【SUPER GT Round 5 / Fuji】
The 2019 Super GT series came into the second half of the eight-race season. Its fifth round was the only 500-mile (800km) race in the series, held at Fuji Speedway. Every competitor had to make at least four pit stops during this long-distance race.
It was brutally hot, with the air/track temperatures at 31/41 degrees Celsius, when the qualifying session got underway on Saturday, August 3rd. The fastest car in Q1 for the GT300 class was Realize Nissan Jidousya Daigakko GT-R again but with Kazuki Hiramine behind the wheel this time. The vehicle led the 13 Yokohama-shoed cars that took their spots in Q2.
Sacha Fenestraz in the Realize GT-R in Q2, however, couldn’t better his teammate’s best lap time and ended the session in sixth. Hoppy 86 MC went the opposite way. While Kimiya Sato was only fifth fastest in Q1, Takamitsu Matsui secured the second grid, just 0.08 seconds shy of the pole sitter. It meant they missed out the possible third consecutive pole position for the car.
The trio of Takayuki Aoki / Atsushi Tanaka / Yusaku Shibata in Runup Rivaux GT-R qualified in third, and Kazuki Hoshino / Keishi Ishikawa pair in Gainer Tanax triple-a GT-R in fifth. With Realize Nissan Jidousya Daigakkou GT-R on the sixth grid, the qualifying result proved the GT-R’s clear advantage at Fuji.
In the GT500 class, one of the podium finishers in Thai round, WedsSport ADVAN LC500 with Sho Tsuboi at the wheel was the third-fastest in Q1. Mitsunori Takaboshi in Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R qualified in seventh, but Daisuke Nakajima in Motul Mugen NSX-GT failed to make his way into Q2.
Q2 ended abruptly by the red flag with just 20 seconds to go due to a big accident. Therefore, many drivers didn’t complete their qualifying plan, but Yuji Kunimoto in the driving seat of WedsSport ADVAN LC500 managed to secure the third grid. Jann Mardenborough in Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R took the sixth.
The temperatures were even higher on Sunday, especially the track temperature hit 51 degrees, while the air temp was around 31 when the race began. Tsuboi in the WedsSport backed car lost a position during the opening lap, but he kept on fighting in a close pack until regaining the third place on Lap 9. Then he began to chase the two leading cars at a consistent pace.
Hideki Muto was at the wheel of Motul Mugen NSX-GT for their first stint. His problem was that the tires wore much quicker than expected, so he had to make a stop very early at the end of Lap 18. With a five-stop strategy in their minds, instead of four, Tsuboi brought WedsSport ADVAN LC500 back to the pit for refueling and tire change on Lap 25, without driver change at this stop.
Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R started the race with Mardenborough behind the wheel. While he lost a few positions during the first stint, the team stayed cool and followed the original plan that was to make the first stop on Lap 33 to change to Takaboshi.
As the leading cars started to make their first pit stops, WedsSport ADVAN LC500 became the interim race leader on Lap 39. Tsuboi came into the pit on Lap 55 to change to Kunimoto. And then the Safety Car was deployed on Lap 77 because a crashed car had to be removed from the track. At the time, Kunimoto was running in third, but he lost much ground and dropped to 11th when the racing resumed, as many of his rivals had the fresher tires.
Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R had managed to pick up its pace in the middle of the race and was in fourth when they passed the 100th lap mark. On Lap 104, however, the car stopped near the pit entry, giving off white smoke, and caught fire after Mardenborough walked away from it. They had to retire the car, of course, and the incident caused the second Safety Car period of the day.
This SC period didn’t help WedsSport ADVAN LC500 again this time. The car once moved up to fourth, but Tsuboi who drove it for the last stint found himself in ninth when everyone had done the final mandatory pit stop. He eventually finished the race in that position, one lap down from the winner.
