How will the 'Z factor' impact SUPER GT's 2022 title fight?

The 2022 SUPER GT season kicks off this weekend at Okayama, and the arrival of the Nissan Z has only lended extra intrigue to what should be another sensational fight between Japan's 'big three'. Jamie Klein is your guide to the season ahead.


Although it would perhaps be hyperbolic to bill the 2022 SUPER GT season as the closest-ever, you have to go back through the history books quite a few years to find a time when all three manufacturers, Honda, Nissan and Toyota, have looked so evenly matched.

The last two seasons have effectively been two-horse races between the front-engined version of the Honda NSX-GT and the Toyota GR Supra, with the championship’s success ballast and the strengths of the GT-R around tracks like Suzuka just about keeping Nissan in the running heading into the final round of the season but not in genuine contention.

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Prior to the full introduction of Class One rules in 2020, the 2017-19 rules cycle was characterised by Toyota (then using its Lexus brand) dominance with Honda and Nissan taking it turns to provide the main challenge. The 2014-16 cycle, the first with a common tub, was largely ruled by Nissan, with the first iteration of the NSX-GT notably way off the pace with its ill-fated hybrid system.

That would make 2013 the last truly competitive season for all three manufacturers, but you have to go back even further - to 2009 - for a year in which the top three places in the drivers’ standings were held by crews representing three different makes. That was also the last time that the three manufacturers’ best-placed cars were all split by 10 points or fewer in the final standings (for reference, the top Nissan was 19 points adrift last year).

Whether we could see a repeat of that dream scenario in 2022 largely hinges on how much progress the laggard of the last two years, Nissan, has made with its brand-new Z GT500.


The early signs have been promising. The GT-R had too much drag and as a result was never competitive at Fuji Speedway, a particular disadvantage when the Toyota-owned venue hosted the season finale (where all cars have their success ballast removed). The new Z can be seen as a reaction to that, in much the same way as the 2020-spec GT-R was the inevitable result of the 2017 car not having enough downforce.

In the recent pre-season test at Fuji, NISMO man Ronnie Quintarelli hit the magic 300km/h mark, putting the Z on more or less level pegging with the Supra, which with its revised aerodynamic package is now marginally slower in a straight line than it was in its previous form.

Nissan GT500 line-up at a glance:





NDDP Racing



Japan Katsumasa Chiyo

Japan Mitsunori Takaboshi

Team Impul



Belgium Bertrand Baguette

Japan Kazuki Hiramine




Italy Ronnie Quintarelli

Japan Tsugio Matsuda

Kondo Racing



Japan Kohei Hirate

Japan Daiki Sasaki

The main question is therefore how competitive the Z will be at the more technical circuits that make up the bulk of the schedule - especially Suzuka, which now hosts two races again as it did in 2020, and Motegi, which has replaced Fuji as the host of the final round. But the early signs from pre-season testing, both official and private, have been promising.

“With this year’s cars, all three manufacturers improved their respective weak points,” Quintarelli told “So I think this season, all three cars will be close everywhere. At Suzuka we were quick [in private testing] but I don’t think we have quite the same cornering speed as last year, whereas I think the other manufacturers improved on that front. But we improved at Fuji. 

“I don’t think we’ll have a situation where one manufacturer is much stronger at a certain kind of track. Even at Okayama [in official pre-season testing], on Day 2 everyone was very close. The level is so high, also between the tyre manufacturers. All the small details, and the teamwork, will be very important.” 

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As always, Nissan is the hardest of the three manufacturers to judge in terms of its performance, with its two primary factory NISMO-run entries the only cars in the 15-strong GT500 field to use Michelin tyres, and only one car on the benchmark Bridgestones, the Team Impul machine. 

On the other hand, Honda has three cars on Bridgestones, and all of these squads - Team Kunimitsu, ARTA and Real Racing - are likely to be fighting for the title again, especially with the introduction of a revised NSX-GT based on the latest Type S version of the street model. Extra ammunition in the Honda camp comes in the form of Real recruit Nobuharu Matsushita, who is positively brimming with confidence for this weekend’s Okayama opener.

