Super GT 2016 Round 4 - The Element Of Surprise

Image credits: Super GT

Super GT had to skip the initially planned third round in Autopolis due to the recent Kumamoto earthquake so the fourth round at Sugo Sportsland was greeted with more anticipation than usual. Surprises were in store as the race weekend approached.

The first surprise was a pleasant one for Super GT fans outside of Japan as Nismo.TV suddenly announced after skipping this year's previous rounds that it was resuming the Youtube simulcasts they had had all through last season and the tail end of 2014. The news got even better as it was revealed that the excellent commentary from Radio Le Mans would also return and that all the remaining races of the 2016 season will be broadcast - including the replacement third round which will now be held at Motegi as part of a double with round 8 to cap off the season. In celebration of this awesome news I'm posting the Youtube link here instead of at the customary end of the article:

Another surprise was in store on the day of the race itself: qualifying and practice had been dry but race day dawned to wet conditions. Qualifying had been a mess for the Nissan camp. Saddled with 80 kilos of success ballast thanks to its back-to-back wins in the previous two rounds the defending champion #1 Motul Autech GT-R wasn't expected to do well in qualifying for this round. The other GT-Rs had much more reasonable weight penalties however with the #24 Forum Engineering GT-R sporting a mere 4 kilos. Shockingly, none of them made it past the first segment of qualifying and the Motul car actually ended up in a wall, cutting the session short. The best placed Nissan was the #24 but it was still way down in 9th.

Decent practice pace didn't translate to a good qualifying for the leading Nismo GT-R.

Nissan may have been disappointed with qualifying but the same couldn't be said for its rivals. The Lexus camp was surely happy with the #6 Wako's car setting a new lap record on the way to getting pole. Honda has so far had a mediocre season but a second place in qualifying from the #17 Keihin brought hope that things would turn around especially since they had been granted some engine upgrades since the last round. The #38 Zent Lexus rounded out the top three.

One minute, 10.516 seconds was a new lap record and got pole for the Wako's Lexus.

In GT300 the #25 VivaC 86 managed to snag pole despite a 34 kilo weight handicap while the championship-leading #3 B-Max NDDP Nissan GT-R had to settle for a poor 21st place grid position.
The race was declared wet...

...which meant plenty of umbrella use, and not just for the race queens.

Even the Michelin man had to take cover.

Despite the race being declared wet the rain was a drizzle by the time of the start. This meant that most cars opted to stay on slicks and surely some more surprises would be in store as the field reacted to a changing track. The race hadn't even started when a shocker already occurred as the fan-favorite #12 Calsonic GT-R had to be rushed back to the pits as a prop shaft gave way during the preceding practice session. This unfortunately meant that it had to start from pit lane and severely compromise its race.

The start was a fairly subdued affair with no position changes in GT500. GT300 saw the third place #61 Subaru BRZ put in an aggressive move on the #31 apr Prius to take away second.

The race wouldn't stay subdued however as cars started to jostle for position on a drying track with a limited racing line. The first major incident occurred on lap 3 when the #8 Arta NSX spun into the gravel while attempting to pass the #24 GT-R who was running in 10th at the time. Meanwhile at the front, the second place Keihin NSX was looking threatening to the leading Wako's Lexus but the Honda ended up not needing to pull a passing move as the RC F got into the side of a GT300 car coming into the first turn on lap 6 and spun itself around. This gifted the lead to the Honda but 10 laps later the #38 Zent Lexus would engage in some bumping and banging as well when it dived down the inside of the Keihin car resulting in a slight tap to the right rear of the NSX. Unfortunately for Honda that was enough to spin the NSX and Lexus was back in the lead.
The Lexus cars were strong all weekend

The Zent car didn't have long to savor its new lead however as fellow Lexus teams started to close in behind it. On lap 23 F1 refugee Heiki Kovalainen got a good exit off the final corner and was able to outdrag the Zent Lexus to put his #39 Denso car into first. GT300 meanwhile was just status quo at the top with the VivaC 86 continuing to lead.

A different Toyota 86 would cause the next major event as it landed in the gravel outside of the final turn on lap 26. The mishap for the Speed Racer-liveried #5 86 would bring out the safety car because of the precarious position it was left in. The safety car interval meant that the grid would be sorted in Super GT's trademark method of stopping the cars on the front straight to line up the GT500 cars separately from the GT300s. This almost resulted in a major accident on lap 29 however as the GT300 cars that had been released came back around and were caught off guard by the other group of GT300 racers that were still stopped on the front straight. Because Sugo's front straight goes over a hill the stopped cars were out of sight and the returning vehicles just barely managed to evade them. Obviously several teams dropped the ball on radio communication by not updating their drivers of the stopped cars.

