SUPER GT 2014 – ROUND 5 FUJI SPEEDWAY – HONDA RISING

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Both Tomohiro and I are excited for the day ahead as we barrel down the highway towards Fuji Speedway at 7am, Top Gear (subtitled in Japanese) playing on the mini screen in the VW. I knew the typhoon heading our way was an issue but was hoping it would blow over before it reached us. I couldn’t have been more mistaken if I tried…

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I took as many precautionary measures as I could, fully equipping myself for the worst should it come chucking down meaning wet weather gear for both my image making weapons and myself along with a spare pair of socks. But this was to prove a futile move in the end as I might as well have shot naked. I was literally soaked within minutes of being ferried out track side.

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Enough with my sob story though and back to the race. I was expecting something different today, something I had a sneaking suspicion of after Sugo round 4 and a recent SuperGT test at Suzuka – fast Hondas. Instead of my usual press bento lunch, I was expecting to have to eat some humble pie with a side of eggs to the face.

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With the weather lifting briefly for press time on the grid, I make my way down to one of the longest straights in Japan for an unlikely sight – Honda on pole! The Keihin #17 Car piloted by Toshihiro Kaneishi for the opening stint sitting almost gloatingly in the number 1 slot!

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I touch base with JP Oliveira and have a quick chat about the race ahead. JP wasn’t so enthusiastic about the conditions but was certainly up for the challenge and looking focused as always leaning on his mighty GTR’s massive rear spoiler.

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Further down the order was James Rossiter, who with the rain coming down heavier, was nowhere to be found (and who can blame him). After seeing his aggressive display in his Tom’s Petronas Lexus RC-F at Sugo last time out in the wet, I was looking forward to see what was up his sleeve here at Fuji.

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In the international GT300 end of the grid, it was a change to see the Japanese makers dominating the line up without a German machine in sight inside the top 6 qualifiers! German domination broken in GT300? We will see. The momentum for the number #61 BRZ is building that’s for sure. After Saturday’s qualifying, Kota Sasaki told us that, while the car was great over the course of one lap, he wasn’t expecting to be strong in the race.

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At the very back of the Grid was a very sick Audi R8 of Hitotsuyama Racing, suffering from multiple afflictions including massive engine issues that effectively ruled them out of qualifying. The team changed the engine overnight but wasn’t expecting a strong result at Fuji.

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With the scene set, the machines roll out into the formation lap and I say “formation lap” because conditions had deteriorated enough by that point that it took two laps under the safety car to get the race underway.

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Lights out and the Keihin NSX held its nerve into the turn one to go on and build a lead over the hard charging #23 Motul GTR.

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A little bit too much enthusiasm from the Raybrig boys caused them to take their NSX concept offroad and allow the Weider NSX to slide through and up to 4th. This now meant that the Honda machines were now occupying three out of four of the top positions with the #23 Motul GTR being the lone Nissan amongst the NSX posse.

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In the GT300 class, the Subaru BRZ was as expected dominating over the Panasonic Prius which started in P2 and was building a healthy gap of over 12 seconds and while the Prius with its hybrid assist had the edge out of the corners, it couldn’t quite make this advantage count.

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Conditions were, by this stage, getting just absolutely ridiculous and the odds of some boat racing replacing the 4 wheeled variety meant that the safety car was called out to marshall a restart. This would happen on more than one occasion after the first red flag of the day. With a restart on the cards, I headed back to the media centre to hang myself out to dry and take stock.

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After cleaning and drying out my gear and downing a much needed dose of caffeine, I braved the still torrential typhoon and headed down to the shooters shuttle to get some more action in the swimming pool formally know as FSW.

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But conditions continued to worsen. It was now just a madhouse with cars aquaplaning and running wide here, there and everywhere.

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JP Oliveira and Yasuda were doing very well at this stage and were up to sixth position; quite the feat considering the Impul Calsonic team’s 88kg handicap. With the championship tight at the top for both drivers and teams, JP and Yasuda needed a good showing here with Suzuka next up on the calendar. Caldarelli in the #37 Keeper Lexus RC-F held a slim 10 point lead in the drivers championship heading into Fuji with a mere 7 points separating the Tom’s and Impul teams.

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Cars jostled for position throughout the next 20 laps after the restart and at one point, there was a three wide, door to door moment through Prius corner that im sure had the crowds cheering. These dedicated fans of the sport braved some of the worst conditions possible at a motor sport event and yet you could see their excitement as they stood to wave and cheer for each lap as the cars thundered past. Unfortunately I wasn’t on hand to capture that exact moment but I’m sure it was pretty awesome!

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The weather started to ease off towards the end of the race and teams pitted in for tire changes with some opting to stay out as the track began to dry. This turned out to be a bad call for the Zent Cermuo RC F team which opted for slicks only to find the rain come down just as hard as before, a single lap after the change.

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With ten laps to go, conditions again worsened and the safety car was called out for the second time of the afternoon. The Weider NSX team could do nothing but watch as their lead was again reduced to nothing.

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Things had suddenly become very tense as the #23 Motul GTR, on fresher rubber, looked like a threat for the win if the race was allowed to restart…

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…but the safety car stayed out and with it went the GTR’s chance of snatching an unlikely win. It was deemed too dangerous for the race to finish under its own steam which was disappointing for spectators and competitors alike. This handed the #18 Weider-Modulo NSX and Honda its first victory of the season and I have a sneaky feeling that Honda will be adding to its podium tally before the season is out. The Hondas were undoubtedly faster than they have been all season and it was obvious that this will also be a morale booster for Honda having snatched victory at Toyota’s own circuit.

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In GT300, Sasaki’s concern about race pace was totally unfounded as his BRZ proved unstoppable with a fantastic pole-to-win display at Fuji. A similarly impressive performance of driving came from the #11 Gainer SLS which charged up to 2nd after being down as low as 19th during the race. With this result, Bjorn Wirdheim and Katsuyuki Hiranaka now top the GT300 standings above Nobu Taniguchi and Takeshi Kataoka in the Good Smile Racing Z4 for the first time this season. The BRZ Subaru team has also taken a leap up the standings cementing third in the tally after their dominant win.

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Here is the winning Honda pairing of Makoweicki and Yamamoto looking more than a little happy. One things for sure, Frederic currently has the biggest smile in motorsports!

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Kota Sasaki and Takuto Iguchi embrace after a pole to flag win.

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Thats our wrap-up from round 5 at Fuji. Suzuka is next up and it’s a big one – 6 hours at Japan’s most famous track which is going be a doozy and 7Tune will be there to bring you all the action. I am just praying for a dry race!

7Tune – The Ultimate Super GT Experience

Words and Photos – Adrian Venner

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