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2020 Super GT Series Field Guide: GT300 Class

Three different rulesets rolled into one 30 car class, RJ O'Connell digs in

Thirty cars are signed up to race in the 2020 Autobacs Super GT Series’ GT300 class and 29 of them will be on the grid for the season-opening round at Fuji Speedway on 19 July. That entry list is as follows…

GT300 Class
#2 – Cars Tokai Dream28 – Lotus Evora MC (Yokohama) – Hiroki Katoh / Masataka Yanagida
#4 – Goodsmile Racing & Team UKYO – Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Yokohama) – Nobuteru Taniguchi / Tatsuya Kataoka
#5 – Team Mach – Toyota MC86 (Yokohama) – Natsu Sakaguchi / Yuya Hiraki
#6 – Advics muta racing INGING – Toyota MC86 (Bridgestone) – Ryohei Sakaguchi / Kazuto Kotaka
#7 – BMW Team Studie x CSL – BMW M6 GT3 (Yokohama) – Seiji Ara / Tomohide Yamaguchi
#9 – Pacific-D’station Racing – Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT3 (Michelin) – Tomonobu Fujii / Kei Cozzolino
#10 – Gainer – Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (Yokohama) – Kazuki Hoshino / Keishi Ishikawa
#11 – Gainer – Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (Dunlop) – Katsuyuki Hiranaka / Hironobu Yasuda
#18 – Team UPGarage – Honda NSX GT3 (Yokohama) – Takashi Kobayashi / Kosuke Matsuura
#21 – Audi Team Hitotsuyama – Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Yokohama) – Shintaro Kawabata / Tsubasa Kondo
#22 – R’Qs Motor Sports – Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Yokohama) – Hisashi Wada / Masaki Jyonai
#25 – Hoppy Team Tsuchiya – Porsche 911 GT3-R (Yokohama) – Takamitsu Matsui / Kimiya Sato
#30 – apr – Toyota GR Sport Prius PHV GT (Yokohama) – Hiroaki Nagai / Manabu Orido
#31 – apr – Toyota GR Sport Prius PHV GT (Bridgestone) – Koki Saga / Yuhki Nakayama
#33 – X Works – Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Yokohama) – Shaun Thong / Takuro Shinohara
#34 – Modulo Drago Corse – Honda NSX GT3 (Yokohama) – Ryo Michigami / Jake Parsons
#48 – NILZZ Racing – Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (Yokohama) – Yuki Tanaka / Taiyou Iida
#50 – Arnage Racing – Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Yokohama) – Masaki Kano / Ryosei Yamashita
#52 – Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave – Toyota GR Supra GT300 (Bridgestone) – Hiroki Yoshida / Kohta Kawaai
#55 – Autobacs Racing Team Aguri – Honda NSX GT3 (Bridgestone) – Shinichi Takagi / Toshiki Oyu
#56 – Kondo Racing – Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (Yokohama) – Kiyoto Fujinami / João Paulo de Oliveira
#60 – LM Corsa – Lexus RC F GT3 (Michelin) – Hiroki Yoshimoto / Shunsuke Kohno
#61 – R&D Sport – Subaru BRZ R&D Sport (Dunlop) – Takuto Iguchi / Hideki Yamauchi
#65 – K2 R&D LEON Racing – Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Bridgestone) – Naoya Gamou / Togo Suganami
#87 – JLOC – Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Yokohama) – Tsubasa Takahashi / Shinnosuke Yamada
#88 – JLOC – Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Yokohama) – Takashi Kogure / Yuya Motojima
#96 – K-Tunes Racing – Lexus RC F GT3 (Dunlop) – Morio Nitta / Sena Sakaguchi
#244 – Max Racing – Lexus RC F GT3 (Yokohama) – Rintaro Kubo / Atsushi Miyake
#360 – Tomei Sports – Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (Yokohama) – Takayuki Aoki / Atsushi Tanaka

It is another unique grid that only GT300 can offer. Commercially-available FIA GT3 cars still make up the bulk of the field, but they’re mixed in with two types of vehicles unique to Super GT – originally-constructed JAF-GT300 cars, and Mother Chassis silhouette cars. This year, there are 14 different models and 12 makes on the grid.

