The majestic ice-capped peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains stood in stark contrast to the conditions at California Speedway as Mother Nature provided 80 degree temperatures for the December 18-19, 2004 invasion of Japanese supercars.
The stars of the show were the leading-edge race cars of the JGTC (All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship)-Honda NSX, Nissan Fairlady Z (350Z), Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7 and Subaru Impreza to name a few.
GT Live was much more than road racing; drifting was represented with Formula D, Xtreme Drift League (XDL) and the top-flight D1 Grand Prix mixed in to a two-day program that stirred the souls of the heartiest JDM fanatic to frenzied levels.
GT Live had all the unbridled excitement of Mardi Gras at fever pitch only with the smells of gumbo in the French quarter replaced by the smells of freshly granulated rubber and unburned alcohol in the hot pits. The buzz was heavy especially in the vendors' row and in the pits where spectators could walk right up to the garage doors and watch the teams in action.
The JGTC is split into two categories that race simultaneously; GT300 and GT500. The difference being engine output-GT300 in the 300-hp range, GT500 in the 500-hp range (via the use of air restrictors). The races are contested on longer circuits in a style that can best be described as endurance; with mandatory pit stops, mandatory driver changes, etc
The distances raced are in the 150- to 300-mile range. In order to keep the racing tight, podium finishers are issued weight handicaps for the following race.
GT Live was a JGTC All-Star event and the race was contested for 87 laps over a 2.3-mile circuit. In GT500, the polesitting Nismo/Xanavi Nissan 350Z blasted to the lead under the heavy right foot of Satoshi Motoyama with Benoit Treyuler close on his heels in the Calsonic/Team Impul Z. Andre Lotterer spun the PIAA NSX on the first lap but recovered quickly.
Twelve laps into the race Treyuler put the moves on Motoyama and took the lead. After the Calsonic Z got by the Xanavi Z James Courtney tried to follow in the Dynacity/Tom's Supra but he tagged Motoyama in the rear quarter panel spinning the Xanavi Z. Unfortunately, the popular Takata/Dome NSX got caught up in the excitement and both the Xanavi Z and Takata NSX were sent to the sidelines.
The required pit stops and driver changes caused the leader board to jumble. When the smoke cleared a drive though penalty for Yuji Ide and the Calsonic Z put the Nissan out of touch with the leaders. The PIAA NSX was in front but Erik Comas displayed skills that earned him the 2001 German F3 Championship at the controls of the G'zox/SSR/Hasemi Nissan Z and reeled in the NSX. His incredible charge came up short as Tsugio Matsuda and the PIAA NSX saw the checkered flag first. The excitement wasn't over; JGTC officials imposed a 60-second penalty on the PIAA NSX and Direzza/Dunlop Supra for pitting too early in the race, which moved the G'zox/SSR/Hasemi Nissan Z to first place.
In GT300, the race was a three-car shootout by the midway point with the M-TEC NSX, C-West/Daishin/Advan Z and RE Amemiya/Aspara Drink RX-7 distancing themselves from the other GT300 competitors. A back-marker Dodge Viper cut off the RE Amemiya RX-7 sending the Mazda hard into the inside retaining wall. From there Tetsuya Yamano drove the M-TEC NSX away from the Z and into victory lane.
The powers that be on both side of the equation were happy with the results and we expect to see the JGTC back in America in late 2005.