On Sunday morning, before the start of the 2018 Autobacs Super GT Series opening round at Okayama International Circuit, GT Association (GTA) Chairman, Masaaki Bandoh, spoke to the Japanese media in his first pre-race press conference of 2018.
Bandoh-san’s main focus for his press conference was to outline Super GT’s future plans in their collaboration with the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) championship, including joint-promoted exhibition races that could take place as soon as 2019, and the proposal of a “world championship” between the two series in the near future.
The ultimate goal for Super GT’s collaboration with DTM, Bandoh says, is a global championship between DTM and the GT500 class of Super GT. It’s likely this global championship would be held separately to Super GT, to preserve the ultra-competitive GT300 category which makes Super GT unique to the DTM.
But before such a race can be held, DTM must fully align itself with the Class One technical regulations – which the German series intends to do from 2019 – and stage a joint-promoted “World Final Race”.
Chairman Bandoh stated that in order for a proposed world championship series to work, the manufacturers from Japan and Germany must commit to contain costs. Already, the aero development for the GT500 class is frozen for the 2018 season, but in DTM, there is increased demand for development of front and rear fenders, and side skirts as well.
DTM has plans to use a single-spec version of the two-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engines from 2019, but Chairman Bandoh has stated that the GTA would prefer to allow the manufacturers to develop their own engines – as it is one of the key attractions of Super GT. While Super GT wants to unify their technical regulations with DTM, they want to do so properly, and contain costs in doing so, without compromising development.
The goal of a long-awaited joint race between Super GT and DTM is projected for 2019, according to Chairman Bandoh. The plan is for two exhibition races to be held, one held at Suzuka Circuit, the other at the Hockenheimring in Germany. Currently, the plan is for the DTM and GT500 cars to use DTM’s unified 2018 aero kit – though how that would affect the GT500 cars remains to be seen.
Honda will be allowed to use their mid-engined NSX-GT in the exhibition races, but it’s likely that a world championship series under the unified Class One regulations would require Honda to develop a front-engined car.
For 2018, Super GT made changes to the Success Ballast fuel flow restrictions in the GT500 class, as well as changes to the qualifying format.
Chairman Bandoh used data gathered from the races in 2017 to decide on tightening up the three-stage fuel flow restrictions as applied to the GT500 Success Ballast, saying that the fuel flow restrictions did not have a significant impact in performance at certain events last year. The rapid development of Turbulent Jet Ignition (TJI) or “pre-chamber” systems in each engine is also believed to have an impact on the fuel flow restriction adjustments for 2018.
As for the changes in qualifying format, the Q2 sessions were shortened to make the battle for pole positions in both classes much more exciting and challenging, even on an empty track. The qualifying session at Okayama the day before, however, exposed a flaw that some teams were not able to sufficiently warm up their tyres for a proper attack lap – meaning that the GTA may consider, in the future, making modifications to the itinerary depending on the weather.
2018 saw the introduction of a proposed change to GT300 qualifying, which will split the 29-car field into two groups for the Q1 session at certain venues. This format is expected to be tested at Sportsland SUGO for the 300km race this September, with the plan of introducing it at all events from 2019.
The arrival of 2009 Formula 1 World Champion, Jenson Button, is the catalyst for Super GT to be recognized worldwide and expand its fanbase internationally, says Chairman Bandoh.
Because of the influx of fans at each event brought on by Button’s full-time series debut, the GT Association has stepped up security in the paddock and during the pit walk, for the safety of the drivers and all guests & visitors at each Super GT event. As an example, during the driver introduction ceremony, the top three teams were asked to go to the podium for their intros.
Chairman Bandoh then addressed a talking point that has come up in regards to recent changes in Formula 1: The future of the Race Queens. Bandoh-san says that he completely understands the reasons behind the ban of Grid Girls in Formula 1, citing the increased discussion over discrimination of women in Europe and North America.
Race Queens, however, will not be banned from Super GT, because unlike Grid Girls in Formula 1, which were hired by the race organisers on a one-off or part-time basis, the Race Queens representing the teams are models and entertainers, employed as full-time members of the team.
“There is a different historical background and principles, and the women working as race queens take huge pride in their work,” says Chairman Bandoh. “As a promoter, the GTA is regulating that there isn’t excessive sexual exposure.”
Finally, in a topic that Super GT World itself engaged on quite a bit in the lead-up to the Saturday morning practice session, the availability of Super GT’s Live Timing App, Chairman Bandoh says that there is currently no plans for the series to make their premium Live Timing app available for Android devices.
Super GT’s Live Timing App, first introduced in 2014, is developed by aZillion Co. Ltd, who also develop the Super Formula Live Timing App – which runs on the exact same software, yet astonishingly, is available for iOS and Android and does not require a yearly subscription to access.