And the tyre battle has also heated up this year, with Michelin re-entering GT300 competition full-time, supplying 2 teams. Yokohama will supply 20 teams, Bridgestone, believed to have the best all-around tyre, supplies 5 teams, and Dunlop supplies 3.

Combined with a unique Balance of Performance (BoP) administered by Super GT and the SRO, and a more aggressive Success Ballast system, this GT300 field promises to be extremely competitive in 2020. And even as pandemic-related lockdowns have altered the grid somewhat to start the season, there is absolutely no shortage of world-class teams or drivers in this field.

Starting off with the four JAF-GT300 cars – which are all built around production car mainframes, can be modified and developed freely throughout the season, feature driver assists such as anti-lock brakes and traction contro,- and are typically lighter and have more downforce than their GT3 counterparts, at the expense of less horsepower.

Subaru

The turbocharged, flat-4 EJ20-powered #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport set the fastest outright time in pre-season testing at Fuji.

The inconsistent pace and sub-standard reliability have been the BRZ’s weak points for years, which have kept them from mounting a serious championship challenge. But Subaru and R&D Sport have promised greater efficiency and reliability, and are confident that the blue boxer-engined car can finally win its first title after eight up-and-down seasons. There’s no complaining about the driver lineup, Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi are two of the best and brightest talents in GT300, nor about their Dunlop tyres, which particularly excel in wet conditions.

Toyota

The other three JAF-GT300s are Toyotas, all of which are powered by the 5.4 litre 2UR-GSE V8 engine sourced from the Lexus RC F GT3. One of which is the awesome GR Supra GT300 constructed by Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave.

GreenBrave’s new V8 Supra was all the rage from the moment it broke cover in the winter. Running on Bridgestone tyres, it looks like a genuine contender right out of the box, setting fast times and running trouble-free throughout pre-season testing. Veteran Hiroki Yoshida and rookie Kohta Kawaai form an intriguing lineup of drivers, they certainly have the speed and the skill to navigate the new Supra to a sensational first victory for this still relatively new team.

The other two Toyota JAF-GT300 models are the two Toyota GR Sport Prius PHV apr GTs, fielded by apr Racing, one of the most storied and successful teams in GT300. After a dismal debut year for the new front-engined Prius GTs, both cars were given a 50kg weight reduction for 2020, which should certainly help in year two.

The Bridgestone-clad, candy apple red #31 Prius is apr’s Pro car, leading the charge with a strong driver lineup of 2016 GT300 runner-up Koki Saga (best known for his elaborate costumed shenanigans in pre-race ceremonies) and 2013 champion Yuhki Nakayama. Mated to the 2UR-GSE engine in this car is a capacitor-driven hybrid powertrain. This gives the car added acceleration- and it certainly adds to the V8-powered Prius GT’s reputation as being the most extreme transformation from mundane civilian car to a thoroughbred racing machine.

The Yokohama-clad, fluorescent yellow #30 Prius retains its Pro-Am duo of gentleman racer Hiroaki Nagai, and legendary two-time GT300 champion Manabu “Max” Orido. Unlike its sister car, the #30 Prius does not have a hybrid system installed, it just runs on the power of its 5.4 litre, naturally-aspirated V8.

Mother Chassis

The GT300 Mother Chassis platform is down in numbers again sadly, down to just three cars. All MC cars are still built around a common carbon fibre monocoque constructed by Dome and feature a list of common parts including an ageing-yet-dependable 4.5 litre ex-Nissan V8 producing over 400 horsepower, a spec rear diffuser, and a Hewland six-speed sequential gearbox. Lightweight and gentle on tyres, but less powerful than GT3 cars and sometimes prone to fits of unreliability, is the book on these cars.

