With the right strategy and some incredible driving, the previous-generation Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 showed that it still has at least one big race win left in it – taking the victory in the inaugural running of the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours with the GTNET Motor Sports team.
The #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R, driven by Teruhiko Hamano, Kazuki Hoshino, Kiyoto Fujinami, Hironobu Yasuda, and Sun Zheng completed 759 laps and drove over 3,400 kilometers in taking the win – their second in three rounds of the 2018 Pirelli Super Taikyu Series, but more importantly, a landmark victory in the first 24 hour race held in Japan since 2008, and the first 24 hour race at Fuji International Speedway since 1968.
It was a very convincing win as well, by a final margin of five laps. The final quarter of the race proved decisive, as the timing of their two mandatory eight-minute service periods earlier in the day helped to ensure they would not lose too much critical time on the race track.
All of the winning drivers will cherish this victory and use it to fuel their future successes. None more so than Kazuki Hoshino, whose father, Kazuyoshi, won the 1992 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona for Nissan – and today, Kazuki adds a signature 24 hour race victory of his own, along with two GT300 Drivers’ Championships to his name in Super GT.
For Hamano, he justifies his move up from clubman-level racer in the lower classes of Super Taikyu to a solid GT3 gentleman driver. For Yasuda, the multiple-race winner displaced from Nissan’s GT500 driver lineup this winter, a measure of validation that he still possesses top-shelf talent. For young Fujinami, who was the odd man out of a pre-season shootout for the last seat at Team Mach in Super GT, he was the race’s Iron Man – driving more laps than anyone, 327 total, and never putting a wheel wrong all day. And for Zheng, who was a British Formula 3 National Class champion five years ago, a chance to kickstart a career in racing that’s inexplicably stagnated for the young Chinese driver.
Recovering from a late puncture, the #83 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Keong Wee Lim, Marchy Lee, Melvin Moh, and Max Hofer came home to finish a respectable second place – with the Austrian teenager Hofer carrying the team on his young shoulders throughout the day.
The #81 J-Fly Racing R8 of Jeffrey Lee, André Couto, Shintaro Kawabata, and Alessio Picariello ended up in third place after post-race penalties dropped the #244 Max Racing Lexus RC F (Go Max/Tetsuya Tanaka/Kimiya Sato/Takeshi Tsuchiya) off of what would have been an unlikely podium finish, so Phoenix Racing Asia Audis completed the bottom two steps of the podium.
After dominating the first half of the race, the #3 Endless GT-R (Yuke Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi/Tsubasa Mekaru/Kyosuke Mineo/Jukuchou Sunako/Shinnosuke Yamada) labored to finish in fifth place overall, after brake issues took them out of contention for the second part of the race. The #777 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo/Yuya Motojima) suffered a terminal engine failure in the penultimate hour of the race, but still completed enough laps to be classified sixth overall.
Seventh overall and winner of the ST-1 class by default, was the #47 D’station Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Tatsuya Hoshino/Manabu Orido/Kenji Hama/Kenji Kobayashi/Lee Jung Woo/Ryuichiro Tomita), completing 701 laps on the day.
After a tense battle for the win in ST-3, the #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Takayuki Hiranuma/Taku Bamba/Togo Suganami) held on to win the class by two laps over the all-pro superteam in the #62 Denso Le Beausset Lexus RC 350 (Koki Saga/Kenta Yamashita/Ritomo Miyata/Hiroaki Ishiura/Kohei Hirate) in second, and in third, the #38 muta Racing Lexus IS350 (Makoto Hotta/Ryohei Sakaguchi/Morio Nitta) – they were 8th, 9th, and 10th overall respectively.
Despite not having the quicker car, or the quicker selection of drivers, it was the supreme work of the team of mechanics at Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave, all of whom are dealership mechanics on the weekdays, which propelled the team to the victory. Hattori won the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in 1991 driving a Nissan Skyline GT-R, and can now add a class victory at the Fuji 24 Hours to his hall-of-fame CV.
A first-year ST-TCR team with a team comprised entirely of journeyman drivers scored Audi’s very first victory in the category, with Audi Team DreamDrive Noah’s #75 m-1 CarFactory Audi RS3 LMS (Tsukada Toshiro/Yoshikazu Sobu/Yuji Kiyotaki/Kazuyuki Matsumoto/Yukihiro Yamaji/Tadashi Watanabe) driving a clean race as their faster rivals around them all fell into grief, finishing 11th overall and finally giving the RS3 LMS its first TCR class win in Super Taikyu. They won by a whopping margin of 22 laps in the end.
