October 31, 2016 @ 07:16 PM

Race cars and racy beats – this is Super GT

Whip out those sunglasses and put on your party hats, time to celebrate all things fast, metal and loud

Words by: Jerrica Leong
Photos by: Nissan Motorsports

It is that time of the season once again where the whole Super GT fraternity will pack up and leave Japan for the one and only overseas race of year. Since the start of the Super GT series, the race has evolved to become a festival to celebrate all things fast, metal, and fun. So here they are, gathered in Buriram, Thailand, to share the celebration of all three things complete with the beautiful Race Queens that have since became the Face of Super GT.

But for today, I have something else on my mind, and it’s not on the race or the NSX Concept that I’ve been itching to touch or to get a peak under the GTR’s hood to see what’s different. Neither is it on the Race Queens and their sky high stilettos or their famed beauty. The one thing on my mind right now was the weather.

That’s right, all I can think about was the weather. Whether it would rain tomorrow or not because the sight of the clouds hovering above the Chang International Circuit does not look promising and the weather forecast delivers equally bad news. Strangely though, I’m still sweating into my special Nismo T-Shirt that you cannot purchase even if you want to trade in your Nismo GTRs.

But regardless, the festival that surrounds the Super GT continues with not a care in the world if it was going to rain. They’ve literally transformed the grounds into one huge night club, complete with green laser beams and headache infusing beats. Mind you, there is still an hour before the sun truly sets for the green laser beams to even pierce through the night.

It’s an eye opener for a person who has never experienced Super GT races before. While still marvelling at the irony that a beer company owns this very circuit, the simplicity of the race did not escape me. I mean, the possibility of having the Grandstand on top of the pits in an F1 circuit is close to naught in this modern day and age! 

While the set up around the circuit looks so much simpler than international circuits like Sepang and Silverstone, the layout of the track is another story. Three sharp turns, two hair pins and lots of long straights that could rival the layout in Monza. The circuit was short enough to make things exciting and the centre hairpin is where the crowd gets to witness the best overtaking action or hard-braking tyre-smoking action (watch said action on our Facebook page). 

By the time we arrived at the circuit, the teams have already wrapped up qualifying and the support race was taking over the tarmac. And today’s support race features… a bunch of Honda Jazzes. They’re punchy and they’re loud, especially when they shift downwards the pops as loud as the Mercedes-Benz E63 when it downshifts! They’re fast too, they could have easily outrun an E-Class.

Inconveniently, the support race happened the same time that Nissan Motor Asia Pacific set up the drivers’ interview so it was a real challenge for me to hear what the drivers were saying to the questions the media asked. And the room wasn’t well isolated from the popping exhausts of the race cars battling for track position. 

I’m here as a special guest of the Nismo team to follow the adventures of their championship leading squad. The GT500 series is the main event and it features three manufacturers and three models: Honda NSX Concept, Lexus RC F and Nissan GTR Nismo. The latter of which is the most successful manufacturer in the Super GT series. 

Nismo have already bagged 11 driver championships and 11 team championships in the span of 22 years and are on the way to winning their third consecutive title in 2016. If all goes well for the Nismo Motul Autech GT-R team, they will be officially crowned the champions of 2016 at the Chang International Circuit.

But therein lies the trickiest part, being in the championship lead meant that the team will be hit with the heaviest weight penalty making them the heaviest car on the track. Just a quick explanation, unlike the Audi R8 LMS Cup where the weight ballast is passed on to the driver that won the previous race, Super GT’s success ballast is accumulated throughout the season based on the points the teams have scored.

To find out how much weight the car is carrying, just take the total points the team has accumulated through the season and multiply it by two, the maximum weight penalty is 100kg. With a total of 56 points going into the seventh round of the Series, the Motul Autech racing team’s car should be carrying a total of 112kg of excess weight but since the maximum weight is 100kg, the 12kg is exempted.

Yes, 100kg. That is the penalty for championship leading drivers Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda. And they are definitely feeling every ounce of it because the drivers only managed a fastest qualifying time of 1.25.455 placing them at P14. 

It’s definitely far off the Pole position time and conditions don’t look like they are about to improve. But the drivers are confident that they will be able to make up the positions and score as much points as they can. 

But what will happen if it rains?!

That question only elicited a sage “It will be to our advantage but we’ll see how it goes” from Ronnie Quintarelli. Tsugio-san doesn’t speak English so he was excused from answering the question.

On a side note, I seriously suspect that there is a handbook titled “Racing Drivers’ Guide to Answering Kaypoh Media Questions” with the way these drivers dodge unwanted/ revealing questions.

But I digress, with qualifying wrapped up and caps and t-shirts signed, I was then ushered off to enjoy the celebrations that accompany any Super GT race weekend to take my mind off how the team is going to overcome their massive weight penalty and enjoy myself. 

Come race day, expectations were high as everybody was bouncing with excitement to see if the Nismo team will clinch the title despite having a huge disadvantage. But first the PR sessions. I was ushered around the circuit for a special meet and greet session with the Nismo ambassador Michael Krumm, who couldn’t wrap his head around my question on which race track he would like to drive backwards. 

The highlight of most of the media’s day was meeting the acquaintance of the Nismo Race Queens. Man these ladies are fit and they look like they’ve had a “spot” too much sun but they’re still beautiful nonetheless. They might be there to look good for the camera but their jobs are no easier than anybody else’s to not only look good but stay fit, weather through the elements and stick to one strict rule: No Touching. Trust me when I say that it’s not easy sweating while wearing makeup, you try walking around with your pores clogged up with powder in the crazy heat! 

At 3pm sharp the cars are off. The convoy weaved around on the track in an effort to get heat into their tyres. At the end of the warm up lap the cars lined up side by side, the clock is set and we go racing in three, two, one… LAUNCH!

I stuffed my fingers into my ears as the lead car, a Lexus RC F went flying pass followed by the rest of the field. As they hit Turn 1, I craned my neck and stood on my tip toe to watch out for any Turn 1 mayhem but to my disappointment none happened. How do these people avoid each other so cleanly when they’re driving larger cars than the blokes in F1?

The Motul Racing’s GTR went left then right, it was hard to believe that the car was the heaviest on the track as they made their way from P14 all the way up to P8. The excitement died down after a few laps as the grid shook out and left the slower cars behind until the Motul Autech racing car got involved in a large shunt, spun out and kicked up a cloud of dirt.

It was utter disappointment as the whole hospitality suite, which walls were made up of plastic panels, gasped in shock. Shouts of encouragement followed cheering the driver to get back into the race but unfortunately that was the end of the Motul Autech’s day at the office.

This resulted in their first DNF of the season allowing the other teams a chance to catch up in the title race. Second place team, Wako’s 4CR RC F, has managed to close the gap between the Motul Autech GTR team to just ten points while third place team Zent Cerumo RC F is only 11 points adrift.

It didn’t rain by the way; the weather had remained undecided if it wants to burn us with brutal sun rays or pelt us with hail. Thank the heavens, I did not need to find out.

Everything is now down to the wire, the next race will happen at Motegi and the weight penalty will be halved. So instead of the maximum weight penalty of 100kg, the GTR will have a 56kg ballast installed. That is still 10kg more than their closest rivals but at least this gives the Motul Autech team a fighting chance for the win in order to take the title and once again put on the Super GT Champions’ crown.


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