Advics muta racing INGING could be the class of this trio on their debut as an independent entry, as their Bridgestone-clad Toyota MC86 built by Dome was seriously quick throughout testing. They have an ace up their sleeve in chief engineer Kotaro Tanaka to help the car’s development. And they’ve picked a fascinating lineup of journeyman vet Ryohei Sakaguchi and TGR Driver Challenge prospect Kazuto Kotaka to drive this stunning black and gold Dome-Toyota.

The other MC86 is in the hands of Fukuoka-based privateers Team Mach, adorned in its traditional Mach GoGoGo/Speed Racer Mach 5 colours. Young drivers Natsu Sakaguchi and Yuya Hiraki scored a breakthrough podium finish last year, the team’s first in fifteen years. Now, Team Mach’s owner and chief engineer Tetsuji Tamanaka is determined to see his team reach the top step this year.

Last but not least is the lone Mooncraft-Lotus Evora MC for experienced campaigners Cars Tokai Dream28. Perhaps the biggest change for this team is their first genuine all-pro driver lineup in years, following Kazuho Takahashi’s retirement from driving. Ageless wonder Hiroki Katoh and two-time GT500/GT300 Champion Masataka Yanagida, the latter returning to Super GT after two years’ hiatus, make up a strong duo that can truly realize the mid-engined Evora’s on-track potential.

Honda

The first of the domestic-badged GT3 cars, the Honda NSX GT3 won its first race last season, and Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA) collected the car’s first GT300 Championships in 2019.

ARTA are primed for another run at the GT300 title with their Bridgestone-clad, black and orange NSX GT3. Reigning two-time champion Shinichi Takagi hasn’t slowed down an ounce at 50 years young. With Nirei Fukuzumi moving up to GT300, 21-year-old Honda young driver Toshiki Oyu steps up to replace him, making his sportscar debut and looking every bit as quick as his predecessor. It could be another great season for ARTA, under the supervision of the legendary “Drift King” Keiichi Tsuchiya, who runs the GT300 side of the operation.

Modulo Drago Corse fared well in pre-season testing themselves, setting the second-fastest time in testing. They hope to make a leap forward to victory in year three, with owner/driver/Honda legend Ryo Michigami still leading the team, alongside his new co-star, young Australian Jake Parsons.

Completing the Honda trio is Team UPGarage, who will lean on the experience of veteran drivers and GT500 race winners Takashi Kobayashi and Kosuke Matsuura, and an overhauled technical staff, to improve after a somewhat disappointing 2019 season.

Lexus

We were meant to have four Lexus RC F GT3s on the grid this year, but sadly, Thai squad Arto Ping An Team Thailand cannot enter due to travel restrictions for most of their key personnel. Of the three Lexus customer teams that are on the grid, they’re all quality teams.

Last year’s runners-up in the GT300 Championship, K-Tunes Racing have returned with a new tyre supplier, switching from Bridgestone to Dunlop rubber. But the successful lineup of three-time GT300 Champion Morio Nitta and sophomore sensation Sena Sakaguchi, the drivers that won two of the first three races to open 2019, remain intact. They’re expected to be among the front-runners for the GT300 title again this year.

LM Corsa were one of the two teams that have switched to Michelin tyres this year. After a breakthrough season in 2019, the number 60 Syntium crew are back for more in 2020 with veteran ace Hiroki Yoshimoto still leading the charge, and rookie driver Shunsuke Kohno replacing GT500-bound Ritomo Miyata.

Newcomers Max Racing step up from Super Taikyu’s ST-X class into GT300, another new entry this season. Rintaro Kubo and rookie Atsushi Miyake, two undervalued young talents, will drive the bright orange Takanoko-no-Yu Lexus – hoping to steer them to a strong debut season and compete for top-ten finishes throughout the season.

