It’s been referred to as the “Great Grassroots Race” by racing fans across Japan; an amateur-driven, production-based endurance sports car racing series where independent teams and drivers of all skill levels engage in friendly competition. The Super Taikyu Series can lay claim to being the largest Pro-am endurance racing series across Asia in terms of participation and attendance. And at the very least, it is the oldest operating sports car championship in Japan, predating the professional-oriented, manufacturer-driven Super GT Series.
There are fair comparisons to be made with other amateur-driven endurance series around the world, such as the Nürburgring Langstrecken Serie (NLS), and the 24H Series by Creventic – but Super Taikyu has a truly unique presence in its own right. Over a span of thirty years, Super Taikyu has built up a small, yet loyal following of grassroots racing enthusiasts – which has now spread to all corners of the world in recent years.
Where else could GT3 cars race on the same track as road-going compact cars? Where else could enthusiastic clubman racers – including the president of one of Japan’s largest automobile companies – battle for position with some of the best drivers in Super GT and Super Formula, as well as the former and future stars of Japanese motorsport?
“Having fun is the main objective in this race.” This is the primary focus of the series, as stated by the Super Taikyu Organisation (STO, for short) that serves as the promoter of the Super Taikyu Series.This is still a competition, of course. Many teams commit to running a full season with the aim of winning the season championship in their respective class.
But it’s not all just about battling for the top ranking: The primary goal in the eyes of the STO is for its participants to race fairly and show impeccable sportsmanship; for professional and amateur racers to form a common bond and build each other up, both as competitors and as individuals, in a relaxed and friendly paddock atmosphere that is unique to Super Taikyu – much like a gathering of close friends at a car meet.
The Classes and Cars
The Super Taikyu Series regularly draws over 50 entries per race meeting, fielding cars ranging from the evergreen GT3, GT4, and TCR commercial racing vehicles that stand atop the series’ class hierarchy, to a wide range of (mostly) Japanese domestic market vehicles in the series’ production classes, most of which have been part of the series since its inception.
As of 2021, there are nine classes in total:
ST-X: FIA GT3 homologated racing vehicles (introduced in 2011)
ST-Z: SRO GT4 homologated racing vehicles (introduced in 2017)
ST-TCR: TCR homologated racing vehicles (introduced in 2017)
ST-1: Approved vehicles with an effective displacement of 3,501cc or above
ST-2: 2,001-3,500cc production vehicles, 4WD and front-wheel drive
ST-3: 2,001-3,500cc production vehicles, rear-wheel drive
ST-4: 1,501-2,000cc production vehicles
ST-5: Production vehicles with 1,500cc or below
ST-Q: Special, non-homologation racing vehicles not belonging to any other class (introduced in 2021)
The production cars in ST-2 through ST-5 in particular, have a very limited range of available modifications available to them in the technical regulations: Commercially-available aftermarket performance parts such as suspension and aero kits, brakes, exhaust, and cooling systems – plus the essential racing modifications such as a roll cage and other safety equipment.
That philosophy is technically still true in ST-1, which is the former top class in Super Taikyu for the most powerful Japanese sports cars. Within the last decade or more, ST-1 has been opened up to include racing-prepared vehicles such as the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo, and other one-make championship cars that wouldn’t fit into any of the other classes.
And this year, the addition of the ST-Q class gives teams the chance to field prototype racing vehicles outside of homologation. Think of it as an equivalent to the SP-X class in the Nürburgring 24 Hour Race.
By the way, unlike the NLS and N24, which have separate production classes for naturally-aspirated and turbocharged vehicles, turbocharged petrol cars are given a displacement multiplier of 1.7 (a rule from the days of Group N racing) to determine which class they will enter. Ultimately, the STO makes the final decision on which cars end up in which category, and can add additional conditions (minimum weight adjustments, maximum tyre width, maximum fuel capacity, etc.) to balance them out if needed.
Every car in every class is supplied by a spec tyre supplier. In 2021, Hankook Tire becomes the new tyre supplier to the series that will be known, for sponsorship reasons, as the Super Taikyu Series Powered by Hankook.
To encourage amateur participation in the top classes of ST-X, ST-Z, and ST-TCR, the STO has built its own driver categorisation platform, independent of the FIA’s platform that’s used in nearly every other pro-am category. In those three classes, the first driver on the team – listed as “Driver A” – must be a true amateur driver, designated as a Gentleman driver under the STO platform. The rest of the team can be constructed of drivers with Gentleman, Expert, and Platinum ratings, with no other restrictions.
Platinum drivers consist of the top drivers from Japan, with proven track records in GT500, Super Formula, even internationally in top series such as F1, WEC’s all-pro categories, IndyCar, etc.
The Expert rating is for drivers who don’t fit into either of the two previous categories, and is similar to the FIA’s Silver rating – but deliberately more ambiguous, leaving behind the contentious “Super Silver” debates that often come up in series that use the FIA’s system and instead embracing the wide range of driver skill that it encompasses.
