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Suzuka 10 Hours Preview: Rules & Regulations Primer

A friendly guide to the ground rules of the Suzuka Summer Endurance

The 2019 SMBC/BH Auction Suzuka 10 Hours is the fourth round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge and the 48th running of Suzuka’s endurance sports car race that was first held as the Suzuka 1000km from 1966 to 2017.

There’s a very good chance that you, the reader, maybe about to follow the Suzuka 10 Hours for the first time shortly. In which case, welcome! There’s also a chance you’re about to watch this race again following a successful first running under the new race format and the new rules and regulations. While this event has a lineage that’s over 50 years long, many of the rules in place for this event are very, very new.

Now, if you watched the most recent Intercontinental GT Challenge round, the Total 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in July, the good news is that some rules carry over intact from the Suzuka 10 Hours. Others have to be adapted to a shorter race format. Stephen Errity put up a wonderful guide to the many ground rules in effect from Spa, and a lot of that carries over into Suzuka.

But part of the charm of this race is that there are a number of other idiosyncrasies that are unique to the Suzuka 10 Hours that you don’t see in several other “box-standard” GT3 category races held elsewhere.

In particular, the Suzuka 10 Hours is promoted as a lucrative race for the winners. There are 100 million reasons for teams to want to win this race, as in, the prize purse of 100 million Japanese Yen that’s on offer!

Missed any of the other parts of DSC’s 2019 Suzuka 10 Hours race preview? Catch up with the links below:

PART 1 | PART 2

The money fight

The overall winners of the Suzuka 10 Hours will win the biggest stack of cash: A prize of ¥30 million JPY or, just under €250,000 Euro! Second place receives ¥10 million, and third place receives ¥5 million.

Overall fourth place and onward will each receive smaller sums of prize money based on the overall classification and number of entries.

Of course, the three non-Pro categories in the field, Pro-Am, Silver Cup, and Am Cup, will each see their own battles for victory, and you can read up on those classes in our field preview of these teams. The top three teams in the Pro-Am Cup and Silver Cup classes earn ¥2 million for first place, ¥1 million for second, and ¥500,000 for third. In the Am Cup, the winner takes home ¥1 million, then ¥500,000 for 2nd and ¥250,000 for third.

The Asia Award is given to the best finishing teams with no less than two drivers from Asia (excluding Australia & New Zealand), and the top-finishing Asia Award team will win ¥3 million. 2nd place wins ¥2 million and 3rd place wins ¥1 million.

There are also prizes awarded to the top finishing teams representing Japan’s biggest sports car racing championship, the Autobacs Super GT Series, with the top three taking ¥5 million, ¥3 million, and ¥1 million respectively. The top three teams from the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series will earn ¥2 million, ¥1 million, and ¥500,000 respectively – and as we’ll discuss, there’s even more at stake for these teams regarding their own championship aspirations!

There are also a number of special prizes, including ¥1 million each for the pole winner, fastest first-round qualifier the team with the fastest lap, the fastest pit stop, and an undisclosed prize (as of yet) for the winner of the new “Spa-Suzuka Cup” given to the team that completes the longest distance between the Spa 24 Hours and Suzuka 10 Hours.

These prizes can stack upon one another, so let’s use the hypothetical example of a Pro-Am team (¥2M), entering from the Super GT Series (¥5M), with an all-Japanese driver trio (¥3M), winning overall (¥30M) from pole position (¥1M). That performance would see total winnings of ¥41 million or over €340,000 EUR.

And just announced this week: Fans can vote for their “Team of the Day” and the winner will receive yet another 1 million yen!

It’s an enticing offer, this race and this money. But to paraphrase the legendary commentator Bob Varsha: “In order to race the Suzuka 10 Hours, you must first qualify.”

Qualifying and the Pole Shootout

Saturday’s qualifying session is split into two phases, the first consisting of three fifteen-minute time attack sessions – Q1, Q2, and Q3. Each team will send their first, second, and third drivers respectively into each session. The fastest times of all three drivers are then added up after the conclusion of all three sessions, positions 21 to 36 are set, and the fastest 20 teams on aggregate advance to the second phase of qualifying: The Pole Shootout.

The Pole Shootout sees each team’s highest-graded driver take part in a final fifteen-minute time attack session to set the first ten rows on the grid, and award the aforementioned ¥1 million prize to the team that wins the pole position.

Of course, last year, things went slightly off-script after a major controversy regarding the application of track limit infringement penalties, which resulted in the Pole Shootout being expanded from 20 to 24 teams, to the benefit of the eventual race winners at Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing.

Pit lane rules

This is where we get into the more advanced meta of the race itself. If you’ve read the rules and regulations primer from Spa, you’ll recall this section explaining the rules of engagement for pit stops, starting with the minimum pit time.

That minimum time from the entrance to the exit of pit lane is 82 seconds. An ideal pit-stop would look something like this: 29 seconds to drive through pit lane at a designated speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour, 50 seconds for service including refuelling, tyre changes, and a driver exchange, and 3 seconds spent between stopping in the box and driving away once the pit work is done.

It’s there for two reasons: To balance the field strategically and ensure that the individual skill of the drivers can best determine the result of the race on-track, and to ensure that the mechanics can perform the necessary pit work safely and effectively.

