December 15, 2020 By C! Magazine Staff Written by Peter Lyon

What Goes Into Making A Great Race Track? We Ask Well-Known Drivers For Their Feedback

We ask an ex-F1 and veteran Le Mans driver, Top Gear’s original ‘Stig,’ and an ex-Indy 500 racer for feedback on their favorite race tracks and corners, and extract initial impressions on a new race track under construction in Japan.

How do you define a great race track? Is it a factor of the circuit’s design, an accumulation of testimonials from internationally famous racing drivers, or is it maybe something to do with the caliber of the races staged there? Or maybe all three?

In this article, we’ll introduce a new Japanese race track currently under construction near Tokyo, and reference its design with feedback from well-known racing drivers including ex-F1 and Le Mans pilot and former Fifth Gear co-host, Tiff Needell, Le Mans racer and Top Gear’s first ever Stig, Perry McCarthy, and ex-Indy 500 racer Hideshi Matsuda.

One hour south of Tokyo, a challenging new race track — The Magarigawa Club — is expected to open in 2022. Boasting an overall length of 3.5-kms, 22 corners and elevation of 80 meters, the twisty, technical surface will join Suzuka, Fuji and Motegi as one of Japan’s most exclusive racing locations. But unlike these circuits which have hosted F1 and IndyCar races, Magarigawa will be a private member’s complex that will not stage actual races.

Ex-F1 and Le Mans racer and former Fifth Gear car show presenter, Tiff Needell, knows a thing or two about Japanese race tracks, having competed in the All Japan Sports Prototype Car Endurance Championships from 1988 through 1991. He says he enjoyed the 130R corner at Suzuka, a turn that demands guts and a perfect entry, but that’s before they eased it to make it safer. “For me, the most rewarding corners are the ones taken at high speed with minimal braking. Corners where you feel you are really on the edge, corners that get the heart racing,” he stresses. One of his favorite tracks, however, is Spa Francorchamps in Belgium. “Eau Rouge and Blanchimont are massive challenges and amongst the best in the world. Although, to be honest, Eau Rouge is actually three corners with the left at the top of the hill being Raidillon, and that’s what makes it so much fun,’ he comments. “But there’s perhaps no more challenging a circuit than Monte Carlo. If we are talking about a series of corners I would add the approach to Massenet as well, as this long left-hander funnels you over to the left of the track – right in front of the door to the Hotel de Paris –  from where you flick right to a late apex and fire yourself over the crest and begin that epic plunge down to Mirabeau.”

Tiff Needell at LeMans

Needell enjoys many F1 tracks but the simpler circuits put a smile on his face too. “Goodwood only has 6 corners in its 2.4-mile length, but each is very different and a challenge all on their own, plus you have places to overtake. Madgwick is probably the pick of the bunch, a fast, double apex corner with a crest in the middle, where you need to just miss the first apex, catch the slide as the car goes light over the crest and then nail the final apex on full throttle for the perfect exit.”

So how does he find Magarigawa? “It looks fast but rather technical with those 22 corners,” he critiques. “And the last uphill twisty section appears especially challenging and would place a lot of stress on tires, brakes and drivers.”

Cornes Motors Ltd., Japan’s premier exotic automotive dealer, is currently building the ambitious Magarigawa, an extraordinary new race track project that brings together the very best in the business, from track designers, to luxury hotel chains to internationally acclaimed interior decorators to Le Mans-winning instructors. Penned by world-renowned F1 circuit designers Tilke Engineers and Architects—the guys who created bucket list-worthy tracks like Circuit of the Americas, Sochi Autodrom, Red Bull Ring and Yas Marina Circuit—the Magarigawa private circuit will be a 3.5km-long track featuring an 800m long straightaway, several blind turns, maximum ascent of 20%, and a specially designed air-conditioned member’s garage.

It’s a course that Cornes suggests will rival the best in the world for thrills and driver involvement. And after seeing the track layout and testing it on a driving simulator for myself, I’d have to say that there might just be some substance in those lofty claims. There is certainly loads of driver involvement.

