Super GT: A Primer For a New Audience

Discussion in 'Motorsports' started by R.J. O'Connell, Dec 29, 2014.

  1. R.J. O'Connell

    R.J. O'Connell

    Japan's Autobacs Super GT Series enjoyed the largest international expansion of its fanbase in 2014, and will seek to carry that growth and momentum into 2015.

    Founded in 1993 as the All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (JGTC), Super GT is one of the most competitive GT racing series on the planet, a dual-class series pitting the fastest silhouette GT cars in the world against one another in the GT500 class, on the same track as the GT300 class - a mixture of purpose-built cars constructed to GT300 regulations and FIA GT3-specification European sports cars, battling without restriction yet ultimately competing on an even playing field.

    With success ballast similar to that used in the British Touring Car Championship, DTM, and Blancpain GT Series serving as the only "gimmick" the series has, along with the four-way tyre war contested between Bridgestone, Michelin, Dunlop, and Yokohama, and the seemingly endless amount of gripping, side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel racing, the series has all the elements to attract a new audience of racing fans wanting to watch a "purer" form of racing, yet one still contested at a very high level.

    To better explain what has attracted so many new fans to the series from around the world, Super GT produced a video introduction to the series intended for prospective new fans, featuring commentary from four of its top stars - including the newest three-time series champion, two ex-Formula 1 drivers, and one former Nurburgring 24 Hours champion.

    Super GT already benefits from exposure through various racing simulations. Chances are, if you've ever played a Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport game, or a third-party mod such as the Super GT Series mod built for Simbin's GTR 2, you'll recognize cars such as the Castrol TOM's Supra, the Calsonic Skyline GT-R, or the Raybrig NSX. But until recently, many of these same people who had played these games or driven these sims had never been able to watch a race in the series that these cars had once competed, or become invested in the teams and drivers that contest them still today.

    And it's a very illustrious list of drivers, it should be said. In addition to Nakajima, Muller, Liuzzi, and Quintarelli, 2014's entry list was bolstered by the presence of internationally recognized drivers such as Satoshi Motoyama, Michael Krumm, Lucas Ordonez, James Rossiter, Oliver Jarvis, Bertrand Baguette, Hideki Mutoh, Frederic Makowiecki, Bjorn Wirdheim, Richard Lyons, and Jorg Bergmeister.

    The list of series alumni is very distinguished as well: In addition to Japanese ex-F1 drivers Aguri Suzuki, Ukyo Katayama, and Toranosuke Takagi, the series has been bolstered by the presence of distinguished drivers such as David Brabham, Pedro de la Rosa, Ralf Schumacher, Romain Dumas, Wayne Gardner, Tom Coronel, Erik Comas, Ralph Firman, Adrian Sutil, and four of last year's Audi Sport Team Joest competing drivers at Le Mans - Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, Loic Duval, and even the retiring Tom Kristensen has raced here before. The competition level of Super GT is extremely high, especially for what is classified as a national or regional championship series.

    This year, however, Super GT's exposure outside of Japan was bolstered, not just due to the influx of international talent this year such as Liuzzi, Muller, Ordonez, and Baguette, not just because of the inaugural Super GT race held in Thailand's Chang International Circuit in October, but also because of Nismo and Radio Le Mans' partnership to deliver the first official English language broadcasts of a Super GT race since 2007, when they partnered to broadcast live coverage of the 43rd Suzuka 1000km race - the series' crown jewel event - and later, the season-ending, championship-deciding race at Twin Ring Motegi. In addition, there was also a grassroots effort to translate and subtitle the original Japanese broadcasts of all eight rounds of the 2014 season, for the first time ever.

    This sort of growth and expansion, perhaps brought on by the proposed Class One unified regulations - that will unite Super GT's GT500 class with the DTM and a proposed IMSA series in a common set of specifications by 2017 - has resulted in a massive growth in Super GT's international fanbase, the racing action and amazing engineering and diversity of the competing machines being well-received by so many racing fans.

    And what a 2014 season it was!

    WATCH: Super GT 2014 Series Summary

    This year saw the debut of a brand new generation of cars in the GT500 class. With heavily revised aerodynamic specifications and a new generation of two-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder powerplants producing over 600 brake horsepower, the new generation machines from Lexus, Honda, and Nissan shattered existing track records at virtually every stop. No example best demonstrated the speed of the GT500 cars than at Twin Ring Motegi when Quintarelli, driving a GT500 class Nissan GT-R, set a pole time of 1:38.2 - which would have beaten the 2011 pole time on the same circuit. Set by Scott Dixon. In a Dallara/Honda IndyCar. By two-tenths of a second.

