Commentating the Fuji 500km

With the absence of any English language coverage to start the 2016 Super GT season, I decided to do something about it – and did an entire solo commentary of the entire 2016 Fuji 500km, held May 4th at Fuji Speedway.

This race has a bit of everything – including several landmark milestone achievements, a fair dose of drama and atrition, fantastic racing action throughout, and an incredible finish featuring some of the world’s best racing drivers.

There was even a fantastic report of the race written by Pierre Laurent-Ribault for Speedhunters.com – with some incredible, up-close photos of the brilliant machines.

The early feedback to this commentary has been overwhelming, and I’m admit I’m taken aback by some of the positive comments, not just from avid fans of Super GT racing, but also from people who aren’t familiar with the series at all, and even one dear friend of mine who isn’t even in to racing.

Already I am receiving requests to do future rounds, and add secondary commentators – I can’t give a solid commitment to it just yet, but it is something that I am strongly considering.

And if the powers that be are willing, I would be honored to lend my abilities to an official broadcast team at any point in the near future.

A special thanks goes out to the community at Racing4Everyone for putting my commentary to pictures and giving me a platform to showcase my strengths as an announcer. Thanks also to the Super GT Reddit community for their support, to RaceDepartment who have been gracious enough to allow me to serve as a commentator for top-level online racing leagues.

Please enjoy the race.

-R.J.

Fuji’s Golden History: Super GT on Golden Week

 

It’s the second-biggest race of the Super GT calendar, and it happens during one of Japan’s biggest holiday celebrations. The Fuji 500 Kilometer race, a tradition of the Golden Week holidays for over twenty years, will run exactly one week from today – on a Wednesday, May 4.

There are motor races that are so deeply synonymous with a holiday in North America: Memorial Day has both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola/World 600 at Charlotte, American Independence Day is the season of the Coke Zero/Firecracker 400 at Daytona, and Labor Day has, for the better part of 65 years, been linked to the Southern 500 at Darlington. And the ties to the Fuji 500km and the Golden Week holiday are no different.

Specifically, it’s the date of May 4, a date that for many years fell between two official holidays and was, in itself, declared a holiday. For most of the last twenty-two years, the Fuji 500km has been held on this date – no matter what day of the week it occurs.

If the Suzuka 1000km at the end of August is like the Daytona 500, or the Bathurst 1000, then the Fuji 500km could be considered analogous to the Southern 500, or the Clipsal 500 at Adelaide – the second-biggest race on the calendar, illuminating with a prestige and pedigree that has made it a perennial fixture on the Super GT calendar. Continue reading “Fuji’s Golden History: Super GT on Golden Week”

Natural disasters and Super GT

Two earthquakes of at least a 6.0 magnitude have rocked the Japanese island of Kyushu, with the city of Kumamoto affected the worst. In total, 41 people have lost their lives as a result. Several thousands more are injured, some critically. Landmarks like Kumamoto Castle and Aso Shrine have been damaged, roadways have been severely damaged by subsequent landslides. These are the most serious earthquakes since the Tohoku earthquake of 2011, and the subsequent tsunami that left over 15,000 people dead.

It is truly an appalling scene that I cannot truly put into words.

About 50 kilometers north of Kumamoto in the town of Hita, is Autopolis circuit. There’s a race scheduled for May 22nd at Autopolis. The trouble is, most of the roads to the circuit are heavily damaged and inaccessible. Today, the circuit announced it would be closed until May 15th, just one week before the Super GT series is scheduled to host its third round of the season at Autopolis.

In the history of Super GT dating back to 1993, four championship events have been cancelled, postponed, or relocated. The last two due to the effects of natural disasters, one due to a global pandemic, and one due to the most horrific crash in series history. These examples serve as historic precedent as to what plans the GT Association could execute in the wake of the earthquakes that have rocked Kumamoto.

May 4th, 1998: The JGTC’s “Black Sunday.” The multi-car pileup on the parade laps, in severe rain and fog, that sees Tetsuya Ota’s Ferrari F355 engulfed in a horrific ball of fire. Ota survives thanks to the intervention of fellow driver Shinichi Yamaji, but after sustaining severe burns, toxic fume poisoning, and nerve damage, he would never race again.

Though the race was officially scrapped due to darkness and the weather not improving enough to actually get the race going, it still would have been awfully difficult to justify going on with the race after the near-tragedy involving Ota. No points were awarded, and the series continued on from the next round.

May 8th, 2003: The widespread outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS, hits its peak. Most SARS deaths occur in China and Hong Kong, in total, over a span of eighteen months, 648 people in these two countries alone would succumb to the illness.

Just five days after FIFA relocates the 2003 Women’s World Cup from China to the United States, the single international round of the JGTC at Sepang Circuit in Malaysia, scheduled for June 21st, is cancelled. A replacement double-header round is created for July 13th at Fuji Speedway, which now hosts three out of a possible four championship rounds since May. Sepang Circuit would return to the calendar in 2004, where it would remain until 2013.

