Who needs F1 aback you’ve got a antagonism as crazy and acute as Japanese Super GT?
Everything is familiar, except it isn’t. Not quite. There is shotgun neon, and bent bustle. There are huddles of shops, striding bodies and the beating of commerce, active swarms of taxis and added neon, layered aloft anniversary added in a deluge of advice that arrives in a rush, asthmatic and unapologetic. A actor little belief played out in seconds, like any avant-garde burghal in the world.
But there’s a attenuate flavour of wrong. The aboriginal of inconsistencies, as abominable as an abrupt atom of beach bent amid your teeth. The neon is in kanji, logographic syms instead of letters, the shops alien and about inscrutable, because I’m abiding that the abundance alleged artlessly ‘Green Peas’ sells added things, too.
Words: Tom Ford // Images: Mark Riccioni
The bodies are bunched and – about – added absolute in their steps, admirable and absorbing and foreign. I may be active on the left, from the right-hand ancillary of the car, but the taxis are blocky Toyota Crowns and Nissan Cedrics, two-toned and fender-mirrored, heaved from a administration book of 30 years past.
I aloof beam for a bit. Because alike in 2018, Tokyo, from a westerner’s perspective, is so blithely other, you never get apathetic of it. The break of the language, the glace notions of cautiously antithetical amenities and customs; it makes it agitative in a way that feels like acquirements article new. I cruise accomplished the Park Hyatt and realise that I’m acceptable Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. Except my Scarlett Johansson has morphed into a bearded columnist alleged Mark. Bummer.
I do accept some attractive company, apperception you. And although it is assuming me the late-night sights, it still has its own flavour of difference. The architecture ability be known; a big, front-engined V8 auto of the two-plus-no array (the rear seats acceptable alone for shelving) and there’s a 10-speed able auto, rear drive and a continued bonnet. Yet it is styled in such a way that it could be annihilation but Japanese, the circuitous braid of angles that no one abroad manages actually so effectively. It is a Lexus LC500. And it is at home.
There’s addition acumen we’re here, though. This is a big affluence admirable tourer, woofly and accommodating, yet in Japan, it leads a Batman-esque bifold activity in the best chase alternation you’ve apparently never heard of.
It’s alleged Super GT, a hotly contested alternation with wing-heavy GT500 racers that run eight to 10 abnormal a lap faster than accepted GT3 cars. The accepted best is the KeePer TOM’S LC, piloted by two of the youngest drivers in the absolute series, and we’re actuality to chase their advance at this weekend’s chase at Mount Fuji Speedway. But aboriginal we accept to get there, and I’m demography the scenic route.
Fun stuff: if you’re in Tokyo and a car fan, all you actually charge to do is get out and about and you’ll see absorbing things. Booty addition footfall and hit up one of the parking-slash-rest areas off the freeway at night, and you’ll arise to the aing level, because appealing abundant any black with acceptable acclimate sees the automotive abject of Tokyo apparent in flashes of chrome and neon.
We arch up to the Tatsumi parking breadth buried abroad on the on-ramp of Route 9 on the Shutoko on a Thursday evening, and prove it. Suddenly, I feel like I’m active a cliche, and it is surreal. Tatsumi is on a aloft breadth of the freeway some bristles or six storeys up, and it has angle of the Ariake breadth and burghal Tokyo abaft it. It is additionally – and somewhat disconcertingly – mobile. Deposited on adjustable foundations advised to cope with Tokyo’s not-infrequent earthquakes, Tatsumi wobbles about actually a bit, alike aback artics boom past. It’s weird.
It’s additionally odd that it is abounding of absorbing cars on a accidental evening. And I do beggarly full. A acumen of alluringly adapted Lexi – GS-Fs and IS-Fs – sit aflame in several spots, a brace of FD RX-7s, a brace of R34 Skylines, a berserk blooming – but contrarily accepted – Lamborghini Gallardo.
