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”