September 9th, 2010: The Fuji 300km race, scheduled for September 12, is cancelled outright after Tropical Storm Malou makes landfall in Japan on September 7th. With structural damage in and around the Fuji Speedway grounds, and mudslides rendering much of the main roadways in Oyama Town inaccessible, town authorities requested the cancellation of the race so as not to impede rescue efforts. Fuji Speedway mercifully complies, as 10,000 people are forced to evacuate from their homes due to the storms.

With the final round at Twin Ring Motegi just over a month out, there would be no replacement event scheduled. This race simply does not happen.

March 24, 2011Just two weeks after the tragedies of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the GTA finally makes its decision on what to do with the 2011 Super GT season. The race at Okayama Circuit is postponed from April 2nd to May 22nd, pushing it three weeks after the Fuji race on the Golden Week holiday, which now becomes the first race of the 2011 season. Despite this, the Okayama race is still recognized as Round 1.

The national policy of energy conservation in the wake of the disasters of March 2011 also forces every event to be shortened: Standard rounds go from 300 to 250 kilometers. The Fuji 500km race, run at 400km in 2009 and 2010 due to the global economic crisis, was cut to 300km. And the Suzuka Summer Classic, which was reduced from 1000km to 700km in 2009-10, was reduced again to 500km. Race weekends were shortened to two days, night-time running was disallowed, and overnight pitwork was banned.

Since then, no Super GT championship events have ever been cancelled or postponed due to a natural disaster. But now, it seems a very real possibility that one will be.

For now, the task at hand for local authorities in Kyushu Prefecture, in and around Kumamoto and surrounding areas like Hito, is to save lives and clean up the mess and the damage left behind, and do so in a timely, yet careful manner.

eShould the circuit still not be able to host a racing event on May 22nd, the GT Association can seek alternative solutions: They can postpone the race to a later date. They could relocate the event to a different circuit as they did in 2003 by hosting the “Malaysia GT Race” in Fuji Speedway, or swap dates with another venue in Japan, but there’s very little time to pull that off.

But in the grand scheme of things, these potential alternatives and the ramifications of a natural disaster like this on a sporting event are of miniscule importance. At least 40 people are gone, and several thousands more are injured. Family, friends, and loved ones have been lost. Lives have been destroyed in just two sudden and swift instances. Kumamoto and its citizens need all the prayers, well-wishes, and charitable donations (where applicable) that they can get.

And knowing that, there would be absolutely no shame if the race was cancelled outright, for there are much more important things at stake than just a silly car race.

To everyone affected by the earthquakes of April 14 and 16, my sincerest thoughts are with you.

UPDATE – April 21: The GT Association has elected to postpone the third round of the 2016 season at Autopolis indefinitely.

Tuned Out

Super GT’s reluctance to broadcast its own races outside of Japan has created a pointless mess that hurts its own pursuit of international growth.

I could tell you so many great stories about this weekend’s opening round of the Autobacs Super GT Series held at Okayama International Circuit. There’s just one problem: I didn’t get to watch it. Not because I didn’t want to. Of course I did. I just…couldn’t watch it. At all.

NISMO TV, who with the help of Radio Le Mans had become the unofficial broadcast partner of Super GT outside of Japan, were not able to broadcast this season’s first race on their YouTube channel. With Super GT not having a television broadcast carrier outside of its home country since their short-lived arrangement with Motors TV ten years ago, and with the series itself not offering any sort of official live streaming options in its place, there was no legal way to watch the race unless you lived in Japan.

If you lived outside of Japan, where you cannot get the J Sports multiplex of networks on cable or satellite providers, and you cannot pay about ten dollars to watch a livestream of the race on Niconico – which is not accessible to prospective viewers outside of Japan – your only option to watch the race live, as it happened, was on an illicit TV streaming site, with low-quality pictures and enough invasive pop-up ads and potential trojan horse viruses to make your computer’s hard drive burst into confetti.

I wanted no part of delving back into that hole again. And at least one top person at RLM had re-iterated the point that illicit streams ultimately make it harder for their Super GT broadcasts on YouTube to happen again in the future – much like rampant piracy of anime makes it harder for studios to produce additional seasons of popular shows. (Trust me on this, me and all my friends are total nerds, and we do the right thing by streaming our anime on Crunchyroll, who paid me a sum of literally nothing to say that.)

Just one problem: When NISMO’s official Twitter account is posting GIFs of the race almost as they’re happening, complete with “J SPORTS 4 LIVE” watermarking in the upper right corner – but they’re not streaming the race themselves on their YouTube channel, where in the flying Fukuoka Prefecture are they getting the streaming video footage to convert to GIFs?

Also, having already announced that they wouldn’t be broadcasting the race this weekend, what good would it do for NISMO to keep posting infographics reminding everybody when the race starts so they can be on time to not watch the race on NISMO Dot TV?

To put it simply: Super GT’s broadcasting situation outside of Japan is a sorry, rotten, horrible mess. Continue reading “Tuned Out”

Dueling Legacies: McLaren, Honda, and the 1996 JGTC

Twenty years ago, McLaren and Honda competed in Super GT for the first time. This is the story of that first race, the first season, and the legacies they created in 1996.

