Circuit type: Permanent road and oval courses
Penbay International Circuit was Taiwan's first international-standard circuit - but that's not what made it distinctive. Rather, it is the huge seaplane-shaped viewing platform that utterly dominates the skyline at the southern portion of the track that makes this a truly unique facility.
The viewing platform actually pre-dates the track by several years – which winds underneath it as it heads back to the pit straight – and is a celebration of the site's past life. Dapeng Bay, where the track is today situated, was once known as Toko and was the largest inland Japanese seaplane base on Taiwan during the Pacific War. Built in 1940, after World War II it remained a military installation in the hands of the Republic of China's hands, used as a training facility for the air force until 1978.
Following the military pull-out, the site fell into a state of disrepair, though it remained historically significant. In 1997, Dapeng Bay was designated as a National Scenic Area and soon became a popular tourism and recreation destination. Some of the former air base's buildings were given protected 'historic' status in 2007, so it was not without some local controversy that the government announced a private company would be allowed to operate the base, allowing the investors to demolish part of the barracks and to build an international circuit as the first part of lavish plans to bring new tourist attractions to the area.
The track opened in 2011, winding its way between some of the former military buildings and under the viewing platform. Irish driver Gary Thompson helped officially open Taiwan's all-new circuit by driving a Minardi F1 two seater race car around the track
Modern pit and hospitality facilities line the start finish straight, while the full 2.192 miles (3.527 km) International course incorporates a long wide straight, fast 'oval' section as well as a twisting infield area to create one of the more unusual layouts seen today. The track could also be shorted to form a 1.218 miles (1.960km) National course, which was licenced for use by the local MSA, while flat oval courses at either end of the complex were used for testing, driver training and promotional events.
While the track managed to attract international attention to Taiwan in short time, with rumours of a Super GT race abounding for a while,a planned round of the new Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo Asia in 2012 falling through when the circuit failed to get its FIA certification (to Grade 2) in time. However, 2015 did see the arrival of the Audi R8 LMS Cup for the first time and the track received a positive reception from the series.
Dark clouds gathered over the facility in July 2019, however, when the Oriental Leisure Group, which operates the circuit and the adjoining Oriental Resort Penbay, announced that it would pull out of the project on July 15 unless new terms could be agreed for the project's Build-Operate-Transfer contract. With the Taipei government seemingly unmoved, an official announcement was made that the facility would operate its final day on July 14 with all events after that date cancelled. It seems likely the track will now be mothballed for an indefinite period until a new operator can be found through a tendering process, or could even face permanent closure if none can be found. It would be a sad end for an unusual circuit.
Pictures courtesy Audi Sport
Penbay International Circuit is located in Dapeng Bay in south-western Taiwan, though it is currently closed. The nearest international airport is Kaohsiung City's Kaohsiung International Airport, which is around 40 minutes' drive from the circuit, offering numerous international flights to Asia-Pacific airports, including Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
The circuit itself is easy to find being located next to Highway 17 and within easy reach of Highway 1 which runs north across the island to the capital Taipei. However, the whole facility has been mothballed and currently is inactive and unable to receive visitors.