It’s not every day that I get to feature proper race cars here in Japan. Sure, there are tons of time attack cars that I’ve pointed my inquisitive lenses towards, but factory-supplied, high-level race cars they are not. And to top it all off, the car you see here isn’t an old racer either – it’s a brand spanking new Lexus RC F GT500 that is currently competing in the Super GT championship. What makes this even more special is that usually race teams and manufacturers don’t really like disclosing or showing any information on their state-of-the-art race cars right at the beginning of the season, for obvious reasons.
That’s why it makes it even more special that Lexus Team Sard gave me the go ahead to shoot their #39 car – driven by Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate – on Fuji Speedway’s pit lane. Some rather stringent requests came with accepting this sort of shoot. First of all I had exactly five minutes to do the whole shoot in. Secondly, I had to agree not to show anything in the engine bay or at the rear of the chassis which would reveal suspension solutions/settings to competing teams. In fact, if I was to be very unprofessional and show even a snapshot of say, the carbon fiber air intake that sits on top of the engine, the team would get penalised by the manufacturer.
So there was no point in doing anything quite so silly – I was just happy to get the opportunity to spend some time with this car. And believe me when I say that you wouldn’t have benefited much from an engine shot, as it is so compact and sits so low that you can’t even see it! All you see is suspension arms and the pushrods lining them to the inboard mounted dampers, not to mention a labyrinth of neatly laid out cabling, piping and ducting. So with that explained, let’s concentrate on everything else I was allowed to snap away at.
And first up – before the wheels were put on the car – I had the chance to check out the carbon brakes that GT500 cars have been running in the series since last year. With the regulations coming in-line with DTM, this is a big change from the old steel set ups that all teams had to stick to up until 2013.
The Lexus Team Sard RC F runs AP Racing calipers all round, designed and developed for specific use in the Super GT series and fitted in a 6-pot configuration up front, and smaller 4 pots at the rear. Both are mounted behind the axle and in the lower quarter to help keep the unsprung kilograms as low as possible. Aside from the central vanes that take care of cooling the ventilated carbon rotors, the entire assemblies are shielded on both sides with carbon fiber covers that are there to contain the carbon dust, which is pretty nasty stuff.
With the wheels fitted – something that takes about four seconds per corner – the car was pushed out onto pit lane. The ‘start’ button was pressed on the timer and my five minutes began…
Much like every GT500 car of the last 20 years the recipe is the same when it comes to design. The overall shape is sort of kept and the roof remains as the only unchanged line in the whole road car to race car translation. Of course, with a bespoke carbon chassis that Toyota developed for this year’s season, there isn’t really anything that’s actually shared with the production RC F, but you get what I’m saying. Putting aerodynamics aside for now, what always makes these GT cars so appealing – and that goes for DTM ones too – is the way that the car’s body gets a hefty chunk of its lowest section removed, and then seems to be effectively pushed down over the wheels. That gives the typical wheel arch over the bonnet look, and just makes for a badass design for a lack of a better word.
The RC F’s front fenders are extended horizontally outward and shaped over the massive 300-section slicks that these cars run on. A series of louvers help channel away high pressure air from within the wheel arch to cut down on turbulence.
The car sits on massive BBS rims that BBS Japan custom created for use in this class. They measure 18×12-inch at the front while the rears are an inch wider at 13-inch. The Sard team use Bridgestone as their tyre supplier with a selection of special compounds and types available according to weather conditions.
Underneath the complex bonnet sits the turbocharged RI4AG 2.0-litre, four-cylinder built by Toyota Technocraft, abiding to the new regulations that call for the use of force-fed four bangers. Is it just me, or isn’t it really cool that Toyota are using the ‘4AG’ moniker for this engine? Despite its compact size it develops over 550PS with a 100kg/hr fuel restrictor fitted. No torque figures are quoted, but it would be a substantial number.
Up front there are a series of beautifully constructed and laid out air guides that take air from the grille and direct it towards all the coolers and radiators that are arranged within the car’s frontal area.