    Honda revived the NSX for competition for the first time in half a decade, with an experimental, hybrid-powertrain GT500 car based on the upcoming NSX production model. Lexus replaced the successful, yet polarizing SC with a model based on the new RC-F luxury coupe. Nissan? They just decided to make a more powerful version of the GT-R they'd been fielding since 2008.

    The GT300 class saw the first trial run of the new Mother Chassis platform, a concept that offers teams the flexibility to build any kind of car upon a common monococque and powered by a spec engine based on the last generation of GT500 powerplants, built as a cost-effective alternative to the prevalent GT3 customer cars. At Chang International Circuit in Thailand, a Toyota 86-MC constructed by Dome made its long-awaited debut in preparation for the Mother Chassis' full-on arrival this coming year. That added to the intrigue of a class that already had eleven different makes and models represented - GT3-spec cars from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini, Audi, Aston Martin, McLaren, and Porsche, joined by a factory-run Subaru BRZ, two hybrid-engined Honda CR-Zs, and a Toyota Prius - yes, a race-spec Prius - powered by the same 3.4 litre V8 that powers Rebellion Racing's R-One prototype.

    At the end of a season filled with thrilling action and hard-fought victories and triumphs, it was NISMO who extended their record of championships with their seventh title. They had to wait until the June race at Autopolis to snap a shocking two and a half year winless drought, but in Motegi, they sealed the title with a dominant victory. For Quintarelli, it was a record-tying third championship, becoming the first non-Japanese to join the fraternity of three-time champions - that includes active drivers Motoyama, Juichi Wakisaka, Yuji Tachikawa, and former driver Masahiko Kageyama. For his co-driver Tsugio Matsuda, who entered 2014 as the winningest driver never to win a Super GT championship, it was a richly deserved first title in his fourteenth full season - not unlike the fourteen-year exodus that Kevin Harvick endured to his first NASCAR Cup Series title in November.

    In the second division, Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO fought off stiff competition all season long. Two early wins at Okayama and Fuji bolstered their title credentials, yet saddled them with 80 kilograms of ballast to start the season. They had a fierce rivalry with the newly-launched BMW Team Studie, with whom GSR were once allied as partners. The title was decided by a tie-breaker after Mercedes-Benz Team GAINER won the final race of the season, but the two victories put GSR over the top to their second GT300 Championship. The second for team boss Katayama, a popular F1 entrant who endured a luckless and erratic F1 career derailed by a cancer diagnosis that he hid from the world until retirement, and the second for his drivers - Tatsuya Kataoka, and Nobuteru Taniguchi - one of the series' most popular drivers, a drift racer and judge, a television presenter, and a young man who worked in garages until he broke into circuit racing in his early 30s. At age 43, Taniguchi is reaching the height of his power at a stage where many other drivers would fall off.

    There were other great stories. Frederic Makowiecki made a shocking return to the series in July, months after signing an exclusive factory GT deal with Porsche. Andrea Caldarelli competed for the championship all season long, but in October he was being considered for a one-off F1 drive at Caterham, ultimately rejecting the offer to focus on Super GT. The Bergmeister brothers, Jorg and Tim, raced together at Sugo for Porsche Team KTR. For Tim, his 2014 campaign marked a return to Super GT after surviving an appaling accident in the 2012 Fuji 500km Race that left the veteran driver with multiple fractures and injuries to both lungs. Yuji Tachikawa moved ahead of Satoshi Motoyama on the all-time GT500 wins list at the Sugo race, with his 16th career victory. Nakajima continued to bolster his racing credentials with his and co-driver Rossiter's victory in the Suzuka 1000km for Petronas Team TOM's - combined with winning the 2014 Super Formula championship and taking pole position at Le Mans, the son of former F1 driver and Super GT team boss Satoru Nakajima is in the prime of his racing career after a discouraging exit from the realm of Formula 1 five years ago.

    How can it be topped in 2015? Super GT seems to find a way to up the ante every year it seems. But next year, there will be some changes before the first green lights are lit.

    GT500 will see the departure of Dome as a Honda team after seventeen seasons and two championships. Their place as the flagship Honda entry will be taken by HRD Sakura, representing the Honda facility that builds the new power units for McLaren in Formula 1. With Jarvis moving to the WEC full-time next year, his place at Lexus Team SARD and their popular Denso-sponsored entry will likely be taken by Ryo Hirakawa, an exciting 20-year-old Toyota prospect that has been on the radar of IndyCar and Formula E teams for over a year. With the upcoming debut of Nissan's LMP1 team and the new GT-R LM prototype in 2015, many of their current Super GT drivers may end up in Le Mans, or even on a full-time WEC deal. The Super GT future of Kazuki Nakajima is also up in the air due to his Toyota Racing commitments in the WEC, as well as that of Keihin Real Racing driver Koudai Tsukakoshi, who recently tested in the GP2 Series in Abu Dhabi as part of Honda and McLaren's alliance with ART Grand Prix.

