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Super GT eyes reduction in corner speeds after Sugo crash

Super GT organisers are targeting a reduction in corner speeds for future seasons in a fresh safety drive in the wake of the major crash involving Naoki Yamamoto at Sugo.

#17 Astemo NSX-GT, #23 MOTUL AUTECH Z

Masahide Kamio

Team Kunimitsu Honda man Yamamoto was left with serious neck and spinal cord injuries following the contact with the Kondo Racing Nissan GT300 car of Teppei Natori that pitched him hard into the barriers during last month’s sixth round of the season.

Natori was held responsible and penalised for causing the collision, triggered by his late lunge into the pits after being passed on the right by the Rookie Racing Toyota of Kenta Yamashita, with the Nissan driver apparently not noticing that Yamamoto was tucked in close behind.

The situation was complicated by the presence of the #10 Gainer Nissan that stuck to the left-hand side of the track, prompting Yamashita to pass Natori on the right.

In a special media briefing at last weekend’s Autopolis round, journalists were shown CCTV and on-board footage of the clash between Yamamoto and Natori, which was never shown on the official TV broadcast of the race.

During this briefing, GTA race division executive manager Taku Sawame revealed that moves are afoot to revise the sporting and technical regulations to improve safety in 2024, with a particular focus on cornering speeds.

“We are that ‘too fast is dangerous’, as many people have pointed out,” said Sawame. “Now we are discussing what we can do to reduce cornering speeds with the sporting and technical regulation sub-committees, with safety as the top priority.

“We are constantly discussing what we can implement immediately, and what we need to look at for the medium- and long-term. The first stage is to work out what safety-orientated items we can add to next year’s sporting regulations.”

 

While major changes to the technical regulations are unlikely before the next generation of GT500 cars are introduced, most likely in 2028 or ‘29, Sawame added that “we can’t wait that long, so we’ll be flexible and implement what we can for now”.

The GTA’s room for manoeuvre in terms of cornering speeds is limited by SUPER GT’s tyre war, but Sawame revealed a ‘tyre working group’ has been established to discuss safety improvements.

GTA chairman Masaaki Bandoh said that the tyre manufacturers have expressed the opinion that making more ‘wide range’ tyres with a larger operating window will naturally lead to reduced cornering speeds, and that plans to further reduce the number of tyre sets available to teams per weekend will encourage further development in this direction.

The number of dry tyre sets per weekend was already cut from six to five for standard 300km races this year in the name of reducing SUPER GT’s environmental impact.

Besides reducing cornering speeds, the GTA has also pledged to take other measures in a bid to avoid a repeat of the incident that took place at Sugo.

Race director Naoki Hattori argued that the incident could have potentially been avoided entirely had Natori activated his turn signals to indicate to Yamashita and Yamamoto his intention to pit. Hattori added that once it was clear that his path was blocked, Natori should have completed another lap before making his stop.

The Kondo Nissan sustained front-right damage in the Yamamoto clash but was able to continue

The Kondo Nissan sustained front-right damage in the Yamamoto clash but was able to continue

Hattori said measures were being implemented at Autopolis such as pointing out during practice when drivers should have used their indicators, while Bandoh said that “we need to move the location of the switch” to encourage their use (currently not mandatory) and promote safety.

There have also been suggestions that Sugo could extend the white line denoting the pit entrance further towards the last corner to force drivers planning to pit to hold a tight inside line.

Bandoh revealed: “We have proposed to Sugo to convert the area [near the pit entrance] that is currently grass to tarmac, and to widen and extend the white line a little.”

Mixed-class racing non-negotiable, says Bandoh

Yamamoto’s Sugo crash is the second major incident of the year to have occurred due to a misunderstanding between GT500 and GT300 cars, following Nissan driver Tsugio Matsuda’s heavy crash earlier in the season at Suzuka.

That incident followed Mitsunori Takaboshi’s similarly hefty crash at Fuji in 2022.

But Bandoh is absolutely adamant that SUPER GT must continue to run with two classes together, dismissing out of hand suggestions made on social media for the series to consider running separate races for the two divisions.

“What we are doing is demanding drivers master the art of racing with GT500 and GT300 cars of different speeds at the same time,” said Bandoh. “To have a sprint race or to have the GT500s and GT300s run separately… this is not SUPER GT.

“What we want to do is continue and develop the GT500 and GT300 classes that have been running since 1994, and to create a world in which this is recognised.”

Motorsport.tv is showing all qualifying sessions and races for the 2023 SUPER GT season. For more information, click here.

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