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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Suzuka Thursday Notebook

John Dagys’ first notebook from this weekend’s Suzuka 10 Hours…

Photo: John Dagys

***Cars taking part in this weekend’s Suzuka 10 Hours took to the streets on Thursday for the first-ever parade from Suzuka Circuit to the city. Dubbed as the “Racing Cars Parade – Bringing Road Safety to the World”, thousands of spectators turned up to the AEON Mall for the unique opportunity that included an appearance by the city mayor, who was sporting a fire suit.

***The parade route passed a Honda factory, which saw hundreds of employees waving Honda flags in support of the record four Honda NSX GT3 Evos entered in the race.

***While all cars took part in the parade, more than a dozen remained on display in the mall area and were brought back to the circuit via transporters in the late afternoon.

***Similar track-to-city parades have been a centerpiece in the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli events at Spa and Bathurst. Last year’s parade in Suzuka was canceled due to the incoming Typhoon Cimaron.

***This weekend’s 36-car entry is up one car from last year but down from the initial 40 total entries that were due to take part, with both Team Goh McLaren 720S GT3s being the most notable withdrawals.

***The Japanese squad, which competes in Super GT, cited Balance of Performance concerns for the reason in pulling its two entries, one which was to feature IMSA prototype stars Renger van der Zande, Colin Braun and Felipe Albuquerque.

***A single McLaren is entered this weekend by Planex SmaCam Racing, featuring two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen, who told Sportscar365 that he’s looking forward to the “new experience” of long-distance endurance racing. It comes nearly eight years after his last top-level sports car race in the Zhuhai 1000km Intercontinental Le Mans Cup round in 2011.

***Of the cars taking part this weekend, all but one are running to FIA GT3 specification, with a single Super GT300 “Mother Chassis” in the No. 2 CarsTokaiDream28 Lotus Evora MC.

***Maro Engel will remain in the No. 999 GruppeM Mercedes-AMG GT3 for the remainder of the IGTC season. The German has been reunited with Raffaele Marciello, who both teamed with Tristan Vautier for victory in last year’s race with GruppeM.

***Maxi Buhk has been the only season-long driver in the Hong Kong-entered Mercedes this year and heads into the weekend on a tie for the points lead with former co-driver Maxi Goetz, who has been moved to the No. 77 Craft-Bamboo Racing entry this weekend.

***Marciello, who was part of AKKA ASP’s lineup in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, is a “complete casualty” in no longer being able to fight for the drivers’ title, according to GruppeM engineer Alex Zoechling. The Italian sits three points behind Buhk and Goetz due to being in the French-run Mercedes in the last round.

***Zoechling told Sportscar365 that GruppeM is using the same chassis from Spa, despite originally planning to return to Japan with its race-winning car from last year. The red flag-ridden Belgian enduro impacted the car’s mileage and will now be utilized this weekend before traveling to Macau for the team’s planned two-car effort in the FIA GT World Cup.

***It’s 2018 Suzuka-winning chassis, which is currently in Germany, will instead be utilized for the season-ending Kyalami 9 Hour.

***Veteran Porsche engineer Owen Hayes has been drafted into Absolute Racing this weekend as engineer for its No. 912 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Dennis Olsen, Matt Campbell and Dirk Werner. Hayes, a regular in the IMSA and SRO America paddocks for his role with Porsche Motorsport North America, has also recently taken up engineering duties with Team 75 Bernhard in ADAC GT Masters.

***SRO Motorsports America’s VP of competition and operations Marcus Haselgrove is on-site this weekend, filling in for sporting director Jacquie Groom. Haselgrove was also in attendance at last month’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.

***There have been no major changes to the regulations from last year’s race, which will again see the 65-minute maximum stint length and a minimum pitstop time. While serving as an IGTC round, the event is again largely being run by local promoters Mobilityland and GTA, although with increased support from SRO.

***An increase of last year’s 53,000 spectators is expected this weekend, with the pit walk and autograph sessions, which are sold as seperate tickets, already sold out for Saturday and Sunday.

***As was the case last year, a purse of more than 100 million yen ($938,000) is again on offer, including 30 million yen ($281,000) for the overall race-winning team, 10 million yen ($94,000) for second and 5 million yen ($47,000) for third.

***Additional prizes will be on tap, including 1 million yen ($10,000) to the pole-sitter and 5 million yen ($47,000) for the top-placed Super GT entrant.

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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