Twelve Reasons You Should Be Watching Super GT
|Image credits: Super GT|
You've probably seen the posts I've made here about the latest race results from the Japanese Super GT series. It's not the most well-known race series outside of Japan and you're only likely to have heard of it if you're a big import car fan, dedicated motorsport follower, or you play a lot of Gran Turismo (I just happen to be all of the above). Even if you know of it you may be wondering why it's worth watching considering it's relatively obscure. Since Super GT is my favorite race series around I wanted to share with you some very good reasons why you might want to start following it closely.
- The racing is hard-fought and some of the best out there – Good racing is of course an important factor in the worth of any motorsport competition and Super GT has some of the best around. Thanks to performance balancing at the start of the season the cars tend to be fairly well-matched. As the season goes on cars that do well start accumulating reward ballast that keeps piling up with every good result. Because of that no car can simply run away with the championship and big margins are rare in the title point rankings. The ballast also keeps the racing close – in the five races so far this season the winning margins have tended to be less than 10 seconds over the course of two hour long races with the only exceptions being the first and fifth rounds where heavy rain affected the racing. Even then, the last race at Suzuka saw the winners of the GT300 class eke out only a 1 second gap to the second place car after SIX hours of racing.
- You can recognize the cars as based on production vehicles – Super GT doesn't use stock vehicles of course but the rules dictate that the cars have to be based on cars that are sold or were sold to the public. In the higher spec GT500 class the cars use a standardized carbon fiber monocoque and all use bespoke turbo four cylinder motors but the overall shape is recognizably based on a roadgoing Nissan GT-R, Lexus RC-F, or Honda NSX. They look like much more aggressive versions of the regular cars but the roofline looks the same and the overall shape of the front and back ends are based on the production cars. The lower-tier GT300 cars are closer to their road-legal origins because they're either GT3 specification cars or are built to Super GT regulations off a monocoque chassis like the GT500 cars but with a shape inspired by the production vehicle. Yes, the technology underneath and the aero package on top may be far advanced compared to the street car but they still look like something you can buy unlike a Formula 1 or LMP car that looks like an alien spaceship by comparison.
- These are the fastest production-based racers in the world with speeds rivaling prototypes – Super GT has two classes as I mentioned above – GT500 and GT300. The GT300 cars are like the GT racers you see in other series like Blancpain GT or World Challenge and they're already extremely fast but the GT500 cars take it to a whole other level. The typical GT500 racer is basically a prototype race car dressed in street car clothing and the lap times reflect that – at Fuji Speedway the qualifying times of the top GT500 cars rivaled the times set by World Endurance Championship LMP1 racers at a previous race. WEC uses full-bore prototype race cars that use no parts based on a production car and have technology and expenditures rivaling Formula 1 racers so its shocking that the GT500 cars can get close to their times.
- Leading edge and diverse technology – the cars in Super GT may resemble ordinary street cars but the technology used in them is cutting edge for racing. For power the GT500 cars use motors with just four cylinders but using turbos and the latest tech they put out up to 700 horspower (and they sound GLORIOUS unlike modern F1 cars and a lot of heavily muffled LMP cars). The Honda NSX GT500 cars supplant this with a hybrid system as well. In GT300 two cars use hybrid systems and the whole field puts out about 500 horsepower per car regardless of powerplant type which range from turbo flat-fours to NA V10s. As I mentioned in reason number 3 the cars are capable of shocking speeds so as you can imagine the aerodynamic work that goes into them is leading edge. Look at your average Super GT car, whether GT500 or 300 and you'll see enough winglets, turning vanes, air extractors, and other widgets to make a Formula 1 engineer wet himself in envy.
If only rush hour always looked this sexy.
- If you're a Nissan fan, they are the most successful manufacturer in series history – Nissan has won more titles than their two big Japanese rivals. The last eight seasons have seen Nissan cars take four of the GT500 driver's titles with Toyota and Honda splitting the other four. Currently Nissan cars head the standings in both GT500 and GT300 so this year they could possibly add to their already significant past successes.
