JAPAN: Toyota pulls out as Japanese GP host

By just-auto.com editorial team | 7 July 2009

Toyota has confirmed reports that it will pull out of hosting the Japanese Grand Prix at its Fuji Speedway circuit from next year.

Reports surfaced in Japanese newspapers last week casting doubt on Toyota's continued involvement and the Fuji International Speedway, which operates the circuit, said in a statement the economic downturn had made it "extremely difficult" to continue to stage the event.

The Toyota-owned race track, in the foothills of Mount Fuji, hosted the Japanese Grand Prix for the first time in 30 years in 2007 and had been slated to host the 2010 race as the 16th leg of the 18-round Formula One series.

From this year, the Japanese race had been due to alternate between Fuji Speedway and rival Honda's Suzuka Circuit.

Fuji Speedway opened in 1965. It staged F1 races in 1976 and in 1977, when a spectator and steward died after a Ferrari driven by Gilles Villeneuve ploughed into the crowd. Suzuka staged the race for 20 straight years until 2006.

Other Japanese companies have reviewed their participation in motorsport in the last year in order to cut costs. Honda has sold its Formula One team while Suzuki and Subaru have withdrawn from the world rally championship while Mitsubishi is quitting the Dakar Rally.

The decision not to host next year's Grand Prix has led to speculation about Toyota's F1 involvement. Analysts say it would be no big surprise if the company was considering withdrawing its F1 team, although the automaker has given no indication that such a move is likely.

Toyota Racing, Japan's last remaining Formula One team, warned in March of drastic budget cuts. The team has not won a grand prix since its 2002 debut.

Toyota overtook US rival General Motors in 2008 as the world's top selling automaker but it fell into the red for the first time ever in the year to March with a net loss of JPY436.9bn (US$4.6bn).

It expects a bigger net loss of JPY550bn this year.