What blew me away was the fact that the RC F’s spindle grille that give the car its unmistakable look, is made out of carbon fiber. That is one complex shape, but then again Toyota is at the cutting edge of composite material production as they showed us with the LFA. This is just them showing off, and I love it!Aerodynamics Come First
The aerodynamics are as advanced as they get and the side skirts – if you can even call them that – are just the tip of a very complex underbody section that helps the car stick to the asphalt at speed.
GT500 cars always have the coolest side mirror designs! They have to stick out quite a lot because of the actual width of the cars, so that creates the need to design something that doesn’t upset the flow of air too much.
To help cut down time when it comes to pit stops, Team Sard use Bray windscreen skins which simply peel away in layers when the car comes in. This keeps the bugs and other debris clear of the driver’s vision.
Back in January when Lexus kindly lent Larry and I an RC F press vehicle, it was the overall profile of the car that stunned me the most. It’s a very aggressively-designed coupe shape, and its translation over to GT500 racer has further emphasised this with a more supple and muscular stance.
The BBS wheels are a great match to the overall design. They are an instantly recognisable addition to the car and a detail that motorsport fans always like to see.
The 13-inch wide rear wheels run massive 330-section rubber, which is partly why GT500 cars manage to maintain so much speed through the corners. There is a rather big fender gap between the top of the tyre to the actual fender, and that’s probably something engineered for both aerodynamics as well as to account for suspension compression.
Seeing that the titanium exhaust passes through the passenger side of the car before exiting out the door, it’s a good thing the cabin has air conditioning or else the drive would pass out. I see where Under Suzuki got the inspiration for his side-exit exhaust now!
Here’s another close detail of the rear section of the right-hand side skirt where it aligns with the wheel arch. That is the cutest little canard I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure it’s there for a very specific reason.
This brings us to the rear section of the car, where the rest of the aerodynamics package extends onto both outside and deep underneath the car. It’s also where we’ve managed to get our name – Speedhunters’ Japanese webshop logo proudly displayed along with other important brands within the industry. Hashimoto Corporation are the guys that distribute Speedhunters merchandise within Japan and thanks to them we are able to see our name in a prestigious series such as Super GT.The RC F GT500 Wins On Looks
Just look at that rear end! Curiously enough, both the front and rear lights are off a production car. Because of their LED technology they were given the green light for use on the race car as they were – and apologies for the pun – impressively light!
The trunk lid sports an integrated and extended lip spoiler and can be completely removed without interfering with the main wing stays.
Once you remove that along with the rest of the rear section you have access to both the dampers and anti-roll bars, which always need to be set up and adjusted at each race. They are mounted in-board like the fronts, damping the movements that the double wishbone layout transfers via the pushrods. The 6-speed transaxle transmission can also be reached from the rear – again why I wasn’t able to take any shots of this particular section.
The DTM regulations introduced last year also saw the GT500 cars move over to swan neck type stays for rear wings.
These are the way a lot of other race series are going, as they interfere less with the flow of air that is being used by the planes of the wings to actually generate downforce. Plus, they looks seriously cool, so there’s no real reason to fault them.
I’m a GT-R man through and through, but the RC F is by far the prettiest and most in-your-face car currently competing in GT500. It makes the NSX Concept look fidgety and the GT-Rs look, well… dated to put it mildly.
What do you guys think? I mean, for what GT500 lacks in actual variety compared to GT300, it makes up for with these beautifully-created factory racers.
I’m sad to say that the cockpit was also off-limits for shooting. Apparently there are some things in there that Sard didn’t want others to see – perhaps the seat position or other solutions that they are allowed to play with.
The reason I had to hurry up with the shoot was that all six RC F race cars entered in GT500 this year were due to have a group photo taken on the main straight.
They just managed to fit across the width of the track, then were joined by their respective drivers.
Nothing is quite as satisfying as taking a closer look at a race car and seeing how efficient mechanical and aerodynamic engineering is getting, and how innovative solutions continue to pop-up despite the countless rules and regulations that cars like the GT500 RC F have to adhere to. A big thanks goes out to Lexus Team Sard for giving me those precious minutes with the car and for the guys at Hashimoto Corporation for making it possible.
The question is, what other JDM race car would you like to see featured next?
Dino Dalle Carbonare