SuperGT 2015 Round 7 – Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
The seventh round of Super GT this year took place over Halloween weekend and seemingly in keeping with the paranormal holiday some teams appeared haunted by bad luck in the race.
The setting for this installment would be the Autopolis circuit on Japan's southern island of Kyushu. Autopolis itself has an interesting history that also seemed to be dogged by bad luck. Development started at the height of Japan's bubble economy in the 80s as the brainchild of a wealthy real estate mogul. The site itself was very scenic and the circuit challenging but unfortunately the mountainous location proved too far from civilization for most and the developer's dreams of hosting a Formula 1 race turned into a nightmare. His company eventually filed for bankruptcy and the circuit was later sold for just 10% of its build cost. The facilities are currently owned by Kawasaki and are used as a main test facility for its sportbikes with the occasional motor race scheduled such as this one by SuperGT.
|Image credits: SuperGT.net|
For almost all of this season the leaders of the two SuperGT categories have been the same two GT-Rs – the number 12 Calsonic Impul in GT500 and the number 10 Gainer Tainax in GT300. Going into this penultimate round the Calsonic car of Joao Paolo De Oliveira and Hironobu Yasuda had the slimmest of margins at only two points to the number 100 Raybring NSX. In GT300 however it was a very different situation with Andre Couto enjoying a huge lead of 20 points over his next true rival. Second place in the standings was held by one of his co-drivers, Katsumasa Chiyo, who's won the Blancpain Endurace Championship this year in another GT3 GT-R but as a result was unable to join some of the Super GT races in favor of that series. The GT300 title could possibly end up in Couto's hands already at this round but his closest rival in the number 31 Toyota Prius apr GT was hoping to prevent that.
The Calsonic team may have had just a slim lead in the points but in qualifying they rose to the challenge and scored a hard-earned pole position. The number 38 Zent Cerumo Lexus nearly nipped them but ended up in second while the defending champions in the number 1 Motul Autech car were in third. Pole in GT300 went to the number 2 Syntium Lotus while the Prius drivers seemed set to upset the ramen cart for Andre Couto by qualifying in second while he was mired down in 14th.
Heavy cloud cover with a threat of rain painted the circuit a haunting grey as the race began. Misfortune struck early for the Prius because instead of starting from that key second spot it had to begin in the pits as mechanical trouble developed. At the green, the Calsonic car only just held the lead after the first corner as the Zent Lexus seemed determined to snatch it away. GT300 had a clean start and the Lotus started romping away to a healthy lead.
It appeared like Yuji Tachikawa in the Zent car had the measure of De Oliveira in the Calsonic early on but eventually he was passed by Ronnie Quintarelli in the number 1 Motul Autech GT-R. Soon after Tachikawa made a strange error and ended up off the road. He managed to recover but that ruined his challenge to the front-runners.
The lead in GT500 now came down to a dogfight between the two GT-Rs – and it turned into a dogfight indeed. After a pit stop just after halfway through the race, Yasuda swapped into the Calsonic and came out just in front of Tsugio Matsuda who'd taken over from Quintarelli. The red Motul car managed to pass the blue Calsonic but the latter was determined to retake the lead. Shortly after, Yasuda dived past the Motul car and looked to have taken the lead but he ran wide. Strangely Matsuda in the Motul car seemed to have miscalculated the turn as well, cut it, and hit the side of the Calsonic as he ran wide also. The blue car came off worse from the incident as it stayed in second and some bodywork could be seen falling off right after.
The missing aero likely hampered Yasuda because the Motul car was able to pull out a lead right after. It wasn't over yet though as a light drizzle on the very final lap seemed to spook Matsuda in the lead car and the Calsonic GT-R was able to close right up to him as he slowed down. A last lap miracle looked set to happen but there wasn't quite enough distance left for the number 12 car to pull it off. The final margin was just 0.38 of a second. This meant Nissan had a 1-2 finish in GT500 but the altercation between the two cars made for an awkward podium as you could visibly see De Oliveria and Matsuda were very unhappy with the result. The number 17 Keihin NSX made it to the podium after it stealthily climbed up the order and then pounced on a fading Zent Cerumo Lexus as the laps wound down.
While GT500 was a big fight from start to finish, GT300 seemed like it was a done deal for the Syntium Lotus Evora early on. It pulled out a massive lead at the start as no one seemed able to match its pace in the cold and occasionally drizzling weather. The Evora has always been kind to its tires and able to put in long stints before pitting, however after it finally came in on the 46th lap its rivals had seemed to come to grips with their own tire issues and the number 3 B-Max NDDP GT-R was right up on the Lotus' rear after the service. Not only did the Lotus get passed shortly after but towards the end of the race bad luck struck and it came to a halt on the side of the road with a massive left rear puncture.
Much further back the Prius was on the fightback and had made it all the way up into the top ten after starting dead last from the pits. Unfortunately the Gainer GT-R was also in the top ten ahead of it and climbing. The Prius could at least prevent the title from being decided at this round but this never happened because bad luck hit them again. Like the Evora before them a left rear puncture ruined their challenge. The car made it back to the pits but the time lost meant that it could no longer try and catch the championship leader who'd by then made it all the way up to second behind the B-Max GT-R.
And so at the end it was another Nissan 1-2 for the GT300 class. The B-Max team was ecstatic at the win and of course so was Andre Couto who emotionally dedicated the championship to his son that had passed away. Third went to the Studie BMW Z4 which had been clashing with the Prius just before the puncture happened.
The GT300 title has been decided but it's still a fight in the top-tier GT500 class. The next round is at Motegi in two weeks time and for this final round all weight handicaps are gone so it'll be a straight-up fight between the two GT-Rs. The second place finish meant Calsonic maintains a two point lead but now with the defending champion Motul car their closest rival. The Zent Lexus, Mola GT-R, and a few others still hold a mathematical chance at the title but at 13 points or more back from the lead only a massive calamity for the two leaders could give them a shot. Will Oliveira and Yasuda take their anger at this week's result and translate it to Calsonic's first championship since the early years of the JGTC or will Matsuda and Quintarelli again show the mettle that won them last year's title? We'll find out in two weeks time!
Link for NismoTV's livestream with Radio LeMans commentary is below - note that the page is mislabeled as round 8 instead of 7. The coverage starts at about the 9 minute mark: