Japanese Racing Is F***ING NUTS
Imagine 500hp Supras, Skylines, RX7s Battling it out on tight and technical circuits All while 300hp Civics and Celicas barrel into apexes On the SAME track, AT THE SAME TIME Japanese Touring Car Racing is some of the most exciting and intense motorsports that you’ve never watched. But it took 60 years of playing catchup to Europe and America to get there So let’s dig into the tumultuous rise of Japanese pro racing, To see how the Japanese found a way to create the most thrilling races in the world And how their rapid success went from a blessing to a curse I’m Guff, this is Albon, lets get started. The origin of Professional Racing in Japan goes back nearly 100 years Back then, Europe had Brooklands. North America had Indianapolis. Australia had Aspendale. And japan had…well had japan had nothing.. If you wanted to race a car, well you could do it on a horse track when the bookies were all at home So, even though car manufacturing was growing in the country, when it came to the world of motorsports, Japan was falling behind… fast.
Until one gear head decided to do something about it. Gunji Fujimoto was a Japanese born car enthusiast who was raised in Seattle, And living in the states, he was a feverish fan of the Indianapolis 500 and the Elgin National Trophy But when he moved back to japan in the 1920s, he was severely disappointed in the lack of racing back home There were car enthusiasts in Japan, but with only empty parking lots and crappy horse derby tracks to race on, the Japanese people never truly experienced motorsport. So Gunji took it upon himself and raised money to correct this horrible oversight.
And in 1936, he officially opened the first permanent racetrack in Japan, Tamagawa Speedway, just outside of Tokyo It was a circle track, reminiscent of the the racetracks that Gunji experienced back in America And well, it didn’t take long for Tamagawa Speedway to become home to Japan's biggest races. And also attract some of the most iconic Japanese car nuts. 29 year old Soichiro Honda himself raced at that inaugural race in 1936.
He and his brother piloted a turbocharged Ford and battled it out against Bugattis and Bentleys But, midway through the race, they hit another car, flipped and both were launched out of the car onto the track. Somehow, they both survived, with a few serious injuries And even though that meant their racing careers were pretty much over, It was at Tamagawa Speedway that Soichiro Honda fall in love with racing and decided that the Honda brand needed to start making race cars. Over the next 25 years, the Japanese racing industry began to put down roots and become a viable part of the motorsports world stage. And as the French built the famous Nogaro circuit in 1960, Japan countered with the legendary Suzuka circuit, And a year later, when Formula 1 came to Watkins Glen in America, Japan opened up Fuji speedway at the foothills of Mount Fuji Then there was Tsukuba opening in 1970, Atsu in 1972, Sugo in 1975, and over the next decade, dozens more.
Japan’s motorsport scene was now growing at a rapid rate, and professional and amateur racers alike finally had circuits to get their fix! But race tracks were just one part of the recipe. The other ingredient was of course, the race cars The winner of Japan’s first grand prix at Suzuka was a 1963 SP310 Datsun Fairlady 1500. But it wasn’t just Datsun on the grid Mazda, Suzuki (frontes), Volkswagen (beetle), Honda, Triumph and MG all raced too. Japanese racing was on such a tear, that many major manufacturers were trying to take advantage of the empty throne and claim the crown. And the league that everyone wanted to compete in? Well, that was The Japanese Touring Car championship! And this was fantastic racing, especially for the 1960s! But the car that quickly became the king of the series was Nissan's C10 Skyline GTR. It was such a quick contender that many teams on the grid refused to drive anything else.
And the Skyline GTR won every single race in 1969… and 1970… and 1971! And the craziest part? This wasn’t even the GTR’s most dominant run. But we’ll get to that later. But that first gen GTR would soon be dethroned by the granddaddy of another JDM lineage, the Mazda RX3. Mazda’s Savannah RX3 was powered by the original A-series rotary engine and even though it didn’t make power like the Skyline, it was nearly 300kg (661lb) lighter. And that weight advantage led the RX3 to dominate almost every touring cup championship in japan, taking 100 victories by 1976.
But here’s the thing, as Japanese motorsports grew into the 80s, racing in other countries was growing exponentially faster. America had NASCAR and CART, the predecessor to Indy Europe had Formula 1 and Le Mans, All series that had global audiences with some of the best cars and drivers in the world. And so the Japan Automobile Federation had to spice up their racing series to keep up So in 1983, the All Japan Endurance Championship was born. Just like how this segue to our sponsor was born! This episode is sponsored by Morgan & Morgan This is Bob Bob is a mechanic, working 12 hour shifts on rusty jalopies for a shop with 2 stars on Google. Bob ain’t a rich man, but he’s a good man So when a careless shop owner leaves 5w40 all over the floor And Bob slips, falls, and lands ass first into a #00 philips screwdriver He NEEDs somebody who can fight on his side, and pay for that that expensive tear in his tush And that somebody is Morgan, and Morgan, and MORGAN, oh wait no there’s only two Morgan & Morgan is America’s largest injury law firm, with more than 800 lawyers and 4000 case staff ready to fight for your butt But Bob is worried, because he doesn’t have the cash to pay for expensive legal fees But worry no more! Because Morgan & Morgan doesn’t charge you any sign up fees or other up front costs.
