Last month, the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series held the landmark Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours – the series’ first round-the-clock endurance race in a decade. An event that captured the imagination of race fans back home in Japan – even a dedicated few abroad!
But now there is the matter of the championships at stake in Super Taikyu, which returns to action after over a month on the shelf. This weekend, it’s the 5 Hour race at Autopolis circuit in Oita Prefecture, on the southern island of Kyushu in a mountainous region that puts this track at a higher altitude than any of the other five circuits on the calendar.
Autopolis is also a track that boasts a variety of fast, medium-speed, and slow corners, an undulating nature, yet still plenty of opportunities for cars in equal classes to race wheel-to-wheel for victory. And every point now matters more with three races left in the 2018 season.
After the Fuji Super TEC, a few classes saw runaway points leaders. Those include the ST-X class, which is now led by the #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R (Teruhiko Hamano/Kazuki Hoshino/Kiyoto Fujinami), winners at Fuji and at Suzuka. The win at Fuji was worth 46 points in the standings, and they now lead the #83 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Lim Keong Wee/Marchy Lee/Melvin Moh) by 39 ½ points, the #81 J-Fly Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Jeffrey Lee/André Couto/Shintaro Kawabata) by 41 points, and the #777 D’station Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo) by 45 points.
There are a maximum 32 points at stake for all classes, including the bonus point for pole position – so amazingly enough, the #99 GT-R can clinch the title if they leave Autopolis with a 54 point lead or greater, requiring at least a fourth-place finish. But they won’t have it all too easily. While not as much of a focal point as it is in Super GT, there is success ballast in Super Taikyu – and the #99 Y’s Distraction GT-R does carry a class-high 60kg of ballast to work against.
Their stiffest competition will be in the form of their fellow Nissan entrants, the #24 ThreeBond Nissan Gakuen GT-R (Yuudai Uchida/Tomonobu Fujii/Kazuki Hiramine) which returns to action after sitting out the Fuji 24 Hours for the sake of their student engineers. There’s no question that they have the team and the resources to win out in the final three races to make up a deficit of 48 points. A team that’s also been tipped to do well is the #3 Endless GT-R (Yuke Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi/Tsubasa Mekaru) – all three turbocharged GT-Rs, in fact, should be very strong in the thin air of Autopolis.
ST-TCR also sees a similar championship picture: Two wins and a gutsy podium have given the #97 Modulo Honda Civic TCR (Tadao Uematsu/Shinji Nakano/Hiroki Otsu/Takashi Kobayashi) a 34 point lead in the class.
But just nine points separate the cars ranked 2nd through 5th: The #45 Prisma Illya Audi RS3 LMS (Naoto Takeda/Takuya Shirasaka/Shozo Tagahara), the Fuji 24h-winning #75 m-1 CarFactory RS3 LMS (Toshiro Tsukada/Yoshikazu Sobu/Yuji Kiyotaki/Kazuyuki Matsumoto), the #19 BRP Audi Mie RS3 LMS (Hirobon/Yossy/Takeshi Matsumoto/Koichi Okumura), and the #98 Floral Civic TCR (Taiyou Iida/Hiroki Katoh/Kazuho Takahashi). Any one of them can strike back and take a chunk out of the #97’s championship stranglehold, but they will need a win or a podium to even entertain the chance.
It’s the lower classes where there’s still plenty of uncertainty as to who holds the upper hand. In ST-2, it’s usually the #59 TOWA INTEC Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh/Takuto Iguchi/Mizuki Ishizaka) – but after a tough race that saw them barely drag their battered, duct-taped Subaru over the line, it’s now the #6 Shinryo Auto Dixcel Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi) that leads, but by just 5.5 points.
Then in ST-3, just 8 points separate the top 3 teams: The #38 muta Racing Lexus IS350 (Makoto Hotta/Ryohei Sakaguchi/Morio Nitta) still leads with three podiums, but a breakthrough first win for the #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Takayuki Hiranuma) has them 6 points out of the lead in second, with the #62 Denso Le Beausset Lexus RC350 (Koki Saga/Kenta Yamashita/Ritomo Miyata) in third.
ST-4 would have projected to be a battle between the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 (Takamitsu Matsui/Sho Tsuboi/Yuichi Nakayama), and the Fuji 24h class-winning #55 SunOasis Auto Factory 86 – but the SunOasis 86 isn’t entered. However, sitting a distant third in the standings for now, the #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Hiroki Yoshida) could pounce in the event that the TOM’s Spirit 86 breaks down as it did a few times at Fuji.
The #54 TC Corse iRacing Mazda Roadster NC (Teruhiko Kato/Yuui Tsutsumi/Yuya Hiraki/Hiroshi Nakamura) is also back to try and upset the 86 stranglehold on ST-4, and there’s a new wildcard entry, the #116 Team221 with WS Engineering Honda S2000 (Noboyuki Yoshida/Yasuhiro Ogushi/Tetsuya Shuto), that has promise as well – simply because the “aging” S2000 still has the horsepower to run with the 86es!
And in ST-5, just 10 points separate the Mazda Roadster 1-2 tandem of the #88 Murakami Motors Roadster (Hiroyuki Murakami/Keiji Amemiya/Kuninori Nakane/Souichiro Yoshida) from the #2 Team221 Roadster (Katsuhiko Tsutsui/Koji Yamanishi/Junichiro Yamashita/Masaki Tanaka).
The 5 Hours of Autopolis begins 15 July at 11:35 JST (local time) / 3:35 BST / 4:35 CEST / 10:35 PM EDT (July 14) – and the race in its entirety will be carried live on Super Taikyu TV.
Featured image courtesy of the Super Taikyu Organisation (STO)