone provider A1, the track was renamed the A1-Ring. It proceeded to host seven Formula One Austrian Grands Prix between 1997 and 2003, as well as several DTM races and Austrian motorcycle races in 1996 and 1997.

Red Bull Ring

The grandstands and pit buildings were demolished in 2004, rendering the track unusable for any motorsport category.

In late 2004 and early 2005, there were intense discussions concerning whether the owner of the circuit, Red Bull, would find another use for the site, or return motor sports to the venue. There was a circuit extension proposal using part of the old Österreichring. In January 2005, return of motor sports seemed more unlikely than ever, as Dietrich Mateschitz publicly announced that he had no intention of wasting money on a deficient circuit. Throughout 2005 however, there was speculation of the newly founded Red Bull Racing renovating the track to use it as a test venue.

In 2006, Austrian racing driver Alexander Wurz claimed he would buy the circuit and have it renovated, but the idea never came to fruition. By 2007, talks involving Red Bull, KTM, Volkswagen and Magna International for a neuer Österreichring failed, after VW pulled out.

Late in 2008, Red Bull began their €70m reconstruction of the track and DTM chiefs considered a return to the circuit in 2009, and in September 2010, it was confirmed that the circuit would host a round of the 2011 DTM season, now known as the Red Bull Ring. The championship has visited the circuit every year since then.

In November 2010, F2 announced that Round 6 of the 2011 F2 championship would take place at the Red Bull Ring. The circuit was reopened at a special event over the weekend of 15–16 May 2011, which included displays of various Red Bull sponsored teams including Red Bull Racing. The FIA Historic Formula One Championship was invited to provide the headline race attraction with a race on each day for Formula One cars from the 3-litre period.

In December 2012, Red Bull contacted the FIA to say the track would be available to host a round of the Formula One World Championship in 2013, after a slot became available following the postponement of the proposed New York metropolitan area Grand Prix of America, and by July 2013, Red Bull announced that the Austrian Grand Prix would return as a round of the Formula One World Championship in 2014. The Austrian Grand Prix was held on 22 June 2014.

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Everything You Need To Know About The Alfa Romeo 164

Everything You Need To Know About The Alfa Romeo 164

In October 1978, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia and Saab jointly agreed to each develop an executive saloon based on their shared Type Four platform, to eventually compete against the likes of the Ford Granada and Opel Rekord as well as more premium saloons by BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the form of the 5 Series and E-Class, respectively.

Project 164 started life as Project 156 (Not to be confused with Alfa Romeo 156) and was completed in 1981, then still under Alfa Romeo. A year later, that project morphed into the 164 based on the Type Four platform. This new model was designed by Enrico Fumia of Pininfarina, with a wedge shape that afforded it a leading drag coefficient of Cd=0.30. The design would later influence the rest of the Alfa Romeo range starting in 1990 with the major redesign of the 33 and culminating with the 155, and also see Pininfarina adapt it for the 1987 Peugeot 405 and the 1989 Peugeot 605 sedans.

Key milestones in the development of this new vehicle:

Initial testing of the 164's dynamic elements (engine and drivetrain) began in 1984, where mules based on the then contemporary Giulietta were used. Initial handling characteristics were honed on the factory's "Balocco" test track in Arese.

In 1985, the first pre-production 164s were put through their paces on the road. Heavily disguised, with many false panels and even a false nose design (borrowing heavily from the then equally undeveloped 155) sporting four round headlamps, these vehicle mules served to test the 164 for the grueling 1 million kilometre static and road testing demanded of the design.

In 1986 and 1987, the first 150 164s were given their pre-production testing. In terms of engineering demands, these exceeded every Alfa before, and by quite a substantial margin.

In Morocco, desert testing saw five grey 164 Twinsparks and V6s undergo the equivalent of the Paris-Dakar rally. Road conditions varied from good tarmac to off-road conditions, and accelerometers confirmed the superiority of the 164 in terms of passenger comfort. This data was cross-confirmed in the engineering laboratory with a sophisticated dummy in the driver's seat, with accelerometers both in its seat, and in its ears to mimic that of the semi-circular canals of the ear.

The Twinspark and the V6 underwent handling trials at Arese. The Twinspark displayed very mature driving manners at the limit, with minimal skid. The V6 displayed a 25% increase in at-the-limit skid, a natural consequence of its greater nose weight.

ABS testing confirmed that the Twinspark has superior braking to the V6. Brake linings of the 164s were run at maximum braking until they literally glowed with heat, and displayed no deviation in form. The 164 was the first Alfa to feature slotted double-walled disc brakes. At no point were the discs drilled to release excess heat, the original design being demonstrated to be excellent.

Sound production was tested in an anechoic chamber, the car being subjected to stress and road noise testing, with instruments and with live subjects at the wheel, on a specially designed rig.

Ultimately unveiled at the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show, the 164 was the last model to be developed while the Alfa Romeo was still a fully independent company, and was formally launched a few months after the takeover by Fiat.

The Design of the 164

Enrico Fumia of Pininfarina was responsible for the 164 design, with the first 1:1 scale model produced in 1982. Design cues were publicly revealed on the Alfa Romeo Vivace concept car, which was exhibited at the 1986 Turin Motorshow that went on to influence the design of the Alfa Romeo GTV and Spider (916 series) launched in 1994.

The 164 became the first Alfa to benefit from extensive use of computer aided design, used to calculate structural stresses that resulted in a very rigid but still relatively lightweight chassis. Although sharing the same platform as that of the Lancia Thema, Fiat Croma and Saab 9000, by virtue of the fact that it was the last of the four to enter production, it featured unique front suspension geometry and the most distinctive styling of the lot. In fact, for example, the other cars all shared identical side door panels. Though still voluminous, the 164 had the tightest aperture to the rear boot, which had a 510-Litre capacity.

Overall, the 164 also benefited from improved build quality relative to previous Alfas, thanks to the extensive use of galvanised steel for the frame and various body panels for the first time in the brand's history. Moreover, the car featured advanced (but notoriously troublesome) electronics thanks to the most complex wiring harness fitted to any Alfa Romeo.

For example: it had three onboard computers (one for air conditioning, one for instrumentation, and one for the engine management); air conditioning and instrument functions shared a multiple-mode coded Zilog Z80-class microcontroller for dashboard functioning). The instrumentation included a full range of gauges including an advanced check-panel.

Its interior was spacious and modern, available with standard velour seating or leather trim depending on the model. Its dashboard continued the avantgarde design of the exterior with a centre dashboard that was dominated by a large number of seemingly identical buttons arranged in rows. Air-direction within the ventilation system was controlled by a pair of servomechanisms, which were constructed using notoriously fragile plastic gears that were prone to failure (prompting at least one aftermarket company to develop metal replacement parts).

Again depending on the model, the 164 could feature automatic climate control and electronically controlled damping suspension - the latter, for example, in the sports-oriented Quadrifoglio Verde ("Green Cloverleaf ") and 164S models. This suspension actively reduced damping in response to conditions to provide a dynamic compromise between road holding and comfort.

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