One Ton Fun At Hero Sinoi Circuit

The longer I’m in Japan, the more I’m finding myself drawn to smaller, local race tracks than the big-name ones like Fuji Speedway or Suzuka Circuit.

I’ve got nothing against the bigger circuits, but there’s something special about these smaller facilities. Tracks like Mobora Circuit and Sports Land Yamanashi all have a grassroots vibe about them. You can tell that for most, the goal isn’t to try and set a new personal best lap time or break the track record – it’s simply about having fun.


That sense of fun and enjoying motorsports with your friends and other like-minded sorts is exactly the premise behind the ‘One Ton Challenge’. Before I get into that though, a little bit about Hero Sinoi Circuit.


Located roughly 20 minutes away from Nikko Circuit, Hero Sinoi is a 1.35km-long, sprint-type track somewhat hidden from the outside world. Similar to Sports Land Yamanashi, Hero Sinoi Circuit is surrounded by forest, giving it a very picturesque backdrop. That said, with no virtually no run-off areas, you don’t want to get it wrong at speed here.


Although short in length, the track layout has a real touge feel to it, which only adds to the grassroots atmosphere. Fast flowing sections, hairpin turns and elevation changes provide a fun and exciting challenge for drivers.


So why was I here? If you cast your minds back to last month, you might remember my road trip to Hero Sinoi Circuit where I was scheduled to catch up with the guys from Cars Hatano and watch them shake down their wild Delta Fenice 105 project. But there was something else going on at this private track day that warranted a closer look.


The One Ton Challenge is run by Hatano Masato, who is also the Lancia’s project head. As the event name suggests, to be eligible cars must weigh under a metric ton (1,000kg). They also can’t have more than 100hp under the hood.


The idea is that One Ton Challenge cars shouldn’t cost too much nor be too difficult to find replacement parts for. This actually makes the typical kei sports car not the most ideal choice, as values have increased over the years and parts can be hard to come across. That doesn’t deter some, like the owner of this Honda Beat.

The second generation Fiat Punto, however, fits the brief perfectly.

Before the group started to collect them, you could purchase one of these Puntos for as little as ¥150,000 (roughly US$1,500), so the buy-in price was very affordable. While engines, differentials and ECUs must remain stock, and tires are limited to 195/50R15 size, some modifications can be made for the One Ton Challenge. Things like changing out the intake, exhaust, suspension and brakes. Most competitors will also strip out their car’s interior and add safety features like a roll cage and harness.


The only other rules are to have fun, be safe, and let your skills as a driver do the rest of the talking.

Here’s a video from a One Ton Challenge race earlier this year, which does an incredible job showing not only the Hero Sinoi Circuit track layout, but the kind of wheel-to-wheel action you can get with these little Fiats. Don’t mind the music though.

If you couldn’t tell from the video, the drivers don’t really hold back in any way. Oil pans tend to not last long and the occasional ‘love tap’ does happen in the heat of the battle.

No one was really sure why, but at the event I attended one Punto’s driver door hinge sheared clean off. If I was a betting man, I’d say repeated jumps over the track’s red and white rumble strips caused the failure.


There is something about driving cheap cars to the absolute limit (and beyond in many cases) without a care in the world, all in the pursuit of beating your fellow driver a truly fun and exciting experience. At a track like Hero Sinoi, it’s even better. I wonder if I can persuade someone to let me have a drive next time…

Ron Celestine
Instagram: celestinephotography



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What a cool event! The racing looks so intense despite the cute looking cars lol!


As the owner of a Fiat Panda 100HP, I can 100% see the enjoyment of this type of racing. Light, nimble and on the rev limiter everywhere!


Affordable racing series...always entertaining to watch and participate


That's why I love cars of the 80's.90's and ver early 2000's The were lightweight. Owned a Peugeot 206 GTI while working in the middle east. Yes it only had 137 hp but at approximately 2300 - 2350 lbs -about the same weight as Miata- it was really quick up the hill, partly due to its lightweight but also of its torquey engine. Today's cars are on average 400 lbs heavier.


Exactly! Add the perception of speed inherit of old car designs - thinner pillars, more glass, lower seating position, less's a winning recipe for fun. In general, cars of that era are closer in driving experience to Miatas than cars now versus a current Miata if this makes sense.


Such a refreshing article, Ron.
These cars may not have 100 horses, but they sure are 100% fun for their drivers!


5dr bumper on a 3dr, never seen that before. Also what kind of aftermarket/diy headlights are these on a white pre-facelift example on the lead picture?


I always had a soft spot for that gen Punto, before they put the grill on it. How did a Lupo GTI sneak in there? They have 125bhp!!


Nothing a few bags of cement cant help haha


Maybe they allowed one of the slow friends who really wanted to join in on the fun. :-P
BTW that red Fiat Barchetta even has 130bhp...


It's probably a cliché to make the comparison by now, but this feels like an entry-level Gran Turismo event made real (except with an extra 20-odd more Puntos on track). I love that! Also giving a thumbs up as a former Punto owner myself.