Since there are no such requirements in the production classes, this leads to a greater number of professional drivers choosing to race in those categories, amongst the amateurs, for personal enjoyment. It’s not uncommon to see champions and race winners from Super GT and Super Formula racing down in ST-2, ST-3, or ST-4 – but not so many that it takes away from the clubman and amateur drivers that are the heartbeat of those categories.
Super Taikyu races are held across the six major motor racing circuits in Japan, as timed events. Most of these events consist of three-hour and five-hour races.
The grid is set in qualifying practice, where the aggregate times of each team’s first and second drivers (Driver A and Driver B) are used to determine the grid order. That means in the top three classes, the designated Gentleman “Driver A” will be responsible for qualifying their car as much as one of their more experienced teammates. Beyond that, additional qualifying practices are held afterwards for additional drivers on each team to meet a minimum time and qualify to take part in the race.
Multiple classes of cars are then grouped together on the starting grid. Through 2020, Group 1 comprised of all classes from ST-X through ST-3, and Group 2 comprised of the ST-4 and ST-5 classes.
This year, Group 1 will be comprised of ST-X, ST-Z, ST-TCR, and ST-1, while the remaining four classes will comprise Group 2.
Most weekend formats include a single race, usually a five-hour race with all classes competing at once. At smaller tracks such as Sportsland Sugo and Okayama International Circuit, they tend to run a double-header format of two three-hour races, where the aforementioned Group 1 and Group 2 would each run their own race.
Over the course of the race, teams will have to make at least two pit stops with driver changes. In the top three classes, the Gentleman “Driver A” must drive for at least 50 minutes or 20 percent of the scheduled distance, whichever is larger. Platinum drivers, in any class, have a maximum driving time of 40 percent of the scheduled race distance.
Teams are limited to seven pit crew members for a race meeting, and only five crew members can work on the car at a time – but there is no minimum pit stop time as seen in other championships.
The ultimate challenge of sports car racing is the 24-hour race, and the Super Taikyu Series’ crown jewel event is the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours, held at Fuji Speedway since its revival in 2018. It’s the only 24-hour endurance race held in Japan, and one that not only attracts one-off entries of drivers and teams alike, but also attracts the largest crowds of any Super Taikyu event. Typically, fans will get together for camping, outdoor barbecues, and fireworks shows – all while a field of 50+ vehicles races past them, not unlike the N24 around which it is modeled!
This year’s Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours is scheduled for 22-23 May.
The Battle for the Championship
At the end of the season, a champion in each class is crowned. Super Taikyu has a unique championship points system where teams are rewarded not only for winning races, but also consistently finishing each race, and especially inside the top ten in class.
The points payout for three-hour races, is 20 – 15 – 12 – 10 – 8 – 6 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 for 1st through 10th place.
In five-hour races, the points payout is multiplied: 30 – 22.5 – 18 – 15 – 12 – 9 – 6 – 4.5 – 3 – 1.5.
And the most points are available from the Fuji 24 Hours, where the points payout goes up even further: 45 – 35 – 27 – 23 – 18 – 13 – 9 – 7 – 5 – 3.
In addition, teams who win pole position in their class earn an additional two championship points.
Beginning in 2017, Super Taikyu has added a Success Weight system similar to the one used in Super GT, but one that is generally less aggressive. Success Weight is only paid out to the top three finishers in each class (at maximum), the weight given is scaled for each class, and is only based on the team’s three previous race results.
The team with the most points in their respective class at the end of all six races is declared the series champion, with championship tiebreakers going in order of most wins, 2nd places, 3rd places, etc. In 2020, the Series Champion earned a prize of ¥1,000,000 JPY. Depending on the number of teams registered in each class, cash prizes can be paid out to as many as the top six teams in each class.
How To Watch
Super Taikyu has always been a competitor-driven grassroots series, first and foremost. But spectators still come to every race. In 2018 and 2019, the series set new attendance records with a total of over 100,000 spectators across all days of competition. The novel coronavirus pandemic has obviously led to restricted attendance for all events, but hopefully someday soon, a safe environment will be in place for attendance records to climb higher than before.
Thankfully, as many endurance racing series have done, the Super Taikyu Organisation has made great strides in broadcasting their races to those fans who aren’t at the venue. This has been one of the biggest driving factors in Super Taikyu growing a larger following both domestically and overseas.
Since 2017, and only with the exception of last year’s Fuji 24h due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Super Taikyu has made all of its races available to watch anywhere in the world on their official YouTube channel – live and on-demand, from flag-to-flag, with Japanese commentary from presenters such as MC Yuko Kazuno, and veteran driver Hideo Fukuyama.
There’s never been a better time to start watching if you haven’t started already!
Images courtesy of the Super Taikyu Organisation (STO)