After a rain-soaked and weather-interrupted, but ultimately highly competitive and enthralling, Total 24 Hours of Spa in July, the Intercontinental GT Challenge moves to Japan for Round Four with the BMC Auction SMBC Suzuka 10 Hours.
36 cars will gather on the grid for the penultimate round of the 2019 championship, a season which will have seen the world’s greatest championship for primarily GT3 machinery race on five continents. 23 entries will be contesting the Pro class with five entries apiece in the Silver and Pro-Am categories. Three cars are entered in the Am category.
In the Pro class, Mercedes-AMG will have the most cars on the grid with four Mercedes-AMG GT3s entered. All are factory-backed entries with Team Goodsmile from Japan entering the #00 driven by Nobutera Taniguchi, Tatsuya Kataoka and Kamui Kobayashi, Britain’s Strakka Racing entering the #44, piloted by Gary Paffett, Lewis Williamson and Tristan Vautier, while Hong Kong’s Craft-Bamboo Racing has entered the #77 with the all-factory driver line-up of Maximillian Goetz, Luca Stolz and Yelmer Buurman. GruppeM Racing has entered the #999 car driven by Maro Engel, Raffaele Marciello and Maxi Buhk. Buhk and Goetz have been split for the Suzuka round with Goetz joining Spa podium finishers Yelmer Buurman and Luca Stolz.
After finishing 1-2 in 2018, Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing manager Stefan Wendl is looking forward to Suzuka.
“For us, Asia is a very interesting market and we are doing very well in the various series with our GT3 and GT4 cars,” said Stefan Wendl. “Quality of the races is improving, the involvement by the manufacturers is increasing, competition is getting harder and the upcoming round at Suzuka certainly is one of the highlights in the Asian region. As a result, building on our success in the 10-hour race from last year will not be easy. The one-two was a clear signal and was the decisive success on our way to securing the 2018 IGTC titles.
“This year, we again have very good perspectives in the championship standings. We are in an excellent position to win at Suzuka and then head to Kyalami for the finale in the lead of the points standings.”
Honda and Audi will both have three cars on the grid. Honda sees two Japanese teams entering the Acura NSX GT3 – Team Garage with its #18 and Modula Drago Corsa with the #034 car. The Italian Honda Team Motul has entered its #30 NSX GT3 to be driven by Marco Bonanomi, Hideki Mutoh and Bertrand Baguette.
Audi will see three of its Audi R8 LMS GT3s on track at Suzuka. Audi Team Hitotsuyama, Audi Sport Team WRT and Audi Sport Team Absolute will be representing the Ingolstadt marque with Kelvin van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and Frederic Vervisch sharing the driving duties in the #25 Team WRT car and Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Mies and Christopher Haase piloting the #125 Absolute Racing entry.
Nissan will be represented by two of its Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3s, courtesy of KCMG whilst two Ferrari F488 GT3s will be on the grid in the Pro class at Suzuka. HubAuto Corsa’s #27 Ferrari will be driven by Heikki Kovalainen, Nick Cassidy and Nick Foster.
BMW, Lamborghini, Bentley and Porsche will also see two cars each in the Pro class. Walkenhorst Motorsport and BMW Team Schnitzer have entered BMW M6 GT3s while both the Lamborghini entries are entered under the team name of JLOC, the Japanese Lamborghini Owners Club. The Orange 1 FFF Racing driving trio of Andrea Caldarelli, Marco Mapelli and Dennis Lind will pilot the #88 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 while Takashi Kogure, Yuya Motojima and Yuhi Sekiguchi will share the driving duties in the sister #87 car.
Bentley will have high hopes for its pair of Continental GT3s with the #107 to be driven by Jordan Pepper, Steven Kane and Jules Gounon while 2017 British GT Champion Seb Morris will join Maxime Soulet and Andy Soucek behind the wheel of the #108 entry.
Porsche has enjoyed a highly successful season with victories at Bathhurst and Spa-Francorchamps. Dennis Olsen, Matt Campbell and Dirk Werner will be looking to repeat their Australian win when they return in the #912 Absolute Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R. Romain Dumas, Mathieu Jaminet and Sven Muller will share the driving duties in the #911 EBM entry.
Five different manufacturers will race for Silver Cup honours at Suzuka. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Chevrolet, Porsche and Mercedes-AMG will all be on the grid in the Silver Cup class. The #37 Callaway Competition with Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R will be a fascinating addition to the grid, the entry to be driven by Shinji Takei, Ryo Ogawa and Markus Pommer.
There will also be five different manufacturers represented in the Pro-Am Cup class with Lotus, Nissan, Mercedes-AMG Porsche and Aston Martin on the grid. CarsTokaiDream28 has entered its #2 Lotus Evora MC to be driven Kazuho Takahashi, Hiroki Kato and Hioshi Hamaguchi. GTNET Motorsports has entered its 2015-spec Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 whilst Porsche is represented by LM Corsa.
The three entries in the Am Cup class are from Asia with Japanese-bases MP Racing and SATO-SS SPORTS entering their Nissan GT-R NISMO and Mercedes-AMG GT3s respectively. Honda is represented in the Am Cup class by the #98 Arrows Racing Acura NSX GT3.
Going into the fourth round of the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge, Mercedes-AMG lead the GT3 Manufacturers standings on 85 points, eight points ahead of Porsche while Audi Sport currently sit third in the standings on 40 points.
In the drivers standings, Maxis Buhk and Goetz head the table on 40 points, three points ahead of teammate Raffaele Marciello. In joint third place is the Porsche’s Bathurst-winning trio of Dirk Werner, Dennis Olsen and Matt Campbell, all on 33 points.
Track action for the Suzuka 10 Hours grid gets underway on Friday August 23 with Bronze driver practice at 08:45 local time (00:45 UK time) with the two main free practice sessions beginning at 14:10 local time (06:10 UK time) for a two-hour session, followed by a night-running session at 18:30 local time (10:30 UK Time)
Qualifying gets underway at 13:00 local time on Saturday August 24 with the 20-minute Pole Shoot-Out beginning at 17:30.
The flag drops for the start of the Suzuka 10 Hours at 10:00 local time (02:00 UK time) on Sunday August 25. Live timing can be found on the IGTC here while lives-streaming can be found on the SRO Motorsport YouTube channel here.