Forgive us if this post is couched in a lot of unfamiliar terminology. We’ll endeavor to explain this news to readers unfamiliar with all of the aspects of this story!
The Super GT series is a very popular grand touring car racing series in Japan. There’s one season every year and there are two classes, GT500 and GT300, which are so named for their horsepower restrictions (500 and 300 horsepower, as you may have guessed). This weekend saw the eighth and final race of the regular season at the Twin Ring Motegi race track, and in the GT300 category, the Hatsune Miku Good Smile BMW Z4 pulled out the win. At the wheel were drivers Taku Bamba and Nobuteru Taniguchi.
The car is noteworthy for being informally categorized as an “Itasha,” which is a particular category of Japanese cars featuring anime character vinyl prints on the bodywork. The designs are very colorful and attention-grabbing and are often thought of as more than a little tacky – the word “Itasha” itself could be translated as “a car that hurts to look at.” Usually Itasha are normal passenger cars which are parked in a high-visibility area for bystanders to gawk at, but they’ve begun making their way into motorsport. Think Kyle Petty putting a Garfield sticky plush in the back window of his Charger, say.
This particular BMW Z4 Itasha features Hatsune Miku, a character developed to promote a particular kind of text-to-voice synthesis program called a Vocaloid. It’s a piece of software that enables users to create a synthesized singing voice capable of pronouncing recognizable lyrics without having to involve an actual human singer. The character ignited the collective imagination of Japanese geek culture and has been a fixture of the Japanese internet for several years. The appeal of Hatsune Miku owes in part to the familiar Japanese strength of character design, but also to the collaborative web-based culture that grew up around amateur composers writing songs and using the software to handle vocal duties. In effect, it created a recognizable pop singer with a unique voice and a catalog far more vast than any human could ever hope to create.
The character was included in the race car design of BMW tuning company Studie‘s entry into Super GT racing in 2008. According to their recent press release, this was done to make the car “run on fan power.” With the character featuring a rabid online fan base, the company presumably hoped that it would help draw some attention to their racing team. The team, presently known as “GSR & Studie with TeamUKYO,” has participated in three seasons thus far but this is the first time they’ve had this level of success. We hope they take some time to enjoy the spoils of victory!