Super GTs At Sepang, June 23
© Janos Wimpffen
east immediately after Le Mans, and has pitched up at Sepang, for
Round 4 of the Super GT Series.
from the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. We’re at Round 4 of the
Super GT series. The long-running Japan GT series had been given
international sanction last year with the expectation that rounds
would held far and wide across Asia and possibly across the Pacific
to America. Thus far the Malaysian round has been the only foreign
excursion for the Japanese teams.
This is at the
famed Sepang circuit, which has featured the F1 circus for some
time. It is a massive venue set in hilly jungle clearings west of
the city, very near the airport, and not too far from the Indian
Ocean coast. The setting is deep into the Tropics, which makes the
weather sultry year-round. Black clouds blow over regularly and
there is typically some rain during the afternoon.
To picture Kuala
Lumpur, KL to everyone, think of Los Angeles transplanted into a
lush verdant area. It is a sprawling modern metropolis, including
the twin Petronas Towers, world’s tallest until being recently
supplanted by Taipei’s 101 Tower.
The Sepang circuit
undulates in deference to the hilly surroundings. It is composed
of a double loop: the front straight effectively drops into a valley
and begins a clockwise roll of a double hairpin, a long sweeper,
a right angle right, and another series of sweepers that bend to
the outside of the front straight. The back section, located to
the north of the pit lane, is something of a mirror image of the
previous portion. It includes a series of sweeping turns before
a hairpins dumps the cars onto the back straight, seemingly only
a handful of meters from the original starting point. But now the
cars are heading in the opposite direction before another hairpin
at lap’s end brings them back to the correct direction.
are massive, in true F1 fashion, and the double straight setup makes
for a parallel set of tribunes, one facing each way. The best seats
are definitely at the top, where you can over your shoulder and
see the cars coming the other way.
its own thriving motor sports scene, consisting mostly of Touring
cars, some small formula classes, and lots of motorcycle events.
Many of these take part in a roughly bi-weekly program here at Sepang.
Some of these are on hand this weekend. At one point I notice a
tiny vehicle pass slowly down the front straight. It looked like
one of those electric carts one sees picking up rubbish bins and
the like. But then I noticed that it had a race number and a helmeted
driver inside. It sort of looks like the box that Smart car came
in. That was my introduction to the Super Compact series for various
homegrown machines such as the Kancil—not exactly a household
There is a Super
16 series for larger cars that includes mostly Honda Civic variants
as well as the ubiquitous Proton—I’ve already had a
Taksi ride (that’s how it’s spelled here) in one of
those. It resembles any basic Nissan or Toyota.
words, the main Malay language is Bhasa Malaysia, which unlike many
other Asian languages, is written in Roman script. The vocabulary
seems to consist largely of English words looking like they are
badly spelled, so it is easy to read. Most people are at least bilingual,
since this is another country that had its turn being pillaged as
a British colony. In addition, it has a sizable Chinese and sub-continent
population, increasing the linguistic mix. It’s a wonderful
laboratory for seeing of how different races and religions (Muslim
majority, Hindu and Buddhist minorities) can mix rather well and
create a fairly dynamic economy. It’s only when you get out
of town that you are reminded that this is still the Third World.
As to the main
event, the Super GT rules are unique in many ways, not least of
which are the allowance of some widest and wildest bodywork to be
seen on GT cars. There is also an extensive system of success penalties,
i.e., weights are added for wins, high placings, fast qualifying,
fast laps, and having too good of a time at karaoke. This means
that it is relatively unusual for teams to score repeat, or at least
consecutive, wins under such managed conditions. Accordingly, we’ve
seen different winners at each round thus far.
and Jyuichi Wakisaka debuted the Lexus badged version of Toyota
Team Tom’s entry with a victory at Suzuka. Then the Honda
NDZ of Ryo Michigami and Takashi Kogure claimed top spot at Okayama,
and the No. 35 Lexus of Peter Dumbreck and Naoki Hattori triumphed
No. 8 works Honda took the pole at the first race, followed by Michigami
and round 2. The No. 1 Lexus of Yuji Tachikawa started first at
The GT500 class
is entirely dominated and carved up by the three Japanese giants,
Toyota, Nissan, and Honda. The more restrictive GT300 class has
greater variety, which now includes the only race version of a new
There are several
examples of the Vemac, a small Honda-powered GT that somewhat resembles
a Lotus Elise. There are also several basic production cars, like
a pair of Ferrari 360s, a Mazda, and various Porsches. No. 110 is
listed as a Boxster, although it looks as close to a Boxster as
your grandmother’s Audi S4 does to an R10.
