Tuesday, December 7, 2021

RETRO: A Forgotten War of Two Worlds in Asia

As just think of how many people would gladly “pay Thursday” to see modern F1 v IndyCar Drivers compete for fun on a road course today! Righto Whimpy?


Ah, once again here in Nofendersville, Uhm? Perhaps it's time to dip into Ye Eggnog and raise a glass in Toast to Miller! Per typical, this story has been fermentin' awhile now, as it was Juan' of 'Ol 'r's countless stories showing off his amazing dearth of Open Wheel Racing knowledge several years ago.


As speakin' of Robin Miller, whom I'm ARSE-Sumin' still wouldn’t want thou Attenzione paid towards him and his current health issues, nevertheless it was none other than thee Oldest IndyCar Blogger Geo. Phillips who initially informed Mwah of Miller's plight Wayback over thoust Turkey-Lurkey Holiday week in November, 2017, Yikes! Before as we All know, unfortunately returned.




Author’s Note

Although I’ll Arse-sume Robin wouldn’t be impressed with my Dropping the Ball. Hey, what do Yuhs expect from a Blind Word Butcher, Eh? As Robin gave me the name of somebody to contact at USAC after I queried him about those long forgotten Formula Crane 45 racecars, I never did so and long ago lost his email reply, presumably when migrating to my winDOUGHS 10 Confuser…


Thus I’m finally posting this in Honour of the late Curmudgeon ‘O IndyCar’s, who never tired of helping me with my infrequent, Zany racing inquiries, which I’ve scribbled about here on No Fenders previously…





Across the Pacific, A long time ago…

So how many of Yuhs know about a Star Studded, True Blue Open Wheel Racing Exhibition race occurring at Japan's Mount Fuji Speedway over a half decade  ago?


As some, but not all of the Heavy Hitters included the 'Wee scot, nee JYS, or better known simply as Sir Jackie, (Stewart) "Uncle Bobby" and his younger brother B-I-G' AL, aka Bobby & Al Unser. Along with 'Ol Gordie', nee Gordon Johncock, Graham Hill and SuperMario', nee Mario Andretti.


But I'll defer to Robin's story I read several  years ago to fill in all the details of this "One-Off" race at the original Mount Fuji International Circuit in 1966 instead.




As this led me to reminiscing 'bout some other long, faded memories of Asian racetracks, and 'Ol Formula 1 racecars, which I mused 'bout the long ago Pacific Grand Prix and those sharp looking' Benetton's previously in:




Did someone say Reminiscing? As I can hardly wait 'til the end of the year, when I'll attempt taking a break away from here, and leave Y'all alone for several days…




Although I was already Smitten with the upstart Benetton F1 team, I became even more engrossed by Thar very Sharp lookin' dark blue Autopolis liveried B190 Ford/Cosworth racing cars, for which was part of a strategic ploy by then Japanese Real Estate Tycoon Tomonori Tsurumaki to land a Grand Prix at his newly developed racetrack.


Yet I must say I truly never knew much about the man behind the Benetton sponsor, nor the exploits he'd gone thru to achieve his ambitions, which ultimately failed.


Mr. Tsurumaki came to the world's Attenzione when he successfully won the bid for a Pablo Picasso painting in December, 1989, when he ultimately shilled out a record $51.3 million, the most ever paid for a Picasso painting, which he immediately proclaimed would become part of his Art museum at his luxury facility Autopolis on the southernmost island of Kyushu.


Mr. Tsurumaki's Nippon Autopolis complex also included a nearly three mile internationally approved racetrack, for which he'd hoped to host a round of Formula 1 at soon.


As the facility actually encompasses three purpose built racetracks on top of a mountain, with the Full Circuit measuring 2.904 miles, the Main Circuit 1.877mi and a Lakeside Circuit of 1.094mi, all located in the Mount Aso Kuju National Park.


Part of Tomonori's plans included the launching of a racing series named Formula Crane 45, which reportedly utilized U.S. built Sabre FC45 single seaters powered by Buick lumps', with an order of as many as thirty chassis.


As originally I could only speculate that these sounded mighty similar to what the American Racing Series, (ARS) forbearer of the original Indy Lights series were utilizing then, i.e.; March 86 “Wildcat” F3000 derived chassis with 4.2-litre normally aspirated Buick V-6 lumps…


But now I understand why Miller wanted me to talk to somebody at USAC, since I just ran across a “Thread” on the Sabre Single Seaters at Indiana Open Wheel(dot)com titled Remember the USAC Saber Champ Car?


As it claims that the car was designed by Roman Slobodynskyj, which my memory tells me was the noted Designer of Dan Gurney’s Eagle USAC IndyCar’s of the early 1970’s. Specifically the 1972 Eagle that “Uncle bobby” (Unser) captured the 1972 Indianapolis 500 Pole with. And presumably the same chassis that won the 1973 and 1975 Indy 500’s.


As two prototypes were built utilizing Swift chassis for an intended USAC Spec series indeed with Buick lumps’, the latter I still presume being the same normally aspirated V-6 unit, with 30 cars being produced and sent to Japan  for Tomonori’s Formula Crane 45 series.


To inaugurate Autoplis's racetrack, at least a Quintet of 'Ol IndyCar Ringers' were invited to race in these newly acquired Sabre FC45 Spec-series single seaters Debutante outing in November, 1990. When the likes of Lonestar JR, aka Johnny Rutherford, Gary & Tony Bettenhausen, Stan Fox and Dick Simon were the guest Stars.


The racing circuit was designed by Yoshitoshi Sakurai and the Formula Crane 45 series lasted two seasons between 1991-92, while the circuit's only international race was a 430km Sports Car race held on October 28, 1991.


As this World SportsCar championship sanctioned race was won by the duo of Karl Wendlinger and Michael Schumacher co-driving Sauber's Mercedes Benz C291 3.5-litre Flat-12 powered Prototype. Winning ahead of the pair of silk Cut XJr-14 Jaguar's of Derrick Warwick and Teo Fabi, with the latter becoming that year's series Champion.


As Y'all may recall that Teo Fabi and his younger brother Corrado also raced in the CART/PPG IndyCar series, with Teo scoring Porsche's lone victory at Mid Ohio in '89. Not to mention taking the Pole at Mother Speedway in 1983, when Teo also was the Indy 500 Rookie Of the Year…


And although Autopolis would be "penciled-in" on the 1993 Formula 1 calendar provisionally, Tsurumaki ran into financial difficulty, ultimately resulting in Bankruptcy, and the Autopolis Grand Prix never occurred!


While the circuit, Formula Crane racing cars and more importantly, the exquisite and very expensive Art collection passed thru several hands upon it's closing in 1993, before ultimately being purchased by it's current owner, Kawasaki Motors Corporation in 2005.


As the Mountain-top circuit now hosts rounds of various Japanese series including the All Japan Road Race Championship (Motorcycles) and the D1 Grand Prix. (Drifting) But most notably Super GT  and Super Formula, with the likes of Stoffel Vandoorne, Pierre Gasley and Alex Palou having raced there during the past few seasons…