Round 4 of SUPER GT saw a grid of nearing 40 cars rock up to the Sportland Sugo circuit. In GT500 Nissan and Lexus have thus far dominated and in GT300 BMW have taken the fight to the Japanese big guns.
Honda came to Sugo needing a morale booster. Okoyama and Fuji had been a disaster but last time out at Autopolis there were signs of improvement, signs that became loud and clear after qualifying at Sugo. 5 of the top 10 on the grid were Hondas. The MOTUL Nissan would start 3rd on the grid and was the only Nissan to qualify in the top 10. But as has often been the case this season qualifying honours went to Lexus. The PETRONAS RC F in the hands of Kazuki Nakajima and James Rossiter taking pole by a full 4 tenths of a second.
Right from the start there was a race defining moment. The cloudy skies that greeted the cars crossing the line for the start soon yielded rain. Assuming the rain would continue Rossiter and 2nd placed Hideki Mutoh in his Raybrig NSX pitted for wet tires. However after 5 laps the rain had stopped and all those who had pitted had to pit again. All this left it a Lexus 1-2. Leading was the KeePer car in the hands of Andrea Caldarelli and in 2nd was the ZENT machine driven by defending champion Kohei Hirate.
As the first stint continued it became obvious that Hirate was much more comfortable in the greasy conditions than Caldarelli. Hirate made light work of catching and passing Caldarelli and continued at a devastating pace. By the time the scheduled stops came around Hirate had built a massive 35 second lead. He handed the car over to Yuji Tachikawa who just needed to get to the finish. Tachikawa though obviously hadn’t read the script. He continued at a tremendous pace and largely helped by others misfortune finished the race having lapped everyone bar the 2nd placed KeePer RC F. This wasn’t just a win it was a demolition, something very unusual in SUPER GT and a fitting statement on a record breaking day for Tachikawa. This was his 16th SUPER GT win making him the most successful (in terms of race wins) driver in GUPER GT history.
The KeePer RC F which had remained on the lead lap finished 2nd and 3rd went to a vastly improved KEIHIN NSX.
The front few rows from qualifying were a familiar mix of German and Japanese machinery. Row two saw one of the rapid but at times this season fragile Honda CR-Zs and it was joined by the Wirdheim and Hiranaka Mercedes SLS. The front row saw the Subaru BRZ having to settle for 2nd best behind another SLS piloted by Ueda and Yamauchi.
From the start the ever impressive Wirdheim was hot on the tail of the pole sitting SLS and very soon found a way by. Wirdheim held his pace and had been followed by the Aston Martin of Hideto Yasuoka that was running impressively after starting 8th. However as the Aston Martin made a dive for the lead the two cars collided. The Aston Martin continued in the lead and the SLS of Wirdheim was left with race ending suspension damage. Another disappointing end for Wirdheim who is certainly not getting any luck this season.
In the difficult and greasy conditions experience was becoming important and as the race progressed the leading Aston Martin slipped off the pace and through came the vastly experienced squad of Manabu Orido and Takayuki Aoki in their Lamborghini Gallardo. Orido continued to pull out a 30 second lead. It was a lead he needed though as a late trip off track would have been catastrophic without it. Orido though hung on to get Lamborghini’s 1st win in GT300 in 8 years. 2nd was the SLS of Kurosawa and Kurosawa and the top three was rounded off with the Audi R8 of Richard Lyons and Tomonobu Fujii.
So at the season midpoint things are really hotting up. In GT500 Lexus seem to have the best all round package, Nissan appear untouchable when the track suits and Honda appear to be back in the game.
In GT300 we’ve had three winners in four races, with wins for Honda, BMW and Lamborghini. With a further 5 different cars having lead a race the championship is still anyone’s to win.