Only two races remain in the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series, and the next stop in the championship tour takes the series to Buriram, Thailand, and the world-class Chang International Circuit for the 300 kilometer Chang Super GT Race.
Just three years ago, Thailand’s first high-grade permanent racing circuit opened its doors to the sound and the fury of Super GT racing. It’s now become the hub of one of the fastest-growing motorsport countries in Asia, with a developing national racing scene, and a rapid increase in the number of international racing series hosting events at this magnificent venue.
Already, Chang International Circuit has developed a reputation for delivering some fast-paced, helter-skelter races in Super GT. Fuel strategy and negotiating dense traffic patterns will be key to victory in any race at this 4.554 kilometer circuit, one without significant elevation change, but with many long straights and flat-out corners. And if it rains, as is forecast for race weekend, it will only add more intrigue to what will already be a fascinating race on Sunday afternoon.
There’s no turning back now, and for the championship leaders in both GT500 and GT300, this is, in essence, an elimination round in determining who will compete for the title in a month’s time at Twin Ring Motegi.
In GT500, Lexus dominated the first half of the season, Honda are in form with back-to-back wins – but it’s a Nissan GT-R which leads the championship tables thanks to ultra-consistent results from the #23 Motul Autech NISMO GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda & Ronnie Quintarelli.
With the Success Ballast coming down to 1 kilogram per championship point scored, only the Motul GT-R will carry an additional fuel-flow restrictor at Buriram – but the NISMO crew, carrying an 11-point championship lead, are confident they can maximize their results and take a huge step towards clinching the team’s ninth premier category championship.
In fact, Matsuda & Quintarelli can clinch the championship with a round in hand, if they’re at least able to finish on the podium and depending on the results of their nearest championship rivals. It would make them just the third team in GT500 history to do so.
Matsuda & Quintarelli can clinch the championship with a round in hand, if they’re at least able to finish on the podium and depending on the results of their nearest championship rivals
Behind them are a quartet of challengers from the Lexus armada, led by the #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500 (Ryo Hirakawa / Nick Cassidy), and the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 (Kazuya Oshima / Andrea Caldarelli) at 48 points each. Caldarelli drove Lamborghini to the Blancpain GT Series title at Barcelona this past weekend, and Hirakawa will look to deliver a similar triumph for G-Drive Racing in the European Le Mans Series in two weeks’ time – but back in the GT500 circuit, both of these young stars want to win their first GT500 titles above all else.
While the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 (Yuhi Sekiguchi / Yuji Kunimoto) is out of realistic title contention, pride is still on the line for them as they seek to defend their crown as defending champions in Thailand, after a breakthrough pole-to-win victory last October.
And then there’s the red-hot Honda fleet, who at least want to send one of their NSX-GTs to the season finale at their “second home” in Motegi with a chance at the championship.
The #64 Epson Modulo NSX-GT of Bertrand Baguette & Kosuke Matsuura ended Nakajima Racing’s decade-long winless drought in stunning fashion at the final Suzuka 1000km, but it’s the #8 ARTA NSX-GT (Tomoki Nojiri/Takashi Kobayashi) and #100 Raybrig NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa) who currently lead the way for Honda in the GT500 standings.
In GT300, the “Silver Arrows” of Mercedes-AMG lead the standings, 1-2, with their top two challengers separated by just two points.
The #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa / Naoya Gamou) took a brilliant Suzuka 1000km victory a month ago, edging ahead of the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi / Tatsuya Kataoka) in the standings for the first time in 2017.
The FIA GT3 cars will find their strengths on the long straightaways, but the JAF-GT and Mother Chassis machines have the upper hand in the high-speed corners, as well as fuel and tyre usage. Leaders in that group are the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui / Kenta Yamashita), the winning car from last year’s race in Buriram and defending GT300 champions. VivaC Team Tsuchiya are determined to put a grueling month behind them after spending the last month repairing their car after a late rollover at Suzuka.
Two other challengers to watch for are the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino / Mitsunori Takaboshi), the winning team in 2014 and 2015. 2017 has been unlucky for NDDP Racing, but Takaboshi, the newly-crowned Japanese Formula 3 Champion, wants to end the season on a high. The #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (Shinichi Takagi / Sean Walkinshaw), another title contending team, also fared well at this race a year ago.
Without the traditional local wildcard entries, only the #35 Arto 86 MC 1010 will represent Thailand
It’s worth noting that this round will have the smallest GT300 grid of the year, just 24 cars able to make the trip from Japan due to a combination of budget constraints and garage capacity.
And without the traditional local wildcard entries, only the #35 Arto 86 MC 1010 (Nattavude Charoensukhawatana / Nattapong Horthongkum) will represent Thailand on the grid this year, as Panther Team Thailand head back home in search of their best result of a trying first full campaign in Super GT.
Mind the late start- the 66-lap race begins on Sunday at 3:00 PM local time, translating to an 11 AM start in the UK and Ireland.
Images courtesy of the GT Association, Nissan, and Goodsmile Racing.