Remembering the Only Time Japan’s Super GT Racing Series Came to America
Super GT, then known as JGTC, came to Fontana, California in 2004 for a one-off exhibition race and never came back.
It was 2004, a good year for fans of far-away Japanese racing series and cars. The D1 Grand Prix drift series was returning for a second year to exhibit its growing popularity and its most famous drivers. Japanese sport compact cars from Honda, Nissan, Subaru, and Mitsubishi were becoming mainstream rather than an odd detour. On the wave of this popularity, one enterprising event organizer in Los Angeles thought to convince Super GT to do an event here. His conviction led to GT Live 2004. And it was huge.
Back then, Super GT was known as the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (JGTC), a series for the fastest sports cars in Japan. For those who don’t know, Super GT was effectively a silhouette series where cars were divided into two classes: the ultra-fast 500 horsepower GT500 and the 300 hp GT300. The rules have changed a lot since then, but in 2004, the cars used a huge range of engines from V8s to three-rotor engines, all largely production-based. Randy Grube, who headed a company called Paramax Consulting, got the idea to do a car event after consulting for Japanese car parts seller Autobacs.
He attended a JGTC race to see what was possible, and it was the crazy, silhouette-style cars that sucked him in and started a long, difficult process to bring the circus to the States. It took a lot of dealing, convincing, and around $2 million, but Grube managed to bring it all together for December 2004 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. A YouTube video by 23GT of an old Speed Channel broadcast chronicles the experience. It's a charming look back at the crazy event that was more than a race weekend, and was more like a big party with race cars.
I was much too young too attend myself and my parents weren’t plugged in to the word-of-mouth car culture of back then. But I wish I could’ve seen this in person. It was star-studded on all sides, with big-name drivers in the JGTC cars and in the D1GP and Formula Drift drifting exhibitions that filled the action before the main race. Kamui Kobayashi was in the race, long before his stint in Formula 1. Érik Comas had just won two JGTC titles. Andre Lotterer hadn’t even driven an Audi Le Mans car yet. The legendary Tarzan Yamada drove in the time attack segment. Tanner Foust had just started his drifting career. All of these drivers (and more) were in the same event driving a wide variety of cars. Best of all, 45,000 people attended the spectacle. It was a smashing success. It was also the last race the series ran as JGTC, switching to Super GT for 2005.
Yet negotiations for 2005 never reached an agreement. For all the success, and with 60% of attendees being new to racing, it didn’t convince folks in Japan to continue. So, GT Live 2004 was the one and only time Super GT came to us. But it was as cool as we could have hoped.
Got a tip? Email firstname.lastname@example.org