Super GT 2016 Round 6 - Change Is The Only Constant
|Image credits: Super GT|
Round 6 of Super GT 2016 was the big one: the Suzuka 1000K. It's the only true endurance race in the series and the one everybody wants to win. Going into this race only one manufacturer has stood atop the podium in all the races so far this year and that's Nissan with their seemingly unstoppable R35 GT-Rs. Suzuka is one of Honda's home circuits however and the NSX teams had shown a significant improvement in their speed at the last round even if they failed to convert it to a win. Lexus on the other hand has won the last two iterations of the 1000K and Toyota has won here more than any other marque. Combine that with the huge 100 kilo weight penalty the defending champion Motul Autech GT-R was running and the stage was set for another unpredictable Super GT race and that's exactly what transpired.
A couple of interesting things before the race started was a key driver change for the Nissans and the debut of a new race car. At the last race in Fuji Katsumasa Chiyo from the #46 Mola GT-R had suffered brake failure and had a bad crash that injured his back. This meant Nissan had to call in a pinch hitter with Formula 3 driver Mitsunori Takaboshi taking his place temporarily. Lexus on the other hand had chosen this round to show off the prototype for its 2017 GT500 race car. Starting next year the current RC F based racer will give way to a new car patterned on the upcoming LC500 road car.
|Lexus will be fielding a new entry next season with its LC500-based GT500 car.|
Downpours just before the race start meant a damp track as the cars did their formation laps. Honda's hopes were surely buoyed by the #15 Drago Modulo NSX managing to take the pole. Behind it though were the #46 S-Road GT-R and last round's winner, the #12 Calsonic Nissan. It looked like their huge weight penalty was really taking its toll because the #1 Motul GT-R only managed a 12th place grid slot. The prospects for Lexus didn't look great either because only the #19 Wedsport car had gotten a decent placing in 4th with the rest of the RC Fs in 8th or lower.
In GT300 the #18 UpGarage 86 was starting first, followed by the #31 apr Prius and then by the #2 Syntium Lotus. The best placed GT300 Nissan was the defending champion #0 Gainer car in 6th but the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R that was better placed in this year's title fight was stuck in 11th.
From the very beginning the race was full of action with the 4th place Wedsport RC F getting forced wide and onto the grass. Amazingly it managed to avoid crashing but it lost several places while recovering. In GT300 the #61 Subaru BRZ in fourth took advantage of a slow starting Lotus to take 3rd and then followed that up with a pass on the Prius for 2nd a lap later.
|Tricky conditions at the start of the race.|
The Drago Modulo NSX and the second-place Mola GT-R started to break away from the pack but the big mover was the #38 Zent Cerumo Lexus that had started down in 8th. By lap 5 it had made it all the way to fourth and then passed the 3rd place Calsonic GT-R on lap 12. Three laps later and it had caught the Mola GT-R and after some tussling down the front straight it dispatched it for 2nd. In the process the Calsonic car snuck through to relegate the #46 car to fourth.
The rain had held off but the Michelins on the Mola GT-R didn't seem to be liking the conditions and the team took a gamble with an early pit stop to change tires on lap 17. That same lap the #24 Forum Engineering GT-R that had managed a shocking win in round 4 spun and beached itself in the gravel. It would get going again but remain a non-factor for the rest of the race.
There was no such misfortune for Yuji Tachikawa in the Zent RC F at this point however because he had rapidly caught up with the leading NSX and took the lead on lap 27 via a pass in the Casio chicane that ends a lap at Suzuka. Shortly after most cars in both classes started their first pit stop cycles and the Subaru that had been running strongly in GT300 was one of them. Shortly after exiting the pits it spun however and was lucky to escape unharmed. The #0 Gainer GT-R came off badly from the incident because it was issued a ten-second penalty for supposedly tapping the Subaru into its spin. The race replay made it questionable whether it did so however.
|The race would become a duel between Lexus teams.|
After the pit stop cycles the Zent, Calsonic, and S-Road cars were once again bunched up and this time the Wedsport RC F was closing in together with the #36 au Cerumo Lexus that had started way down in 11th. The au car proved to be the fastest of the group and was able to snag third on lap 45.
The first rain shower started on lap 56 but didn't last long and was fairly light so when the second pit stop cycles started a few laps later the teams opted to stay on slicks. It seemed like a routine pit stop for the #12 Calsonic GT-R running in second but then shockingly fire started licking up from inside the right-hand door and pretty soon the door itself had come off its mounting and the car rolled to a halt. An exhaust issue appeared to have started the fire and this sadly ended the Impul teams run.