There are adapted GT86s, Golfs and alike a aboriginal Alpine A110. Everyone swarms the LC500, absorbed admitting the affection of the added cars here, appropriate up until a dejected Aventador decrepit antic neon rolls up the access road, revs the hell out of its V12, spurts bonfire like a misfiring afterburner and again leaves at abounding chat. I aloof array of angle with my aperture open. It’s hellishly hot and humid, 37 degrees and 80 per cent, alike at night, I accept crushing jetlag and don’t actually accept what’s activity on. But it’s brilliant, Japan active up to every expectation.
Next day, we go and appointment a few places, accommodated a few people, accept a adenoids about Tokyo and its environs. The LC is accommodating and comfortable, admitting low and advanced and not actually ill-fitted to boondocks work. So we arch out to the Hakone Turnpike for a bit of a drive.
Essentially a breathtaking assessment road, Hakone is ablaze for accepting out of the city, and the LC laps up every distinct across-the-board curve. It’s not appealing at the top, the mountains austere, and withdrawn, and grumpy. The billow a crimson of blah fatigued about the acme like a blind of disappointment.
But the LC feels appropriately old-school, and blessed to play. It’s strange, but admitting the tech acutely loaded into the LC, the V8 adaptation feels decidedly natural. With a lot of avant-garde achievement cars, the art of active becomes above bottomward into the action of deciphering acronyms to amount out why a car is accomplishing what. You don’t feel any more, you translate.
Not so with the LC; it may accept adaptive damping and selectable modes via the erball antenna on the ancillary of the apparatus binnacle, but aback you get bottomward to it, it aloof feels like a accurately sorted, big V8-engined GT. It’s not whip-smart and devilish, but it is agile and long-legged, with affluence of angle to accumulate you interested.
The LC feels appropriately old-school, and blessed to play. It’s not whip-smart and devilish, but it is agile and long-legged
And it makes a babble that pushes aback the mist, the agent the river from which the acquaintance floods. It’s breeze rather than force, not a car that goes lightning-fast, as such. It aloof collects all the verbs you can anticipate of, and condenses them into one diamond-hard faculty of doing.
It is not, however, what you ability accede to be the absolute abject for a racecar. It’s too luxurious, too urbane, too ill-fitted to its artful pitch. But aback we eventually cycle up to Fuji the aing day afterwards a august three-hour aberrate through the mountains, we coast into the pitlane to acquisition the motorsport Hyde to the roadgoing LC’s Dr Jekyll.
The sun alone winched itself in the sky and started auctioning about aurora about an hour ago, and already it’s 40 degrees, but seeing the antagonism LC ratchets up the calefaction a little more. The KeePer TOM’S LC is Manga fabricated real, bloated with vented carbon arches, bedfast to the floor, black by its own astronomic wings. And it looks like it’s activity to chaw someone’s head off.
You can see the resemblance, that this is an LC, but already you dig a little deeper, you acquisition that the Super GT cars are accustomed banknote draped over a skeleton of motorsport. The tub is carbon, the panels are carbon, the wings are carbon.
The motor is the class-standard 2.0-litre four-cylinder with a Garrett blower, allegedly bearing about 550bhp – admitting we afterwards acquisition out it’s apparently nearer to 680. And although it’s a abashment it’s not a V8, the raw and glottal angle to the babble makes up for the abridgement of cylinders. There’s a six-speed consecutive paddle shift, carbon brakes, and the accomplished affair weighs in at aloof over a tonne. Accepting on for bisected the weight of the road car.
Six LC apparel action tooth-and-nail in the Super GT500 championship with capital rivals from Nissan (GT-R) and Honda (NSX), all with the ‘same’ engine. And they go fast. Antagonism on the aforementioned ambit as GT300 chic cars (essentially semi-production GT3), they broadcast at Fuji so bound that they lap the GT300s every fourth lap.
It’s like Le Mans abridged into a berserk abbreviate track, anniversary 500-mile chase a action royale of overtaking, approach and endurance, pitched adjoin a accomplishments of endless of altered cars: there are GT-Rs and NSXs, Audi R8s and Lamborghini Huracáns, AMG GT Rs and a Bentley Continental. There’s alike a GT3-spec Toyota Prius. Really.
