By Jamie Klein
The Honda NSX-GT is well established as one of the most legendary cars ever to have raced in SUPER GT and its forerunner, the All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (JGTC), with four GT500 championship titles and over 50 race wins to its credit.
But upon the conclusion of the 2023 season, the iconic NSX-GT will bow out of the series, marking the end of an era for one of Honda’s most successful racing programmes.
The NSX-GT first appeared in the JGTC back in 1996, with Team Kunimitsu becoming the first to enter the car, using the Le Mans 24 Hours class-winning NSX GT2 as the basis. The following year marked Honda’s first works involvement with a two-car attack on the GT500 class, which was then doubled to four cars for the 1998 season.
By 1998, the NSX-GT had established itself as the class of the field, with a clean sweep of pole positions that year, while Nakajima Racing pair Tom Coronel and Koji Yamanishi secured the first win for an NSX-GT at Fuji Speedway en route to second in the standings. The first championship title followed in 2000 for Team Mugen’s Ryo Michigami.
During this phase of ever-evolving GT500 regulations, the NSX-GT went through various iterations, with one of the most notable changes coming in 2002 as the car was given a facelift in line with the road-going NSX. That year, Honda crews would win more than half of the year’s races, a feat replicated in 2007 when ARTA duo Ralph Firman and Daisuke Ito won the championship with a round to spare - the first time that had been achieved.
At the end of the 2009 season, it was time for Honda to bid farewell to the original first-generation NSX-GT, with the HSV-010 GT taking its place for 2010 and duly winning the championship in its first year of service. But in 2014, a new GT500 car based on the forthcoming second-generation NSX road car would mark the NSX-GT nameplate’s return.
The arrival of Formula 1 champion Jenson Button to the series in 2018 drove interest in SUPER GT, particularly outside Japan, to fresh heights. Together with Naoki Yamamoto, the British driver helped Honda to a first GT500 title with the new-look NSX-GT, as well as a first ever championship for Team Kunimitsu, the outfit that started it all over 20 years prior.
Following Button’s departure at the end of 2019, young gun Tadasuke Makino was brought on board by Team Kunimitsu for the 2020 season, with he and Yamamoto giving the NSX-GT a second title in three years in a dramatic season finale that year. This was a particularly significant achievement as a major change in the GT500 rules obliged Honda to reconfigure the NSX-GT from a midship car to a front-engined car for the first time.
This year, Honda is going all out to give the NSX-GT one final championship crown before the car is retired in favour of an all-new design for the 2024 season based on the Civic Type R road car that was previewed earlier this year at the Tokyo Auto Salon.
It should therefore come as no surprise that motivation is especially high among the Honda drivers, many of whom admit a sense of sadness that the iconic NSX-GT is soon to disappear from the grid, albeit combined with excitement for the next chapter.
Makino, now in his fourth year with Team Kunimitsu alongside Yamamoto, says: “I will really miss the NSX-GT. I love driving it, the way it looks, and of course three years ago I won the championship with it, so I’m a little bit sad to see it go. But at the same time, every chapter has to come to an end, and I’m looking forward to driving the Civic.”
Similar sentiments are expressed by Nirei Fukuzumi, who is part of the new-look two-car ARTA squad this year and still searching for a first GT500 championship to add to the crown he earned in the lower GT300 category driving a Honda NSX GT3 in 2019.
“We have a really good feeling in the team,” says Fukuzumi. “I am sure we will be strong and we will have the performance to win races. For sure I will miss the NSX, the design and the name are so famous and well-loved. But I am very excited for next year with the Civic.”
Fukuzumi’s co-driver on board the #16 ARTA car, Hiroki Otsu, adds: “I’ve been driving the NSX since I started in GT300 [in 2018], so of course it’s sad, but because it’s the last year it feels like it’s time to shine. I want to win the title in the last year of the NSX.
“That said, the new Civic GT500 Concept looks really cool! Of course, the road model also looks cool, but it looks refined as a SUPER GT car and it looks like it will be fast. I’m sure that HRC will make a strong car, so I’m expecting a lot.”
Honda’s SUPER GT project leader Masahiro Saiki acknowledges that the various changes to the second-generation NSX-GT in its 10 seasons of service have thrown up their challenges, but have only served to strengthen the brand in its quest for more title success.
“We started in 2014 with a midship, hybrid-powered car, then we took away the hybrid [in 2016], and because of regulation changes we changed to a FR layout [in 2020], so we had a tough time due to the repetition of big model changes,” says Saiki. “However, as a result we have widened our knowledge technically, and were able to gain huge assets in terms of engineering.
“To participate with the NSX, Honda’s flagship car, we have no choice but to outperform our rivals and win, that’s what we believe. This season will be the last season for us to race with the NSX-GT, and we will put in our best efforts to recapture the championship, and bring the NSX-GT era to a successful conclusion. Please continue to support us until the end.”