Toyota to stop hosting Japanese Grand Prix

TOKYO: Toyota Motor, reeling from its first ever loss, will stop hosting the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at its Fuji Speedway circuit from 2010, the race track's operator announced.

The global economic downturn has made it "extremely difficult" to continue to host the event, Toyota-owned Fuji International Speedway Co. said in a statement.

The race track, in the foothills of Mount Fuji, hosted the Japanese Grand Prix for the first time in 30 years in 2007, replacing rival Honda's Suzuka Circuit, which is this year's host.

From 2009, the Japanese race had been due to alternate between the two circuits.

Hiroaki Kato, the president of Fuji International Speedway, said the decision to stop hosting the race was "heartbreaking."

"I apologise deeply for being unable to live up to expectations," he said in a statement.

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.

Toyota's decision to pull out as host comes as the global economic crisis forces Japanese automakers to slash costs.

Honda has sold its Formula One team while Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries has withdrawn from the world rally championship and motorcycle maker Kawasaki has exited the MotoGP.

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 in the year to March with a net loss of 436.9 billion yen (4.6 billion dollars).