The Pirelli Super Taikyu Series rings in the change from summer to autumn for motorsport in Japan, and this weekend the series heads to Twin Ring Motegi, for a five-hour race that could see as many as three class titles decided handily at the end of the weekend.
That includes the classes right at the top of the 48-car field, headlined by a six-car field in the ST-X class.
Twin Ring Motegi was host to the opening round of the Super Taikyu Series for the previous four years. In three of those four years, the #24 ThreeBond Nissan Gakuen GT-R (Yuudai Uchida/Tomonobu Fujii/Kazuki Hiramine) opened the season with victories at Motegi. This Sunday, they are in a situation where they must win this race, and ideally the season finale at Okayama International Circuit in October, to take the 2018 ST-X Championship and overhaul a 40 point deficit.
There’s no such pressure with their GT-R stablemates at GTNET Motor Sports. The #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R (Teruhiko Hamano/Kazuki Hoshino/Kiyoto Fujinami/Sun Zheng) can wrap up the title just by finishing fourth in this reduced field of six cars.
The big absence is D’station Racing, who have withdrawn their #777 Porsche 911 GT3-R, as well as their ST-1 Championship-winning #47 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, from the remainder of the season. Other cars like the #112 Rn-sports Mercedes-AMG GT3, that ran in the Suzuka 10 Hours, and the #82 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS with Alex Yoong and Shawn Thong, are also off the entry list.
A dark horse to watch will be the #81 J-Fly Racing Audi R8 LMS (Jeffrey Lee/André Couto/Shintaro Kawabata), with Couto and Kawabata bringing in a great deal of Japanese racing experience in their own right. And it’s been a long time since the #3 Endless GT-R (Tsuyoshi Tajima/Hideki Yamauchi/Tsubasa Mekaru) has won a race in ST-X – perhaps today will be the day for Endless Sports to snap a winless drought dating back to November 2016.
In ST-TCR, the Dome Racing Honda Civic TCRs have been the class of the field all year long, just as they were in 2017. The #97 Modulo Civic TCR (Tadao Uematsu/Shinji Nakano/Hiroki Otsu/Takashi Kobayashi) will need to win, finish second, or take pole position and finish third or better to clinch the second TCR class title in as many years for Honda, who ushered in the TCR era with an overall race win in 2017’s split-group race at Honda-owned Motegi.
Audi are bringing five of their RS3 LMS to Motegi, with a brand-new entry debuting under the Audi Driving Experience Japan banner. The #33 RS3 LMS is loaded with talented drivers like dual-class Super GT champion Masataka Yanagida and Audi Team Hitotsuyama driver Ryuichiro Tomita, partnered with Koki Oiwa, who won an Audi one-make time trial competition to take part in this event.
All classes will be represented as the ST-Z class #51 Diamango Porsche Cayman GT4 (Masamitsu Ishihara/Yuya Sakamoto/Daisuke Ikeda) returns for its second race of the season. And in ST-1, apr Racing are back with a restructured team for the #31 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car: Masami Kageyama now partnered with Yuta Kamimura, and a gentleman driver going under the nom de plume “T. Stark”!
Also set to be clinched is the ST-4 Championship, led convincingly by the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 (Takamitsu Matsui/Sho Tsuboi/Yuichi Nakayama), who just need to finish fourth or better, or fifth with the pole position bonus. This won’t be an easy win – this was the only race that TOM’s Spirit didn’t win in 2017. The only other team in title contention is the #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing Toyota 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Hiro Hayashi/Hiroki Yoshida), 38.5 points back.
But, there are still three very close class championships to be decided at Motegi.
In ST-2, the top three teams are covered by just 17.5 points, and all four cars in the field are mathematically eligible. The #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh/Takuto Iguchi/Mizuki Ishizaka) is still the favourite, but the #6 Shinryo Auto Dixcel Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi) still remains within striking distance thanks to their Fuji 24 Hours class win.
The top seven teams in ST-3 are mathematically eligible, and the top three have just five points between them. The big story in the field is that the #38 Tracy Sports team (Makoto Hotta/Ryohei Sakaguchi/Morio Nitta) have replaced their long-serving Lexus IS 350 with the current RC 350 coupe, matching the other Lexus runners in the field.
They’re just three points back of the championship-leading #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Takayuki Hiranuma). The #62 Denso Le Beausset RC 350 (Koki Saga/Kenta Yamashita/Ritomo Miyata) are still in the hunt, five points out of the lead, despite not yet winning a race this year.
And in ST-5, the #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster ND, led by Hiroyuki Murakami (co-drivers TBA), and the #2 Team221 Roadster (Katsuhiko Tsutsui/Koji Yamanishi/Junichiro Yamashita) have just 1.5 points between them at the top of the standings!
The Motegi Super Taikyu 5 Hour Race starts at 12:00 JST on Sunday, and will be broadcast live and free on Super Taikyu TV, the series’ official YouTube channel.
Feature image courtesy of Super Taikyu Organisation (STO)