The 2019 season of the AUTOBACS Super GT series is due to start this weekend at the Okayama Circuit in Mimasaka, Japan.

The Circuit

Okayama International Circuit

Okayama International Circuit – Mimasaka, Japan
Circuit Length 3.703 km / 2.300 mi Opened 1990
First Super GT Event 1998 Direction Clockwise

Opened in 1990 as a private track under the name TI Circuit Aida, the Okayama Circuit has seen its fair share of action over the years, twice playing host to the Formula 1 Pacific Grand Prix in the mid 1990s with both events being won by Michael Schumacher. Too slow and twisty for F1 cars, the remote circuit was dropped from the calendar after just two events.

The 3.7-kilometre track has, however, proved far more popular for touring cars and sports cars with several straights that allow the drivers to use all 650 horsepower of the GT500 cars, coupled with hard braking and tight turns that promote overtaking.

The course also provides a number of slow-speed sections that offer complex challenges for the drivers, such as the downhill Turn 5 hairpin that quickly feeds into the double left-handers at Turns 6 and 7, followed by a steep climb through Turns 8, 9 and 10.

The Event

2019 AUTOBACS Super GT Okayama GT 300 km – Provisional Schedule
Event Dates 13-14 April 2019 Free Practice Session 1
Sat 08:50-10:35
Qualifying Session 1 Sat 14:45-15:28 Qualifying Session 2 Sat 15:38-16:06
Warm-up Session Sun 12:55-13:15 Race (82 laps)
Sun 14:30

All session times quoted in Japan Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 9:00)

Rewind to 2018

The season opener for the 2018 AUTOBACS Super GT series at Okayama (April 7-8) saw the No. 17 Kenshin NSX-GT, piloted by Koudai Tsukakoshi and Takashi Kogure take home the victory.

Second place was claimed by ex-Formula 1 driver Jenson Button and his co-driver Naoki Yamaoto. Button battled to manage high tyre wear in his stint, leaving Yamamoto to put in a sterling effort and charge from eighth position to second by the chequered flag.

In the GT300 class, the UPGARAGE Toyota 86MC took home the class victory, rising from a ninth place start, garnering the outfit their first win. Both 86MC cars (Team UPGARAGE and TSUCHIYA ENGINEERING) had opted for a no tyre change pit-stop to reduce ‘pit-in’ times; this eventually proved beneficial as the two cars fought for class honours position in the final laps of the race, with the win going to Team UPGARAGE.

The Okayama Form Guide

With former F1 champion Jenson Button coming hot off a championship win last year, in his first Super GT season no less, he and his RAYBRIG NSX-GT will be rearing for a good start to the 2019 season.

However, he might have competition from the #12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R and the No.24 Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R, who after only winning two races between them over the previous two seasons, were setting some blistering lap times during pre-season testing, with the CALSONIC driver Daiki Sasaki stating “The car is perfect”.

In the GT500 class, this season includes the addition of ten new drivers, who were previously just stand-ins for single races in previous seasons. This could prove interesting to watch as veteran drivers have a threat posed to them by the newbies to the series.

In the GT300 class, spectators should keep an eye on the #65 LEON PYRAMID AMG, the previous season’s champions, as well as other AMG teams such as the #4 GOODSMILE HATSUNE MIKU AMG, whose Mercedes machines are well established as quick in the corners.

Other exciting additions to the GT300 class are welcome newcomers from Europe, with McLaren Customer Team entering their 720S GT3 car, and with D’station switching this season to the new Aston Martin Vantage GT3 car.

Image via Super GT

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Keegan Bennett

Journalist - Japanese Motorsport at MotorsportM8

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