Twenty years ago on this day, 31 March, the McLaren F1 GTR and Honda NSX made their debuts in the Super GT Series at the opening round of the 1996 championship in Suzuka Circuit. It’s been two decades since that first round in Suzuka, and the unique legacies that both manufacturers have created in Super GT are still fondly remembered as the 2016 season approaches.

The path to their collision course in Japan was born eight years prior, when McLaren Honda dominated the 1988 Formula 1 World Championship in their first season together. Over a span of five years, the Honda-powered McLarens, driven by the likes of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, were the single most dominant constructor in F1.

The McLaren F1 and the Honda NSX were their manufacturers’ ultimate road-going sports cars; conceived, developed, and launched during the zenith of their F1 successes. The F1 was the fastest production automobile in the world for over a decade, and still remains one of my favorite cars ever made. The NSX was an ultra high-tech, yet reliable and practical supercar that could run circles around even the finest that Ferrari had to offer. In 1995, the F1 and the NSX raced together for the first time at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The McLaren F1 GTRs dominated Le Mans that year, winning the race outright on its debut, taking four of the top five overall positions – and it was academic that they’d steamroll the competition in the GT1 category. Meanwhile in the GT2 class, a sole Honda NSX defeated a field mostly dominated by the mighty Porsche 911s to win the category.

For 1996, both cars would enter what was then known as the All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (JGTC) for the first time. Continue reading “Dueling Legacies: McLaren, Honda, and the 1996 JGTC”

A fair, All-American assessment of what Manor just did

Manor didn’t sign Alexander Rossi. They did sign Rio Haryanto. This is fine EVERYTHING IS FINE CALM DOWN R.J.

Today, Manor Racing completed their driver lineup for the 2016 Formula 1 season. With new Mercedes power units, a revamped technical staff and management, and two new drivers, it’s expected to be a big year for both Manor and their drivers, the reigning DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein, and the American driver who impressed in his five race slate at the end of 2015, Alexander Rossi. They’re expected to surge up the running order this coming se-

Wait. Wait. Wait wait wait wait WAIT. Hold up. They signed WHO!? 

DAMNIT MANOR

OH GOD DAMNIT! Continue reading “A fair, All-American assessment of what Manor just did”

Who can deny Chiyo’s greatness?

Katsumasa Chiyo began 2016 with another spectacular rally in the Bathurst 12 Hour, and if that won’t solidify his place among the best sports car racers in the world, what will?

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Image Credit – © NISMO Global

I spent the past weekend in a small-ish Alabama town called Anniston making an appearance at a local anime convention as a guest of honour. After a long, hectic day at the convention that involved two panels, one of which I can safely say I bombed, and knowing I would have to immediately drive back home at just past the crack of dawn, there I was, still awake at nearly 1 in the morning listening to the final laps of the Bathurst 12 Hour race on my phone.

Now, to set the scene, I’m staying in a luxurious, 19th century bed & breakfast run by a kind man who lives with his young sons. When I checked in that afternoon, there were dark chocolates sitting on the counter where I ultimately left my phone charger in my rush to head home the next day, and a white rose laid gently on the bed. This is a nicer place than I ever expected to be staying in for a night in central Alabama. It is really late. I’m put up in the house with the other guests, who are all either sleeping, or at least trying to. They have to get home the next day too. And it is so quiet and tranquil in this old, beautiful home that you can only hear the nearby train blasting its horn throughout the town as it departs for the next stop.

And then there’s me, recognizing the need for calm and quiet in the house, yet restraining myself about as hard as I could to do so because of a rally by Nissan Australia driver Katsumasa Chiyo that almost secured his team consecutive victories in the event.

Shane van Gisbergen has had the weekend of his young racing life, and he was basically driving the last few laps in his McLaren 650S GT3 in cruise control at the end to avoid throwing it all away in the last laps of the race. That’s not uncommon. Not when you, in essence, have the win in the bag after twelve hours of flat-out racing.

But what’s less common is for a lead of fourteen seconds, about the length of time it takes to drive the Bathurst circuit’s 1.1 kilometre Mountain Straight at speed, to be slashed down to just 1.276 seconds when the chequered flag fell on Van Gisbergen’s McLaren after 297 laps. Unless the lead car has a mechanical issue, a tyre blowout, or the driver just made a mistake and ran off the road or into a wall somewhere – if all they’re doing is just pacing themselves at the end, having already proven that they were the quickest team and driver combination all weekend long, that shouldn’t happen.

And yet, rattling off the Nissan GT-R GT3’s best laps of the entire weekend, at the very end of a grueling twelve hour endurance race, Katsumasa Chiyo closed to within a margin that made the final margin of victory closer than it had any right to have been. The record-breaking crowd roared in applause. The commentary team could not believe what they were seeing and calling for a worldwide audience. And back in Alabama, I was trying to hold back on screaming like a lunatic and trampling up and down the floor of this house like a stark-raving madman.

Chiyo just missed out on stealing the victory for Nissan, but he stole the show for the second consecutive year at Australia’s new great race, in a field containing some of the world’s greatest racing drivers.

Who, then, can deny the greatness of Katsumasa Chiyo?

Continue reading “Who can deny Chiyo’s greatness?”