Written by Gen Flauta, Edited by Sasha Macmillen
Super GT - Introduction
2022 seems to be the golden year for motorsports. F1, WRC and NASCAR have all ushered in a new era with their respective next-gen cars taking into full force. Audi has put its Quattro and e-tron know-how to the ultimate test in Dakar with the RS-Q e-tron, while Peugeot has swapped Dakar for its highly-anticipated return to sportscar racing and Le Mans with the 9X8 Hybrid.
However, one motorsport series from Japan is something that you should consider watching this year. If DTM is what the pinnacle of GT racing is to Europe, Super GT is what it is to Japan. This is because today's Super GT cars are based on the Class 1 regulations, which aligned with the DTM cars before it switched to GT3-based specifications last season. There was even a joint race between the two racing series, which was held at Fuji Speedway in 2019.
Super GT - The Origins (JGTC)
Super GT’s origins began in 1993, where it all started as the all-Japan GT Championship (JGTC). This is where the most iconic JDM sports cars, such as the Honda NSX, Toyota Supra and Nissan Skyline GT-R, have battled against each other in some of Japan’s most iconic and legendary circuits for victory, race by race.
There was even a McLaren F1 that ran the iconic Lark livery run by Team Goh and McLaren, known as Team Lark McLaren as its entry. Among its drivers include Ralf Schumacher in #60 car and David Brabham in the #61 car.
As it began to expand beyond Japan, starting with international races in Shanghai (which actually never happened) and Malaysia, it was later renamed as Super GT in 2005 based on the FIA International Sporting Code. Throughout that time, Toyota has continued running the Supra despite its discontinuation in 2002. That was later replaced by the Lexus SC430 in the 2006 season, which was sold in Japan as Toyota Soarer prior to that. This led to Lexus’s official entry into the Japanese market after selling them as rebadged Toyotas.
GT500 - Introduction
If you have played Gran Turismo before, you might be familiar with this class, which is also known as Group 2 in the game. However in reality, GT500 are purely prototype race cars in the shape of a GT car. This category runs from the Class 1 regulations, which were unified together with the DTM race cars and would allow them to compete with each other at international races, until DTM switched to GT3-based race cars from the 2021 season. As the name suggests, GT500 race cars from the past can make around 500hp. The current engine is a 2-litre turbocharged inline-4 engine that can make over 650hp. These machines are the fastest breed of any production-based sports car currently, which can lap on par if not quicker than LMP2 cars.
GT500 is mainly composed of three Japanese sports cars: Nissan, Honda and Toyota. These three manufacturers would field 4 to 6 cars that are operated by different teams. Some of the teams do run two cars under the same team, which could help boost their chances of winning the coveted GT500 title. For the 2022 season, there will be a total of 15 GT500 cars that will battle for podiums and victories. All GT500 cars are represented by white headlights, car number panels and windshield decals.
GT500 - Nissan (Fairlady Z GT500)
Let’s start off with Nissan, which will be fielding 4 cars with the all-new Z (Fairlady Z in Japan) for the 2022 season. This replaced the outgoing GT-R R35 after serving them for 13 seasons.
Among the teams competing under Nissan’s GT500 umbrella would be NISMO, which is the fully-fledged works team of Nissan in the GT500 category. One of its cars is the #23 car, which will be driven by the iconic duo of Italy’s Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda. The pair dominated GT500 with back-to-back titles in the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the R35 GT-R. This made Quintarelli the most successful foreign Super GT driver.
The second one is the #3 car, which was formerly run by B-Max racing after NISMO took over the team under its Nissan Driver Development Program squad (NDDP). NDDP is the Super GT equivalent of AlphaTauri, bringing young talent to the top-tier GT500 class. Katsumasa Chiyo and Mitsunori Takaboshi will be piloting the #3 car for this season, with Takaboshi taking over the seat previously held by the 2-time GT500 champion Kohei Hirate.
Another high-profile team is Team Impul, which is founded by Kazuyoshi Hoshino, a legendary racing driver. The team is synonymous for running the #12 car with the iconic Calsonic blue livery. They’ve cemented their legendary status by dominating the early days of Super GT as JGTC, winning 3 championship titles in a row from 1993 to 1995. 2 of them were from the R32 Skyline GT-R and the latter being with the R33 Skyline GT-R. This year’s car will be driven by Kazuki Hiramine and newly-recruited Bertrand Baguette, swapping seats with ex-F2 driver Nobuharu Matsushita from Honda’s Astemo REAL RACING team.
GT500 - Honda (NSX Type-S GT500)
Moving on to Honda, the Honda NSX-GT currently has a front-engined layout, as a result of the regulation change in 2020 from class 1 homologation. The design of the 2022 version is based on the NSX Type-S, its swansong for the current-gen NSX. Unlike Nissan, it will field 5 NSXs for the 2022 season.
One of its most notable teams would be Team Kunimitsu, which runs the #100 car. Its current drivers are Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino. Yamamoto has clinched two titles for the squad, one in 2018 alongside Jenson Button and in 2020 with Makino, where they famously snatched the title from the #37 TOM’s KeePer car on the final corner of the final lap of the race at Fuji in the 2020 season finale. During those seasons it sported the now-iconic Raybrig livery before its parent company, Stanley Electric, retired the Raybrig brand and stepped in as the new title sponsor from the 2021 season.
Another successful Honda squad would be ARTA, which was founded by another ex-F1 driver, Aguri Suzuki. It currently runs the #8 car with its livery colours heavily based on its title sponsor Autobacs, a Japanese car parts and accessories retailer and the title sponsor of Super GT. They were tied with Team Kunimitsu on points in the Team Ranking, with both being just 5 points behind the winning team, TOM'S, last season.