The GT300 apr Prius managed to avoid the mishaps.

Thankfully an accident was avoided and the race resumed on lap 31 with the Denso RC F still leading but now with the #19 Wedsport Lexus hounding it after making an amazing climb up from next-to-last on the grid. Two laps later the lead in GT300 would finally change as the VivaC car pitted, handing the point to the #11 Gainer AMG. More bumping would ensue on lap 41 between the two GT500 leaders but the position would stay unchanged for 5 more laps. Just before that lead change the #12 Calsonic car's bad luck continued as it found itself stuffed into a wall on lap 45. With the brutal loss they had to suffer at the previous round when a massive tire failure occurred while leading just four laps to the end this weekend was surely a bitter pill to swallow for Calsonic Team Impul.

A lap later the Denso car gave up the lead when it finally made its one and only pit stop. It rejoined, managing to stay ahead of the other front-running RC Fs but surprisingly it lost the lead to the #24 Forum Engineering GT-R that had started way down in 9th and had even been off the road at one point due to the Arta NSX's earlier ambitious move. Amidst all the contact sports the Lexuses and Hondas had engaged in Nissan's Masataka Yanagida and Daiki Sasaki had put in some very solid laps to make their way up the order.

The power of cuteness was harnessed by the #24 car before the start

Kohei Hirate in the Denso Lexus wasn't about to settle for second of course so he began to hound Sasaki in the Nissan and even bumped him slightly with just 8 laps to go in the 81-lap race. He wasn't alone in wanting the win however as three other RC F drivers had closed the gap and were now threatening to swamp the lone GT-R.

With six laps to go the Zent RC F made an ambitious move on the outside from third place, managing to pass the Denso car and very nearly snagging the lead as well. The stage seemed to be set for a final climactic showdown with a single Nissan fighting off a horde of Lexus cars but the race had one last surprise twist left in store – just after the Zent car made its pass yet another Toyota 86 would change the whole complexion of the race by having a mishap like the #5 Mach Syaken car before it.

This time the #16 UpGarage car managed to bury itself in the tire wall outside of the final turn. The dangerous location and very damaged tire wall forced out a red flag. For the next few minutes confusion reigned as drivers and teams didn't know whether the race would end there or whether a final five-lap sprint would occur. The long time needed to extricate the Toyota and repair the tire wall ended up forcing an end to the race and quite a few car doors were slammed in frustration as drivers dejectedly exited their cars.
Kondo Racing was understandably all smiles.

Dejection was definitely not a feature in the Kondo Racing and Nissan camps as the premature end ensured the win for the #24 GT-R. Unfortunately for the Zent Lexus it lost its second place as it was demoted back to third due to the 1-lap countback resulting from the red flag. The #39 Denso Lexus inherited the second step of the podium.

In GT300 the #31 apr Prius had run a quiet race but found itself on the top step of the podium ahead of the VivaC 86 and Subaru BRZ so Toyota could at least take consolation in the GT300 win.

Honda on the other hand had little to console itself yet again. Despite the strong qualifying from two of the NSXs they faded in the latter half of the race and had to settle for a best rank of sixth despite having no weight penalties to slow them down.

Honda were hoping for better results than what they got.

For the two championship leaders this race was all about damage limitation. The #1 Motul Autech GT-R managed to claw its way up to 9th for some meager but valuable points and kept an eight point lead in the standings. Their GT300 counterparts in the #3 B-Max car however had to cede the top spot to the VivaC 86 but a respectable fifth-place finish at least limited the gap to just six points.

Unlike the protracted break between rounds 2 and 4 due to the canceled Autopolis round we'll only have to wait a mere two weeks for the action to resume in Fuji for round 5. Once again Lexus will be trying to break the stranglehold Nissan has had over its home track while Honda still tries to play catch up and GT300 will have the usual varied mix of drivers and cars so there should be no surprise if the Fuji GT 300km race proves to be as exciting as this latest round at Sugo.
Oh, and of course Nissan Newsroom has yet another great video for this race set to the awesome music that's been customary for their previous recaps:


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