Super GT 2016 Round 2 - Minus Four, Times Two
The second round of 2016's Super GT season took place over the Golden Week holiday on May 3 and 4. A fifty thousand-strong crowd took advantage of the long break to make the trek to Fuji Circuit in anticipation of another exciting contest. They wouldn't be disappointed as the race was filled with dogfights between rival drivers and tire dramas threw in major surprises right up to the very end.
|Image credits: Super GT
Going into this latest race at Fuji Speedway the GT-Rs were favored to win. Toyota may own the circuit but Nissan has pretty much owned the races since the new DTM-aligned GT500 regulations took effect in 2014. Fuji normally hosts two rounds of the series every season and except for a solitary NSX win (with an R35 in second) GT-R drivers from different teams have won all four of the GT500 races held there so far. Lexus surely was hoping this year was the one where they could get the monkey off their back but qualifying dampened those aspirations when Nissan locked out the front row by having the number 12 Calsonic Impul GT-R on pole followed by the 46 S-Road car. The 38 Zent Cerumo RC F provided a bright spot in third but lurking right behind was the defending champion Motul Autech GT-R that had won the opening round at Okayama a month earlier.
|The bright orange Arta BMW M6 took the pole in GT300
In GT300 Toyota got second and third with the Vivac 86 and the apr Prius but just like at Okayama a German car led the pack - this time it was an M6 from Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA for short). The number 3 B-Max NDDP GT-R needed a good result after a poor showing at Okayama but fifth was the best it could get in qualifying while the defending champion Gainer Tainax GT-R copped ninth.
Before the race began a moment of silence was observed in respect for the victims of the recent Kumamoto earthquake and the race cars themselves all sported stickers of Kumamon, the region's bear mascot, as a show of support. The earthquake affected the racing more than just these tributes however because on the morning prior to the race the Super GT organizers announced at a press conference that the upcoming round at Autopolis later this month was now canceled. Previously it had been indefinitely postponed but due to concerns about the earthquake's effects on the local roads and facilities the racetrack officials requested to cancel the race entirely. Plans on how to replace the missing event are still up in the air but the organizers stated that most likely two races would be held on an existing event date because of logistical and scheduling difficulties with trying to add another round at a new venue.
|The race begins under sunny skies.
In contrast to that somber news the day dawned bright and sunny for the actual 110-lap race with Mt. Fuji standing proudly as a backdrop to the circuit. With hopes of jumpstarting their championship bid the Calsonic team led the pack to the first corner, followed closely by the silver S-road GT-R. No position changes happened at the front of the GT500 pack during their start but GT300 would see second get shuffled around as the Vivac 86 got mobbed by the apr Prius and the Studie BMW that was in fourth. The poor Toyota 86 came off worst as the Prius rolled into second and the M6 slotted in behind.
|Jann Mardenborough started the B-Max GT-R in fifth
After that initial scrum both the Calsonic GT-R leading GT500 and the Arta M6 in GT300 began to pull away. Things began to heat up though on lap 14 when the Motul GT-R started to close on the third place Zent RC F while in GT300 the Studie BMW suddenly pulled into the pits with a mechanical issue. The M6 eventually rejoined but only after losing several laps. The Vivac 86 had fallen into the middle of the GT300 pack due to tire issues while the B-Max GT-R on the other hand was showing good pace at the hands of Nissan's GT300 rookie Jann Mardenborough. He began to pester the apr Prius for second.
|The Motul GT-R had to carry 40 kilos of ballast after winning the last race.
On lap 15 Ronnie Quintarelli in the Motul GT-R made his move on the Zent RC F for third in GT500, taking the position by going around the outside of the Lexus on the final turn then outdragging it on the front straight. Former champion Yuji Tachikawa in the RC F wasn't about to take that lying down though and he reset the positions two laps later by drafting the Nismo car and outbraking it into the first turn. The Zent car seemed to find its legs at that point and began hunting down the S Road GT-R in second place. Tachikawa passed Satoshi Motoyama in the silver Nissan on lap 27 by replicating the move he used on the Nismo GT-R. Both Tachikawa and Motoyama are multiple GT500 champions so as you could expect Motoyama didn't let the Zent car go easily and tried to use Tachikawa's move right back on him 2 laps later but the Lexus managed to hold the spot, no doubt benefiting from the lower reward ballast it was carrying compared to the two Nissans. Another Lexus benefiting from a lower weight was the number 39 Denso car who had closed on the fourth place Motul GT-R and then used its advantage to outdrag it down the front straight on lap 31. All this fighting behind it had meanwhile allowed the Calsonic GT-R to build a sizable lead.
Last race saw the #65 Leon AMG GT take a convincing win but Fuji was less flattering for the Mercs as they all qualified fairly well back with the Leon car all the way down in 18th. Their luck would get no better in the race because on lap 25 a sudden spin by the Syntium Lotus ahead of it caused the AMG to crash hard while trying to evade. An unhurt but very upset Naoya Gamou could only slam the door in frustration as the undamaged Lotus was able to limp away.
|The S-Road car was consistently fast throughout the race.
