During the three plus hour journey from deepest Tokyo to the most northern track in Japan I had plenty of time to reflect upon what might go down in Round 4 of the 2014 Super GT championship… it turned out to be a cracking, chaotic and unpredictable race with a number of surprising results… Read on to find out how the race unfolded…
Its the midway point of the season and things are now shaping up nicely with Nissan leading the GT500 championship and Lexus chomping at their heels. The ailing NSX concept cars are nowhere near the pace of Nissan and Toyota and have been so for three rounds now.
I had a feeling that somehow due to expected conditions and low weight handicaps that this would be the time for the NSX cars to shine and give me perhaps some overdue egg on my face. If you have been following my series on this season you would be forgiven for thinking I have written the concept cars off completely.
Imagine my surprise when I walk onto the grid for our 5 mins of press time to see that before my eyes on the front row of the grid was the #100 Raybrig NSX machine and shock horror, the remaining NSX cars filling up 4 of the other five top ten grid slots! Finally some pace from the Hondas.
Being halfway through the season, the weight handicap system is now at critical mass for some teams. Early championship pace setter with the mighty Calsonic GT-R, JP Oliviera, is now crippled with an 84Kg handicap and closest potential rivals, Quintarelli and Caldarelli (Nissan and Lexus respectively) are now carrying upwards of 50Kg. The other teams who have not been so competitive or maybe just unlucky, will now enter the fold with lower weight handicaps and therefore quicker machines – swings and roundabouts.
Onto the GT300 side of things and the same applys with Nobu Taniguchi in the Goodsmile Z4 feeling the pinch of extra ballast.
Heading up the grid in mid season at Sugo is predictably, as we have seen at the previous rounds, a majorly German affair with the two GAINER SLS machines taking pole and third with the BRZ Subaru R&D sport the Japanese meat in a German sandwich.
A good showing from some friends of 7tune, Hitotsuyama Racing’s Richard Lyons and Tomonobu Fujii and Team Wakos Aston Martin’s, Hideto Yasuoka was great to see! Lyons and Fujii qualifying in 7th and the Aston of Yasuoka in 8th. Yasuoka and the Aston have traditionally done well at Sugo in the past; it’s a track that suits the British bulldog well.
With the race kicking off, conditions are extremely tricky to call as it had been raining on and off all weekend. On the GT500 front, my money was on a Rossiter/Nakajima Pole to flag victory as their pace in the wet was fantastic all weekend.
As it happened, tyre choices for all teams was going to be pivotal in this race.
Chaos ensued as rain started to fall on the formation lap and a number of teams peeled into the pits to change tyres. This turned out to be a huge mistake for some, as, no sooner had the rain started, it stopped again. To add insult to injury, the Super GT officials then piled on some misery by slapping three GT300 teams with 10 second penalties; Team BRZ, Studie Z4 and Panasonic Prius.
With the rain still in two minds on whether to start or stop, action at the famously narrow track of Sugo was thick and fast with a lot of door to door racing into most corners; the slippery track catching a lot of drivers out as they overshot their braking points.
Leading the way after all the opening confusion, penalties and tyre changes in GT500 was Caldarelli in his Keeper Toms Lexus and in the GT300 class it was the Double Threat SLS Gainer team leading the way.
James Rossiter showed great pace in the Toms Petronas #36; seemingly with a point to prove after losing time early on amid the chaos during the opening laps. Rossiter was pushing so hard infact that he nearly came unstuck on a number of occasions as he overshot a number of braking points in the treacherous conditions but each time, to the crowds relief, he recovered to push on again. It was clearly an all or nothing attack.
It was becoming clear that the teams that stuck with a certain tyre choice were winning the day and those that kept changing their tyres were losing out. Talking to a few of the drivers after the race, it seems a lot of them were at odds with team strategy but this race was a tough one to call for everyone concerned.
All throughout the race there was a lot of contact between cars, which I’m sure led to a few choice words between drivers after the race.
Yasuoka and the Arnage team had managed to get the Aston up into a podium challenging position and were looking strong enough for perhaps the second step but tire strategies played against them and in the end, an unfortunate collision with the Gainer SLS forced the Mercedes team to pit. They ended up finishing fourth though – a strong result and valuable points but one that won’t satisfy the team or Yasuoka.
Two drivers who managed too stay ice cool in the chaos was the Zent Cerumo RC-F driver pairing of Tachikawa and Hirate. They raced from 11th on the grid to almost lap the entire field on their way to the chequered flag to take round 4 in the GT500 Class.
The Toms Keeper RC-F #37 finished 2nd and this was enough to leapfrog them above The Calsonic GTR and into the championship lead.
And on the third step of the podium was, to everyone’s relief, the Keihin #17 NSX – a great result for the team, drivers and the legion of Honda fans.
In GT300, Max Orido broke an 8 year victory duck for his team, capitalising on mistakes and executing a great race strategy to claim victory for Team J-Loc in the Lamborghini Gallardo.
On the second step in GT300 was the Leon SLS Mercedes of Kurosawa and Mineo; another great result. Taking the final step of the podium was the Audi combo of Lyons and Fujii, who have pulled off a great result to finish in the top three with some solid driving shown by the Hitotsuyama pairing.
All in all, the fourth round at Sugo was a great race and a great way to lead into round 5 at Fuji with the championship heading into its second half with all to play for. Caldarelli now leads the GT500 combatants …
…with Taniguchi just a nose in front in the GT300 class.
We will see you again at Fuji Speedway for Round 5 of the 2014 Super GT championship.
7Tune – The Ultimate Super GT Experience
Words and Photos – Adrian Venner