The iconic Calsonic R32
- If you're a GT-R fan, this series is part of the legend – Nissan's success is actually the reason Super GT – or the Japanese GT Championship (JGTC) as it was known before – came to be. Back in the 90s the Group A R32 Skyline race cars were so dominant that they won 29 of 29 races they entered in the Japanese Touring Car Championships and transformed it into basically a one-make series. The JTCC stopped running and a new series was made in the form of JGTC to try and make the racing more even. The R32s dominance in JTCC as well as abroad sparked the Godzilla nickname and even though the original PGC10 GT-R in the 60s and 70s was dominant in its own right the R32 cemented the GT-R's mythic stature. Even after the change to the JGTC Nissan remained the most successful of the manufacturers entered and the GT-R legend lives on to this day with three championships in the last four seasons.
- More contact but fewer penalties and safety cars – with close racing inevitably comes contact between cars and the Super GT racers aren't afraid of what the Brits would call “ a little argey-bargey”. The racing is usually very clean but when wins and points are on the line the drivers aren't afraid of showing some aggression and since these are enclosed GT cars the bumping and banging is rarely terminal, unlike in formula car racing. When contact occurs or a mechanical problem stops a car on track, another great feature of Super GT is that they rarely pull out the safety car and turn everything into a boring procession. Instead cars are fished out of the gravel by the marshals while racing continues if at all possible. Sometimes race officials will send recovery vehicles out and they'll run on track while cars continue to race around them! Safety isn't even compromised as injuries are unheard of. Only truly big crashes or massive oil or coolant spills typically call out a safety car intervention and so it's rare for the racing to stop.
- Super GT loves its fans – I can't think of any other major race series that treats its fans like Super GT does. At every event there are a lot of festivities besides the racing – you have the usual stuff like company displays and opportunities to meet the drivers but there are also some truly unique elements. One example is that Super GT has not just one but two parade laps prior to each race – the one just prior to the start is the usual safety car-led lap but before that you have one led by a formation of local police bikes and patrol cars. In practice sessions you also have the amazing “Circuit Safari” where you can hop on a bus and ride around the circuit AS THE RACE CARS DO PRACTICE LAPS! How cool is that? And I remember watching one race telecast where qualifying got rained out and the drivers and pit crews put on impromptu shows for the gathered attendees including racing around on the car dollys. When was the last time the stuck-up personnel in Formula 1 did anything like that? In addition to all that you have reason number 10 below.
Proof that I was not shitting you about the circuit safaris
- Race queens! – Gotta love the Japanese for being passionate about the age-old combination of beautiful women and sexy cars. They don't just have a grid girl or two – they have dozens!
Holy grid girls Batman!
- Something for the nerds – Traditional car culture had little place for the "nerd". Getting greasy, working with your hands, and muscling wrenches, tires, and heavy unassisted steering was notoriously the realm of the "jock". But with the ever increasing rise of technology in motorsports, being a car geek and just a plain geek are no longer mutually exclusive and leave it to the Japanese to embrace nerds like your humble scribe. Where else can you see a full-race Merc SLS with a white, pink, and teal paint job and pictures of virtual singing idol Hatsune Miku on the hood and side? Did I mention the race team is named after an anime figure manufacturing company? Prefer real singing idols to virtual ones? Well there's a white GT-R promoting that too. Don't know about all that niche sh*t? Well maybe you've heard of a little cartoon called Speed Racer? One of the GT86 teams runs in that livery. Even the race queens get in on it with special themed outfits – the most famous examples are probably when one team had some very fetching costumes based on the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime. Super GT even has a 20th Anniversary music CD composed entirely of songs by another virtual idol named IA. How 21st century is that? Geeks come in all shapes and sizes and if you're like me and if you're comfy with your nerdy side this is the race series for you!
The Japanese have few rivals when it comes to taking geekdom to serious levels.
Eenie, meanie, miney...aww, screw it, why be picky?!?
- There's now an English simulcast available for every race – thanks to Nissan's Nismo.TV channel on Youtube all Super GT races are now simulcast live and with excellent race commentary from the RadioLeMans team to boot! It's free and yes, Nissan shows the full races no matter how well their cars do or not.
So, I hope I've stirred your interest in this fascinating race series if you're not already a fan. If you've followed Super GT before feel free to share some of your stories in the comments! And if you need some more reasons, how about I leave you with this cool Youtube video from one of my favorite car videographers Maiham Media: