Tuesday, November 8, 2016

au Cerumo Supra GT500 - JGTC

Tokyo is without a doubt one of the best cities in the world for car spotting; from rare, limited edition European imports to the latest hypercar or impossible-to-find JDM gems, you can never know what's hiding behind the next corner. Same goes for motorsports: the main national carmakers combined have produced over the years some of the biggest racing icons the world has ever seen and, if you know where to look, it's not uncommon to spot some truly legendary from time to time.
Looks mega
Toyota Mega Web on the artificial island of Odaiba is one of these places: owned by the Nagoya based giant, it's a huge multi-level showroom with a game center and a ferry wheel annex. Beside showcasing almost all the models produced by the company for the visitors to see, the venue is also frequently used for promotional events. Few weeks ago Lexus hosted a talk-show with the current Super GT drivers and an old GT500 Supra machine was on display for the occasion.
This particular car was fielded by Team Cerumo for the 2004 edition of the Japan Gran Touring Championship, with veteran Yuji Tachikawa (also nicknamed as "Fuji Meister") and second driver Seiji Ara behind the wheel. This was also the last year for the series to be known as JGTC before being rebranded as Super GT from the following season in 2005. The car finished 5th overall in the championship and scored a win in the fifth round of the season.
JGTC, year 2004
This machine can be regarded as one of the very last, proper Japanese GT racers since, despite the visual look resembling their road going counterparts, the current Super GT cars are much closer to Le Mans prototypes in their construction and functionality.

This is pretty evident when comparing old footages from races back in the days: while today's cars are absolutely glued to the ground, always composed displaying unbelievable cornering speed, you could see the older cars struggling with traction exiting corners, losing balance during braking and locking wheels or spinning quite frequently.

A lightweight wide-body carbon construction and a massive rear wing, combined with a 6-speed sequential transaxle transmission and a turbocharged V8 engine made it for a true, pure GT machine package.

Some may be surprised to learn that the Supra didn't run the famous 2JZ engine, but the extremely loose JGTC regulations allowed teams to use engines from other cars as long as they were produced by the same manufacturer. Toyota opted for the 4.48 liter, 3UF-EZ engine, a bigger and more robust V8 that could be found on some of the big Toyota or Lexus cars. Power was restricted to 480ps by using two 29.6mm restrictors to comply with the series rules.
Yes, there is a V8 in there!
Tipping the scale at a mere 1,100kg the car is extremely light and adopted use of dry carbon wherever possible, including the rear windshield.

Stopping power was provided by massive, ventilated AP Racing brakes; no ABS, of course. The car was fitted with 18" Rays aluminum wheels, covered in 330/40 Bridgestone Potenza competition slicks front and rear. 

Although nowhere comparable to the multitude of fins and intricated aero details that we are used to see nowadays, the Supra had a pretty solid aero package completed, of course, by a flat bottom.
Got wing?
Weight reduction was taken to extremes, including drilling the already ultra light door handles.
It's all in the details
For those of you familiar with the JGTC/Super GT series, you will know that, in order to keep the competition open through the season, teams are awarded ballast weight penalties based on their performances. This prevents singular teams from dominating one season to the boredom of the fans (somebody said F1?) and means that teams need to be more strategic in their approach. It's not uncommon for the season to be decided at the very last race with two or three teams as serious contenders! Team Cerumo carried up to 100kg of handicap during the 2004 season; these stickers were almost seen as a badge of honor, especially if the car and drivers could perform despite the extra weight.
That's 100 kg!
Unfortunately only kids were allowed inside the cockpit, but as you can imagine, the Supra came equipped with an ultra strong roll-cage, racing seats and harness and just a handful of controls to modify brakes balance and engine mapping: nothing too complicated, this is a proper analog GT car.
It surely got presence
There is something so special about an unrestored racecar: the chipping on the paintwork, the slightly yellowing decals and a few battle scars add so much character to it!

It's a shame that Toyota and TRD never released a proper tuned version of the Supra or a parts catalog and maintenance program comparable to what Nissan and Honda did for their flagship models; I can't help but thinking "what if". The Supra is still very much a crowd favorite and the numerous fan gathering around the old Toyota, ignoring the Lexus SC racer sitting next to it (at a Lexus event!), confirmed that this car holds a very special place in the hearts of its fans.

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