Skilled teams, however, will look to take advantage of a one-second tolerance in the minimum pit time that can be exploited three times during the race to take the minimum time down to 81 seconds. When and where this one-second tolerance is used could mean the difference between victory or consolation.

Anything outside these boundaries, however, would be subject to a costly Drive-through penalty.

Time at the wheel

Another competitive balance measure is the application of minimum and maximum drive times. The easiest way to segment a race is in a stint, from one pit stop to the next.

The maximum length of a single stint is 65 minutes. In the case of a Full Course Yellow (FCY) or a full Safety Car (SC) intervention for a track hazard or accident, however, this can be extended to no more than 70 minutes. The ideal strategy for this 600-minute race would be to have nine full-service pit stops between stints.

Each driver is required to drive during the race to be classified, with a minimum total drive time of 60 minutes per driver. But no one driver can do it on their own, and there are rules to ensure their well-being. No driver can drive more than 4 hours, 30 minutes in total during the race, and cannot spend more than three hours at the wheel over multiple stints before being relieved by a co-driver. If one driver runs for more than 140 minutes at a time, they must rest for at least one hour before driving again.

Burnin’ Rubber

Pirelli continues their role as the sole tyre supplier of the Suzuka 10 Hours and all rounds of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.

They will supply each team with 15 sets of dry-weather tyres, and 10 sets of wet-weather tyres in case of a late-Summer shower. Of course, if a set of tyres is damaged to where it cannot be used, an additional four sets of “joker” tyres can be applied for. And for the 20 teams that progress to the Pole Shootout, they get a bonus set of tyres to use only for that one fifteen-minute time attack!

Tyre changes can be done strategically, after all, it’s not mandatory to change all four tyres. But it is expected to be treacherous on the first approach from pit exit to the S-Curves because the series does not permit the use of tyre warming devices.

And because this is a race with a “control” tyre supplied by a single manufacturer, expect the times in qualifying and during the race to be much slower than they would be in Super GT’s GT300 class, where the cars are identical, but compete in an open “tyre ware” category where manufacturers are in an arms race to build the fastest tyres. Same technical regulations otherwise, yet, the pole time of 2:01.7 from last year’s Suzuka 10 Hours was over 6 seconds slower than the GT300 pole time from that year’s Suzuka 300km.

Not Just Another GT3 Race

While the Spa 24 Hours field exclusively features race cars from the FIA GT3 category, each derived from mass-produced sports cars, the Suzuka 10 Hours is also open to a number of other vehicles that are as fast over a single lap as a GT3 car, yet does so in a different way.

There is one car in the field built on the unique Mother Chassis platform, launched in 2015 as an alternative to GT3 cars for teams in Super GT’s GT300 category. Unlike a GT3 car, the Mother Chassis car shares almost no common components with the road-going vehicle – it is more of a “super silhouette” car.

These Mother Chassis (MC) cars have a number of common components such as a 4.5-litre V8 engine, a six-speed sequential gearbox, and a state-of-the-art carbon monocoque built by Dome Racing. Around these and a number of other spec parts, teams are encouraged to build their own unique interpretations of the Mother Chassis concept, using whichever production car silhouette they so choose.

The advantages to the Mother Chassis platform are a lighter car with more downforce and aerodynamic potential, while the drawbacks include less horsepower and no access to driver aids found on GT3 cars, which can make these cars extremely difficult to drive at the limit for a less-experienced gentleman racer.

The race is also open to the original designs of the JAF-GT300 category, though none are entered. JAF-GT300 cars are built by manufacturers, using the frame of the original production vehicle, and powered by any choice of engine within that manufacturer’s range of powerplants, including hybrids. These cars can be developed at-will and are even more extreme in theory than a GT3 or Mother Chassis car.

Championship implications beyond IGTC

The field features 25 teams representing the eight manufacturers participating in the Intercontinental GT Challenge. The top ten IGTC-nominated teams and their drivers score points per the FIA top ten standard: 25 points for victory, 18 points for second, 15 points for third, then 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1 for the rest of the top ten. There are no bonus points awarded at ¼ or ½ distance like at Spa.

In the IGTC Manufacturers’ Championship, the top two cars for each eligible manufacturer score points, if one manufacturer’s IGTC cars finish first and second, that would yield a total of 43 points.

But this race is also a Special Stage in the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series championship, wherein teams from the series that take part can score points towards the ST-X Class championship! (“ST-X” is Super Taikyu’s special handle for the exact same GT3 cars, similar to “GT Daytona” in IMSA or “SP9” in VLN.)

Each team in Super Taikyu scores a point just for finishing a race. For races between 5-12 hours long, the winning team also earns an additional 30 points for their result, then it’s 22.5 for second, 18 for third, then 15, 12, 9, 6, 4.5, 3, and 1.5 for the rest of the top ten finishers. All this, in addition to special cash prizes to the top three teams from the series.

It’s a lot to keep up with, and though we’ve tried to explain it as best as possible, it’d be entirely understandable if some of these ground rules are hard to grasp even after the first attempt. Our hope is that this will enhance your enjoyment of the race.

Images courtesy of the SRO