Honda GT500 line-up at a glance:








Japan Tomoki Nojiri

Japan Nirei Fukuzumi

Team Mugen



Japan Toshiki Oyu

Japan Ukyo Sasahara

Real Racing



Japan Koudai Tsukakoshi

Japan Nobuharu Matsushita

Nakajima Racing



Japan Takuya Izawa

Japan Hiroki Otsu

Team Kunimitsu



Japan Naoki Yamamoto

Japan Tadasuke Makino

The Type S upgrade has put Honda firmly at the ‘downforce’ end of the ‘downforce versus top speed’ spectrum, occupying the ground where Nissan used to reside, with the Z now at the other end of the scale and the Supra occupying some kind of middle ground.

But the gaps between the three cars’ respective positions on this hypothetical axis are now much smaller than they were previously - the Honda is still a potent weapon around Fuji despite a shortfall of around 2km/h on the straights relative to the opposition.

ARTA chief engineer Ryan Dingle told on the Type S’s performance in official testing at Fuji: “Straight line speed is not on the same level as the other two, but we were down on straight line speed last year [relative to Toyota] and we were competitive. 

“In the summer when it gets warmer the air is less dense and the differences in straight line speed are smaller.  It’s useful [to have more top speed] in qualifying, as it’s free tenths, but once you get into the race, you’re getting a draft almost every lap. Fuji is one of those weird tracks where it seems like top speed would be a problem, but in reality it isn’t.”


Early feedback from the Type S suggests the car has become easier to drive than the previous iteration of the NSX-GT and less sensitive to minor set-up changes, something that’s likely to make the three Bridgestone-shod Hondas even more potent title threats. 

On where he feels the Type S stacks up against its rivals, Dingle added: “Last year the NSX was the most competitive car, and they haven’t made it any worse. The Supra has added downforce and it’s a little slower on the straights, and it can be more difficult to balance the car. I think the Z can still come, but I think the Supra and the NSX are a little bit ahead. They are both solid bases that have been adjusted a lot, while the Z is a brand-new car and they may need a development period. If I had to pick one, I’d probably still pick the NSX.”

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Toyota looks like it will go from being strong at Fuji and Okayama and struggling elsewhere to more of an all-rounder, with the marque’s drivers reporting an improved feeling around Suzuka in particular, probably a worthwhile trade-off for no longer being the king of the speed traps. Emphasis has also been placed on making the car more competitive in warm conditions, a weak point of the Supra last year, and improving fuel efficiency, especially with three 450km races on the schedule this year along with five ‘regular’ 300km events.

At Okayama, the scene of a shock Toyota top-four lockout last year, the GR Supra certainly hasn’t lost any performance per se, but then again a repeat of Honda’s lacklustre 2021 showing at the track looks unlikely based on the NSX-GT’s speed in pre-season testing.

Toyota GT500 line-up at a glance:





Rookie Racing



Japan Kazuya Oshima

Japan Kenta Yamashita

Racing Project Bandoh



Japan Yuji Kunimoto

Japan Sena Sakaguchi








France Giuliano Alesi

Japan Sho Tsuboi


Japan Ritomo Miyata

France Sacha Fenestraz




Japan Hiroaki Ishiura

Japan Yuji Tachikawa




Japan Yuhi Sekiguchi

Japan Yuichi Nakayama

TOM’S man Sacha Fenestraz thinks the Toyota contingent could end up missing having a definitive strong point like it enjoyed the last two years at Fuji and last year at Okayama.

“I would say it’s better to have the situation we had two years ago when the straight line speed was better,” Fenestraz told “I think all three manufacturers now have a chance at Okayama. Some people underestimate Nissan, but I think they will be quick. I remember being in front of one of the Nissans [during testing] and they just flew by.

