Why Toyota is Building Leisure Facilities at Fuji Speedway

2022.07.28

With 60 years of history, Fuji Speedway is one of Japan’s best-known racetracks, playing host to the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and Super GT. As the speedway’s parent company, Toyota is now looking to develop it into a leisure area called Fuji Motorsports Forest.

“Why is Toyota building leisure facilities? That’s what I’m here to find out!” says Editor-in-Chief Kagawa as he heads for the gate.

Historic racetrack becomes a leisure area

Toyota GAZOO Racing Company President Koji Sato showed Kagawa around the under-construction Fuji Motorsports Forest. Sato explained that the vast Fuji Speedway area is the size of 50 baseball stadiums. “50?!” Kagawa couldn’t hide his surprise.

Toyota is currently constructing a wide variety of facilities on this sprawling site. Fuji Speedway is one of just a few racing circuits designated “Grade 1” by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile), allowing it to host the F1 and other top-ranked races. Toyota plans to use this authentic international racetrack location to build places where children can discover motorsports through carts, buggies, and other mobility experiences. The site also features a hotel with a museum where visitors can immerse themselves in motorsport history.

Other facilities include a garage area for racing teams, with plans to attract Toyota’s many motorsport peers.

A hotel with the full motorsport experience

First up, Sato led Kagawa to the Fuji Speedway Hotel (Unbound Collection by Hyatt). Though still under construction, the hotel will have all the amenities for enjoying a leisurely stay, including a café, restaurant, and museum.

At the entrance, they were greeted by General Manager Genta Yoshikawa. Stepping inside, he pointed out a large space on the left-hand side that will house the Fuji Motorsports Museum. The layout leads visitors through the museum on their way to the third-floor lobby.

Kagawa:
What sort of cars will be on display?

Sato:
Since this is the Fuji Speedway Hotel, we want people to experience motorsports, so there’ll be cars from many manufacturers.

Kagawa:
Many? So not just Toyota?

Sato:
Not just Toyota.

Kagawa:
I see.

Sato:
We want to show the history of motorsports. You’ll see the past, present, and future through motorsport vehicles and items from each era.

Kagawa:
You mean like photos displayed on panels?

Sato:
Real cars.

Kagawa:
Cars?!

Sato:
Well, it is a racetrack.

The museum will spread across the first and second floors, with plans to display a striking 40 prized vehicles. Sato gladly shared some details on the kinds of cars that will be exhibited.

Near the entrance will stand a Toyota 7, the company’s distinctive 1960s racing car. It will be joined by vehicles closely connected to the founders of various other carmakers. The museum is designed for guests to wander through, offering a taste of historic cars as they head up to reception.

Kagawa:
This alone takes like half an hour.

Sato:
An hour at least. It’ll be a long time to check-in.

Kagawa:
So, come with an hour to spare for check-in.

Although officially named the Fuji Speedway Hotel, Yoshikawa explained that the facility will be Japan’s first addition to the Unbound Collection by Hyatt brand. This group brings together highly original hotels, many of which are linked to historic sites, including one in front of the Louvre Museum and another at the foot of the Great Wall of China. With its racetrack-side location and its own museum, the Fuji Speedway Hotel was a natural fit for the brand.

The long escalator ride to the third-floor lobby offers another perspective of the cars displayed on the museum floors below. Stepping off onto the lobby floor, guests are greeted by the Fuji Speedway just beyond the windows. Kagawa was unable to contain his excitement. “They’re racing right now! Look, look!” This spot will become a café where visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee with the ultimate view of the track’s final corner and renowned home straight.

Setting foot on the balcony, Kagawa was greeted by the powerful roar of engines. “That’s the sound!” he says happily.

Next, Yoshikawa led them to the Grand Prix Suite. Naturally, this room also overlooks the track.

Kagawa:
Woah, you can stay here?!

Yoshikawa:
Of course.

Kagawa:
Incredible! Listen to that 'vroom-vroom'!

“So, this is a 21st-century 'forest'. That’s what it means,” comments a pleased Kagawa. Beside him, as Sato tries to explain, Kagawa bursts into laughter. “I can’t hear what he’s saying above the roar of those engines. This is the best!”

These rooms also offer all-night viewing for 24-hour races. Indeed, the rumble of engines from below would likely make sleeping impossible. “A world-first—the hotel that won’t let you sleep! I’ll be the one doing the 24-hour endurance,” says an enthusiastic Kagawa, delighted to sit in a bathtub overlooking the speedway.

With additional hot spring facilities, the hotel is “also perfect for families,” says Yoshikawa proudly. The Fuji Speedway Hotel is scheduled to open in October 2022.

Yoshikawa:
Please come back again when we open.

Kagawa:
May I?

Yoshikawa:
We’ll be waiting for you.

Kagawa:
I’ll be back!

An open garage seeks to inspire

The next stop was the ROOKIE Racing garage, where Kagawa was met by Team Director Toshiaki Takeda and Chief Mechanic Toshiyuki Sekiya.

