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GTNET Motor Sports Wins Back-To-Back Fuji 24 Hours

Defending champions prevail as Team Tairoku’s challenge ends four hours short of the flag

They may not have had the newest or the fastest car on the grid, they may not have had the biggest names driving for them, but GTNET Motor Sports persevered to the end to score their second consecutive victory in the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours.

The #1 AIM GTNET GT-R, driven by Teruhiko Hamano, Kazuki Hoshino, Kiyoto Fujinami, and Kazuki Hiramine, completed 801 laps en route to back-to-back victories with the ageing, but still very venerable 2015-spec Nissan GT-R GT3.

From the very start of the race, the GTNET Motor Sports crew would lock horns with the pole-sitting #300 Tairoku Racing GT-R, the 2018-spec model, driven by Tairoku Yamaguchi, Harrison Newey, Nicolas Costa, Satoshi Motoyama, and Shinichi Takagi. The GTNET Motor Sports team trusted their veteran driver, two-time GT300 Champion Hoshino, to take the start. Tairoku Racing started their race with Motoyama, the three-time GT500 Champion and four-time Super Formula Champion.

Four months after stepping down from the ranks of Nissan’s GT500 factory racing team as a driver, Motoyama still showed that he had elite pace. He’d built a lead of over 10 seconds by the end of his first stint at the wheel, with the two leading GT-Rs pitting after 80 minutes.

The first sign of trouble hit the Tairoku Racing team when they were hit with a 60 second stop/go penalty for having the engine on during refuelling on their first stop! No such worries for the crew at GTNET Motor Sports, who drove on to a comfortable lead as night began to fall over Fuji Speedway.

After four hours, the Tairoku GT-R had made its way back to the same lap as the GTNET GT-R, and then the GTNET crew had a bit of drama as a wheel nut rolled out of the hands of one of their mechanics and down the open pit lane! The mechanic was able to retrieve the wheel nut and complete the service, losing only 30 seconds in the pits as a result.

But the Tairoku GT-R was now finding a rhythm, and just before the completion of seven hours of racing, Shinichi Takagi took the lead for the first time, before another round of pit stops – and another pit stop drama for Team Tairoku, this time, it was an issue with the air jacks that delayed their departure by quite a bit. Now the GTNET GT-R was back into a comfortable lead.

Motoyama took over the Tairoku GT-R in the following stint, and in the dark of night, the 48-year-old Nissan racing legend began to roll back the years with a blistering two-hour second stint that included the fastest lap of the race, a 1’40.652. He’d erased a lead of over 1 minute, 15 seconds on his own, and retook the lead after 10 hours of racing. The advantage was now with the white, blue, and gold GT-R.

Every team in every class was required to take one mandatory 10-minute service period to exchange brakes, before the end of the 20th hour. Shortly after taking the lead on the track, Tairoku Racing opted to take their service period after 10 hours, 15 minutes, while the GTNET Motor Sports crew drove on carrying out routine pit work.

Hoshino was driving well, as were young stars Fujinami and Hiramine, and gentleman racer Hamano. After 14 hours and 30 minutes, the GTNET GT-R came in for its mandatory service period, and by staying out those four extra hours, they re-took the net lead by over a minute.

As the sun dawned over Fuji-san, it looked like the battle between the leading GT-Rs would go the distance. Both teams were now level on maintenance periods. Both teams had given their gentleman drivers, Hamano and Yamaguchi, sufficient time at the wheel to clear their 3 hours, 36-minute minimum drive times. It was now going to be on the shoulders of the experienced professionals for each team, drivers young and old.

But then, with four hours left, the Tairoku GT-R suffered serious trouble with their transmission, which forced them to the garage, and they’d lose an hour and 15 minutes in the garage. They lost 43 laps, dropping them to third overall, and conceding the overall victory.

Though the race-long fight for the overall victory was now settled prematurely, the trio of Hoshino, Fujinami, and Hiramine was flawless in their final stints aboard the GTNET GT-R. A race with no Safety Car interventions and very few Full Course Yellows meant a race where the GTNET GT-R could shatter its own personal best of 759 laps completed in 2018. They broke the record with less than 80 minutes to go, and then surpassed 800 laps on the penultimate lap.

With no pressure for the lead, Hamano, the gentleman driver of the GTNET Motor Sports team, completed the final 40 minutes, and the crucial 801st and final lap, to secure back-to-back Fuji Super TEC 24 Hour victories – and a 46-point haul in the ST-X Championship for winning the race.

Hamano, Hoshino, and Fujinami take their second wins in the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours, for Hiramine, it is his first.

MP Racing was steady all the way to the end as they overtook Team Tairoku for second place with three and a half hours left, and the bright yellow #9 MP Racing GT-R would hold on to their best ever result in the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series – a brilliant result for a team that began life just last year as backmarkers in the ST-3 class with a 10+ year-old Nissan 350Z.