“I would say we are third-fastest of the manufacturers, at least in terms of consistency throughout winter testing. It’s just a feeling and I hope I am wrong. But it doesn’t mean we can’t win races or be there. All three manufacturers look competitive, so there is no room for mistakes, there is extra pressure, and I would say it’s more exciting, definitely.”

Once again, Toyota has five of its six cars on Bridgestone tyres, and its strongest contender is likely to be the #36 TOM’S machine that set the fastest lap in both pre-season tests. That said, question marks remain over how close Giuliano Alesi can match reigning champion teammate Sho Tsuboi in his rookie GT500 season, especially in qualifying.


Similar asterisks could equally be applied to Rookie Racing - boosted by the arrival of long-time TOM’S man Tsutomu Tojo as chief engineer but apparently a step behind the #36 on raw pace - and the #37 TOM’S car, with its exciting but unproven pairing of Fenestraz and Ritomo Miyata. SARD, where Yuhi Sekiguchi has moved after winning last year’s title alongside Tsuboi, has shown strong pace at certain points in the winter but seems to be lacking consistency.

One thing that is certain to make a difference to the way the title battle plays out this year is the schedule. Fuji, traditionally a dominant circuit for the Supra, now plays host to the second and fourth rounds of the season, meaning the latter event in particular will be heavily affected by success ballast - and will no longer play such a decisive role in the title battle.

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Conversely, Motegi, is reprising its traditional role as the curtain-closer, which has to favour the NSX-GT over the Supra. So if the three Bridgestone Honda crews can get through the first half of the season without conceding too much ground, they should be in good shape for when the success ballast is halved at Autopolis and then the ballast-free Motegi finale.

“For us, losing one of the Motegi races is tough, but now we have the finale at Motegi, and at a time of year we’re usually quick there,” said Dingle, whose #8 ARTA car has won two of the last three Motegi races. “I’d prefer that to the finale at Fuji. At Fuji with no success ballast it has been pretty tough to get on the podium against the Supras. Even when the [Team Kunimitsu] car won [in 2020], it was with the help of other cars. If you offered me right now the chance to go into the final round at Motegi with a two-point deficit, I’d probably take it.”

But the real unknown - the 'Z factor', if you will - remains Nissan, who tested at Motegi privately in February. The GT-R very nearly won there last November, with the team Impul machine losing out only after running out of fuel within sight of the chequered flag, and the team’s new driver Bertrand Baguette is upbeat about Nissan’s prospects at the Tochigi circuit.


The Belgian was also keen to highlight that even if the Z isn’t the strongest car this weekend at Okayama, Nissan still has plenty to learn about how to really make the best of its new weapon, and the use of success ballast in the championship is such that catching up is always a possibility until the weights start coming off for the last two races of the year.

“The gaps between the cars look small, but you can still develop the car during the season and evolve the set-up and gain a lot of time,” Baguette told “I feel like we have more potential because the car is brand new and we only did 10 days of testing with it, we still have so much to learn about it. I hope that our improvement will be bigger than the others, but anyway I expect we’ll be faster at the end of the season than the beginning.

“As long as you can score good points two or three times in the first six races, you can be in the fight, and the most important races are always the last two. By the last race of the season our car will be six months older, and there’s so much we can do in that time. At Motegi the car was already feeling good, so I’m confident we can be competitive there. For sure it won’t be easy, we’ll have to fight, but that’s what we love about this championship.”

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2022 SUPER GT schedule:

Round Date Venue Distance
Round 1

April 16-17

Okayama International Circuit 300km
Round 2 May 3-4 Fuji Speedway 450km
Round 3

May 28-29

Suzuka Circuit  300km
Round 4

August 6-7

Fuji Speedway 450km
Round 5 August 27-28 Suzuka Circuit 450km
Round 6 September 17-18 Sportsland Sugo 300km
Round 7

October 1-2

Autopolis 300km
Round 8 November 5-6 Mobility Resort Motegi 300km

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