Autopolis (オートポリス, Ōtoporisu) is an international racing circuit located near Kamitsue village in Ōita Prefecture, Japan (30 km Northeast of Kumamoto). Opened in 1990, it hosts a range of domestic and international motorsport events throughout the year. Although the track meets a high standard in terms of its facilities, it has never hosted a Formula One race. Due to the circuit ending up in financial difficulties, it has changed hands several times but still operates to this day.
The circuit, located within Aso Kujiyu National Park, was built at a cost of $500 million by the wealthy real-estate developer and investment banker Tomonori Tsurumaki who made headlines in 1989, when during a Paris auction, he successfully bid a Pablo Picasso painting Les Noces de Pierrette for $51.3 million from his Tokyo hotel room. Following his successful bid, he announced that his painting was to hang at the art gallery of the auto racing resort, under development at the time.
The circuit was designed by Yoshitoshi Sakurai who was the project leader of the Honda F1 team during the 1960s.
Tsurumaki ordered 30 Buick powered US built single seater race cars called "Sabre Cars" for a race to take place on his circuit's grand opening, on November 1990 consisting of a mixture of invited US CART drivers such as Stan Fox, Johnny Rutherford, Dick Simon, Gary and Tony Bettenhausen, against local Japanese drivers. After the grand opening, Tsurumaki planned on a series with the cars, known as Formula Crane 45. A few races were run in 1991, with only a handful of cars competing.
The only major international race held at Autopolis was the 1991 World Sportscar Championship season final race, the 1991 430km of Autopolis which was won by Michael Schumacher and Karl Wendlinger in a Mercedes-Benz C291 fielded by Sauber.
To promote the venue's intention to host a Formula One race, it sponsored the Benetton Formula One team in 1990 and 1991. The cars featured prominent Autopolis logos. Visitors criticized the track for being too remote to the hotels which required a several hours bus ride and felt that it was unsuitable for an F1 race. By then, hopes were fading, Tsurumaki turned up at the 1992 Portuguese Grand Prix. Whilst staying in Estoril, $250,000 of cash and jewels was stolen from his hotel room.
Tsurumaki also invested in race horse A.P. Indy and paintings of renowned painters such as Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Chagall, Renoir and Magritte before his company, Nippon Tri-Trust collapsed, leading to his bankruptcy in 1993. The circuit plus the paintings and contents ended up in the hands of Hazama who was responsible for the construction of the race track.
By 1995, the company offered the site for sale at 10% of its build cost which consisted of three hotels, swimming pools and an artificial ski slope. The paintings by then remained in a bank vault waiting to be sold.
Autopolis was purchased by Kawasaki in 2005.
The circuit currently holds events for the Super GT as well as Super Formula, MFJ Superbike and Super Taikyu.
The circuit is located in an upland area of the island which means the air is thin with low atmospheric pressure, similar to Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City. It has an elevation change of over 50 metres (160 ft) with the first section generally downhill and the latter part of the course runs uphill.