Gentleman drivers Joe Shindo and Takumi Takata may not have been as quick as their counterparts such as Hamano and Yamaguchi, but they avoided trouble, and their experienced co-drivers, Yusaku Shibata, Ryuichiro Tomita, Masami Kageyama, and Yuta Kamimura, carried MP Racing to a gutsy result.

Tairoku Racing completed an all-Nissan GT-R overall podium, but the third place seems an unfit reward for the crew of Yamaguchi, Motoyama, Takagi, Newey, and Costa who seemed to have the car and crew to win it on paper, but it wasn’t to be.

It was a race to forget for the only non-Nissan runner in ST-X, the #83 X Works Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Tse Ka Hing, Shinya Sean Michimi, Philip Tang, Marchy Lee, and Shawn Thong. Their day started with an oil leak on the grid that forced them to spend the start of the race in the garage.

Then, despite missing loads of straight-line speed, Michimi was unhappy with the X Works R8’s BoP settings during the race, they fought their way back into the top four overall, only to suffer an engine failure that required a wholesale powerplant change. They’d lose four and a half hours in repairs as a result.

With just over an hour left, the X Works R8 came to a stop in the final sector, went back to the garage, and tried one more time to get back on track to no avail, retiring with 554 laps completed.

Fourth overall, and a runaway winner in the ST-Z (FIA GT4) class, was the #3 Endless Sports Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Yuudai Uchida, Hideki Yamauchi, Tsubasa Takahashi, and Shinnosuke Yamada, which has taken a perfect three wins from three races since debuting in Super Taikyu.

Early on, the Endless AMG GT4 had real competition for the class victory in the form of the #2 KTM Cars Japan X-Bow GT4 (Taiyou Iida/Takashi Kobayashi/Hiroki Katoh/Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Hiroki Katoh).

After six hours, the carbon black KTM had made its way to the lead on track, but then, the car ground to a halt at pit exit, and retired with a terminal mechanical failure. That blew the door open for Endless Sports to take a hat trick of ST-Z class victories, and an overall top-5 finish.

The #51 Diamango Porsche Cayman GT4 (Masamitsu Ishihara/Yuya Sakamoto/Daisuke Ikeda/Atsushi Yogo/Kohei Fukuda) finished 2nd in class, 8th overall, and 19 laps down on the Endless AMG.

No competition for ST-1 class victory meant the #47 D’station Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Tatsuya Hoshino/Manabu Orido/Tsubasa Kondo/Kenji Kobayashi/Kenji Hama) would be chasing an overall top-5 finish, and they did indeed finish 5th overall despite having to replace the entire front bodywork of the car.

A result that’ll be welcome news to the ears of team owner Satoshi Hoshino, as he prepares for his Le Mans debut during this weekend’s test in France.

For the third time this year, and for the second time in as many runnings of the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours, an Audi RS3 LMS takes victory in the ST-TCR class – this time, it’s Audi Team DreamDrive ending a two and a half year wait and breaking through with their very first Super Taikyu victory!

In a race that indeed proved to be a battle of attrition, Naoto Takeda, Takuya Shirasaka, and Shozo Tagahara held their nerve to take the class victory and a sixth-place overall finish. Many times, DreamDrive felt they had the pace to win, but never the execution to pull through in the end, but finally, it all came together.

All three manufacturers in ST-TCR made it onto the podium with the #10 IDI Volkswagen Golf GTI (Philippe Devesa/Shogo Mitsuyama/Jake Parsons/Juichi Wakisaka) finishing second (7th overall) by four laps despite getting struck by a wayward tyre, and the #108 RFC Racing Honda Civic TCR (Jun Fujii/Takahisa Ohno/Toshio Suzuki) finishing third (10th overall).

The appearances of 1992 24 Hours of Daytona Champion Suzuki, 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours Winner Ara, and three-time GT500 Champion Wakisaka were among the many big name presences in the TCR class – in the end, it was the relatively unheralded trio of gentleman driverTakeda, and former GT300 journeymen Shirasaka and Tagahara who triumphed.

The #97 Modulo Civic TCR (Tadao Uematsu/Shinji Nakano/Hiroki Otsu/Tomoki Nojiri/Mitsuhiro Endo) was deep in the thick of the lead battle before retiring with a terminal mechanical failure just short of 9 hours into the race. The #501 KCMG Annika Civic TCR (Paul Ip/Josh Burdon/Matthew Howson/Attila Tassi) also lost over 90 minutes in the garage with mechanical gremlins of their own.

Last year’s ST-TCR winners, the #75 Azimuth Team Mars Civic (Toshiro Tsukada/Yoshikazu Sobu/Kuniyuki Haga/Katsuyugi Matsumoto/Yuji Kiyotaki/Genki Nishimura), crashed at Turn 1 after a brake failure caused them to spin head-first into the Armco barrier within 6 hours of the chequered flag – but they did get it fixed in time to take the chequered flag!

