Round 7 saw the championship’s first foray into Thailand and more specifically the brand new Buriram United International Circuit. This was to be the circuit’s first major event and there are few better series out there to offer as complete an inaugural weekend as SUPER GT.
A solid grid of 37 cars made the trip to Thailand split fairly evenly between GT500 with 15 and GT300 with 22. Although there is some factory backing to some GT 300 entries it is a largely privateer class and to have such a large grid is testament to the strength of the series both in terms of it’s fan base and also it’s organisation. Many other series both near and far will certainly be looking on in envy at a championship getting it so right in a very tough and crowded market.
In GT 500 Lexus had started the season in fine form starting as they had finished last season as champions and showing early pace. Nissan had remained close and mid-season had developed a definite edge over the competition. However the biggest indicator from the first half of the season was Honda’s chronic lack of pace. Happily though for all Neutrals Honda have managed to find a big chunk of that gap and although they are not quite there on out and outpace over a race distance they can challenge. In fact they got their first win of the season at a rain hit Fuji back in August.
Come qualifying though it was clear which manufacturer had settled quickest. The top three positions on the grid going to Nissan and pole going to the #46 car of Satoshi Motoyama and Masataka Yanagida. It was Lexus who seemed to be struggling for pace their highest placed qualifier the #39 car driven by Oliver Jarvis and Hiroaki Ishiura was back in 6th. That also spelled an encouraging session for Honda with 4 cars in the top 10.
After a clean start the three Nissans headed the field in qualifying order. #46 with Motoyama behind the wheel, chased by #24 Michael Krumm and #23 Ronnie Quintarelli. It was a different Nissan causing a stir further back though, as the cars headed through turn three for the first time something had to give and after a few taps the #12 Nissan in the hands of Hironobu Yasuda took a trip of track dropping him to the back of the field.
Things went from bad to worse for Lexus as Oli Jarvis tangled with the #8 Honda of Kosuke Matsuura and both cars took a spin dropping them way down the order just five laps in.
Up front though Motoyama and Krumm were pulling away from the rest of the field and in the process having a fantastic battle amongst themselves. By lap 26 both cars were nose to tail and had a solid lead over the rest of the field. However just as it looked like Krumm was shaping up for a move the car developed gear shift issues and dropped back to 4th before Krumm had managed to banish the gremlins.
The pit stops were to be crucial to the overall standing and in a risky but calculated move both the #36 Rossiter/Nakajima and #37 Caldarelli/Ito Lexus’ decided not to take on new tires and this move allowed #37 to take the lead and #36 to emerge in 3rd.
The #46 Nissan’s fresher tyres were a major advantage though and Yanagida was soon able to take the lead back from Ito. The ever impressive Kazuki Nakajima clearly hadn’t read the script though and was regularly clocking times quicker than those who had changed tyres in 45 lap old tyres. He first took his fellow Lexus and promoted himself to 2nd before setting off in pursuit of the Nissan and the potential win.
In another two laps Nakajima had got onto the tail of Yanagida’s Nissan and coming out of the final turn out accelerated the #46 and took the lead. All was not well for the new 2nd place man though as the Nissan was visibly slowing and indeed a lap later apparent engine trouble would put pay to an otherwise promising weekend.
In the closing stages it became a battle of two Lexus’ nursing their tyres to the finish and two Nissans chasing hard to make up the gap. Sasaki’s #24 car and de Oliveira’s #12 car had the bit between their teeth and made short work of the #37 Lexus but ultimately ran out of time to catch Nakajima who hung on for that car’s 2nd win in a row.
#36 Lexus Nakajima/Rossiter
#24 Nissan Krumm/Sasaki
#12 Nissan Yasuda/de Oliveira
#37 Lexus Ito/Caldarelli
#18 Honda Yamamoto/Makowiecki
With one round to go a Motegi the championship will certainly go to the wire. Any one of 9 drivers can win the title with varying degrees of luck needed. James Rossiter leads the way on 67 points but leads by only three points from Ito and Caldarelli.
In the teams championship it is down to five, the #36 and #37 Lexus’, the #23 and #12 Nissans and even the #18 Honda has an outside chance of glory.
GT 300 has been wildly unpredictable in terms of results this season. In 6 rounds there have been 5 different winners. The only double winner being the #4 BMW Z4 which won the opening two rounds. Since those first two rounds we have seen a Honda CR-Z, a Subaru BRZ, a Lamborghini Gallardo and a different BMW Z4 top the podium. To highlight the strength in depth even further 2nd place in the championship going into the race in Thailand was yet another car and crew. The Mercedes SLS of Bjorn Wirdheim and Katsuyuki Hiranaka.
If the point needed proving any more then qualifying obliged. The front row held by two cars that had yet to win a race this season. Pole went to Local hot shoe Inthraphuvasak and Alexandre Imperatori in their Porsche 911. They were followed by the Nissan GT-R of Kazuki Hoshino and Lucas Ordonez.
From the start of the race Inthraphuvasak’s pace was electric and by lap 15 he had a ten second lead over the rest of the field. In 2nd the Nissan of Hoshino had managed to break away from a fierce battle between himself, the #7 BMW of Seiji Ara and the #10 Mercedes of Hideaki Yamauchi. As it began to settle down a minor incident between the leading Porsche and a slower GT 500 car lead to the Nissan taking 5 seconds out of the lead. After the pit stops though Impetori in the Porsche set about building his lead again. With Ordonez distracted by the attentions of Jorg Muller the Porsche began to pull away again.
Just as it was looking to be a forgone conclusion of certain victory for the Porsche team the car returned to the pits with a slow puncture.
This handed the lead to Ordonez in the Nissan with a very rapid Muller in pursuit. To all intents and purposes it looked like Muller would steal the lead but after an exceptional defensive drive it was Ordonez that took the flag just 8 tenths ahead of Muller.
#3 Nissan GT-R Hoshino/Ordonez
#7 BMW Z4 Ara/Muller
#4 BMW Z4 Taniguchi/Kastaoka
#60 BMW Z4 Iida/Yoshimoto
#61 Subaru BRZ Sasaki/iguchi
The drivers championship is down to three pairings for the final round. Taniguchi/Kataoka lead the way with 67 point but the Mercedes of Hiranaka/Wirheim and the BMW of Ara/Muller both find themselves on 58 points just 9 points behind the leader.
With all to play for in all four championships the final round at Motegi promises to be a thriller. Roll on the 15-16th of November.