Super GT 2016 Round 7: First-time Winners and Late-race Surges
For what was supposed to be its penultimate round Super GT made its way to the still fairly-new Chang International Circuit in sunny Thailand. All of the GT500 teams made the long haul for Super GT 2016's only away race but some of the GT300 teams had issues.
Several teams didn't make the trip altogether – none of them real contenders for the championship – however the #30 apr Prius faced a different problem. The team and car made it to Thailand but their hybrid system's battery pack was a no-show. If you've followed the news you're likely aware of the fuss being made over the fire risks posed by lithium ion batteries – especially notable right now with Samsung phones turning out to be good alternatives to firecrackers – so that likely affected the apr team's travel arrangements. As a consequence their #30 car ran as a non-hybrid this race but their championship-contending #31 car was still able to do so because its hybrid system uses a supercapacitor for energy storage like a lot of Le Mans racers. No fire hazard with that device (just the usual danger of electrocution – no big deal).
|Some of the Japanese teams didn't make it out but the grid was still full thanks to additions like...|
|...Toyota Team Thailand whose drivers don't look all that happy here for some reason. I'd be smiling more with two pretty girls on either side but maybe mustache dude is cancelling them out.|
It was still a very full field in GT300 come the race weekend thanks to some local teams with even more unpronounceable names than their Japanese rivals taking part. Saturday qualifying saw the #19 Wedsport RC F take its first pole since the team moved up to GT500 from GT300 in 2011. Second was the #15 Drago Modulo NSX while the ever-popular “blue car” - the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R took third. The #46 S Road GT-R that won last year's Thai race got fifth but the defending champion #1 Motul car was almost dead last in 14th thanks to its huge 100 kilo weight handicap. Luckily for them their rivals were also feeling the effects of their weight handicaps and were mostly in lower grid slots.
|The WedSport RC F was fast all weekend.|
GT300 qualifying saw the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 take their third pole this season but so far they'd yet to convert any of them for a win. Second went to the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R that's the strongest contender for the GT300 title this year for Nissan. Last year's champion #0 Gainer Tainax GT-R took third.
|The VivaC 86 has been fast in qualifying but remained winless this season despite great starting positions.|
As expected of Thailand sunny skies and high heat were the setting on Sunday. The GT500 start was fairly uneventful but the GT300 lead quickly changed hands as Kazuki Hoshino in the B-Max GT-R got around the VivaC 86 in the first lap. The WedSport RC F retained its qualifying speed and was maintaining a good lead effortlessly but the second-place NSX fell victim to the Calsonic GT-R on lap seven and was passed. The following lap the Gainax GT-R got past the pole-winning Vivac car for second and for the next dozen or so laps the two GT-Rs ran 1-2 in close formation.
On lap 24 the B-Max car pitted somewhat early and handed the lead to the Gainer GT-R but the #0 car didn't manage to stay there. Three laps later it accidentally hit the back of the Autobacs NSX while being passed and this tore up its left front corner which needed repairs. The Vivac 86 stayed out longer than either GT-R however and after the pit stop shuffle it had regained the lead.
The race leading WedSport car wouldn't pit until lap 32 where it got a huge stroke of luck. Its left rear Yokohama suddenly went flat just as it approached the final corner of the circuit where the pit lane entrance was. A quick duck into the pits and it was back on its way with no time lost.
The #12 car stayed out when the leading Lexus pitted hoping to gain some time on the WedSport car. When it came in on lap 38 it wasn't enough though but the gap was close enough that a second-half charge to take the win seemed possible. Sadly that got scuppered when the Calsonic car got hit with a drivethrough penalty for a silly mistake by the pit crew – a windshield tear-off got stuck and in the ensuing rush to get it off a team member ripped it away while the car was fueling still and that got the stink eye from the race stewards. This dropped the blue car out of its certain podium position.
|Nissan's best hope was Calsonic Impul but a simple pit stop error ruined their chances. Hironobu Yasuda fought back to still get fourth though.|
More misfortune for the GT-R camp came later in the race. The #24 Forum Engineering GT-R had a left rear Yokohama also go flat but it was far away from the pits when it happened sending it out of the points-earning positions.
Worse was yet to come. The #3 B-Max had been passed by the VivaC car as well as the UpGarage 86 in the pit stop shuffle but the GT-R was closing fast to take away second from the latter. As their duel was going on the UpGarage car ended up running into the #1 Motul GT-R as the GT500 car was passing it. The defending champions were gunning for some valuable points when it happened but the resulting spin caused both the #38 Zent RC F and the #60 Syntium GT300 RC F to pile into the unfortunate Nissan. This took both GT500 title leaders out of the race just 10 laps from the end with no points to show for their efforts.
At the front of the race the two pole-sitters seemed all set to cruise to wins in their respective categories but the second-place cars had other ideas. As the final laps counted down in the 66-lap contest both Tadasuke Makino in the Drago Modulo NSX and Jann Mardenborough in the B-Max GT-R found extra speed that the race leaders didn't seem to have. The NSX and the GT-R started lopping whole seconds off the two first-place cars' leads. By this time however only a few laps remained and unfortunately for the two hunters their prey was able to retain the lead to the end – but only just as the GT500 margin was a mere 2.9 seconds and the GT300 one only a smidge over one second despite being in the double digits before. A couple of laps more and different winners might have been celebrating on top of the podium.
|It wasn't quite as easy a win for WedSport as this picture makes it look.|
The wins did go to the two pole-sitters however and for the WedSport team in particular it was a sweet victory since they'd been winless ever since they moved up to the top category after a successful stint in GT300. The VivaC team also had ample cause to celebrate as their first win of the season earned them the top spot in the GT300 title standings with the B-Max team just behind by 5 points.
In GT500 the top position remains with the #1 Motul GT-R but the lead shrank thanks to their none-points finish. They still enjoy a healthy 10 point lead over the #6 Wako's RC F but everything's still to play for in five weeks when the final event comes around. Although Motegi in November will be the last venue this year there will actually be two races held there with a total of 42 points up for grabs. Because of the Kumamoto earthquake that happened earlier this year and caused the cancellation of the third round at Autopolis a replacement 250K race will be held on Saturday and then the final 250K competition will be on Sunday.
|Random race queen pic for reasons.|
It's going to be a long five weeks wait until that final event which is sure to be a big fight especially since the weight handicaps will be halved for the first race and then totally removed for the final slugfest on Sunday. In the meantime, if you didn't catch the race live on Nismo.TV here's the link and also one for the Nissan race digest which has noticeably more subdued music this time instead of the awesome stuff they normally have: