Dear reader, I truly wish, that as an avid follower of Japanese motorsport for over half a decade if not longer, that we were in the midst of talking about how fantastic this year of racing has been. Obviously, a terrible global pandemic has robbed us of that.
In place of the seasons that were envisioned when the new year began, I wish that I could, in the goodness of my heart, pour all of my heart and soul and energy into preparing you for the restructured seasons that will, good health willing, happen later on.
To whomever may be reading this, hello, I hope that the new year is spent filled with love from your family – be it the family that you’re born into, or the family that you’ve found.
To the reader, thank you for consuming and promoting the content that Super GT World has put out in 2019. Be it here on this blog, be it on SNS via Twitter, or via my contributions to DailySportsCar throughout the 2019 season, where the majority of my written work now resides.
And that brings me to try and summarize the year that I’ve experienced in 2019, a year of many major milestones in my life, both as a professional, and as a person.
And no bigger milestone was had than my very first venture to Japan to cover the Suzuka 10 Hours in August. Not only was this my first time being invited to cover a major motor race in person, away from the dark confines of home. A long way from home, in fact, my first time ever venturing out to Japan or even outside the United States at all. If you can believe it, every time I’ve liveblogged a race, it was well into the night and almost to the break of dawn from my own home.
But nothing could compare to being there and experiencing the sights and sounds in person, and while I’ve visited Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Barber Motorsports Park, and even the Indianapolis Motor Speedway three times as a spectator, Suzuka Circuit has a unique aura all to its own that can only be partially captured when watching a race there on television. You can feel the history within its roadways consume you, just as it did when I first made it there.
And the event itself met all expectations, and wow, there are a lot of people to thank individually no matter how long and how short our interactions were, because, truth be told, just the acknowledgement from peers that I look up to that I’m finally meeting face-to-face was enough to really shake me to my core that I’d really made it. I had no idea that my journey would ever take me to where I’d actually make it to Japan as a car racing writer after years of trying to find a purpose outside the mundane day-to-day working life.
But, safe to say, the Suzuka 10 Hours itself was a great experience, from the first practice and the Suzuka Motorsports Festival and parade from the circuit to Aeon Mall Suzuka, to the chequered flag at the end of the ten hour main event.
What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with the city of Yokkaichi as quickly as I did. Yes, it was a bit fortunate to have a hotel right in the heart of the city by the train station that made things really easy to get to – but truth be told, there was a certain intimacy and convenience about the way the city was planned around the station that I really, really missed when I came back home.
Suwa Park, in the wee hours of the morning, may be the most serene place I could place myself in when I had nothing to do on my first morning in Japan but roam the city to myself and just take in the experience. The station and the market square were a joy to wander at night, as well. It’s strange, being romantic about what is very much an industrial, working-class city just because it was far away.
And I tried to arrive and take it all in with no illusions about where I was staying, after all, Japan is not immune to the same socio-political problems that we have at home. At the same time, it was awesome to take in another slice of the world beyond the friendly confines that I already knew.
And seeing so many cool cars – not so much the race cars as the civilian cars spotted while driving to and from the event – it was awesome, just awesome beyond what words could say.
Make no mistake: I want to be back in Japan in 2020, and if it isn’t at the Suzuka 10 Hours, I’d love to come to the Fuji 500km on Golden Week, the Suzuka 300km in late may, or the Sugo 300km in September after the Olympic rush ends.
Next year, I want to arrive with more knowledge of the native language, that much is a given. And, if I come back to Suzuka, I wish to fulfill a promise I could not do last time: To leave a flower for those lost within those hallowed roads of Suzuka. Jules Bianchi, Daijiro Kato, Hitoshi Ogawa, Osamu Nakajima.
When I was back home, I was treated to another stellar Super GT racing that saw solid racing from the Fuji 500km to the Fuji Dream Race. At long last, the dream of seeing a Super GT and DTM crossover event happened, and it delivered on every front from a competition standpoint. This along with a compelling championship arc that went down to the very last race are the essences of Super GT.
I also got to cover more of the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series and bring that pro-am championship to new audiences, and the Super Formula Championship continued to gain traction in the eyes of audiences worldwide, all of which I am entirely grateful to have the opportunity to continue to do.