The GT300 class
was won by a Lamborghini at Suzuka, but that car’s not here
as I’ve passed it on the way back to Asia. Two different Vemacs
have won the other two rounds. Kota Sasaki’s Nissan Z took
pole at the first two rounds, while Hiroki Katoh (yes, the ex-Panoz,
ex-ALMS star) was fastest in Fuji. He is again driving the No. 2
Shiden, another low-volume Honda powered GT. It is built by the
Mooncraft Co., a long-time Japanese chassis builder.
The first practice
session was held from 1100-1300 and was led in times nearly from
start to finish by the same car in each class. Michael Krumm had
the fast time of 1:59.614 (No. 22 Nismo Z), followed by Ito (No.
8 Honda) and Wakisaka in the No. 36 Lexus. Incidentally, Krumm is
partnered by Richard Lyons this time, a rare instance of two Europeans
in the same car. Katoh’s co-driver, Kazuho Takahashi, is the
leader in GT300 with the world’s only racing Shiden.
Most cars used
soft rubber in the hot morning. The crews suffered for this as in
the intra-session period they spent considerable time scooping out
mountains of rubber from every nook and cranny. The temperature
also means that cool suits are a firm necessity. Most cars have
huge stores of refrigeration units and ducting clogging up the passenger
sides of the compartments.
The second 90-minute
period began at 16:15. Between the gloom and wind this calls for
lights, which will no doubt be needed with the race’s similar
starting time on Sunday. It may end in darkness but it keeps one
inside during the day’s greatest heat. The length of daylight
is nearly uniform year round in the Tropics, so in that respect
the late starting time matters little.
(No. 12 Team Impul Nissan 350Z) set the early quick time before
handing over to co-driver Kazuki Hoshino. Meanwhile that first flying
lap was surpassed by Ryo Michigami’s 2:09.640. GT300 was led
by Shinichi Takagi in the No. 101 Toyota MR-S.
Then came our
first tropical rainstorm. It was wind-driven squall that affected
the south side of the circuit. Times increased by about a minute.
Then the rain intensified and suddenly four cars took to the kitty
litter at Turn 4. This is the right angle bend at the southern “bottom”
of the circuit. It is approached at quite high speed and as it is
located exactly where the rains were originating, it was easy to
get caught off guard. It was a quite catholic gathering in the speed
trap, as the spinners included a Lexus, a Nissan, a Porsche, and
the lone Ford GT. There was no damage to anyone, but the carnage
did call for the session to be stopped.
lasted perhaps ten minutes, as did the shower. On the restart the
fastest could still only get to within 3-4 seconds of their best
time as they were trailing plumes of spray. Anyone looking for a
dry line was likely to get caught in one of several harmless spins.
The No. 62 Willcom Vemac was one of the victims, scooping up a snout-ful
Ito showed his
mettle through all this, setting the fastest lap of the session
for the No. 8 NSX and second best overall during the afternoon.
There were some other, more gradual, improvements, but the morning
session has proven to be have been the faster by quite a margin.
With 15 minutes to go, darkness is becoming a factor and several
teams have parked early.
flag to end the afternoon free session was a welcome sign to more
than one team as another rain squall blew in and several cars made
rather dramatic spins. The top scorers on the style chart were Nissans
number 22 and 24. Masataka Yanagida made a particularly adept move
in the No. 24 Kondo Nissan. He spun coming out of a turn and then
slid across and onto the wet grass, tapping the guard rail ever
so gently. He then proceeded at speed on course, whistling away
as if nothing had happened.
Off to sample
some tropical fruits. Mango, of course, maybe some start fruit,
and that infamous Durian, which tastes great but smells exactly
like rotting flesh. Yum.