Supreme strategy may have been the key to victory in the 2018 Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours, as the #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET Nissan GT-R has jumped to a commanding lead in the final six hours of the race, leading as the final hour of the race is set to begin.
The #99 GT-R of Teruhiko Hamano, Kazuki Hoshino, Kiyoto Fujinami, Hironobu Yasuda, and Sun Zheng took the lead with four hours, 30 minutes remaining in the race. They had already fulfilled their two mandatory eight-minute maintenance stops within the first 20 hours of the race.
With six hours to go, the #83 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS (Keong Wee Lim/Marchy Lee/Melvin Moh/Max Hofer) had taken the lead of the race from the stricken #3 Endless GT-R. But under the Full Course Yellow caused by the #65 L&JR Mars Audi RS3 LMS’ crash with 6h30m remaining, the team failed to bring the #83 Audi in for its second maintenance stop at an advantageous time. The confusion only mounted when they brought the car in the first lap after the FCY was withdrawn, only to miss their pit stall completely.
Thus, with 30 minutes left to serve their mandatory eight-minute stop, the #83 Audi was left no choice but to relinquish their two-lap lead. And by the time they’d left the pits, a two-lap lead turned into a two-lap deficit to the new leader, the #99 GT-R.
With 90 minutes to go, the #83 Audi clashed with the #3 GT-R, deflating the left-rear tyre and forcing them into the garage for emergency repairs for suspension damage – as well as bringing out a Safety Car.
The #777 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo/Yuya Motojima) moved up into second place as a result of the Audi’s misfortune – but then, with 75 minutes left, they too would be struck down by the cruel hand of fate as they broke down at the 300R corner, putting the #83 Audi back in 2nd place, and the #244 Max Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Go Max/Tetsuya Tanaka/Kimiya Sato/Takeshi Tsuchiya) on course to move into third place!
With just under three hours to go, the race was red-flagged for a second time when the #58 Wako’s Honda Integra Type R DC5 suffered a catastrophic engine failure at Coca-Cola Corner, leaking oil down the racing line and ultimately catching fire as it ground to a halt in the runoff.
Masayuki Sakano, the driver of that Integra at the time, was able to escape the fire safely. But the oil on the track caused a Safety Car and then, a second red flag of the race.
It’s been intense throughout the final hours of the race in ST-3, where the class leading #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Takayuki Hiranuma/Taku Bamba/Togo Suganami) has only a one-lap advantage over the #62 Denso Le Beausset Lexus RC 350 (Koki Saga/Kenta Yamashita/Ritomo Miyata/Hiroaki Ishiura/Kohei Hirate) in second. With two hours to go, however, the #62 Lexus was rushed to the pits to repair a deranged front end, costing them another lap and putting the #68 Toyota another step closer to the class win.
Just behind them, the #51 Diamango Porsche Cayman GT4 (Masamitsu Ishihara/Shinya Hosokawa/Daisuke Ikeda/Atsushi Yogo/Yuta Sakamoto) looked poised for a top-ten overall finish, but with 1 hour and 45 minutes to go, an electrical issue at the Advan Hairpin brought the lone ST-Z runner to a halt. Their recovery also necessitated the Safety Car with 90 minutes left in the race.
ST-TCR looks poised to see something of an upset victory for Audi’s first win in the class, as the #75 m-1 CarFactory RS3 LMS (Tsukada Toshiro/Yoshikazu Sobu/Yuji Kiyotaki/Kazuyuki Matsumoto/Yukihiro Yamaji/Tadashi Watanabe), with five Gentleman drivers on their lineup and no Platinum-rated drivers, have a whopping lead of over 20 laps simply by avoiding mechanical troubles and accidents along the way.
A similar story of domination is being penned in ST-2 by the #6 Shinryo Auto/Dixcel Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi/Masato Narisawa/Yoshiki Fujii/Setsuo Furuyama).
But another great story emerged from the ST-2 class: The #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh/Takuto Iguchi/Mizuki Ishizaka) returned to the track after a second major incident, taking just over a half-hour to repair severe right-front wheel damage in the 21st hour. The TOWA INTEC Racing team have put in tireless work to get their battered Subaru to the end of this race – an almost-unanimous “Spirit of the Race” contender if there was one to pick in the field.
ST-4 is now a straight fight between the #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing Toyota 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Hiro Hayashi/Hiroki Yoshida/Yuji Kunimoto), which is now on the same lap as the #55 SunOasis Toyota 86 (Jun Tashiro/Takashi Ito/Masayuki Tanaka/Takashi Oi/Yuichi Mikasa) in second place – that will be a battle to watch as this final hour of the race unfolds.
And in ST-5, there’s a one-lap difference between the #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster ND (Hiroyuki Murakami/Keiji Amemiya/Souichiro Yoshida/Takeshi Wakitani/Kuninori Nakane/Haruhiko Sugino) in front, and the #37 DXL Aragosta Mazda Demio (Yutaka Seki/Kaoru Ijiri/Tobio Ohtani/Yoshiaki Kato) in second.