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.

Advertisements

The 2014 Super GT Season Masterpost

If you’ve been missing this year’s Super GT championship, you’ve been missing out on the best multi-class sports car racing action in the world, honestly.

It’s been a big year for Super GT’s GT500 class, as new regulations meant to unify the class with the machines of the DTM series in Europe mean that the world’s fastest silhouette sports car class has gotten even faster, with new engines producing over 600 brake horsepower and new lap records being set at every single event. In addition, Honda has revived the legendary NSX brand, and Lexus’s new challenger, the RC-F, looks mean and is wicked fast. Nissan’s flagship GT-R model has been revamped to conform with the new regulations as well. There’s a true rivalry between the big three manufacturers of Japan here that’s reminiscent of the manufacturer rivalries anywhere else.

Meanwhile in the GT300 class, FIA GT3-spec cars from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Aston Martin, Nissan, Audi, Porsche, and McLaren compete against purpose-built GT300 cars based on the likes of the Subaru BRZ, Honda CR-Z, and even a Toyota Prius. If you’re a racing fan who loves a large variety of cars mixing it up, this is the class you want to watch, and it’s just as awesome as GT500. Does Blancpain GT have a Toyota Prius powered by a 3.4 liter V8 engine attached to a hybrid powertrain mixing it up with the BMW Z4s and McLaren MP4-12Cs? I rest my case.

With one round remaining in the championship and both class titles up for grabs at Twin Ring Motegi, there’s no better time to catch up than right freaking now. And thanks to the power of new media, you could marathon the first seven rounds of the championship in two days tops.

Rounds 1 through 7 have been subtitled by Yu Omori, who in addition to working as an everyman for Rehagen Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge, also runs the /r/super_gt subreddit – and I can’t thank him enough for offering to subtitle the original Japanese broadcasts for this season. For the most recent round of the championship, a bombshell was dropped when Radio Le Mans – yes, the same crew that calls the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the World Endurance Championship, the European Le Mans Series and also hosts Midweek Motorsport – announced they would be calling the Suzuka 1000km, the series’ marquee event, and thanks to NISMO you can watch it on YouTube in its entirety, all six hours’ worth, with English commentary provided by lead man John HindhaughGraham Goodwin of DailySportsCar.com, and Sam Collins of Racecar Engineering (though geographic restrictions may apply).

I’ll add the final two rounds of the championship from Twin Ring Motegi when they happen, but until then, do take a few hours out of your free time and catch up on what has been a great season for Super GT so far.

Continue reading “The 2014 Super GT Season Masterpost”