Nissan

Regrettably, the five Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3s in Super GT now comprise nearly all of Nissan’s diminished GT3 customer racing efforts. It’s a shame because the GT-R still has the potential to win many races – as seen in GT300, where in 2019, they won three races last year.

Gainer will field two GT-Rs again in 2020, led by the Dunlop-clad #11 Gainer TanaX GT-R for Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Hironobu Yasuda, winners of two races last season, and two of the most experienced and successful drivers in the GT300 class. 2008 GT300 Champion Yasuda is in pursuit of his second title, while Hiranaka is still chasing his first after several near-misses – including last season, where he and Yasuda were third in the Drivers’ Championship.

Their sister car is the Yokohama-clad #10 TanaX Itochu Enex with Impul GT-R, driven by two-time GT300 champion Kazuki Hoshino, and his young counterpart Keishi Ishikawa. Expectations are definitely heightened for this grey and white #10 Nissan after a winning season in 2019 – they just have to be able to consistently score points.

Kondo Racing return with a whole new lineup for their #56 car in GT300, as former Nissan young driver Kiyoto Fujinami will be joined by 2010 Super Formula Champion João Paulo de Oliveira, replacing Kazuki Hiramine and Sacha Fenestraz. It’s Fujinami’s first full-time drive in two years, and for Brazil’s Oliveira, a welcome return to the Nissan family after a frustrating 2019 with D’station Racing.

While Tomei Sports aren’t on the level of a Gainer or Kondo Racing, they’re among the strongest of GT300’s remaining Pro-Am teams, often fighting in the top ten with the right conditions. To start the 2020 season, they’ll line up with 2001 GT300 Champion Takayuki Aoki and gentleman racer Atsushi Tanaka in the black and red #360 RunUp GT-R.

Fellow privateers NILZZ Racing Factory were the last to upgrade to the 2018-spec GT-R, just this season. The new-look #48 Shokumou K’s Frontier GT-R will be driven by clubman racers Yuki (Masaki) Tanaka and Taiyou Iida.

Mercedes-AMG

2020 sees the Japanese debut of the new Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo. With its aggressive styling and comprehensive improvements from the German manufacturer, the revamped Mercedes will look to build upon a solid resumé in GT300 over the last four seasons, winning back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018. Mercedes’ two All-Pro teams in particular were strong in the pre-season test at Fuji, Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO, and K2 R&D LEON Racing.

Winners of the 2011, 2014, and 2017 GT300 championships, Goodsmile Racing & Team UKYO will look to continue its triennial dynasty in 2020. Team director Ukyo Katayama and owner Takanori Aki have built a world-class privateer racing team, certainly among the best on the entire GT300 grid. Their drivers, three-time champions Nobuteru “NOB” Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka, are by far the most experienced and successful duo on the grid today. And of course, they’ll have thousands of supporters from all around the world cheering them on along the way.

2018 GT300 Champions K2 R&D LEON Racing are another team to keep a close eye on. This is the first full season for the young and exciting driver lineup of the mega-fast Naoya Gamou and his new teammate, Togo Suganami. Two top-notch drivers, a quick car, and Bridgestone tyres make for a great all-around system that can easily mount another title challenge.

Mercedes also has two Pro-Am teams in the field with the new AMG GT3 Evo, as well. Arnage Racing retains their lineup of clubman drivers Masaki Kano and Ryosei Yamashita, the latter a true young amateur, to start the 2020 season.

R’Qs Motor Sports will once again be led by journeyman mega-veterans Hisashi Wada and Masaki “Guts” Jyonai, they missed the test at Fuji but will be ready to start the season, with the AMG GT3 Evo kit installed.

Lamborghini

Lamborghini are represented exclusively by Team JLOC this season, as they have been throughout much of Super GT’s 25-year history, in fact. It’ll be the first full season for the Huracán GT3 Evo that was introduced in Japan mid-way into 2019.

