The Asian leg of this year’s global series is still almost six months away but with so many cars signed up and a host of Japanese teams having announced their plans since Christmas, co-race organisers SRO Motorsports Group, Mobilityland Corporation and GTA have opted to issue a provisional entry list already packed with both home-grown and international interest.
Indeed, the variety is quite staggering, with 12 manufacturers now confirmed for the first international joint FIA GT3, GT300 and JAF GT race. More are expected to confirm their entries in the coming months.
Four of this year’s five full-season Intercontinental GT Challenge manufacturers are present courtesy of international entries from Strakka Racing (Mercedes-AMG), Bentley Team M-Sport, ‘Audi Team’ the (exact entrant remains TBC) and Manthey Racing (Porsche). However, it’s the volume of local interest from teams and cars usually the preserve of Japan’s Super GT and Super Taikyu championships, as well as the regional Blancpain GT Series Asia, that’s sure to captivate fans both at home and around the world.
Super Taikyu’s reigning ST-X class champions ARN Racing, who are switching to Blancpain GT Series Asia this season, recently became the first team to confirm a Ferrari 488 GT3 for this August’s 47th Summer Endurance Race, which maintains the Suzuka 1000km’s proud heritage following a change in format and regulations. They’re joined in Maranello’s corner by Taiwanese outfit and Blancpain GT Series Asia rivals, HubAuto Racing.
Lamborghini were the first European manufacturer to commit to the Suzuka 10 Hours when the race was fannounced last year, but until now its exact plans remained unknown. That all changed this morning, though, when experienced Japanese outfit JLOC were confirmed as running two Huracan GT3s.
The thundering Callaway Competition-run Corvette C7 GT3-R adds further variety by making its Intercontinental GT Challenge debut at Suzuka. The German team, which is working in partnership with Bingo Racing, received an invitation to the event as part of its prize for winning last season’s ADAC GT Masters title.
Nissan are, as you would expect, well represented courtesy of 2015 Super GT champions, Gainer, who were recently selected to lead the Japanese manufacturer’s GT300 programme with the new-for-2018 GT-R NISMO GT3. Part of that agreement sees the team also entering one car at Suzuka where they’re joined by Nissan’s official Blancpain GT Series Asia team, KCMG, who have committed two cars.
Super GT and Super Taikyu regulars D’Station Racing are fielding two Porsche 991 GT3 Rs, while another – the fourth confirmed so far – is entered by Super Taikyu squad, Nissoku.
Battling for Mercedes-AMG are Goodsmile Racing & Team Ukyo, which confirmed before Christmas the plan to reunite its 2017 Total 24 Hours of Spa trio of Nobuteru Taniguchi, Tatsuya Kataoka and Kamui Kobayashi. Super Taikyu’s RN Sports will also enter the same car, bringing Mercedes-AMG’s total to four.
Further variety comes in the form of Audi Team Hitotsuyama which has committed its Super GT-bound R8 LMS GT3 to the entry, while Ryo Michigami switches back from the World Touring Car Championship to partner Japanese F3 graduate Hiroki Otsu aboard Modulo Drago Corse’s Honda NSX GT3. A second NSX – racing on home ground at the Honda-owned Suzuka, don’t forget – is entered by CarGuy Racing, which recently revealed its plan to contest this year’s Super GT championship.
One of Asia’s most successful teams, FIST – Team AAI, has entered a BMW M6 GT3, while two further cars – one run by Sutekina Racing Team – are confirmed but remain unknown for the time being.
This year’s Suzuka 10 Hours is also open to the same JAF GT-spec cars as compete equally against Super GT300’s FIA GT3 machinery. Taking advantage of this eligibility are two seasoned Super GT outfits: Cars Tokai Dream28 and Team UpGarage.
Cars Tokai Dream28 – along with their drivers Hiroki Katoh and Kazuho Takahashi – were the first to confirm a JAF GT car, the Mooncraft-built Lotus Evora MC, before Team UpGarage announced their plans to run a Toyota GT86 MC for its Super GT pairing Yuki Nakayama and Takashi Kobayashi.
‘MC’ stands for Mother Chassis, a concept originally developed by Dome that allowed independent teams and lower volume manufacturers to compete without the expense of designing and building a chassis. Bodywork represents a more stylised and aerodynamically efficient version of the original car’s, while very few parts are carried over from the production model – in the Evora’s case it’s just the Lotus badge, windscreen wiper and door handles!
To ensure parity the MC chassis is pegged against its FIA GT3-spec rivals using SRO Motorsports Group’s trusted Balance of Performance regulations. These are already licensed by Super GT organisers, GTA, to maintain a level playing field during the full-season GT300 championship.
A standardised Pirelli tyre and prize money totalling 100-million Yen has already been confirmed for a blue riband race that even more teams and manufacturers are expected to support in the coming months.
The race is being jointly co-ordinated by SRO Motorsports Group – best known for overseeing the Blancpain GT Series in Europe and Asia – Super GT organiser GTA, and Mobilityland Corporation, who are all closely collaborating on the project.
Suzuka is just one of four endurance races on this year’s Intercontinental GT Challenge calendar, which also features events in Australia, Europe and North America.
2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge Schedule
February 2-4 – Australia – Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour
July 26-29 – Belgium – Total 24 Hours of Spa
August 24-26 – Japan – Suzuka 10 Hours
October 26-28 – USA – California 8 Hours of Laguna Seca
Source. SRO Motorsports Group