ST-TCR became a war of attrition relatively quickly, and despite multiple trips to the garage of their own, the #97 Modulo Honda Civic TCR (Tadao Uematsu/Shinji Nakano/Hiroki Otsu/Takashi Kobayashi/Keishi Ishikawa) rallied back to finish 2nd in class (14th overall), ahead of the #19 Birth Racing Project Audi RS3 LMS (Hirobon/Yossy/Kei Akiyoshi/Kouichi Okumura/Daisuke Yamawaki/Masanobu Komiya), 3rd in class (15th overall) despite their race start being delayed over an hour.
ST-4 had the closest battle for the victory in the end, and many were worried as the laps and the minutes ticked down that the #55 SunOasis Toyota 86 (Jun Tashiro/Takashi Ito/Masayuki Tanaka/Takashi Oi/Yuichi Mikasa) wouldn’t make it to the end on their last tank of fuel. Even they didn’t know if they’d make it, but Jun Tashiro did drive the #55 Toyota to victory in a sub-class thriller, ending the seven-race winning streak of the TOM’s Spirit crew.
The #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Hiro Hayashi/Hiroki Yoshida/Yuji Kunimoto) were second in the end, a late stop for fuel ultimately costing them a chance to win the class. And completing the “hachiroku party” on the podium was the #29 T’s Concept Ogura Clutch 86 (Masahiro Sasaki/Kazuya Oshima/Yasuhiro Ogura/Daisuke Toyoda/Miki Koyama/Akira Iida), which rallied back from mechanical gremlins of their own. Koyama was one of eight women drivers in the race, and Toyoda, the son of Toyota CEO Akio, had to feel proud of taking a podium at the Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway.
16th overall was the ST-2 class winning #6 Shinryo Auto/Dixcel Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi/Masato Narisawa/Yoshiki Fujii/Setsuo Furuyama), which commanded the race from the moment the #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh/Takuto Iguchi/Mizuki Ishizaka) was swept up in a crash in the first hour.
But the Subaru, after two crashes, after being fitted with a civilian WRX’s driver-side door and countless sheets of duct tape to hold the car together, and several trips into and out of the garage, was the story of the race – when in spite of all of that, they finished the race. A worthy “Spirit of the Race” winner by any definition, with the TOWA INTEC Racing mechanics deserving of the utmost praise for their tireless work.
While a late electrical issue with 90 minutes left in the race robbed the #51 Diamango Porsche Cayman GT4 (Masamitsu Ishihara/Shinya Hosokawa/Daisuke Ikeda/Atsushi Yogo/Yuya Sakamoto) of a top-ten overall finish, they did still see the chequered flag and completed a total of 645 laps.
It wasn’t the perfect debut for FIA GT4 machinery in the ST-Z class, but the pace of the cars will have hopefully opened a lot of eyes to the potential that GT4 can provide – especially to a true pro-am racing category such as Super Taikyu – and that we will see more of them in the future.
Two different breeds of Mazda powered them to a 1-2 finish in ST-5, led by the winning #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster ND (Hiroyuki Murakami/Keiji Amemiya/Souichiro Yoshida/Takeshi Wakitani/Kuninori Nakane/Haruhiko Sugino) in first, and the turbo-diesel powered #37 DXL Aragosta Team Nopro Mazda Demio (Yutaka Seki/Kaoru Ijiri/Tobio Ohtani/Yoshiaki Kato) two laps back in second.
Lastly, both Mitsuhiro Endo and Yuhki Nakayama, who were involved in a scary crash just before the halfway point of the race, were checked and cleared from the circuit’s medical center. The worst of it appears to be a minor sprain to Nakayama’s left ankle, but nothing that would prevent him from competing in the next Super GT race in a months’ time in Thailand.
None were expecting the crowds to be as massive over the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours weekend as they would have been a month ago for the Super GT Fuji 500km on Golden Week. But those loyal fans that did come had a wonderful time of camping, leisure, barbecues over an open fire, and great racing over 24 hours.
24 hour racing is back in Japan, and with the right support behind it, the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours has a promising future on the endurance racing calendar for many years to come.
Images by Yasutaka Sato – Japan Racing Photographers Association (JRPA), Subaru image courtesy of Takuto Iguchi