Mardenborough at the Max: NDDP wins Fuji 500km

Nissan captured a double victory at the Golden Week classic, the Fuji 500km, for the second consecutive year in a row – as the NDDP B-Max Nissan GT-R of Kazuki Hoshino and rookie Jann Mardenborough took the victory, making Mardenborough a GT300 race winner in only his second career Super GT start.

The action in the Sanbyaku class kicked off early, as Yuichi Nakayama in the #31 apr Toyota Prius and Seiji Ara in the Studie BMW M6 both swooped past Takamitsu Matsui’s VivaC Toyota 86 on the opening lap to move into second and third.

On lap ten, Mardenborough dove past Ara into third place at the hairpin – sadly, the 2004 Le Mans champion would need to pit the Studie M6 for a power steering issue, taking him and Jörg Muller out of contention for the win. They would lose sixteen laps in repairs.

There would be no repeat victory for the Leon Racing Mercedes AMG of Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou. Gamou tangled with the Syntium Lotus Evora of Hiroki Katoh early in the race, causing the Leon AMG to crash right-side first into the barriers at the exit of Coca-Cola (Suntory) Corner. Thankfully, Gamou was uninjured.

Up front though, it was the ARTA BMW M6 of Takashi Kobayashi that scampered out into a lead from pole position. But the M6’s fuel consumption proved to be a bit of a problem, as they needed more time to refuel in the pits. The B-Max GT-R settled into a lead after the first cycle of pit stops, as veteran Hoshino relieved Mardenborough, holding a steady margin over the ARTA M6 with Shinichi Takagi at the wheel.

As the rest of the leaders pitted just as the Safety Car dived into the pits late in the race, Hoshino left the B-Max GT-R out a couple laps longer before handing it over to Mardenborough for the final stint.

Meanwhile, the VivaC Team Samurai squad made a very gutsy call. Pitting out of sequence after an early first stop, the team elected to double-stint their set of tyres when Matsui relieved Takeshi Tsuchiya at the end of the race. It allowed them to exit the pits in an impressive second place.

Matsui was able to hold off the much faster ARTA M6 of Kobayashi for several laps, but on lap 89, Kobayashi finally pushed the bright orange BMW past into second place, in pursuit of the leading GT-R – but it wasn’t to be.

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Mardenborough picked up his first career Super GT victory in driving the B-Max GT-R to first place. After a difficult 2015 season between the struggles of the Nissan LMP1 programme, a winless GP3 Series season, and the unthinkable tragedy at the Nürburgring last April, “Jann tha Mann”‘s victory was richly deserved.

“I feel great to be able to take victory in my second race in the Super GT,” Mardenborough said post-race. “Kazuki and I both carried out a good race with no mistakes so I’m happy about that. The conditions were quite hot, the track temperature was pretty high, but our choice of tires stayed pretty consistent throughout our stints and in the last few laps we still had a good pace.”

As it was for Hoshino, whose impressive rally from a blown tyre last year to finish second was bested by a victory.

“Jann is proving to be a really fantastic partner this year and we’ve gotten off to a great start to the season,” Hoshino said. “I had a pretty disappointing result here last year when victory slipped out of our fingers and I was determined to win today. We were able to win because of the hard work of the whole team, Jann, and the amazing performance we could get out of the tires Yokohama prepared for us.

Kobayashi and Takagi placed second, giving the BMW M6 its second podium in as many GT300 events. Behind them, Matsui held on just long enough on his old set of Yokohama tyres to bring the VivaC 86 to third place – earning VivaC Team Samurai the ZF Best Mechanic Award for the second consecutive race for their brilliant strategy – one that keeps Tsuchiya and Matsui third in the championship after two races.

Fourth place was the best result for Team Upgarage with BANDOH since their formation last year, as Yuhki Nakayama and rookie Shinnosuke Yamada brought the Upgarage Toyota 86 to a solid result, ahead of the defending GT300 champions and Fuji race winners, the Gainer Tanax GT-R of Andre Couto and Ryuichiro Tomita.

The JMS LM Corsa Ferrari 488 (Morio Nitta/Akihiro Tsuzuki/Shigekazu Wakisaka) was again strong, finishing sixth. Richard Lyons and Tomonobu Fujii brought the Hitotsuyama Audi R8 to a seventh-place finish for the second race in a row.

Eighth was the number 87 triple a JLOC Lamborghini Húracan (Shinya Hosokawa/Kimiya Sato/Taiyo Iida), doing a remarkable job to climb from 24th on the grid, picking up points for Isao Noritake’s squad after the number 88 ManePa Húracan (Manabu Orido/Kazuki Hiramine) lost its right rear wheel just laps away from a certain points finish – the 88 team’s recent run of tough luck on Golden Week continues.

Though brake issues kept the number 31 Prius of Saga and Nakayama from scoring points and relegated them to finishing four laps down, their teammates, the number 30 of Kota Sasaki and 47-year-old newcomer Hiroaki Nagai, scored a ninth place finish after starting seventeenth.

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Rounding out the points, Dijon Racing – one of GT300’s smallest teams – came home with just its second ever points finish as Dr. Hironori Takeuchi, Masaki Tanaka, and former GT300 champion Takayuki Aoki drove the “Pink Panther” – their #48 Endless Sports GT-R – to tenth. It’s the first time they’ve scored a championship point since Okayama 2013, with Katsumasa Chiyo as a co-driver.

Of the other hard luck teams, the Subaru BRZ of Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi had to pit under the Safety Car and were relegated to eleventh after being slapped with a stop/go penalty. The number 11 Gainer Tanax Mercedes-AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Bjorn Wirdheim) suffered a transmission failure and retired after 64 laps, with the #22 R’Qs SLS AMG (Masaki Jyonai/Hisashi Wada) and the #9 Gulf Porsche 911 (Ryohei Sakaguchi/Hiroki Yoshida/Dylan Derdaele) also failing to be classified.

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