It was a nothing short of a dream day at Fuji International Speedway for Lexus Gazoo Racing, who scored a commanding double victory in both GT500 and GT300 classes at the 2017 Fuji GT 500km Race.
The #38 ZENT Cerumo Lexus LC500 of Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura took a pole-to-win victory in the 110-lap Golden Week classic, only yielding the top spot briefly during the two pitstop cycles, and going on to take the first Lexus victory at Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway since 2013.
Tachikawa, the long-time ace driver for Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo, continued to write his name into the Super GT record books. From his record 22nd career pole, Tachikawa scored his fourth Fuji 500km victory, his eighth at Fuji International Speedway in total – and with the victory, he moves back into a tie with Tsugio Matsuda for the most career GT500 race wins, both drivers now at 18 wins each.
The “Fuji-meister” indeed lived up to his moniker, with two solid stints aboard the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 at the start and finish of the race.
“I am really glad that we got a win for the first time in some while here at Fuji,” Tachikawa said after the race. “It has always been said that we were strong at Fuji, but we weren’t able to win here for the past three years, and I was worried that I was beginning to feel embarrassed about losing my title as the ‘Fuji-meister.’”
“I want to say how grateful I am to the Lexus development team for making us such a great car and to our team for tuning it so well and to my teammate Ishiura.”
For Ishiura, it’s his fifth career GT500 win, and his third at the Fuji 500km.
“In my stint, I was able to run at a good pace from the first lap out of the pit, so I felt that things were going well,” Ishiura said. “We worked on the car’s development with the strong feeling that we wanted to win at Fuji again. So, I’m really happy that we won today.”
Completing Lexus’ clean sweep of the GT500 podium – their third in a row dating back to 2016 – was the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 (Kazuya Oshima/Andrea Caldarelli) which finished second for the second straight race in 2017.
The #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500 (Ryo Hirakawa/Nick Cassidy) finished third, and holds on to the championship lead in GT500 – but by just one point over Oshima & Caldarelli, 31 points to 30, with Tachikawa & Ishiura now at 29 points in third.
“Best of the rest” in GT500 was the two-time and defending Fuji 500 winners at NISMO, the #23 Motul Autech Nissan GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli) which finished fourth. Matsuda and Quintarelli had to fight all race long to hold on to positions despite a distinct straightline speed and horsepower disadvantage to the Lexus fleet around them.
The #36 au TOM’s LC500 (Daisuke Ito/James Rossiter) bounced back from a drive-through penalty on lap 60 for avoidable contact with the #1 Denso Kobelco SARD LC500 (Heikki Kovalainen/Kohei Hirate), which limped to a seventh-place finish after suffering damage that affected them the rest of the race. The #100 Raybrig Honda NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa) finished between them in sixth, best of the Hondas for the day.
Completing the points scorers were the #17 Keihin NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure) in eighth, the #8 ARTA NSX-GT (Tomoki Nojiri/Takashi Kobayashi) in ninth, and the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Kenta Yamashita) in tenth.
After two frustrating years with the previous model, the Lexus RC F GT3 finally captured its first victory in Super GT competition, as the #51 JMS P.MU LM Corsa RC F GT3 of Yuichi Nakayama and rookie Sho Tsuboi won the GT300 class.
The #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Nobuteru Taniguchi & Tatsuya Kataoka dominated the first half of the race, and appeared set to take their second straight win of the season. However, two left front tyre punctures – including one with four laps to go – ended any hope of victory for the Miku AMG, which finished out of the points in eleventh.
That opened the door for the Bridgestone-clad Lexus RC F GT3 of Nakayama and Tsuboi, which was able to run longer on their first two stints than anyone else, and thanks to a quick final pit stop from the LM Corsa crew, they came out ahead of the #11 Gainer Tanax AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Björn Wirdheim), and eventually pulled away to take the RC F GT3’s first victory in GT300 competition.
“I am very happy that we were able to win here at Lexus’ home track,” said Nakayama. “In the opening round we lacked speed, so we thought that we would have a difficult time here at Fuji if something didn’t change. But, Bridgestone developed some outstanding tires for us.”
Series newcomer Tsuboi scored his first career Super GT victory in just his second start, and the 21-year-old former Formula 4 champion felt confident in his drive this afternoon.
“I drove the second stint and my job was to get the car back in good position for Nakayama-san for the last stint. That was all I was thinking about. So, I pushed hard from the beginning of my stint and the tires and the machine kept performing well without fail. That enabled me to run at a good pace and turn the car over to Nakayama-san again with more of a lead. It was really great.”
Three different car models, and three different tyre manufacturers finished on the GT300 podium, with the Dunlop-clad Gainer Tanax AMG of Hiranaka & Wirdheim finishing second, and the #33 D’Station Porsche 911 GT3-R finishing third.
Having recovered from a qualifying penalty that put them 14th on the grid, and an early spin that put them down in 21st place, drivers Tomonobu Fujii and Sven Müller charged the D’Station Porsche through the field to take the team’s first Super GT podium – as well as the first for reigning Porsche Supercup champion Müller.
The #87 Shop Channel Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Kimiya Sato/Shinya Hosokawa/Yuya Motojima) finished a very solid yet understated fourth place. Moving up ten places in the race was the #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) in fifth, with the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Mitsunori Takaboshi) in sixth, the #7 Studie BMW M6 GT3 (Seiji Ara/Jörg Müller) in seventh, and the second Lexus RC F GT3, the #60 Syntium LM Corsa RC F (Akira Iida/Hiroki Yoshimoto) finishing eighth for their best finish in quite some time, moving up from 21st on the grid.
The best of the JAF-GT300 and Mother Chassis cars was the #18 Upgarage Bandoh Toyota 86 MC (Yuhki Nakayama/Shintaro Kawabata) in ninth, completing the points with the #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 GT3-R (Kyosuke Mineo/Jono Lester), which faded to tenth with sub-optimal tyre strategies.
An announced weekend attendance of 92,100 spectators were on hand on Wednesday and Thursday to watch another outstanding running of the Fuji 500km during the Golden Week holidays, up from 85,800 in 2016.
The third round of the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series is on May 21st, as the Autopolis circuit on the island of Kyushu hosts its first Super GT race since the Kumamoto earthquakes of April 2016 devastated the region.