The eight most iconic JGTC racing machines ever
The acronym JGTC stood for All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship, and it was one of the coolest touring car series the world has ever seen. Kicked off in 1993, the purpose of JGTC was to see highly modified production cars race as closely as possible for the entertainment of spectators. In order to do this, JGTC was set up with stern power restrictions and weight penalties for faster cars. As the series grew into it’s skin two classes were formed: GT300 and GT500, named after their 300ps and 500ps power limits respectively, which equates to just a shade less once converted to horsepower. With extremely low weight, wide track and huge tyres – these things were FAST!
The cars were successors in spirit to the flame-spitting Super Silhouette racers seen in the 1980s – JGTC cars were wide and low, with huge flares and massive wings – particularly the GT500 cars, which often featured F1 style air box intakes and all.
Although based on production versions of road going sports cars, JGTC builds were closer to fully fledged racing machines: center lock wheels, liquid cooled brakes, cramped cabins, recessed engines could be found, and carbon fibre was everywhere. For many fans of the series, it was (and still is!) the variety of engines amongst the field that made JGTC so interesting – although limited to a final power output, manufacturers were free to use different configurations of engine design and aspiration in order to achieve what they felt was a winning combo. Whilst the majority of the field were Japanese performance coupes, European hardware such as the McLaren F1 GTR, BMW M3, Porsche 911 and even Ferrari F40 made appearances.
During the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the rock-star status of the teams and drivers made their heroic profiles more comparable to Formula 1 than any other touring car series. The best drivers had it all – money, fame, fans and their pick of supermodel girlfriends.
In 2005 the series was renamed SuperGT, however with greats such as the Skyline GT-R, Toyota Supra and Honda NSX out of production, the series today lacks the same 1990s Japanese cool. These are eight unforgettable all time JGTC classics:
Driven by Katsumoto Kaneishi and the legendary Keiichi Tsuchiya (aka the original king of drift), the ‘day glow’ orange of the GT500 ARTA NSX will never be forgotten, nor will the scream of its dry-sump V6 engine. One of the longest running teams, ARTA went on to win both the driver’s and constructors championships of Super GT in 2007.
The oldest car to make our list, the Calsonic R32 GT-R is perhaps more frequently remembered for it’s campaign during the 1993 season with significantly milder aero, however it’s the big-winged 1994 incarnation that strikes the real 90s touring car chord with us. 1994 saw the first full length season of JGTC, and it was the Calsonic Nissan GT-R that came out on top, driven by Masahiko Kageyama ahead of contenders such as the Team Taisan Porsche 962C and Ferrari F40. Kageyama won the 1993 season in a Nismo version of the GT-R R32, and went on to win until 1996 when GT1 turned into GT500, and the McLaren F1 GT-R arrived.
In 2002 the Japanese tuning house and parts manufacturer HKS entered the JGTC GT500 class with an unlikely chassis – a Mercedes Benz CLK. The car was powered by a M119 V8 measuring just under six litres, however without the direct support of Mercedes Benz themselves, the team struggled to develop a competitive and reliable car. The HKS CLK didn’t win at all, but it will forever be remembered as a truly awesome Japanese version of what a European DTM racer might have looked like, and a reminder of how truly exotic JGTC cars could be.
RS*R Nissan Silvia S14 – 1997 GT300
With flagship Japanese models such as the GT-R, NSX and European supercars headlining the GT500 class, GT300 saw a field of race cars built from more affordable sport car bases, and the Bandoh Racing Nissan Silvia is one of the most iconic. The car retained the original four-cylinder turbocharged engine, and was driven to overall victory in the 1997 GT300 season by Hideo Fukuyama and Japanese drifting legend Max Orido.
The first non-Japanese manufacturer car to win a JGTC championship was the LARK McLaren F1. Driven by Australian Formula 1 driver David Brabham and Danish John Nielsen, the LARK car edged out a similar McLaren F1 chassis driven by Ralf Schumacher and Naoki Hattori to win the 1996 series.
The Pennzoil NISMO Skyline GT-R burst onto the scene in 1998, grabbing attention by winning the first round of the season at Suzuka. History would see round 2 of JGTC in that year cancelled, however when round 3 (Sendai) rolled around, the Pennzoil GT-R was ready. Number 23 took the win, and went on to claim the championship for the year. The car was powered by a highly tuned version of the original RB26DETT engine found in the road going version, which had been borrowed from their Le Mans program and bumped to 2,708cc with great success. One of the most recognizable Japanese touring cars ever, the distinctly American livery looked incredible on the quintessentially Japanese lines of the GT-R and made the Pennzoil GT-R R33 absolutely unforgettable.
The last time a factory backed Nissan Skyline GT-R would be seen in JGTC. 2003 saw a wave of new regulations unlock the ability for Nissan to replace the factory front and rear structures of their GT500 Skyline GT-R with tubular space frame, meaning that the cars became even wider, lower and faster than ever. With wider front tyres and the ability to fit a rear-mounted transaxle, a very serious racing machine was born. The final hurrah for the chassis was a big one, winning the 2003 season thanks to incredible consistency despite not actually claiming first place in a race.
Without a doubt the most recognized car to emerge from the JGTC series would have to be the Castrol TOM’S Supra, which won the 1997 championship. The car arrived on the scene in 1997 featuring a revamped version of the 3S-based 4 cylinder turbocharged engine that Toyota had been campaigning in the WRC, as well as the incredible Castrol livery. It was a big, lumbering Japanese coupe with a tiny four-cylinder engine, and it knocked the McLaren F1 out of the park. Accompanied by a relatively affordable road-going version which wasn’t light on performance either, the Castrol TOM’S Supra is one of the most famous Japanese sports cars of all time.
Check out this clip from some of the early days of JGTC, 1994 (spot the Lancia 0037!):