The Fee is FREE unless you win But Bob still feels bad. He doesn’t want to sue his boss, even if his boss hasn’t actually paid him for the last six months But Bob, when you sue for an injury, you’re not suing your Dbag boss, you’re suing his insurance company, who have way too much money as it is There’s no reason to feel bad for getting the compensation you deserve. So If you’ve been a victim in a car accident, medical malpractice, workplace injury, or any other Personal Injury, hit the link in the description to get Morgan & Morgan to fight for you. Bob did, and he sure is thankful Morgan and Morgan had his back, and his butt This class, later known as the prototype class, was meant for exactly that - prototype cars that qualified for group C and IMSA racing But the series didn't really expand the way Japan had hoped.
The budgets for these cars and races grew too high too quickly. And the ROI for manufacturers wasn't worth the rising cost. And one look at these race cars and you can just imagine how quickly the budget ballooned: The grid was filled with an abundance of badassery Nissan alone had the March 83G, Fairlady Zs, LeMans spec prototypes Toyota had 83c racecars alongside Celicas Then there was the plethora of mazda rx7s and mazdaspeed’s amazing 717C And these were just the big manufacturer names But there was a problem. Most of these cars were modified to the point of being unrecognizable as the cars that the public saw and drove on the streets.
And that meant that fans just couldn't relate to the series, there was no emotional investment for spectators. Spectators wanted to see the cars they drove every day battling it out for the gold. And so the All Japan Endurance Championship begrudgingly went on for the next decade, with the fastest car there being a Porsche, not even a homebred car.
But quietly in the background, Japan’s Racing Organizers were already on track to change motorsports forever. In 1985, the All-Japan Touring Car Championship was launched. The All-Japan Touring Car Championship was home to some of the most infamous Japanese racing legends ever And that was thanks to the league’s acceptance of Group A touring cars. Cars that had to have production models cruising the streets. Cars that you or I could drive! The All-Japan Touring Car Championship themselves had 3 divisions, (which were changed around in 1988) all dominated by different platforms.
Division 3 was held for cars with less than 1600cc displacement. This is where you'll find one of the most legendary honda civics of all time - The Mugen Motul Civic. In 1987, the EA Civic won every single freaking race in division 3.
And if that wasn't enough to convince you of how insane this car is, It even took pole position OVERALL in a race amongst division 1 and 2 cars. YES, A CIVIC TOOK OVERALL POLE POSITION against cars with twice the engine. Division 2 cars had displacements between 1601cc engines and 2500CC. But this class was completely dominated by e30s. As in like…there were only E30s competing in this division. For some reason it was
the only car that Japanese teams cared to race within those rules. But then… well then there was division 1.. Division 1 cars had to have engine displacements LARGER than 2500cc And those rules may be what led to the most monumental era in Japanese motorsport history Because THIS is where Godzilla was born.
Now, at the time, Nissan was suffering from a long run of underwhelming sports cars. The last GTR worth a damn on the circuit was way back in 1972. The C110 GTR that came after never raced, and the R31 was very underwhelming. Nissan was desperate to get back into the limelight. And the All-Japan Touring Car Championship was looking like the perfect platform to make a comeback.
So from its conception, the R32 Skyline GTR was designed to compete. Because of group A rules, a 2.6L was thrown in from the factory. And the class homologation rules meant that the GTR trim would qualify. Which meant not only twin turbos boosted to nearly 600hp, but also the legendary ATTESA-E TS AWD system And once the R32 GTR took its place on the grid, competition was all but over with. It's only real rival at the time was the RS500 from Cosworth and it wouldn't be long before even the Cossie would be a speck in the Skyline’s rearview.
The GTR platform destroyed every race it entered from 1990 to to 1992. The division 1 class became almost exclusively an R32 class because there was just no other platform that could keep up. We’re not talking about just winning every season, I mean it won every.single.race. All 29 races in those 3 years!
And it didnt stop at Japan for the R32. The GTR won the 1991 SPA 24 Hrs in Belgium. And the r32 platform even competed in Australia and decimated every Holden and V8 ford at Bathurst.
