Taking it to the mountains: Touge racing

Taking it to the mountains: Touge racing

Touge racing, mountain road

There’s certainly a romanticism about certain types of automotive culture, and few can match that of touge racing.

Many petrolheads worth their salt will immediately draw visions of winding, mountainous Japanese roads whenever touge racing gets a mention.

And it’s easy to do so, not least thanks to the cult success of Japanese exports such as Initial D – while the third instalment of the Fast & Furious series went a long to establish a love for touge racing in the West.

What is touge racing?

It might be important to know what ‘touge’ itself means first – this is a word that derives from the Japanese word for ‘pass’ which you’ll find written as ‘Tōge’.

These are roads built to navigate the many mountainous areas of Japan – long and winding, it’s no surprise that they enticed a new generation of driver, one that wanted to test out their pride and joy on such satisfying bits of tarmac.

As the 1980s progressed, and Japanese sports cars evolved into the more focused variants we have now become used to, these roads became a place for like-minded drivers to gather and effectively do battle with one another.

With the corners set up as they are, drifting became a prevalent way to show off your metal, but proper touge racing is mostly about beating your opponent to the end of the route.

Of course such events were – and still are – illegal, and so naturally take place in the dead of night.

In a typical touge race, two cars will enter and play a game of Cat and Mouse (that’s what it’s actually called) – a winner is declared if either car spins out, or if the distance between the two becomes too much.

Where these battles are too close to call, they are rerun until a winner can be declared.

Drivers may also put on a timed race, where both cars will start simultaneously, side-by-side, and race to achieve the fastest time. In other such races, the cars will complete the route individually.

What are the best touge cars?

While technically any car can enter such racing, you typically find a very well-represented collection of Japanese sports cars from the likes of Honda, Mazda, and Nissan hitting the mountain passes.

Cars that tackle the touge roads have been historically front-engined and rear-wheel drive, though you may also see the likes of rear-biased all-wheel drive models.

Successful cars for touge racing have been the likes of the Nissan Silvia line, Nissan GT-Rs (Skylines), Mazda RX-7s, Toyota MR-2s, and the Honda S2000.

Naturally, it’s rare for any of competing cars to be stock, and usually arrive heavily modified in any way you can imagine such a car might be.

Of course, the Toyota AE86 (Trueno/Levin) is almost seen as the ‘face of touge racing’ thanks in large to Initial D – though the car was quite popular in the run-up to the manga being released, as it was one of the cheapest ways to get hold of a front-engined/rear-wheel drive car at the time.

Where are the popular roads in Japan for touge?

The roads that tower over the coast near Tokyo have been historically some of the best for touge racing and battles.

One that might hit the top of the list is the Hakone Turnpike Pass – situated about 60 miles south west of Japan’s capital, this is one of the most iconic passes of its type, largely due to its inclusion in racing games of this ilk.

But also, the Hakone Turnpike Pass is a location where the likes of Nissan, Honda, and Toyota go to hone their latest and greatest.

To put the ‘mountain’ in mountain roads, you may look to Mt. Fuji Touge Road – sitting on the south side of Japan’s most iconic peak, this is a classic winding road complete with stunning scenery.

Many touge enthusiasts will make a pilgrimage of sorts to such roads, and you’ll find a few rental places in Tokyo where you can hire out a suitable car – just remember these are public roads, though.