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”

The Final Battle: Breaking down Super GT’s title contenders

motegi 2015 preview

The 2015 Autobacs Super GT Series season will come to a close on Sunday (or late, late Saturday evening) – and yet again, we’re going to have a thrilling race for the GT500 crown with six teams and their twelve drivers still mathematically eligible for the championship going into this final 250 kilometer race at Twin Ring Motegi.

The GT300 title has already been decided in favor of International veteran racer Andre Couto, who won the Drivers’ Championship for GAINER at Autopolis. It was an emotional scene after the race, after Couto, a veteran of eleven seasons in GT500 and now two seasons in GT300 competition, dedicated the championship to his team, who won a Drivers’ Championship for the first time in over a decade of racing, his 2015 co-drivers Katsumasa Chiyo (who really should be considered for Driver of the Year honors in any credible sports car racing publication) and Ryuichiro Tomita (who will almost surely be in the frame for a full-time GT300 drive next year), and then to his late son Afonso, who died of childhood leukemia in November of 2010 at the age of seven.

Couto and Chiyo won’t have to push too hard when they race at Motegi with the championships already decided, however, if they drive the Tanax GT-R to a podium finish, Couto will be the first GT300 driver to amass 100 points in a season since Keiichi Suzuki and the late Shingo Tachi in their historic 1998 season, where they won an astonishing five of six races driving a Toyota MR2 jointly fielded by Team Taisan and Tsuchiya Engineering (now Team Samurai).

championship table 2015

The GT500 championship, however, is far from decided, with six teams still mathematically eligible as the above table demonstrates. Realistically, it will likely be a two-horse race between the Calsonic Nissan GT-R of IMPUL and the Motul Nissan GT-R of defending champions NISMO, with three of the other four teams absolutely needing to win to have any chance of winning the championship. But as last year proved, an early mishap can potentially blow the whole thing wide open. So what’s at stake for the championship contenders in Motegi? Continue reading “The Final Battle: Breaking down Super GT’s title contenders”