GT500 - Toyota Gazoo Racing (GR Supra GT500)
Last, but not least, is Toyota Gazoo Racing, which will field 6 Toyota GR Supra GT500 cars. The GR Supra returned in the 2020 season, which replaced the Lexus LC500 as its GT500 weapon and almost dominated the entire season.
Team TOM’S, just like its tuning business, is among the most successful TGR teams. They famously won the 1997 championship with the Supra in Castol’s colours. Now, it currently runs two GR Supras in both #36 Au-branded and 37# KeePer-branded cars, with the former having recently clinched the 2021 championship with Yuhi Sekiguchi and Sho Tsuboi behind the wheel. Ex-F2 driver Giuliano Alesi is set to pilot the #36 Au-sponsored cars alongside Sho Tsuboi to defend their title this season.
Another successful TGR team is Team SARD. Also another tuning company like TOMS, it currently runs the #39 GR Supra GT500 car. Its most recent title was in 2016, where ex-F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate cruised their Lexus RC F GT500 to victory and title glory at Motegi in the season finale during that year. Its current line-up consists of Yuhi Sekiguchi and Yuichi Nakayama, with the former taking over Kovalainen’s seat after announcing his retirement at the end of last season.
GT300 - Introduction and GT3 cars
Super GT does not only have GT500 cars on the grid, but also another breed of race cars: the GT300 class. These cars make up the majority of the grid, with this season set to have an entry list of 28 cars. Like the GT500, GT300 cars back then would usually have around 300hp. But today, many of the GT300 cars could go between the 400hp and 500hp mark. There are three types of GT300 cars: FIA GT3, GT300 and Mother Chassis. All GT300 cars are represented by yellow headlights, car number panels and windshield decals.
GT300 - FIA GT3
These cars are pretty much based on the current GT3 race cars, which were used in other racing series, such as DTM. This is where familiar GT3 cars, such as the Mercedes AMG-GT, Audi R8, Lamborghini Huracan and most recently the BMW M4 GT3, compete as privateer teams. Along with that would be Japan’s own GT3 race cars, such as the Honda NSX, Nissan GT-R and the Lexus RC F GT3. There were some teams that have previously competed in the GT300 category before switching to the GT500 class, most notably with B-Max Racing which later became NISMO’s NDDP team. These cars are very popular for most privateer teams, and enjoyed great success in the GT300 class until the resurgence of the homegrown GT300 cars, resulting for GT3-based teams to score 2 of the 8 wins last season.
GT300 - Homegrown GT300
The GT300 cars, formerly JAF GT300, use an existing production car and develop however they want it, by the aero bodywork, engine and tyre choice. As one of these cars dominated the GT300 class last season, they are being slowed down for this season, through Balance of Performance, primarily to align with the FIA GT3 cars. Among examples of that would be Subaru’s BRZ for its factory GT300 team as R&D Sport. Another team is APR Racing, which is set to field two different GT300 cars for this season, one being the recently-launched #30 GR86. The second one is, interestingly, a Prius PHV GR Sport on the #31 car.Both of these cars are powered by a 5.4-litre V8 engine, with the #31 Prius’s engine being mated to a capacitor as its hybrid system.
Last, but not least, is the Mother Chassis cars, introduced from the 2015 season. These are essentially based on a carbon tub developed by Dome and powered by a 4.5-litre V8 supplied by GTA, mated with a 6-speed sequential gearbox. They are essentially a more affordable alternative to the FIA GT3 and GT300 race cars, but still provide the freedom to develop their suspension and aerodynamics based on the production car they would like to use as the basis. Although it proved to be popular among smaller teams, it has been declining in recent times as Inging ditched its Lotus Evora MC for GT300-based GR86, sporting #2. The only mother chassis cars for this season are two previous-gen Toyota 86 cars, which one will run by Team Mach, which sports a #5 Speed Racer-inspired livery and the other would be Arnage after switching from Mercedes AMG-GT3 previously.
The 2022 Season - What you need to know
The 2022 season will see a 43-car grid, 42 of which will compete in the season opener in Okayama International Circuit. Fun fact, this circuit previously held the Pacific Grand Prix at TI Aida Circuit in the 1994 and 1995 F1 seasons. All races are usually held in the afternoon in Japan time, which would be early morning for the Western hemisphere.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Super GT held a race at Chiang Mai International Circuit in Thailand, and would have returned to Sepang in Malaysia for the 2020 season. The 2022 season consists of just 8 races. Unlike the previous season, Super GT will have 3 longer races this year. These would be the 450km races and no timed events will be held this time. The other 5 races would last be 300km long.
The 2022 Super GT season opener begins on April 17th with a race at Okayama International Circuit, which also held the official pre-season test this year in March, followed by two 450km races in Fuji Speedway, another 450km race and a 300km race will take place at Suzuka Circuit. Then the next races will be in Sportsland Sugo and Autopolis before wrapping up the season in Mobility Resort Motegi, formerly known as Twin Ring Motegi.
Where to watch
While Super GT may not be as high-profile as Formula 1 in terms of a global fanbase, it has enjoyed recent growth in popularity thanks to a joint race with DTM and several ex-F1 drivers getting their first taste of winning Super GT races, most notably with Erik Comas, Jenson Button and Heikki Kovalainen. One of the best ways to watch live Super GT races would be Motorsport.tv, where they provide exclusive full coverage for both qualifying and races of Super GT throughout the season with a paid-membership plan.
However, if the paid subscription isn’t your cup of tea, Super GT’s own YouTube channel can provide free live coverage on certain parts of the race. They also uploaded full qualifying and race coverage, which can allow you to enjoy knowing what has happened after missing out on the live race or if the Japanese timezone simply doesn't match your own timezone. While many of its videos are in Japanese, they also cover some of their videos in English to pique your interest in the series.