Simulating the track on a Lamborghini

As I pushed a Lamborghini Huracan to the max on the simulator, it was immediately obvious that Tilke’s team had created an extremely challenging, technical track that offers a 250 km/h plus straightway that leads into a tricky hairpin requiring three quick directional changes in the space of 3 seconds. It also demands a good memory of the track layout, especially when you find yourself negotiating several tight, blind, uphill corners with negative camber where the only thing you can see is blue sky, tree tops and disappearing bitumen. As Needell said, Magarigawa’s final sector is twisty and requires immense concentration to maintain speed through the S curves, but we won’t really know the extent of these twisties until the track opens in two years’ time.

The track features high-speed S-curves

Getting to know the track through the simulator

Former Le Mans racer and Top Gear’s original Stig, Perry McCarthy, likes high-speed corners, ones that make your heart beat hard and exact a heavy cost for mistakes but give a great deal of satisfaction when you get it right. “Corners and tracks that stand out are Double Gauche at Spa and Mulsanne Corner and Indianapolis at Le Mans. These are all ultra-fast but the trick is to have the car balanced and slowed enough for slower corners that immediately follow. One little mistake on entry will cause a big problem on exit,” he reminisces. From the simulation lap video he saw, McCarthy thinks Magarigawa is corner heavy, narrow and a real challenge for amateur drivers.

Perry McCarthy

The first Top Gear Stig believes that a good track is defined by challenging high-speed corners, its history, character and surrounding beauty. “I guess when you add all those things together, it’s like three cherries coming up on a slot machine and if you are speeding inside your race car with just enough time for a small grin, then you’re where you are meant to be in life,” he says. Magarigawa will offer many of the traits McCarthy mentions, but will have to create its own type of history as it will not stage actual races.

Ex-Indycar 500 and Le Mans racer, who has also competed in the Daytona 24-hours, Spa 24-hours and the Nurburgring 24-hours, Hideshi Matsuda, is a huge fan of Suzuka. “I especially like Dunlop Corner and the Spoon Curve which offer different challenges but are both as much fun as each other. I love corners with elevation changes, where you enter uphill and exit going downhill. Such corners throw the weight from the rear to the front in milliseconds and place real challenges on drivers to get each corner just right. Other corners that put a smile on my face are high-speed S-curves like Spa’s Eau Rouge, while Flugplatz at Nurburgring requires a mixture of guts and restraint and the perfect line,” he comments. As for Magarigawa, Matsuda says, “From the simulation video I saw, it looks like a very technical track with many elevation changes. That last twisty section looks a little tortuous but extremely challenging at the same time, especially those blind corners,” he mentions.

Hideshi Matsuda

Making Magarigawa a totally unique private track resort will be its collaboration with Kanaya Hotels, developer of some of Japan’s most exclusive resort hotels who specialize in luxury, ‘onsen’ hot springs and fine dining. Kanaya will run the luxury clubhouse as well as member lodges while internationally renowned interior designer Joyce Wang will cater to the clubhouse’s exclusive interior requirements.

Onsen hot springs

The clubhouse

To associate the facility with world-class motor racing, Magarigawa has retained the services of 1995 Le Mans-winning Japanese driver Masanori Sekiya, who will look after member’s advanced driver education. As fate would have it, Sekiya actually co-drove with Needell in the 1987 Le Mans 24-hours.

According to Cornes, Magarigawa will not stage actual racing events and will be a private member’s club with membership hovering around the US$300,000 mark when it opens in 2022. Looking to attract 500 members over time, the complex has already welcomed over 100 members from Japan, China and Hong Kong, and is looking to expand its membership to the U.S. and Europe and South East Asia in the near future.

Magarigawa certainly looks world-class at first glance, and with Tilke in charge of the track’s unique design, the facility should definitely make some waves in motor sport circles when it comes online in two years’ time. As Needell, McCarthy and Matsuda suggest, expectations are high for this technical, complex new track that offers many of the high speed and cornering challenges top drivers yearn, but at the same time, the track will be tough on tires, brakes and drivers. Perhaps, McCarthy said it best. “Challenging risk is maybe one of the main things I relished as a racing driver.” With those 22 corners packed into its 3.5-km length, Magarigawa certainly offers a full menu of challenges that require cool heads and steady hands.


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