In an ST-3 grid loaded with top teams and talented drivers, it was the #34 Techno First Racing Team Lexus RC 350 of Yuya Tezuka, Riki Okusa, Shuji Maejima, and Takao Onishi that won the class by 11 laps, and finished 9th overall for their efforts.

The first hour of the race was marred when Kenta Yamashita in the #62 Denso Le Beausset RC350 suffered a catastrophic brake failure and crashed head-on into the tyre barriers at the end of Fuji Speedway’s 1.5 kilometre front stretch into Turn 1. Despite going in at nearly full speed, Yamashita was able to exit his car under his own power, but looked in considerable discomfort, so he was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation for a possible neck injury.

Koki Saga, Ryo Ogawa, Ryo Hirakawa, and Yuya Hiraki never got a chance to drive as they awaited word on their co-drivers condition, but Yamashita is in good spirits and will race another day.

The two Tracy Sports Lexus RC 350s made up the rest of the podium, with the #39 5Zigen Advics RC350 (Kazuya Shimogaki/Kazuya Oshima, Osaka Pref./Sesshu Kondo/Hirohito Ito/Shuma Hiroshima) in 2nd and the #38 Advics muta racing RC 350 (Makoto Hotta/Ryohei Sakaguchi/Yuui Tsutsumi/Morio Nitta) in 3rd.

No heroic efforts just to get the car to the finish this time out, TOWA INTEC Racing and the #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI of Manabu Osawa, Hitoshi Gotoh, Takuto Iguchi, and Mizuki Ishizaka took the ST-2 class victory with a 12th overall finish, one that puts them closer to a record seventh straight ST-2 class championship.

The two Shinryo Racing Team Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Xes placed 2nd and 3rd in class, with the #7 (Masato Narisawa/Zene Okazaki/Keisuke Anzai/Akira Ichino/Shingo Imai) ahead of the #6 (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi/Wataru Yamaki/Yoshiki Fujii).

ST-4 was a class brimming with star talents, and after a very difficult start to 2019 and a fraught 2018 effort in the Fuji 24 Hours, the all-star team at TOM’s Spirit took the chequers and the class victory with GT500 stars Sho Tsuboi and Yuichi Nakayama, and GT300 teammates Takamitsu Matsui and Kimiya Sato, powering the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 to the victory by a two-lap margin. They finished 13th overall.

In second was the #13 Endless Sports 86 (Yuhki Nakayama/Ritomo Miyata/Naoya Gamou/Togo Suganami), who were under threat from the #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Yuji Kunimoto/Hiro Hayashi/Keishi Ishikawa) before they lost a good chunk of time in the pits with transmission problems, they’d still hold onto a third-place finish.

One of the other star entries in ST-4 was the #104 Rookie Racing Toyota 86. Daisuke Toyoda, Masahiro Sasaki, Yasuhiro Ogura, and Toyota factory aces Kazuya Oshima (Gunma Pref.) and Hiroaki Ishiura all watched from the garage as the sixth driver of the crew, Toyota CEO Akio “Morizo” Toyoda, took the car to the finish with a fifth-place finish in class.

And a reversal of fortune in the final hours saw the #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster ND of Hiroyuki Murakami, Keiji Amemiya, Yasunori Nakajima, Naoki Yamaya, and Yoshitsugu Kondo snatched the top spot in the class and never looked back, en route to their first win of 2019 in the ST-5 class!

The #69 J’s Racing Honda Fit RS (Junichi Umemoto/Toshihiro Kubota/Shinsuke Umeda/Razat Ifwak/Ayyad Najiy/Satoshi Naruo) had battled through being nerfed off at the Dunlop Corner to lead most of the way through in class, only for a sudden brake issue to take them down to 2nd, with the #168 RFC Racing Honda Fit (Riki Tanioka/Shigetomo Shimono/Tatsuya Osaka/Kyosuke Inomata) finishing 3rd in class.

The all-female effort from Love Drive Racing finished 6th in class, the #50 Roadster of Marie Iwaoka, Hiroko Komatsu, Sayaka Kato, Junko Fujii, Rika Nakamura, and Aika Kumashita.

Fans in attendance enjoyed a spectacular night-time fireworks show, outdoor camping, and open barbecue grilles among many other amenities for what is quickly becoming one of the most fan-friendly 24-hour races in the world.

As for the standard of driving? There were only three FCY periods, no Safety Cars at all during 24 hours of pro-am racing, and only a small handful of cars didn’t see the chequered flag.

While there was no grandstand finishes in any of the eight classes of racing, the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours certainly will have shined a light upon the high standard of driving across the board in the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series – and long may that high standard continue!

Images courtesy of Pierre-Laurent Ribault (Twitter/Instagram: @plribault)