Golden week here in Japan is a nightmare for anyone with a car and an intention to drive it. It felt as if every man and his dog decided to descend upon Fuji Speedway for this, the second round of the 2014 Super GT championship. 90,000 people it turns out…
I ended up taking a lesser travelled route to the megalopolis of motor sport in Japan via the Odakyu Romance car straight into Gotemba station from Shinjuku, Tokyo was a breeze…or at least it would have been, if I had managed to find a seat! This was an early clue that I was in for a very busy day!
As always, I headed over to the media centre to grab my vest and sit through the photographers briefing but found myself lingering on the plan of action for the day. I was mostly interested in following two teams in particular. Kondo Racing in GT500,
This year, Kondo Racing have a superstar driver in the form of Michael Krumm. Hailing from Reutlingen, Germany, he has long been a fixture in Japanese and European GT racing series and was the GT1 world champion in 2011.
I make my way over to the Kondo Racing pits to enquire about what happened in Okayama and how he is feeling about Fuji but perhaps more importantly than that, to catch up on more personal levels.
While Okayama was a disappointing result for Kondo racing, Michael was more upbeat about the race at Fuji. The team had managed to make the cut for Q2 (Super GT runs with a two stage qualifying setup) and were starting from 6th on the grid, a major improvement over Okayama.
I couldn’t help but feel that Michael was holding something in reserve as Kondo Racing had suffered major tire issues during the morning free run and yesterday’s qualifying with two blowouts. But Krumm being the pro that he is, just gave me a grin in answer to my question.
Next on my hit list was team Subaru R&D Sport.
I didn’t get the chance to talk in depth to anyone from the team but I went and observed them on the grid. They all were very “zoned in” on the task at hand, from the drivers, to the mechanics and the people in other suits.
Team R&D Sport severely underperformed in Okayama with the BRZ this year. An unacceptable result, considering the stellar performances the team put in over the course of the 2013 season. At last year’s Okayama event, the team finished inside the top five and qualified on pole for the Fuji 500km.
Revenge was on the cards for the R&D boys with an obvious point to prove.
With the start looming close, a quick scan of the grid gave me a better chance than the last race to take a closer look at the GT500 machines and drivers. On pole was J.P. Oliveira who was really on form in the Impul Calsonic GT-R.
Here is James Rossiter and Kohei Hirata enjoying a pre race chat on the grid.
The Arta concept NSX. A car that promised so much but has been a bitter disappointment so far this year.
The Leon Mercedes SLS; one of the best looking cars on the grid.
The masses descended on the grid meaning a hasty exit for me so it was off to the first corner for the starting ceremony and obligatory rolling start shot into turn one.
From pole, JP Oliveira leads from the front, diving deep into the turn to keep the lead.
The GT300 series cars followed shortly after. Here is good friend Hideto Yasuoka taking the reigns of the Wakos Aston.
Not long after the start, I spin around to see the mangled and spinning Gallardo of the JROC team heading for retirement.
Thankfully, the accident wasn’t serious. This crash brought out the safety car and the field bunched back up, eliminating any gaps the leaders had accumulated through sheer pace.
J.P. Oliveira was heavily affected by the restart as he had, by that point, built a three second lead. With a number of teams running strongly, the race at Fuji was only just getting started. Oliviera looked to be capable of running away in the first stint and was easily handling the pressure from Motoyama in the StarRoad GT-R in second.
Then disaster struck…
Fortunately, Motayama got out and the fire crews and medics were all there in an instant.
Just when the race felt like it was heating up, it turned the pace up another notch with Motoyama’s retiement. The Lexus Wrecking Crew with the number 36 Petronas entry was now up to third.
In the GT300 class, the unlikely shape of the Panasonic Prius led the way with the B-Max GT-R for company. Both the Japanese chargers had two German fighters snapping at their heels; the Studie BMW Z4 and the Gainer Dixcel SLS.
Back over in GT500, Oliviera had lost and regained the lead but the frantic and heated battle between Michael Krumm’s Kondo GT-R and the Eneos Sustina RC-F was where all eyes were focussed. By this stage, the GT300 cars were now acting as mobile chicanes, ensuring a great spectacle of driving skill.
With the magic 100 laps approaching, everything began unravelling on and off the track, with cars and drivers getting loose and wild as the tire wear took its toll on everyone.
As you can see from the images, the tire wear was borderline critical.
In the dying stages of the race, the #0 Mugen CR-Z began losing serious amounts of pace and was falling quickly into the clutches of the Good Smile Z4, which was obviously on fresher tires.
In GT500, it seems that a pattern is emerging. For Honda, being soundly thrashed and reduced to the GT500 version of “making up the numbers”, is likely to be met with a little fury from team management.
The NSX Concept GT500 cars have yet to achieve a podium finish, clearly lacking pace in both qualifying and race trim with a starting grid slot of fifth being their best result. Here at Fuji, the Honda’s all finished basically line astern at the back of the pack, well off the pace.
It is still early in the season, so we will yet see what Honda has to say in response to the lackluster performance from the package.
J.P. Oliveira and the Impul Calsonic GT-R thunder on to the flag to claim an emphatic win with the Zent Cerumo Lexus RC-F of Hirate and Tachikawa taking second. The Eneos Sustina RC-F Lexus of Oshima and Kunimoto picked up a fantastic third.
In the GT300 class, Taniguchi and Kataoka win again, making it two from two under German power. The German contingent is strong again in 2014 with the Gainer Mercedes SLS keeping the Z4 company on the second step of the podium. It wasn’t all heading West though, with the Mugen CR-Z of Yuki Nakayama and Tomoki Nojiri filling the third step of the podium.
The second round of the 2014 Super GT season at Fuji Speedway was an exciting and action packed race and with the Impul Calsonic GT-R claiming its first 2014 win, the potential Lexus lock-out on the championship seems to have been avoided. Not to mention that the fight between the Germans and the Japanese in GT300 is developing fiercely and is likely to rage all season long.
Next up is Autopolis – we will see you there!
7Tune. The Ultimate Racing Experience Since 2005.
Words and Photos: Adrian Venner
Editing: Adam J.P Zillin
7Tune would like to express special thanks to the following people, teams and organizations:
Jun Terashima @ Fuji Speedway
Michael Krumm @ Kondo Racing
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