Lap 32 saw the S-Road car become the first GT500 in the pits and the GT300 leading M6 came in shortly after. The apr Prius had managed to keep the B-Max GT-R at bay by the time it pitted a couple of laps later but then after departing the Toyota overshot the first turn and immediately came back to the pits for some sort of mechanical gremlin that took it out of the fight for the win. This worked to the number 3 GT-R's advantage and after pitting on lap 35 it was able to rejoin ahead of the BMW thanks to needing less fuel than the thirstier M6.
After the first round of pit stops the top of GT500 remained the same as before except for fourth – the Motul GT-R had pitted last of the front runners and in doing so had pipped the Denso RC F and regained the spot it had lost earlier. Meanwhile the battle had been rejoined between the Zent Lexus and the S-Road GT-R for second, only this time it was Hiroaki Ishiura in the RC F against young Nissan rookie Katsumasa Chiyo who was out to prove his excellent first round performance was no fluke. Chiyo reeled in the red Lexus and then on lap 43 took advantage of Ishiura running wide to set up an overtake on the Zent car.
After that things seemed to settle into a rhythm with the Calsonic GT-R untroubled at the front. A sudden change in the complexion of the race happened on lap 72 however when the Raybrig NSX that had been running at the back suddenly had a catastrophic loss of its left rear tire that demolished the back end and threw the car into the wall at high speed. Takuya Izawa walked away unharmed but the burst tire had sprayed bodywork all over the track prompting race officials to call out the safety car to allow cleanup.
This caused major trouble for the second place S-Road GT-R. Since it was the first GT500 car to pit it was just about to come in again when the safety car came out. For this year the Super GT regulations had changed for safety considerations so that no one was allowed to pit while the safety car was out. The fuel situation was dire for the 46 car however and Chiyo came in anyway and handed the reins back to Motoyama. Several laps later they would be hit with a 90 second penalty for the rule violation and that would take them out of the battle at the front.
|A bad strategy call hurt the Zent RC F despite a quick pace early on.
Its nemesis the Zent RC F had opted to take the opposite decision and gambled on being able to make it to the end of the safety car interval on the fuel it had remaining. This proved to be the wrong choice however as the Lexus ground to a halt on lap 78 just after the race went green again. The S-Road team's choice to take a penalty at least earned them four points at the end for a seventh place versus none for the Lexus.
This left the Calsonic GT-R, number 1 Motul, and the Denso RC F bunched together to duke it out for the win. The blue Calsonic was starting to eke out a lead again when it pulled in for its pit stop on lap 79. The Motul GT-R waited until two laps later to pit and then the Nismo team pulled off an amazingly quick servicing to shave six seconds off the time needed by the other Nissan team. This allowed the defending champion car to come out ahead of the former race leader after the pit stop.
|Nismo versus Team Impul was a familiar sight last year.
Last year the fight between the Nismo GT-R and the Calsonic was the most heated rivalry on track as they clashed in race after race to eventually decide the title. This year that rivalry seemed to be right back as Ronnie Quintarelli in the red R35 was chased down by Joao Paolo De Oliveira in the blue car. Oliveira made his move on lap 96 and drafted Quintarelli on the straght. He overtook the red car entering turn 1 but ran wide allowing Quintarelli to draw even again. Contact was nearly made but Oliveira kept his resolve and took the inside line into the next turn and settled the contest in his favor. The number 12 car then started to try and pull away but the Motul GT-R kept it honest by staying within around a second of it as the laps ticked by.
Oliveira seemed to have the race under control but then the racing gods threw one last shocker into the mix. With only four laps left until the checkers the Calsonic car blew its left rear tire in a similar fashion to the Raybrig NSX before it and speared off the course. With a destroyed rear section Oliveira had no choice but to pull to a halt. He was unhurt but the devastating turn of events visibly upset him as he appeared to be in tears while sitting beside one of the circuit's side roads.
This left the Nismo team to claim back-to-back victories with the Denso RC F two seconds adrift in second and the number 37 KeePer Tom's Lexus inheriting the last step of the podium.
|Yet another checkered flag for Nismo. This win extended Tsugio Matsuda's record for most GT500 wins by any driver to 18.
The B-Max GT-R had held off the charges of the Arta M6 to take the win in GT300 for Nissan as well. The Bimmer eventually claimed second but only after duking it out with a resurgent Vivac 86. A strong comeback effort by the Toyota squad netted it a 500,000 yen bonus as they were awarded the J Sport Best Performance award for the race.
|The B-Max drivers were of course ecstatic at the win, Mardenborough's first in Super GT.
And so the day was overall a great one for the Nissan camp with both class wins taken by GT-Rs. Kudos have to be given though to the Calsonic team that deserved to take the win themselves but were ultimately thwarted by cruel luck just short of the checkered flag. The win for the Motul car gave it a sizable lead of 13 points in the driver's championship while the B-Max pairing vaulted to the top of their leaderboard by a single point thanks to the Leon AMG's unlucky retirement.
Meanwhile, Lexus must surely be frustrated at seeing yet another Nissan win on their home turf. Honda on the other hand has its own problems as the NSXs were once again a non-factor with two cars barely scraping up points in sixth and tenth. With the third round in Autopolis canceled the two manufacturers have almost three months before the next race at Sugo Sportsland in late July to try to think up countermeasures to the persistently fast GT-Rs.
Unfortunately once again there's no Nismo.TV feed for this second round race but we can at least enjoy this high def upload of the race in Japanese as well as the Nissan Newsroom celebratory video (with another cool soundtrack like the last one):