The car became too dominant, a larger than life figure, and a monster from Japan that world had no choice to bend to. The GTR became Godzilla That R32 Skyline was no doubt the biggest name in All-Japan Touring Car Championship history. With most iconic GTR being from Calsonic Who were the winners of over half of the 29 GTR first place finishes.
But the most important part of the GTR’s dominance was that it wasn’t some prototype race car or an exotic supercar This was the same 2.6L Nissan available on showroom floors around the country. Yea, GTRs were not the cheapest cars in the world, But Japan’s top racing league had a podium full of cars that were real, tangible, approachable. You didn't need to be the richest man in the room to own the car that would take the gold every weekend on your television set.
And that was the beauty of the championship. And why it absolutely exploded in popularity in the early 90s But in 1993, all of that changed. The Group A rules were thrown out the window by the JAF, in place of an all new Super Touring class. Super Touring cars were basically Formula 2 class cars, entirely different animals.
Cars that the Japanese racing diehards had historically just never connected with. And just like the classes that came before it: Budgets became too high. Logistics became too complicated and factory teams were forced to drop out one by one until there was no competition left. The All-Japan Touring Car Championship as people knew it, was now dead But the Japan Automobile Federation wasn’t dumb, they knew this was coming. And they knew that people loved seeing modified street cars ripping down Fuji.
So once that championship series died , they were quick to create an alternative for fans They Called it the All Japan GRAND Touring Car Championship Or J-G-T-C And well, JGTC was everything you could hope for As great as Godzilla was in the old series, seeing the same car win over and over.. And over and over got old The JGTC was formed to prevent a one-make domination from happening again. The rules evolved year over year so that racing was always exciting and competition was close. There were imposed limits on power and weight penalties given out to the fastest cars. And those JDM legends that you spent so many hours and credits grinding for in Gran turismo? Those cars were built for this JGTC. In its early seasons, the JGTC had 2 classes, GT1 and GT2 cars And the first JTGC winner? Well that was a Calsonic GTR..
Now I know I know, I just said the whole point of the series was to make racing more competitive. “So how did the Calsonic GTR keep winning then” you may ask Well, it's not THAT Calsonic GTR. This was an entirely new one, but it still had Kageyama behind the wheel. (Talk about some other cars in this series) But alongside the new Calsonic GTR were cars that were just as awesome. Keiichi Tsuchiya and Team Kunimitsu were in their 911 RSR. Team SARD raced in their 4 banger toyota supra Then there was the BLITZ Supra and Shiftpoint Supra, both bold enough to race with the all new 2J Hell, team Taisan had a Ferrari F40 AND a Porsche 962C There was even a Lamborghini Countach on the grid.
And did I mention this was just the GT1 class? The GT2 class was slower but just as impressive With 911 turbos, FC RX7s, Skyline GTS and GTS-rs, E30s, 964 turbos, The JAF made sure to monitor each race and season closely and make adjustments accordingly. But out the gate, the GT1 cars were quickly becoming too expensive to obtain, maintain, and operate. And so, they JAF, having learned from their past, adapted again. They ditched GT1 and GT2 and made two new main classes: GT300 and GT500.
And, at least at the beginning, the difference was easy. GT300 cars had 300HP and GT500 had 500hp. And the best part was that both classes took to the racetrack at the same exact time so overtaking was never a question of if but when, so racing was always a thrill Plus, to prevent another Godzilla takeover… weight penalties were added to the regulations.
For every point you scored in the series, you had to add 2kg of weight to your car. So if you had 45 points going into the final race of the season, you also had an extra 90kg of weight thrown in your car. And that meant that the field was ALWAYS close, with fierce battles between drivers at any point of the race By 1996, the grid looked nothing like it ever had before. No longer was it just 12 different colors of GTR There were Ferrari F40s Lotus Esprits Honda NSXRs Porsche 911 GT2s and Carrera RSRs Dodge Vipers FD RX7s Lamborghini Diablos Mclaren was on top of the world at the time. They just won at Le Mans and had built the McLaren F1 GTR to better compete with Porsche’s GT1.
A few of those F1 GTR cars made it overseas to Kaumichi Goh, the founder of Team Goh. Fully backed by the McLaren factory team, Team Goh won the 1996 JGTC season. BUT, that season was the first and ONLY time a non-Japanese manufacturer won the JGTC title. Team Goh and MClaren dropped out of JGTC immediately after, citing that they were being forced out by the Japanese manufacturers that had a grip on JAF regulations. Mclaren argued that japan manufacturers couldn't stand to be embarrassed on their home turf.
BUT boohoo, maybe there was some sketchy stuff going on, but can we talk about the Supras?? Specifically the most important Supra of all time. The Castrol TOM’s Toyota Supra GT. That's right, just like soooo many greats that lived in my Gran Turismo 2 garage, this car was born to compete in JGTC And well, the Castrol TOMS Supra is arguably even more iconic than Calsonics GTR depending on who you ask. You see, Toyota was sick of Nissan winning, and they needed to find an answer. And they did so by being clever.
The JGTC required that engines be from the original manufacturer. This prevented teams from building brand-new, unfair engines from the ground up. It was the reason why Nissan had to stick with their RB26 But technicalllly, they never said you have to use the engine that was designed for that car. Toyota saw this little loophole and did something borderline sacreligious They ditched the 2JZ. Sure, the 2j is legendary for its power potential, but it was also a heavy iron block And so, in its place was a 3SGTE, yes the smaller 4 cylinder turbo from a 90s Celica or MR2 Of course, this 3S was nothing like the one you found in your Mr2 This was the same engine that was found in the Toyota World Rally cars that dominated WRC.
Pairing this lighter engine with a light car like the TOM’s supra meant that they were able to weigh in at just 1150kg (2535lb) Add in the fact they were able to squeeze out 480HP and 470 ft/lbs of torque from that little 4 banger, and they had a winning recipe. That Castrol TOMS supra ended up winning the 1997 GT500 championship, cementing its place in motorsport history. Finally, Japan-born and bred racing was mentioned in the same breath as open wheel racing in Europe and stock car racing in America. And with spectatorship growing rapidly, race days quickly evolved into race weeks The races were full-on events.
Huge grandstands, paddock passes, driver q&a sessions, live talk shows, team stores, and interactive booths were everywhere. Tens of thousands of fans were showing up every single event. And because of the soaring growth, it was time for JGTC to go overseas. So in 2000, they hosted their first special event race in Malaysia. Now, “Special Event” was important, because it meant that it wasn't officially part of the season. And that was due to a technicality.
If the Malaysian race became part of the regular season schedule, then the JGTC would lose its “national championship” status under FIA rules Because well, now it would be international. So the Malaysian race at Sepang, despite its popularity, would stay just as a special race. But the JGTC spectacle kept growing and growing, and eventually Malaysia became an integral part of the JGTC calendar. Plus, JGTC was experimenting in America, hosting special exhibitions at California Speedway in Fontana. And in 2004, JGTC became essentially too big for its britches.
The “All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship” outgrew Japan and under FIA rules, they would be forced to relabel as an international racing series. That may not seem like a big deal, but outgrowing Japan meant that the JAF would have to hand over the reins to the FIA since now, it was beyond japan's jurisdiction By 2005, JGTC would be rebranded as Super GT. And Malaysia became part of the normal race schedule Which was awesome at first, especially when you see the car that became the race’s successful entrant.
The GT300 RE Amemiya FD rx7, a 3 rotor 20B that won in Malaysia in 2000, 2002, and 2006 But the new Super GT organizers wanted to relentlessly expand. By 2014, Malaysia was replaced with races in Thailand. And then made plans to host races in China and South Korea.
But while the FIA backed organizers wanted to grow Super GT into max profitability, the fans had other plans. Japanese fans once again felt as though the home-grown appeal that drew them to JGTC was disappearing in Super GT. And that compounded with the fact that Super GT struggled to find its identity beyond the pacific. The Chinese and South Korean races never came to fruition. But despite that, the organizers kept pushing for expansion, and now had plans to reach Europe.
SuperGT aligned its regulations to allow for DTM cars to compete alongside their GT500 class. But by the time this was finalized in 2020, DTM switched to GT3 regulations after the major manufacturer exodus in Germany. This meant that once again, SuperGT had failed to reach a new market.
All while continuing to lose grip on the Japanese fans that were their foundation. Now, going into the 2023 season, there is no race scheduled outside of Japan, and no plans for that to change. Super GT is back to where it started, 100% in japan. And I don’t know whether this is a good or bad outcome for Super GT But it's important to understand that the best of touring car racing in Japan was always unmistakably Japanese Japan's most awe-inspiring cars battling against each other, backed by Japan's most infamous tuning houses, all on Japan's most iconic circuits. And today, in a world where Time Attack and Drifting are at feverish levels of popularity, I can’t help but reminisce about those red and green livery Supras, the dangerously quick GTRs, Those fire breathing mazda RX7s and hope that Japan once again figures out the formula to bring Japanese racing into a new golden era. Thank you so much for watching! Don’t forget to subscribe and join us on discord to tell us about your favorite JGTC cars.
Idk about you, but after hearing this i think its time to get off this bucket and load up some gran turismo Sits back down Gran tursimo 4, of course, I’m not an idiot. I’ll see you guys in the next one.