Obscure Sports: Super GT is the best racing series you’ve never heard of

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The #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka in the SuperGT, the highest level of sports car racing in Japan. (Ken H./Flickr)

Born out of the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship started in 1993, it is the highest level of sports car racing in Japan. The cars in the Autobacs Super GT series are broken up into two categories, GT500 and GT300. Super GT is very unique in its approach to parity, with the governing body preferring to provide the most exciting, even race possible rather than let teams dominate the field. GT500 are designed to be able to use common auto parts, which lowers operating costs across the board and prevents teams from outspending each other for victory like Mercedes does in Formula 1. The GT300 class goes further and actively adjusts restrictions on air restrictors, car weight minimums, turbo boost psi and ride height race by race in order to balance performance for the entire field.  

Arguably the most interesting quirk that Super GT brings to the table is its weight handicap system. Weight penalties are given to cars depending on their performance during the previous race. For every point scored during a race, two kilograms of ballast are added to the car to weigh it down in order to balance it to the performance of the other cars on the track. The weight system is used for every race in the season, save for the penultimate race where the ballasts are halved and the final race of the season where it is eliminated entirely. As a result of this in season balancing, only two GT500 teams and a single GT300 team have ever been able to win the driver’s championship prior to the last race. GT500 cars also face fuel flow restrictions on top of the weight handicap, so as to limit the amount of weight added to an overly successful car for safety.  

GT500 is the top class of Super GT, dominated by Japan’s domestic car manufacturers Toyota, Nissan and Honda. The GT500 class is made up entirely of manufacturer supported teams. Beginning in the 2014 season, all GT500 cars are required to use single turbocharged, inline four engines with a displacement of 2.0L capped at 650hp. GT500 cars are consistently the fastest Grand Touring cars that are put in competition other than Le Mans Prototype 1 cars out of the World Endurance Championship.  

A photo of the #12 Calsonic GT-R at the Super GT, an exciting sport filled with interesting handicaps and limitations. (Saku Y./Flickr)

GT 500 has had a field of 15 cars broken between Japan’s big three manufacturers, with six Toyota, five Honda and four Nissan cars in this year’s running. The championship is currently caught up in an exciting, dynamic tire war with Bridgestone, Yokohama, Michelin and Dunlop all supplying teams with tires. Every car in the series is piloted by two drivers who take turns driving throughout the race, switching during pit stops. Official rules dictate that no driver is allowed to drive more than two thirds of any given race. Drivers from the highest levels of motorsport come to compete in Super GT, including the likes of Formula 1 hopeful and Formula Super champion Nick Cassidy from New Zealand and Formula Super champion Yamamoto Naoki. The series awards Super License points needed to drive in Formula 1, so it is not uncommon to see European drivers come to Super GT to try their hand and use it as a stepping stone into Formula 1.  

GT300 is where things start getting really interesting. No longer are teams bound by having to get an auto manufacturer to sponsor them, so many private companies throw their hats into the ring with a wild assortment of cars. There are 30 cars set to race in the 2020 championship, with some that you would not expect for a Japanese motorsport. A Porsche 911 GT3-R takes the field next to a Toyota Prius. We see Audi R8s, Toyota 86s, Lotus Evora MCs and Mercedes AMG-GT3s just to name a few. If you can think of a commercially available GT3 car, there is a good chance that one has made an appearance in GT300 at some point. Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, Nissan and Subaru all maintain manufacturer sponsored teams in the series alongside privateer racers that are responsible for obtaining and fielding their own cars independently. It is one of the few motorsport competitions in the world where you will see a Mercedes AMG wrapped with an anime girl on the side of it go head to head against a Lamborghini Huracan.  

I do not exaggerate when I say that Super GT is the most exciting racing I have watched in a very long time. There were times during the Oct. 25 running of Suzuka where I was jumping out of my seat and cheering. British racing commentators at TheRace cover every running of Super GT and I encourage you to look up the schedule and give it a try. You won’t regret it.  

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