It’s not everyday when you get the opportunity to roam around the pits at a major motor sports event and an even rarer opportunity when the owner of one of those racing team invites you to hang out in their pits, take pictures, and watch the action up close and personal. So, when the alarm started blaring at 4am, I knew this wasn’t one of those times when I could smack the snooze button on my phone 10 times and be late to the event.
We met up with Shunsuke San at his shop around 6am and from there, we hauled ass, err I mean, drove to a parking rest area just outside Motegi Twin Ciruits to wait for Yagi San, Direction Racing team owner. After proper introductions were met, we convoyed to the track where the team was already preparing for today’s race.
This would be the perfect time to explain what Super GT is and some of the rules involved. Super GT, or Autobacs Super GT, is a grand touring racing series that began in 1993. Races are primarily held in Japan at circuits such as Fuji Speedway, Suzuka Circuit and Twin Ring Motegi Circuit.
Teams have at least two drivers that rotate during the race, normally around the midpoint of the race. The cars are separated into two categories: GT 300 and GT 500.
The GT 300 race cars (class 2) are regulated heavier than the GT 500 (Class 1) race cars such as chassis clips and engine modifications. Thus, the cars in the GT 300 class resemble their road-going counter parts more and makes it ‘more affordable’ for privateers wanting to enter the series such as Yagi san.
The GT 500 race cars have less restrictive rules such as the chassis clip in front and behind the cockpit can be converted into lightweight tube-frame clips. However, the engines are changed to smaller, 2.0L, turbo charged 4-cylinder engines. The over all look of the car must also resemble their road-going counter parts just like the GT 300 cars.
To make the racing even more exciting, both the GT 500 and GT 300 cars race around the track at the same time. Now, I know what your thinking: “How do we know which car is in which class?” The racing league has thought of this problem and created a simple, yet elegant solution. GT 500 have clear headlamps where as the GT 300 cars have yellow headlamps. Brilliant right?
As I stated before, Yagi san is a privateer owning a the GT 300 racing team Direction Racing. Their weapon of choice, a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve been around a 458, but this was the first time being around a FULLY purpose built racing machine like this.
We all know that the cars of this caliber try to use as much carbon fiber parts as possible. We even know numerically the weight savings changing to carbon fiber parts have.
However, you really can’t grasp the numbers until you actually feel it with your own two hands.
The doors for example really hammered in how amazing this product truly is. When I opened the door to look at the interior, or lack of interior, it felt as if the door was made of paper. I was actually afraid to shut the door because I felt it was so fragile that if I shut it just a little too hard, it would shatter.
No creature comforts will be found in the interior of this 458. All in the quest of weight savings, everything must go.
The only thing left is the driver seat, of course made of carbon fiber, and a new center console with switches and knobs that control the cars functions such as the lights, ABS, and Air Con.
A little map in the middle of the steering wheel for.. you know.. “Just in case” you forget the next two turns.
Once we made it to the pits, we were pretty much left to our own devices. We could go ALMOST anywhere as long as we didn’t get in the crews way, which I mean.. Duh
Pit crew members were running all over the place trying to make sure that everything was ready, and giving everything a once over.
The weather wasn’t the greatest so they were deciding if the track had dried enough to run slicks, or something that would give them more traction in the wet.
Crews checked all the rotors and eventually switched out all 4 rotors because, that’s just what you do.
The racing chief went over data and discussed strategies on how to attack the track with the drivers and other crew members.
While all the GT teams were preparing for the race, they had other activities going on to keep the racing fans entertained.
I’m not fully sure why they had a parade of NSX’s on the race track but I’ve never seen so many NSX’s in one place. Correction; I’ve never seen so many NSX and all the same red color in on place. Check that off the list.
After the stream of NSX’s, the racing fans were allowed to enter the pit road and meet some of the drivers, take pictures of the cars, and get free swag to take home.
However, this being Japan, most of the ‘racing fans’ were more interested in the racing queens. The racing queens probably have a larger fan following than the racing teams themselves to be honest.
The racing queens lined up along side the pit road and posed for all their fans.
If you’re a fan of the racing queens, your going to have to be a little aggressive to get that illusive picture of them. The fans don’t play any games when it comes to their queens…
Once the fan festivities were over, it was race time! Both GT 500 and GT 300 teams hit the circuit for a warm up lap and giving the oppertunity to decide if they wanted to keep their current tire setup or switch them. Then the 53 lap race began.
As part of the Super GT rules, both drivers of a team have to drive. So around lap 20, we began to hear the Direction Racing team radio chatter increase and the pit crew began to becoming more active.
They rolled the next set of tires out into the lane, and got everyone in position and waited for the signal. You could feel the tension in the air as we all waited in silence. I knew this would most likely be the only time the car would come in the pits so I would only have one shot at this as well. All of a sudden, the words 行こう (Lets Go!) broke the silence.
Shortly afterwards, the 458 came in, the car’s air jacks went off, and the whole operation began. In a matter of seconds, all the tires were changed, the fuel tank was topped off, and drivers were switched. Just as fast as the 458 came in, it was just as fast leaving the pits.
You could see just how hard the tires were punished as smoke and heat still radiated from the used tires minutes later.
You could also see how hard the driver was punished as well. Looking completely dehydrated, Naoki San sat down and constantly drank bottle after bottle of water while his team mate, Kyosuke san, drove off to complete the race. His body was so hot that steam radiated off from his body and it was even cold outside.
The rest of the race went off without too many incidents. There were a lot of great battles between the GT 500 and GT 300 race teams as they would blast by in groups. The GT 500 would flash their headlamps letting the GT 300 cars know they were coming and they need to get out of the way.
As the checkered flag came down, Direction Racing placed 10th out of 28 teams in the Super GT 300 class with a overall best lap time of 1’50.800. To put the different classes in perspective, the best lap in the GT 300 class was 1’49.434. The best lap in the GT 500 class was 1’41.759.
With that, our day at Motegi Twin Circuits was over and it was time to make that long 2 hour drive back to Tokyo. It was definitely a different experience being in the pits and being able to watch the race up close and very personal. We want to thank Yagi San for spending time with us and allowing use to hang with him and his K’s Frontier Direction Racing Team. おめでとうございます！