The Autopolis circuit will re-open its doors on October 1st, nearly six months after the circuit suffered substantial damage in the wake of the deadly Kumamoto earthquakes on April 14 and 16.
The first major race to be held at the circuit will be the sixth and final round of the 2016 Super Taikyu Endurance Series, on November 19-20.
The Kumamoto earthquakes were the deadliest on record since the 2011 Tohoku earthquakes and subsequent tsunami that rocked the entire nation of Japan. 49 people lost their lives, and over 3,000 were injured. Historic landmarks in and around the city of Kumamoto, such as the Great Aso Bridge, the Aso Shrine, and the Kumamoto Castle were also heavily damaged or lost completely.
The Autopolis Circuit, which lies just north of the city of Kumamoto, also suffered damage – as sections of the tarmac on the circuit began to crack, in addition, the access roads to the circuit were also heavily damaged or restricted due to both earthquake damage and subsequent rock slides.
It’s been nearly three months since then, and now the Autopolis Circuit is declared ready to host top-flight racing come the end of the 2016 calendar year.
The third round of the 2016 Autobacs Super GT Series was set to be held at Autopolis on May 23-24. That round was later cancelled, then reinstated as the first of two races to be held at Twin Ring Motegi at the final round of the season.
Just this past week, the Super Formula Championship and the All-Japan Formula Three Championship moved their races on September 10-11 to the Okayama International Circuit, where Super Formula will have a double-header race weekend as well.
But Super Taikyu will be able to race at Autopolis this year after all, just a month after the circuit re-opens for other events such as track days. The series will host two three-hour races, the first for the lower-category cars in the ST-4 and ST-5 classes, and the second for the upper-category cars including the FIA GT3-based ST-X class.
In the wake of any tragic event that impacts entire communities, events such as the re-opening of Autopolis are always symbolic of those communities’ resiliency and determination. The re-opening of the circuit will, of course, put Super GT and Super Formula on course to return in 2017.
More importantly, it shows that the communities near Autopolis, near the city of Kumamoto, that have been hurt from the awful natural disasters of three months ago, are now either rebuilt, or closer to it than some had ever thought in just a few months’ time.
Motorsport fan or not, this is very good news.