I worried I could never continue this longer than a year before my candle burned out. Here I am after three years of doing largely this, and it never becomes less enjoyable to me. And I really, truly hope that the content I produce is enjoyable to you too. I always wish to be respectful to the devoted Japanese fans who consume the racing in person on a regular basis. And I want to continue to tell the unique and interesting stories that colour the lore of Super GT.
In no order, there are a ton of people that deserve individual thanks, and I know I won’t reach them all.
Christina Villar and Dr. Paul Ip at KCMG, who sponsored the Suzuka trip on my part and made it all possible. And by extension, the people that I interviewed: Katsumasa Chiyo, Joshua Burdon, Eduardo Liberati, Alexandre Imperatori, Andy Richardson, and Warren Tyrrell.
My second home at DailySportsCar – Graham Goodwin, Stephen Kilbey, and photographer Peter “Pedro” May.
John Hindhaugh and Eve Hewitt of Radio Show Limited – whose airwaves I still cannot believe I was able to grace in March when previewing the Super GT season that’s just passed in a stand-alone special.
Sam Collins, an even better person than a commentator, which speaks volumes. Tom Hornsby of the SRO. Circuit interpreter Sonia Ito. Drivers, Ronnie Quintarelli, Richard Lyons, Kei Cozzolino, Chris Buncombe, Tadasuke Makino. Photographer Tatsuya Endo, and the very nice woman who nicknamed me “Miku” in the media room, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten.
Narain Karthikeyan, Bertrand Baguette, and Shinya Sean Michimi, who I interviewed outside of the Suzuka 10 Hours. Ryan Smith of Corvette Racing, and Stephen Maguire of BMW North America.
My Motorsport 101 family: Louis Suddaby, Ryan King, Zoe Hamilton, Cam Buckley, Chris DeHarde, and of course, friendly neighborhood Andre Harrison, and the man who brought me into the fold to begin with, my co-host emeritus Adam Johnson.
Hayley and Chris, Pat and Josh and Danny and Tommy, Misty and Yvanka as well, my network of car racing support and understanding.
Hazel Southwell of Inside Electric (among so many others), Elizabeth Blackstock of Jalopnik, and someone I’ve known for years, now the happiest and most fulfilled they’ve ever been, Remy Connors – three people who inspire me a lot with all of their work, past and present, and their relentless humanity.
Jens, one of my best friends and the person who really inspires and drives me to keep going in this sector. Genuinely one of the most knowledgeable Japanese motorsport superfans there is, who deserves the world.
Pierre-Laurent Ribault, who voluntarily lent his photography skills to provide images to the work I’ve produced in 2019 – I can never repay that enough with my gratitude.
To my coolest and sweetest partner I’ve ever known, Vincent.
And lastly to my brother Gaven, my sister Melissa, my niece Olivia, my grandfather Maurice, and my mother Barbara and father Sean and uncle Brendan.
Let’s do this again, even better than before, into next year and beyond.
Sincerely, R.J. O’Connell Founder and Editor, Super GT World.
It seems surreal to announce this, but yes, Super GT World will be in attendance to cover the 48th SMBC/BH Auction Suzuka 10 Hours on August 23-25, on location at Suzuka Circuit.
This adventure will be one of many firsts. My first time ever covering a motor race on location as a member of the press rather than from my own home at Super GT World HQ. And, crucially, my first time ever venturing outside the United States for any length of time, a terrifying enough prospect with the travel anxiety that comes with it.
But this is one that I sincerely hope will be worth it. To be able to take in the sport that I love, this close to the action, is a dream come true.
There are many amazing drivers who I dearly wish to meet and talk to in person. Many amazing fans from the locals to the international travelers. In all of the planning and preparation, my sincerest hope is to be a positive presence at the event and to help elevate this event and the incredible people taking part, in the eyes of those following around the world.
Sincerely, -R.J. O’Connell Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Super GT World
What comes next in the racing career of Takashi Kogure?
On Friday at the Tokyo Auto Salon, Honda presented their 2019 roster of drivers and riders for top-level Japanese motorsport – and with that announcement, Kogure was missing for the first time since 2003.
For the first time in over 15 years, the 38-year-old from Kanagawa, Japan will not represent Honda in either the GT500 class of Super GT, nor the Super Formula Championship. He is not the first veteran Super GT driver to step away this off-season, with João Paulo Lima de Oliveira leaving Nissan and Super GT after 13 seasons earlier this month, but like Oliveira, Kogure is seemingly ending a major chapter in his racing life – and now the question is where he’ll continue to race in 2019.