Yet another front runner would retire on lap 82 as the pole-sitting Drago Modulo NSX rolled into its garage with apparent engine trouble. The complexion of the race would be changed shortly after though when the Syntium Lotus spun and crashed hard while exiting turn two. This led to a safety car interval that was short but enough to bunch up the whole field once again.
The Zent RC F remained in the lead but its rivals had benefited from the safety car with the au RC F having managed to climb up to 2nd while the S-Road GT-R was able to recover some time after being hit with a 10 second drivethru penalty earlier. The restart saw the Nissan pull off some key passes to make its way back up to 3rd while the #36 Lexus had closed in on the leading Zent.
|The UpGarage 86 had pole and led much of the race but came up short in the end.|
By the time of the third pit cycle the Zent ended up behind the au car following their respective service intervals. Amazingly however the #1 Motul Autech GT-R had managed to gradually climb up the order to end up in 1st after the leading Lexus cars pitted.
The Nissan wasn't able to keep the lead however when it finally pitted on lap 121 as a slight rain started to come down. The rain started to come down harder shortly after that though and the Zent car gained on the leading #36 au Lexus. Lap 129 would see the most controversial part of the race: the Keihin NSX spun into the gravel at the Spoon curves and when the two leading cars approached the site of the incident Tachikawa in the Zent Lexus passed Nick Cassidy in the au car to retake the lead. Yellow flags were clearly visible on the replay but inexplicably the Zent team got away without being penalized.
Two laps later and it seemed the penalty was unnecessary because Cassidy was able to regain the lead with a pass into the final chicane. The following lap the Zent car took the lead again though with another pass in Spoon where it had made its controversial pass a few laps earlier.
By this time the final pit stops were due and the Zent car came in first. It looked like the au team could beat out their rival Lexus runner with a fast in lap by Cassidy but a slower pit stop meant the #38 car was able to retain its lead. Things appeared to be settling down at this point but the race wasn't done throwing out surprises.
Rain once again hit with only 4 laps left in the 173 lap race and this time it started coming down much harder. With only a few laps left there was no time to swap for wet tires so it was going to come down to pure skill at this point. As the rainfall started Tsugio Matsuda in the #1 GT-R was able to pass the Wako's RC-F for fourth which promised a hefty load of points despite their heavy weight handicap.
With the rain getting more intense the Zent Lexus seemed to be able to hold off the second-place au car but then on entering the chicane for the final time it went off into the grass. It was a nail-biting moment for the Zent team but Hiroaki Ishiura just managed to get up to speed in time to keep the #36 car from making a last-minute pass for the win.
|The Zent Lexus team hung on for the win.|
In GT300 the Subaru BRZ had bounced up and down the order but ultimately good race strategy and some luck put it on top of the podium. The rain had hampered the #0 Gainer car's run and it had been passed for second by the apr Prius with just two laps to go. A solid third was some consolation however after the lackluster season the defending champions have had so far.
|The #61 Subaru took the win and the championship lead.|
The winners in both classes had been settled already but the race still had one curveball left to throw. As the winning Lexus made its way to the spot reserved for the victor on the front straight the #1 Nissan that had run so brilliantly despite its heavy weight handicap ground to a halt with only a couple of corners left to the finish line. As a result its fourth place finish suddenly turned into a sixth. A sad result after such a sterling effort but it still meant six valuable championship points at least.
|A podium was some consolation for Nissan after a tough race.|
Nissan also had some comfort with the third place finish of the #46 Mola GT-R despite all the trouble it ran into. More importantly the #1 car maintains a healthy 11 point lead in the title standings. In GT300 things are less rosy with the #3 B-Max car dropping down to fourth, 13 points behind the now-leading Subaru BRZ.
Originally this point in the season would have meant only two more races left to run but the cancellation of the third round at Autopolis earlier in the year means that the final stages of this season will be especially interesting. The seventh round will be an away race in Thailand about a month from now and then a month after Motegi will host an unusual double-race weekend to make up for the canceled Autopolis race. After the topsy-turvy race at Suzuka the closing stages of this year's championship are sure to prove fascinating!
Here's the link to the Nismo.TV broadcast of the race and below that is another video from Nissan's Youtube channel. I was happy to see that they still made another cool video despite Nissan not winning this time.