【SUPER GT Round 4 / Chang】
The fourth round of 2019 Super GT series was held at the Chang International Circuit. It was the sixth time for the Thai racetrack to host the Super GT race and it had usually been a race in the wilting heat of the Southeast Asian country. However, as for the qualifying day at least, the air/track temperatures stayed around 32/40 degrees Celsius. So, it was more comfortable than expected, especially with some pleasant breezes.
Q1 for GT300 ended with Sacha Fenestraz in Realize Nissan Jidousya Daigakkou GT-R at the top of the timesheet, and twelve Yokohama shoed cars made their way into Q2. The early pacesetter in Q2 was Takamitsu Matsui at the wheel of Hoppy 86 MC. He was leading the session with a lap time which was very close to his GT300 course record until Kazuki Hiramine in the Realize backed GT-R bettered it.
However, Matsui didn’t stop there. His second qualifying attempt saw the new course record, 1’31″839, which was fast enough to secure the pole position for Hoppy 86 MC which he shared with Kimiya Satoh. Realize Nissan Jidohsya Daigakkou GT-R settled for the second grid, followed by the Tomonobu Fujii / Joao Paulo de Oliveira pair driving D’station Vantage GT3 in third.
In the GT500 class, Mitsunori Takaboshi behind the wheel of Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R was the fourth fastest and Sho Tsuboi in WedsSport ADVAN LC500 was the fifth in Q1, although Hideki Mutoh driving Motul Mugen NSX-GT struggled and was ranked only 13th in the session.
Yuji Kunimoto now in the driving seat of WedsSport ADVAN LC500 did an excellent job in Q2 to set a near-perfect lap time which was only nine thousandths shy of the existing GT500 course record. It seemed to give him the pole position, but it was overturned in the last minutes, so the WedsSport car took the second grid for the race, while Jann Mardenborough’s effort in Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R put the car on the sixth grid.
A relentless heat wave came back, and the air temperature rose to 35 degrees on Sunday. Starting from the second grid, Kunimoto in WedsSport ADVAN LC500 kept up with the race leader in the first laps. After he fell back to third on Lap 3, however, his pace was slowing a little by little and, as a result, Mardenborogh came close to him from behind. Despite starting from the sixth grid, the Briton drove very well in the opening lap and was in good form.
At Turn 3 on Lap 26, Mardenborogh tried to overtake Kunimoto without success, but then he had to fend off an attack from a car behind him. On the next lap, the two Yokohama shoed cars came into the pit for Kunimoto to change to Tsuboi and for Mardenborogh to Takaboshi.
With Mutoh at the wheel, Motul Mugen NSX-GT moved up to 11th in the aftermath of the first lap melee. However, his pace wasn’t very good, and he lost a few positions after that. He made a pit stop on Lap 33 to change to Daisuke Nakajima, but shortly after the driver change, on Lap 36, Nakajima had a collision with his closest rival and then heavily hit by another car that was closely following them and had nowhere to go. Nakajima brought back the vehicle to the pit, but the damage on the front right corner looked beyond quick repair, so the team had to retire the car.
Because one of the cars involved in this incident halted on the track, the Safety Car was called in. At the time, WedsSport ADVAN LC500 was running in the sixth, while Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R was in eighth. Soon after the restart on Lap 43, both cars managed to gain positions during the close battles in the compressed field, and Tsuboi found himself running in third, followed by Takaboshi in fourth.
Both of them struggled a little for the lack of pace in the closing stage, but they were still able to keep their positions. WedsSport ADVAN LC500 got on the podium for the first time this season. Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R finished the race in fourth, which was their season’s best result, and Takaboshi registered the fastest lap during the race as well.
As for the GT300 class, Hoppy 86 MC with Sato at the wheel started the race from the front of the grids, but Fenestraz in Realize Nissan Jidousya Daigakkou GT-R overtook Sato immediately after they exited the first corner because the GT-R had the upper hand in acceleration. Sato kept the second place for a while, and there was an intense three-way fight for third between de Oliveira in D’station Vantage GT3, Kazuki Hoshino behind the wheel of Gainer Tanax triple a GT-R, and another car.
Before long, however, de Oliveira pulled away from his opponents. The Brazilian then came close to Sato and passed him. However, there was a good reason for Sato not to resist hard, as the team had decided to go the whole race with only one set of tires, and he had to manage them.
At the front, Fenestraz’s gap with the car in second shrunk from 11 seconds to less than 5 seconds because de Oliveira was running in a better pace than he was. However, well before being caught by the Aston Martin driver, the team instructed the young French to make the pit stop on Lap 29.
Shortly after that, the Safety Car came out because of an accident between GT500 cars. D’station Vantage GT3 didn’t suffer from this Safety Car period too much, as de Oliveira made the stop just before that. But, when Fujii went out on the track, he found he was behind Realize Nissan Jidousya Daigakkou GT-R now with Hiramine at the wheel.
Fujii tried to get ahead of the GT-R immediately after the restart, but a backmarker hindered his effort and even worse his car was damaged by hitting one of them, which then harmed the performance of his tires. Because of this, he lost much ground.
On Lap 41, Realize Nissan Jidousya Daigakkou GT-R was leading the race and Keishi Ishikawa in Gainer Tanax triple a GT-R followed with the gap of a little more than a second. This situation remained the same for a while but, with only a few laps to go, Ishikawa suddenly gained on Hiramine and overtook him at Turn 5 when Hiramine had to give space to a lapping GT500 car.
Thus, Gainer Tanax triple a GT-R won the race, with Realize Nissan Jidousya Daigakkou GT-R ending up with second place. However, it was a one-two finish by Yokohama shoed GT-R in any way!
Hoppy 86 MC finished in fourth. Also, it was remarkable that Manepa Lamborghini GT3 driven by Takashi Kogure and Yuya Motojima ended the race in fifth, despite starting from the 21st grid
—Result : 3rd. in the GT300 class—
“I planned to take the lead position during the first three laps. But I couldn’t create a situation to do so and dropped to third when I hit traffic. The two cars ahead of me were so fast, and I thought, ‘oh, we’ll be in trouble,’ at the time. But, by making the pit stop as early as the rules permit to do, we managed to keep our position. Honestly, I think we didn’t have such competitiveness to finish the race in third this weekend, but we performed well as a team today by combining our efforts.”
“We are happy to see a one-two finish in the GT300 class, finally. As our user teams were fast in the qualifying session, I thought a podium sweep might be entirely possible, but I am relieved to see these results. Our latest tires worked very well with Hoppy 86 MC this time, so the development work in the future will be based on them. They had a new construction, which improved a pace in both single lap and in the long run. We want to thank the team for taking the risk of using the new development.
“In the GT500 class, the speed in the qualifying lap was good, but I would say the race pace was somewhat inferior to the other tire manufacturers, while the gap was minimal. Overall, both WedsSport ADVAN LC500 and Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R raced in decent paces, so I am sure we are getting better, especially in races, comparing to our performance level in the first three races.
“For the next Fuji round, we wish to see our GT300 podium sweep. Regarding the GT500, we still have a lot to do, but we will make every effort to be well-prepared and get better results than we had in the last Fuji round.”