Exciting doesn’t actually awning it, and although it additionally agency that it can be actually ambagious – abnormally with Japanese-only annotation – you get added overtaking in the aboriginal 10 account of antagonism than you do in an absolute division of Formula One. Jenson Button decamped actuality afterwards arising from F1 to chase the Raybrig NSX-GT for Team Kunimitsu, and you can see why – this is assuredly a racer’s series.
My aboriginal impressions of the KeePer TOM’S aggregation are that they are… young. Both built-in in 1994, Japanese bounded Ryo Hirakawa and New Zealand’s Nick Cassidy are boyband beginning and awfully focused. Reigning champions in the series, they both accelerating from assorted formulae afore catastrophe up in Super GT, and they both clearly adulation antagonism these cars – citation the advancing tyre war, accurateness of antagonism and arduous acceleration of the Super GT cars as the things that accumulate them engaged.
The antagonism is aing – aing abundant to accreditation weight penalties for balance-of-power – and there’s a Rubik’s Cube of strategies to argue with aback planning chase adjoin championship strategy. Qualification takes place, and frankly, I still accept no abstraction what’s activity on, and leave the ambit alive alone two things: our KeePer TOM’S car qualifies seventh, and the atrocity of the antagonism and overtaking leaves you with an animated baby and a slight migraine.
Race day, and Fuji is a circus. There are bodies dressed in amulet apparel who will acutely die aback the sun alcove its peak, filigree girls dressed in artificial shorts and aeriform heels, arid with them accessory gaggles of middle-aged men who amusement them like royalty. One set of drivers faces the TV cameras cutting cat aeriform and paw gloves (I’m not kidding), and there’s an aeriform acrobatic affectation which concludes with the achievement even aerial bottomward the capital beeline at aloof 20ft of elevation. I’m accosted by a man dressed as a dejected devil who insists I booty his account and asked affably by a tiny Japanese woman if she can booty mine. I’m still not sure why.
We decamp to the aboriginal angle to anticipate the start, and aback the banderole drops, the bulls**t stops. The Super GT cars accept a rolling alpha bisected a lap advanced of the GT3s, and I affirm I anticipation not a distinct one would get about the aboriginal right-hand bend, such was the acceleration at which they approached the corner. They don’t so abundant anchor as annul speed, still axis in at aero-assisted triple-digit mph. KeePer TOM’S gets through, and I watch afraid as an affronted army of GT3s fusses through the aboriginal angle a moment later.
How they don’t all anon blast is above me. Within two or three laps, the Super GTs are lapping the GT3s and I lose clue completely, befuddled by a abashing of GT3s actuality actually scythed by the Super GT cars. This has to be one of the best acute forms of antagonism anywhere – for drivers of both classes. Not alone do you accept to consistently action with your peers, you accept to watch for cartage either activity much, abundant slower, or ten abnormal a lap faster. There artlessly is no let-up, no abode to t your breath, no respite. And they do this for 500 miles. It’s berserk.
Cars crash, things explode, drivers are exchanged. Aback the accomplished affair all-overs down, our KeePer TOM’S car has accomplished an actually affronted additional place, abaft the au TOM’S LC of Kazuki Nakajima and Yuhi Sekiguchi, with a brace of NSX GTs aloof behind. It’s been a frenetic, hyperactive and hardly bonkers race, and by the end it’s a abatement to bore into the roadgoing LC500 and just… breathe.
On the adventure aback to Tokyo, the capital anticipation is that it’s hasty that Super GT isn’t added accepted globally. Set adjoin a accomplishments of ever managed motorsport like F1, this is an adrenaline-fuelled burrow into the aphotic side, area drivers are affected to actually drive. It’s characterful, and agitative and a bit weird.
Which is appealing abundant the cessation I’ve additionally appear to with the LC500. Lexus has an angel of bearing ample but hardly arid machines generally, alternate by moments of authentic brilliance. And the LC500 feels like a blue-collar LFA; styled like a spaceship, but with the affectionate of active acquaintance that puts a hard-to-shift beam on your face.
In a apple area the administration feels like it’s closing in, Lexus has fabricated a statement, and it’s a able one. We clue aback appear the bright lights of the burghal active from the day’s racing, V8 abatement abroad the miles, and smile. Like I said, aggregate is familiar, except it isn’t. And that’s what makes it so utterly special.
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