    In the second division, Goodsmile Racing make a shock switch from BMW to the Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz, where Taniguchi and Kataoka will drive one of the final iterations of the successful SLS AMG GT3 to be built before it joins its road-going counterpart in retirement. The Mother Chassis platform will be represented not only by the Toyota 86-MC built by Dome, but by a new mid-engined Lotus Evora built on the MC platform by legendary racecar builders Mooncraft - this will mark the debut of the Lotus brand in the series, and the car will be revealed in January at the Tokyo Auto Salon. Lexus is expected to field its new RC-F GT3 in the series with a team to be announced. Team Taisan, the most successful and storied team in the GT300 class, will look to rebound after the most difficult season in their Super GT tenure by reuniting with Ferrari and fielding a 458 GT3 - they ran a 458 GT2 in the GTE-Am class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year.

    There are no changes to the 2015 schedule in terms of circuits or race order:

    Okayama GT 300km Race - April 5
    Fuji GT 500km Race - May 3
    Super GT in Kyushu 300km [Autopolis] - May 31
    Sugo GT 300km Race - July 26
    Fuji GT 300km Race - August 9
    44th International Suzuka 1000km - August 30
    Buriram United Super GT Race [Chang International] - October 4
    Motegi GT 250km Race - November 15

    The series' most prestigious races at Fuji and Suzuka have unfortunately-timed clashes with WEC events at Spa-Francorchamps and the Nurburgring, however, and the Autopolis round will be held on the opening day of testing for Le Mans.

    No concrete plans for international broadcasting of Super GT, via internet streaming or television, have been announced for 2015 as of this article's publishing date. But with Super GT's growing attempts to market the series outside of Japan, the likelihood is high that something may be confirmed before the start of the upcoming season that will allow more accessibility and a further growth of the series' international fan base.

    In the mean time, you can catch up on the entire 2014 Super GT season by watching the videos linked at the end of the article.

    It is my sincerest hope to be able to bring further coverage of Super GT racing to RaceDepartment this upcoming season, and if the opportunity is presented, I will do my utmost to bring top-quality coverage for everyone in the RD community.

    Thank you, and enjoy the racing.

    2014 Super GT Videos

    2014 Super GT Season Playlist (English subtitles by Yu Omori)

    2014 Super GT Suzuka 1000km (English commentary by John Hindhaugh, Graham Goodwin, and Sam Collins)

    2014 Super GT Motegi 250km (English commentary by Jonny Palmer and Sam Collins)

    Image Credit: Audi Motorsport
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  2. Andrew Harper

    Andrew Harper

    Thanks so much for this! I loved the Super GT's and was always amazed in this day and age they managed to survive (which so much money going towards F1 other high tech formula have suffered). I've owned a FD RX7 for 14 years and always followed the RE-Amemiya team, it was great when they finally won the championship. Then all the satellite coverage stopped and it became a nightmare to find any information at all. So I simply gave up. The fact that Radio Le Mans and some video footage has become available is great. Would so love to see these cars race around Silverstone or Brands GP or even at Festival of Speed. BTW Sector 3 are you reading this? Super GT pack please?? haha.
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  3. Georg Siebert

    Georg Siebert

    Brilliant article R.J.!
    Have now some racing to watch in this lame duck christmas/new year period.
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  4. Mahardhika Putra Baliwa

    Mahardhika Putra Baliwa

    What I'm waiting in Super GT 2015 (especially GT300) is MC (Mother Chassis). I just want to see how JAF car can battle with GT3 car with that Chassis. Okay, 86 GT300 who race in Buriram in this year using MC and fail in first race. But I heard they win Thailand Super Series use that car. So, the car still have some potency. Lotus is come to SGT next year use Evora with MC btw :D

    and curious look the effect from some team change car next year. Like Gainer from SLS to GTR, GSR Miku from Z4 to SLS (rumour said they use Gainer car), Taisan if I right go to Ferrari from GTR and TWS in June if I not wrong they say will be use RC-F GT3..-.

    surely next year will be something for SGT GT300 :D
  5. ernietheracefan


    Need more onboard footage during the race..
    And more better track camera position
  6. whaletail


    It's likely wishful thinking to hope SGT will appear on US television any time soon, yet still I dream!