Takeda describes ROOKIE Racing as a “private racing team full of car lovers.” ROOKIE Racing was formed two years ago by team owner Akio Toyoda, whose desire to create a better work environment for the team led to the construction of this garage and factory. As the team owner, he hopes it will become an inspiring place for those working there and the public who come to watch. That is why the facility is open to visitors.

Kagawa:
You mean the public can come in here and look around as well? School kids and the like?

Sekiya:
Of course.

Kagawa:
Wow, that’s rare, isn’t it?

Sato:
I’d say very rare.

Kagawa:
Even around the world, you don’t see open garages like this.

Sato:
In these pro racing teams, many people are involved in various ways. We want them to enjoy their work and to create a bright future. That’s what this place is for. We want many kids to discover where motorsport really happens, see adults reveling in their work or putting their heart and soul into something, and think, “I want to do that.” We hope this place will provide those formative experiences.

Takeda led the group on a tour of the factory, which houses a massive trailer for transporting racing cars, and showed them around the service area. Every space was bright, white, and spotless throughout. Given that garages inevitably get dirty, stained floors are part and parcel of the racing industry. The white floors of the ROOKIE Racing garage overturn that trend, an indication of the efforts to improve the status of those who work in motorsports.

As Sato explained, ROOKIE Racing’s goals go beyond winning to playing a role in developing ever-better cars. Every team member seeks to use the skills and know-how gained through racing to contribute to production cars, creating a bond that binds them together.

Sato:
Unless we change how we work, motorsports aren’t sustainable.

Kagawa:
Indeed, it feels like the exact opposite, pumping out engine fumes.

Sato:
Or working in intense conditions without sleep. Instead, to create a sustainable environment, we have to make it a fun and lively workplace.

Takeda:
It’s a drastic change in the work environment. The “winning makes everything right” mentality led to people putting up with a lot just to win. That’s how it used to be done, and in some areas skills went unutilized.
At ROOKIE Racing, we want to bring more car-lovers into motorsports, and that’s why Akio Toyoda set up this company.

We’re working together closely to help the owner’s vision become a reality.

Moving on, Sato turned to Kagawa. “Notice anything odd here?” he asked, pointing out a nearby car. “It’s hard to miss!” replied a stunned Kagawa. “We can’t show this, can we?”

In front of them was a Mazda racing car. Sato explained that he too was surprised. For him, using a rival company’s car was unthinkable. But team owner Akio had a clear policy: “It’s not about brands—right now, we must all work together for the good of motorsport.”

Kagawa:
You take on cars and work to improve them, addressing any issues to make even better cars, and that might mean relying on other companies. Was that Akio Toyoda’s thinking?

Sato:
Yes.

Kagawa:
That’s quite the undertaking. And very generous of Mazda to play along! Japan’s car industry is something else.

The second floor features an area overlooking the entire garage, from which visitors can observe the team in action. As Takeda pointed out, it’s the sort of place a car lover could easily spend an entire day.

United in purpose, going all in together

According to Sato, there are also plans to build adjoining facilities more directly linked to Toyota’s car-making. The idea is to feed expertise gained through racing straight into development. “Won’t other companies pinch your technology?” asked a worried Kagawa. As Sato explains, “The times call for both competition and cooperation. In areas where we can cooperate, it’s best to go all in together.” Given the shared goal of achieving a carbon-neutral society as quickly as possible, this is no time for carmakers to be just competing amongst themselves.

At the same time, in racing it’s “important to try and win,” as this leads to diverse challenges from which new technologies are created. “We need rivals to compete against, but also to work with where possible,” says Sato. “That’s the way Super Taikyu races have been lately.”

The second-floor viewing area was designed with all-glass barriers to ensure that younger visitors can also get the full experience. For team members, “When people are watching, the quality of the work improves,” says Chief Mechanic Sekiya. “There is also the joy of sparking dreams.”

Meanwhile, the men’s locker room looked like something out of the major leagues. Alongside drivers, it also features space for mechanics and engineers—because motorsport is a sport, and mechanics and engineers are athletes, just like the drivers.

The garage also includes a weight room, where a mechanic was going about his workout. Building strength helps in keeping the tires steady during changes.

Kagawa also visited the maintenance training room, where mechanics can practice changing tires and other skills. Here too the walls are glass, designed to offer visitors a full view of the training exercises.

Waiting in the room were eighth-year mechanic Minoshima, who has spent his entire career in racing, and Kuromiya, who had taken up the role 18 months earlier after coming over from Toyota. There he had been on the rugby team, a world he describes as completely different from changing tires. Whereas on the rugby field a player is supported by 14 teammates, in Super GT the rules specify that a single person must complete a tire change. No matter what happens, Kuromiya has to see it through to the end alone. In that sense, he says, “the sense of responsibility and pressure is intense.”

After Minoshima showed how it’s done, Kagawa tried changing a tire for himself. “I’m old enough to be your uncle!” Despite his grumbling, the Editor-in-Chief succeeded in swapping the heavy tires.

