TSURUMI, Japan – Every year the ritual is repeated. All winter the cars have been improved and tested. One step remains before they are sent out to the first race of the Super GT season. They must be blessed. To win another championship the NISMO drivers and engineers need more than just skill and dedication, they need the gods on their side.
Earlier in the morning, NISMO's president Shoichi Miyatani had visited a Shinto shrine in Tokyo to collect sacred sake. Back at the racing organization's headquarters, the entire workforce gathered – the drivers, pit mechanics and staff.
They watched as the sake was poured over the hood of the No. 23 car. It's called Shutsujin-shiki, the Departure for the Front ceremony, and it echoes the rituals of centuries past when samurai made war across Japan.
"At that time just before they went into battle they wished and prayed for the safety of all the people and winning," said Miyatani. "This is a good opportunity for all the employees of NISMO and the team directors and drivers to get together and feel united as one, and go for the winning."
Last year ended on a high note. Ronnie Quintarelli and his co-driver Masataka Yanagida won the championship, their second successive victory, in the S Road REITO MOLA GT-R.
This year the winning pair are in the NISMO works car, the No. 23, and hoping for success again.
"It's a really great feeling," said Quintarelli. "Especially when you start the season and it is not going well, and then it starts to go well and you achieve the championship. You remember all the hard moments and in front of you you can see "Champion". It's a really great feeling and I want to experience it again soon."
J.P. de Oliveira will be racing in the Calsonic Impul GT-R.
"I'm excited," he said. "We haven't raced in a while. I love to race. Testing is one thing but racing is when things get really serious, and you need to focus on the result. I've been looking forward for the first race. Okayama is a track that I like and I can't wait to get in the car and do the qualifying and the race there."
As soon as the ceremony was over engineers rushed forward to clean the sake from the car, keen that nothing should tarnish the paintwork.
It was loaded onto a truck together with the tools, equipment and spares needed for the pits for the long journey to Okayama, the circuit in western Japan that will host the first race.
The Super GT season is about to begin.
# # #