The second installment of our preview of the Fuji GT 300km Race, the fourth race (officially the fifth round) of the Autobacs Super GT Series, takes a look at the GT300 field – where the balance of power in the ongoing FIA GT3 vs JAF-GT300 feud shifts back into the favor of the European-inspired machines. At least, on paper it should.
There’s no denying that Fuji’s long front straightaway really favors the higher horsepower output of the GT3 cars, but sometimes crazy things can happen that can put the JAF-GT cars at the front of the field. The split between the two sub-classes is only 4-3 in favor of the GT3 cars. And with the GT300 Championship picture still yet to fully develop, who stands out as a threat to win at Fuji Speedway?
Winners of the Fuji 500km in May, the #3 B-Max NDDP Nissan GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino / Jann Mardenborough) fought furiously to go all the way from starting 21st to finishing 5th at Sugo. If their racecraft was that good whilst carrying significant success ballast on a track that shouldn’t suit the brawny GT-R, Fuji will be a great opportunity to climb back onto the podium – and perhaps, to complete the season sweep.
Last year’s Fuji 300km winners, Shinichi Takagi and Takashi Kobayashi, won at the wheel of a Honda CR-Z GT hybrid a year ago, thanks to fast driving and some brave strategy of their own. The new-for-2016 #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 finished second and took pole position at Fuji this May, with the M6’s powerful turbocharged V8 engine able to maximize its strengths down Fuji’s signature front straightaway.
Then there’s the GT300 championship leaders, the #25 VivaC Team Samurai Toyota 86 MC (Takeshi Tsuchiya / Takamitsu Matsui) which gambled big in the Fuji 500km and clung to third place on double-stinted tyres, on a track where their comparative lack of horsepower should have put them in the hole. A second-place finish at Sugo puts them into the championship lead by six points over the B-Max crew. But it may be tough for the VivaC 86 to repeat their heroics this time at the mountain, now that they sit on +66kg of ballast.
Out of the JAF-GT300 contingent, the most recent winners in Super GT’s second division might have the best chance at winning. The hybrid powertrain in the #31 apr Toyota Prius GT (Koki Saga / Yuichi Nakayama) gives it the extra grunt that its fellow JAF-GT specials lack down the straights.
They had a fairly good Fuji 500km going earlier in the year, until brake issues relegated them outside the points. They also won the most recent race at Sugo – and at Toyota’s home circuit, they’ll be motivated to do well here for their supporters. So too will the sister #30 Prius (Kota Sasaki / Hiroaki Nagai), which picked up points here last time out.
Further down the championship standings in fifth is a team that won here four years in a row, from 2011 to 2014 – and has been starving for a win in the last two years. That would be Goodsmile Racing with Team Ukyo, and their #4 GSR Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Nobuteru Taniguchi / Tatsuya Kataoka). Fuji Speedway is by far GSR’s best track, even if a puncture at the Fuji 500km relegated them out of the points earlier this year – and ace driver Taniguchi has won here six times.
That mark is bettered only by the seven career Fuji GT300 class wins for Morio Nitta, who partners co-driver Akihiro Tsuzuki in the surprisingly solid #51 JMS LMcorsa Ferrari 488. They finished fifth in the Fuji 500km this year, and they’ve finished in the points in every race so far. Don’t count out “GT300’s Iron Man” Nitta – who gave the Prius GT its very first win at this track three years ago.
Then there’s the big story of this one race for GT300 – the return of former NDDP driver and NISMO Global Athlete, Mitsunori Takaboshi. Takaboshi will drive “Pink-zilla”, the #48 Dijon Racing GT-R, partnered with Takayuki Aoki. For the first time ever, Dijon Racing have two proven race winners in their car – no slight against the affable Hiroshi Takamori, who voluntarily stands down to let Takaboshi in.
But with Takaboshi already a proven GT300 race winner and impressing quite a few fans in Blancpain GT abroad, and Aoki still having the speed as a former GT300 champion, this might be Dijon Racing’s greatest chance ever at contending for a shocking race victory – when this May, they were jumping for joy at just their second-ever points-paying finish.
There’s also a driver debuting this weekend – New Zealand’s Jono Lester, who makes his debut for the returning #108 Lamborghini Team Direction side. Lester’s driven as a teammate to the likes of Yanagida, Kataoka, and Taniguchi in his two years in Super Taikyu’s top ST-X class, where he was a two-time vice-champion. He’s been eagerly awaiting his chance to debut in Super GT for months now – that said, Team Direction have yet to get either of their new Huracan GT3s on the championship board this season, so it won’t be an easy first go-round.
This race might also be high time for the #7 BMW Team Studie M6 (Seiji Ara/Jörg Müller) to finally land their first victory, or for last year’s champions, the #0 Gainer Tanax GT-R (Andre Couto/Ryuichiro Tomita) to right the ship on an underwhelming start to 2016.
One thing is for sure – the action at Fuji Speedway in the GT300 class will not be dull, and there’s the potential for a surprise winner here as well as the chance for one team to truly step forward as a clear-cut favorite to win the title in November!