If you are a race or sports car fanatic, chances are you are familiar with terms like Supra, NSX, Fairlady and Skyline. Fifteen years ago, only enthusiasts outside of Japan knew what these terms related to. To most, a Skyline was something you painted on canvas, an NSX sounded like a secret government organization and a Supra led people to believe you had a speech impediment that prevented you from saying ‘super.’ Thanks to video games, like Playstation’s Gran Turismo and Xbox’s Forza series, and the popularity of the Fast and Furious movies, Japanese performance cars have been significant contributors to the world’s growing tuner and amateur racing culture. Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Subaru and Mitsubishi are all well represented in this culture. Yet, long before these cars became popular here, they developed their reputations on racetracks throughout Japan and south-east Asia in the Japanese Grand Touring Championship (JGTC), known today as Super-GT.
The JGTC was created in 1993 to replace a number of race competitions and amalgamate Japanese racing under one competition. Over the following few seasons, strict rules and regulations were enforced in order to control team spending and ensure no one team dominated the competition. Two racing classes were created based on horsepower, GT500 and GT300, and weight restrictions were enforced. Similar to Formula One, within these classes, points are given to drivers and teams with championships going to the overall winner of each at the end of the season.
While a GT500 race car must maintain the general look of its street-legal counterpart, its interior, suspension and engines can all be heavily modified as long as it complies with the weight and power regulations of the class. GT300 class vehicles face more restrictions. Changes to the chassis, drive train and aerodynamic body parts of GT300 class vehicles are all tightly regulated.
As the JGTC gained popularity, race organizers sought to bring the competition to more countries. Spreading to multiple countries outside Japan, it was soon no longer allowed to be called solely a ‘Japanese’ Championship. The result of this was that in 2005, the series changed its name to the Super-GT. A further notable regulation occurred in 2010, when all GT500 vehicles were required to utilize a 3.4L V8 engine. Regulations and changes have not diminished the popularity of the sport. In addition to Japanese vehicles, Super-GT has participation from many of the world’s top automotive manufacturers including Ferrari, BMW, McLaren, Aston Martin, Mercedes, Porsche and Audi. That said, this has been, and continues to be, a series dominated by the Japanese manufactured cars. What are the top 5 most dominant cars in the JGTC / Super-GT in terms of titles won?
4 Porsche 996/911 GT3-R (GT300) : 7 titles
The only manufacturer on this list that is not Japanese, Porsche have nonetheless come to be a notable force in the JGTC / Super-GT series. Porsche’s first victory in the JGTC came with a 964 Carrera RS in the now defunct GT2 class in the 1994 season. From 2000 to 2003, the Advan sponsored GT3-R dominated the GT300 team championship. A further driver and team championship in 2012 gave the GT3-R a total of 7 titles. In terms of titles, this makes the Porsche GT3-R more successful in Super-GT than both of the legendary and homegrown Toyota Supra and Honda NSX.
As the Porsche runs in the GT300 series, it is not affected by the V8 engine regulations placed on the GT500 class. These cars use a liquid-cooled, flat-six cylinder engine with a displacement of 3.6 to 3.9 litres. Displacements and forced inductions can vary but actual power output is highly regulated by the governing body of Super-GT to ensure fairness within the class. The closest street legal version of this car you can buy, the GT3-RS costs around $150,000, depending on condition.
3 Lexus SC430 (GT500) : 7 titles
By virtue of it running in the GT500 class and having one more driver title than the Porsche, the Lexus SC430 takes spot number 4. In its street legal form, this car may not look like it has track potential: don’t be fooled. In 2006, the SC430 replaced the aging Toyota Supra as Toyota’s main GT500. These were big shoes to fill as the Supra had collected six titles over its JGTC career. The pressure was further increased by the fact that the driver’s title had been won by a Supra the previous year. Sponsored by the legendary tuner company TOM’S, the SC430 took home two driver and three team titles between 2006 and 2009. In the 2013 season, the SC430 claimed both titles after winning four out of the eight races making it the winningest car of last year.
Production of the SC430 ended in 2010. Despite this, the car will continue to be used in Super-GT for the 2014 season. A good condition street version of this car can be had for around $45,000. Powered by a 288 hp 4.3L V8, the ‘civilian’ version of this car won’t be winning any races against a Porsche, but at least you’ll lose in style and comfort.