But in this first round, the other big focus is how COVID-19 related travel restrictions have altered the initial plans for Team JLOC.

The white #88 JLOC Huracán is still the team’s “A” car, and was driven to 7th in the standings last season by 2010 GT500 Champion Takashi Kogure and emerging GT300 ace Yuya Motojima. For 2020, the #88 car was to be driven by Kogure, and 2015 GT300 Champion André Couto, who moved over from the #87 car in a swap with Motojima. With Couto unable to travel to Japan from his home in Macau, Kogure and Motojima have been reunited to start the season.

The red #87 T-Dash Huracán, which won the Fuji 500 Miles last year, was to have Lamborghini Squadra Corse factory driver Dennis Lind partnering Motojima. Like Couto, Lind is not yet able to enter Japan, and with Motojima now in the #88, this car now has a totally different lineup of young Japanese drivers Tsubasa Takahashi (who drove this car full-time in 2019) and Shinnosuke Yamada, who was Team UPGarage’s third driver last year.

Audi

Sticking with Volkswagen Audi Group marques, Audi have yet to consistently rack up the success in Super GT that their GT3 customer racing efforts have found elsewhere, with just two race wins in the last eight seasons and none in the last three.

Like Lamborghini, their two customer teams also have also had to make some alterations for the first round.

Audi Team Hitotsuyama underwent major changes for 2020, partnering with last year’s GT500 champions, Team Le Mans. The lineup to start the season consists of former Team Taisan driver Shintaro Kawabata and two-time Porsche Carrera Cup champion Tsubasa Kondo – the latter of whom was brought in to replace the absent Audi Sport factory star, Christopher Mies.

Hong Kong’s X Works Racing go back to their roots with Audi, following a brilliant first season as a Nissan customer team, they’ll again wear the Neon Genesis Evangelion-inspired EVA Racing colours. Local hero Shaun Thong stayed in Japan over this time, and he’ll be joined by former Hitotsuyama third driver Takuro Shinohara to start the 2020 season.

Porsche

2020 sees the Super GT debut of the current Porsche 911 GT3-R Typ-991 “Gen 2” model that was introduced to the racing world last year. Historically, Porsche are one of the most successful marques in GT300 – but it’s now been eight years since their last victory and championship in the series.

Porsche will be represented by legendary privateers Tsuchiya Engineering, now entering as “Hoppy Team Tsuchiya”. 2020 marks a new chapter for the team under second-generation manager Takeshi Tsuchiya, after five seasons leading the Mother Chassis brigade. They’ve kept their 2019 driver lineup of 2016 GT300 Champion Takamitsu Matsui, and European-trained Kimiya Sato, now in their second season together. All the ingredients are in place for a Team Tsuchiya resurgence in 2020.

Aston Martin

Back for a second go-round is the second-generation Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT3, which looked competitive in the hands of D’station Racing last year, but fell victim to repeated strokes of bad luck and couldn’t muster a top ten finish.

For 2020, D’station has joined forces with privateers Pacific Racing, entering as “Pacific-D’station Racing”. Along with a restructured team, they’ve also made the switch to Michelin tyres in 2020. Veteran lead driver Tomonobu Fujii is the anchor of this squad. AMR factory driver Nicki Thiim’s absence will be filled for the first round by CarGuy Racing mainstay, Kei Cozzolino.

BMW

BMW’s ageing-yet-competitive M6 GT3 is back in Super GT this year, last seen in 2018 with ARTA, with the M4 GT3’s debut two years out on the horizon.

BMW Team Studie is back in GT300 after a two-year absence, partnering with legendary team owner Kazumichi Goh to form “BMW Team Studie x CSL.” The #7 Studie BMW M6 features a new Pro-Am driver lineup: 2004 Le Mans winner and Super GT veteran Seiji Ara as the pro, and the am driver is 47-year-old newcomer Tomohide Yamaguchi, the reigning Gentleman Class champion in Porsche Carrera Cup.