Motul Mugen NSX-GT still looked in trouble with the tires in its second stint. So, the team decided to give a different type of tires on Lap 50 when it had no choice but to come into the pit to get the fresh ones. This tire switch paid off, and the car became able to go for more than 40 laps in one stint, picking up its pace at the same time. Even though they had to conserve fuel in the second half, the car finished in sixth which was the team’s best result of the season.
As for the GT300 class, Aoki in Runup Rivaux GT-R, which started from the third grid, stole the top slot during the opening lap, utilizing the car’s turbo engine power. However, Matsui behind the wheel of Hoppy 86 MC followed closely and overtook the GT-R on Lap 11.
Hoppy 86 MC led the race for a while and was still in good shape after its first pit stop. Things started to go wrong for them, as they found damage on the air jack hose connector which cost some time at its second stop. Then the car was tailgated by a backmarker in the closing stage and dropped out of the race.
Meanwhile, Runup Rivaux GT-R was given a drive-through penalty for an infringement on the crew’s work during a pit stop, before giving up the race due to a transmission problem.
Now all eyes were on T-Dash Lamborghini GT3 driven by Tsubasa Takahashi / Andre Couto / Kiyoto Fujinami trio. Knowing they had certain advantages in fuel mileage and tire wear, they extended the first stint as long as possible. And the car came up to the top slot on Lap 36, despite starting from the 13th grid. Then, after making the first stop on Lap 39 to change from Couto to Fujinami, the team called the latter driver to come in on the next lap to hand the car to Takahashi!
Because of this, the car lost ground in terms of the position, but they made it into virtually a three-stop race, still observing the four-stop rules. And their second stop was rapid, since they only did driver change, so T-Dash Lamborghini GT3 steadily recovered the lost positions as the race went on.
On Lap 122, the car finally came back to the race leader when Fujinami was on driving duty. Three laps later, he made their final pit stop to change to Couto. And on Lap 136, when all GT300 cars served their last stops as stipulated by rules, he was 36 seconds ahead of the car in second. This was how T-Dasy Lamborghini GT3, the JLOC team’s #87 car, won the Super GT race for the first time.
Modulo Kenwood NSX GT3 driven by Ryo Michigami and Hiroki Otsu finished in third. They were followed by Takashi Kobayashi / Kosuke Matsuura / Shinnosuke Yamada trio in Up Garage NSX GT3 and Takashi Kogure / Yuya Motojima pair in Manepa Lamborghini GT3, another JLOC car, in fourth and fifth respectively. So, it could be said Yokohama-shoed teams performed well in the GT300 class, although they just missed out a podium sweep.
—Result : 6th. in the GT500 class—
“In the early hours when it was so hot, our tires had gone much earlier than expected, so we were forced to change them. As a result, our first two stints were shorter than originally planned, which affected our race in the second half. We might have had to make an extra stop but, after reconsidering our strategy and by using a different type of tires, we could avoid that unwanted scenario. There was no major mistake during the race, so I think this was the result of an excellent team effort.”
“We have got back-to-back wins in the GT300 class, finally. There were a few major accidents, and luck also helped us a little. However, we were glad that T-Dash Lamborghini GT3 won the race, as this was the maiden victory for the car. We can always have a wide variety of race strategies in the GT300 class, but we didn’t expect them to take that kind of approach at all. I would say we were a little bit surprised, to be honest.
“The temperatures were higher than expected, while they were still within the forecasted range, and we feared the conditions might be harsh for us. But the tires worked well under the conditions we had after all. We thought we could have a difficult race in the GT500 as well. And we aren’t happy with the results, together with some problematic situations we had. But, in terms of race pace and how we fought the race, we were almost comparable to the winning tire manufacturer in my opinion. I think our improvement started to bear fruit slowly but steadily.
“I don’t feel the situation has changed in a negative way for us since the previous Thai round. I hope every Yokohama user will keep up with it and have a good result in the next round at Autopolis, as we will have an opportunity to have testing there before the race.”