DTM heads east for Fuji GT Thriller!
The news that DTM will join forces with SUPER GT for a special non-championship event at Japan’s Fuji Speedway in November is an exciting new chapter for both series.
It’s a unique showcase for the rules – common engine and aero regulations – that bind both series together, and which should offer the opportunity for deeper and more impactful collaborations in the future.
At the moment, November’s Fuji event is a toe-in-the-water exercise: it’s difficult enough to balance performance across one grid of cars, let alone two. But it speaks of a common language and desire to collaborate that unites both series.
In many ways, DTM and SUPER GT are mirror images of each other. Both boast of fast, loud race cars raced by top drivers and top teams. Both are hugely popular.
Hidden behind a cultural and language barrier, Japan’s domestic motorsport scene is intriguing but elusive for many. So let’s take a closer look at what makes SUPER GT tick, and just what we can expect when DTM visits in November.
The series began in 1993, originally as the All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship, but renamed itself as SUPER GT in 2005. Like DTM, its avowed focus is on close, competitive racing – limiting the spiralling of budgets and disparity of performance through the use of standardised parts.
Unlike DTM, SUPER GT further narrows the field through the use of balance-of-performance measures; chiefly, ’success ballast’ weight handicapping and fuel-flow air-restrictor limits. These are monitored on a race by race basis to ensure nobody enjoys a significant or long-lasting advantage.
The two series are now unified by the same regulatory framework; ultimately meaning that the cars are now able to race each other.
While DTM and SUPER GT cars themselves are largely similar, the manner of the racing differs greatly between the two series.
DTM races are hard-charging sprints: drivers can change tyres, but they complete each race without refuelling or a change of driver.
SUPER GT is like mini-endurance event: races ordinarily last for at least 250km, with each car helmed by two drivers. Further adding to the sports car vibe, SUPER GT also runs two distinct classes. GT500 is the leading category, is supported by Honda, Nissan and Lexus, and comprises around 15 cars.
GT300 is the secondary class, features a bigger field (as many as 30 cars) of GT3 customer racing cars, from brands as diverse as Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Audi, Lamborghini and Porsche, and, while it runs on the same track, starts independently.
Much of the challenge of Japanese GT racing comes from navigating the endless, dense traffic during the events.
Being a motorsport-fixated country, Japan is well served for fabulous race circuits.
For 2019, the SUPER GT series will race at Suzuka, Fuji and Okayama (all of which have held grands prix in the past), as well as Sugo, Autopolis and Motegi. The series also hosts one non-domestic event, at the Buriram International Circuit, in Thailand.
Circuits in Japan tend to be faster and less forgiving than their European counterparts, often because their age means they were constructed before extensive run-off became de rigueur.
The magic of Fuji
The Fuji Speedway is one of the most iconic racetracks in the world – and the venue for the very first DTM/SUPER GT joint race. The closest motorsport venue to Tokyo, the circuit sits in the shadow of the mighty, brooding Mount Fuji volcano.
Built in 1963, Fuji first made the international headlines in 1976, when it was the venue for the Formula 1 title showdown between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. In a heaving rainstorm, Lauda, who had been badly burnt in a fiery accident earlier in the season, withdrew from the race, claiming it was too dangerous to continue.
Hunt battled back from a puncture to claim the vital points finish he needed to clinch the championship.
Fuji hosted international sports car races during the 1980s, but slowly crept out of the international limelight. It closed in 2003 for extensive renovation work; German circuit designer Hermann Tilke re-profiled the majority of corners and modernised facilities, but fortunately retained much of the original grandeur that had made the track so demanding and unique.
Formula 1 returned in 2007 – Lewis Hamilton memorably winning another rain-sodden race spent largely behind the patrolling Safety Car – and ’08, a race sensationally won by Fernando Alonso in a largely uncompetitive Renault.
DTM’s arrival in November will mark the first time the series has left its European heartland since it raced in Shanghai in 2010, and it will write an exciting fresh chapter in this most unique and storied of circuits…