2 Toyota MR-2/MR-S (GT300) : 8 titles
Racing alongside Toyota’s more powerful Supras and SC430, the MR series of mid-engined, rear-wheel drive cars proved to be excellent contenders in the GT300 class. For the 1998 season, an MR-2 powered with the factory 2.0L turbo engine won five races and locked up the driver and team championship and Toyota repeated the feat the following year. The third generation MR-2, known as the MR-S, enjoyed just as much success as its predecessor. Between 2002 and 2007, this car won three driver and one team titles.
Depending on condition and level of modification, a street legal MR-2 can be purchased for around $20,000 or less. These cars come with a variety of engines ranging in size from 1.6L to 2.0L. After-market support is widely available for these cars which make them popular with the tuner community.
2. Nissan Z33 Fairlady (GT500 and GT300) : 8 titles
Outside of Japan this car is commonly known as the 350Z. With the same number of titles as the MR-2/S, the Z33 Fairlady takes the runner-up position because of its record in the GT500 class. Successor to the Nissan 300ZX, the 350Z represented the return of the Z car to Japanese racing. Unique in that it competed in both classes, the Fairlady was meant to provide a bit of a stopgap in the GT500 class between the retiring of the Skyline in 2004 and introduction of the GT-R in 2008. Sponsored by Nismo, Motul and MOLA, the car won three GT500 titles and five GT300 honors between 2003 and 2010. The GT500 victories were made possible by the use of Nissan’s 470 HP, 3.0L V6 motor. After 2007 a larger 4.5L V8 was used.
Production of the 350Z was ceased in 2009 and the torch was passed to the 370Z. Heavily dependent on modifications and condition, a used street legal 350Z can be had for $35,000 and under. The car comes with a 3.5L V6 which produced 313hp in the final years of production. Unlike the luxury oriented SC430, the public version of the 350Z is aimed towards performance enthusiasts who don’t mind a firmer ride. The car also benefits from significant aftermarket support, enabling an owner to improve the power and handling – for a cost.
1 Nissan Skyline (GT500) : 14 titles
There is a reason why this car is nicknamed ‘Godzilla.’ Before 1993, the Skyline dominated the races it competed in. From 1989 to 1993, the Skyline won every race and every title in the JTCC -the forerunner of the JGTC. The car dominated the Touring Car circuit in Australia to the point where regulations were changed to ban it from competing. From 1993 until 2003, the Nissan Skyline ruled the JGTC with 14 total titles. Cars sponsored by Calsonic, Pennzoil, Xanavi and Nismo became iconic images of the racing series. Even if only the Skyline GT-R victories (there was a GTS-R version) are counted, the car still claims victory with 12 titles. In 2004, the Skyline was retired from the JGTC to be replaced in the long term by the newer GT-R, released in 2008.
When it comes to iconic Japanese race cars, the Skyline GTR is second to none. Its reputation was forged on the racetrack and its popularity was boosted by the video game industry and then again by Paul Walker in the Fast and Furious films. It’s 2.6L, inline six cylinder twin-turbocharged engine produced 280-300 hp from the factory, but with modification it can create well over 1000 hp. The last Skyline GT-R was built in 2002, yet it remains popular and highly sought after, especially in the North American market.
Import restrictions mean Skylines can be difficult to come by in North America. Countries, like Canada, have a 15 year rule which stipulate if the car was not originally built for the domestic market, it must wait before attaining import eligibility. How much you’ll pay for one can vary greatly. Condition of the car and quality of modification all play a significant role. Prices for a GT-R range from as little at $10,000 to as much as $50,000+ for a top end model. Godzilla is not cheap.
Fifteen years ago, asking someone if they wanted to see your Supra might have got you slapped. Odds are, most people didn’t know much (or care) about the history of that car in the JGTC. Yet, years before Gran Turismo and Fast and Furious, Japanese cars were forging their history on the Suzuka Circuit and Fuji Speedway. After 2001, popularity in Japanese cars skyrocketed as street-going versions of many of the JGTC cars became available. Track history, video games and film all combined to make JGTC and Super-GT cars some of the most popular and desired cars today. Today, asking someone if they want to see your Supra might only result in a rolling of the eyes. Now that’s progress.