Kagawa:
Everyone has to start somewhere.

Minoshima:
Even for me, eight years ago a tire took around 10 secs. It’s taken me some five years to get under 5 seconds.

Kagawa:
You really have no idea what goes into racing until you try it yourself.

What racing and carbon neutrality have in common

Having explored every corner of the Fuji Motorsports Forest, Kagawa reflected that motorsport—with its gasoline and roaring engines—may be as far from sustainable as one can get. Given the circumstances, it would have been reasonable to make a clean break to pursue carbon neutrality. And yet, Toyota is looking to make this home of motorsport, Fuji Speedway, a starting point for developing ever-better cars and achieving carbon neutrality. As Kagawa puts it, “that kind of thinking is a wonderful part of Toyota.”

To attract people, Toyota is going so far as to build a hotel, museum, and garages at Fuji Speedway. But to what end?

Sato:
When the Fuji Speedway opened in 1966, it hosted the 3rd Japanese Grand Prix. Many people came to watch the carmakers battle it out. For Akio Toyoda, that was a formative motorsport experience.
The cars were cool, the drivers stood in the spotlight, and everyone involved—the mechanics and engineers—all seemed like stars.

According to Sato, this was the world that sparked Akio’s love of cars and made him the person he is today. When taking on new challenges, that love and enjoyment is a tremendous driving force. As Sato sees it, this project stems from Akio’s desire to once more turn racetracks into places filled with such emotions.

In Sato’s mind, the deliberate decision to create facilities that will bring the thrilling rumble of gasoline-guzzling cars back to Fuji Speedway, and the development of carbon-neutral technologies such as the hydrogen-powered engine, are both part of the same process.

Whether in motorsport or the pursuit of carbon neutrality, the approach is to solve the problems of today while taking on the challenges of tomorrow. Despite often being seen as a world apart, motorsport has long been a place for nurturing talent and creating technologies. This energy can also be harnessed towards achieving our larger common goals, such as creating a carbon-neutral society and finding ways to make people happier.

Sato:
Deep down, there’s a love of cars, a desire to protect the future of mobility, a belief in greater potential for mobility. That’s the energy that drives us. We’re certainly not limited to a single option, but perhaps they’re not right there in front of us.

In that case, why not create them? We have the place for that and the people who can do it here. We can change the future if we bring together the people and technologies. That’s the mindset, and as long as that doesn’t waver, Toyota’s efforts to realize a carbon-neutral society will continue to grow and resonate, creating many like-minded partners beyond Toyota. I think that’s where these efforts will lead.

The Editor-in-Chief also asked about Toyota’s relationship with the community.

Kagawa:
I get the sense that this is the first step for future cities and that Fuji will become a city of great importance to Japan. But of course, Woven City can’t move ahead without the cooperation of Susono residents. How is this being received by the local people?

Sato:
From the outset, the Fuji Speedway has relied on the understanding and cooperation of the community throughout its long history. Everyone wants to see the town grow and the people happy and smiling. We all want the same thing.

That’s reflected in our activities here. For example, the hotel uses locally-produced ingredients to offer meals unique to this area. We are also building facilities for local people to use. Rather than creating a closed community, we want it to be open for all.

Cities flourish through diversity. We want this place to serve as a platform that brings together diverse people with different values but a common goal. The resulting energy ties everyone together, including local residents, which makes all this possible.

Finally, all is connected

“There’s one other thing I wanted to mention to you,” said Kagawa, segueing into his final question. Around the time Kagawa became Toyota Times Editor-in-Chief three years ago, Akio was ambitiously talking about turning Toyota into a mobility company. Ever since, Kagawa has found himself wondering: “What exactly is a mobility company?”

Now, after visiting Fuji Motorsports Forest and thinking about the future of car development—how motorsport-honed technology is deployed in the pursuit of carbon neutrality, tested in Woven City, and becomes part of production cars—it all comes together. “This is what it means to be a mobility company!”

Kagawa:
That’s what struck me today when I saw the Fuji Speedway facilities. But surely the president didn’t necessarily picture this, right?

Sato:
Certainly, he has always had a distant goal, and as we gradually climbed the mountain the scenery revealed itself, and everything became connected.

Kagawa:
It certainly has. Partly by coincidence, partly by design, or at least that’s how it seems to me. It feels like the president was going by intuition rather than conceiving it based on a defined logic. That seems clear to me—apologies if I’m mistaken!

Sato:
As soon as he drove the hydrogen-powered prototype, he decided to race it. He’s the sort that can make that call within seconds.

Kagawa:
But everyone must have thought, 'Huh?!'

Sato:
I was flabbergasted. (Laughs)

Kagawa:
Yet there must have been some underlying vision of tying it all together, and it seems to be happening. Even Woven City, which seemed to be on a course of its own, has been drawn in over these two years. Such is the strength of this company, I’ve come to realize.

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