ARTA BMW edges Hitotsuyama Audi in grandstand Fuji finish

The battle for GT300 class victory in the fourth race of the Autobacs Super GT Series came down to a frantic dash to the line, and in the end, the #55 Autobacs Racing Team Aguri BMW M6 of Shinichi Takagi and Takashi Kobayashi came through to cap off a perfect weekend with a narrow victory in a memorable sequence of final laps.

The ARTA M6 beat the #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS  of Tomonobu Fujii and Richard Lyons to the line by a margin of just 0.106 seconds, with Kobayashi holding Lyons off in the closest GT300 finish in Super GT history.

After Takagi sprinted off into an early lead in the ARTA M6, Fujii slowly began to reel in the orange BMW during the opening stint of the race. The R8 was able to get a good tow in the slipstream down Fuji Speedway’s 1.5 kilometer front straightaway, but time and again Takagi would deny Fujii under braking at the hairpin turn one.

Shortly after a safety car period for debris from a collision between the #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 GT3-R (Ryohei Sakaguchi) and the #22 R’Qs Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (Hisashi Wada), Fujii brought the Hitotsuyama Audi into the pits after 29 laps – and Takagi did the same the next lap in the ARTA BMW, switching drivers to the former GT500 champion Lyons and Kobayashi respectively.

After 48 laps, Kobayashi had a lead of 5.9 seconds – but the Dunlop tyres on Lyons’ Audi seemed to work better in the hot conditions than the Bridgestones on Kobayashi’s BMW, aided by the lighter weight of the mid-engined R8 LMS. With ten laps remaining, Lyons had cut the lead down to 3.7 seconds, and then 1.8 seconds with five laps to go.

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With two laps to go, it looked like Lyons would be hung out to dry when giving way to the GT500 traffic, but he cut the lead down to less than 0.5 seconds on the penultimate lap, never relenting, and with a good exit out of the final corner, Lyons tucked right into the slipstream of Kobayashi’s brawny M6 to try and steal the win on the final lap.

In the end, however, the BMW had just enough power to hold off the Audi, Kobayashi taking the chequered flag by 0.106 seconds.

It was a surprisingly close finish to a perfect weekend for ARTA’s GT300 team, who were fastest in Saturday practice, both sessions of qualifying, the Sunday final practice, and took the win – their first of the season, and back-to-back victories at the Fuji 300km in two different cars (winning last year with the Honda CR-Z GT).

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The BMW M6 GT3 picks up its first Super GT victory as a result. For Shinichi Takagi, the veteran of the ARTA driver combo, this is a landmark victory – the 17th GT300 class win of his career, moving him ahead of Nobuteru Taniguchi for sole possession of second place on the all-time career wins list, and just one short of the record held by the “Iron Man of GT300” Morio Nitta.

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Fujii and Lyons were denied at the line, but they can still take pride in taking their first podium finish of the season, theirs and Audi Team Hitotsuyama’s first GT300 podium since Okayama 2015, and Audi’s best GT300 finish as a manufacturer since winning at Okayama 2012.

Finishing third was another Dunlop-clad car, the best of the JAF-GT300 contingent, the #61 Subaru R&D Sport BRZ (Takuto Iguchi/Hideki Yamauchi) – which brought viewers on J Sports and NISMO TV the first-ever live onboard camera shots in a televised Super GT race. Iguchi and Yamauchi drove a solid race – Yamauchi in particular looked very smooth on his onboard laps – to pick up their second straight Super GT podium finish.

Just off the podium, there was another grandstand finish for fourth place between Super GT’s resident drifting legends and Best Motoring co-hosts, as Manabu Orido in the #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracan (with Kazuki Hiramine) held off Nobuteru Taniguchi in the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG GT3 (with Tatsuya Kataoka) by just 0.006 seconds!

Fuji 500km winners Kazuki Hoshino and Jann Mardenborough made the most of an eventful race in the #3 B-Max NDDP Nissan GT-R, finishing sixth after starting a lowly seventeenth, with Mardenborough putting in a hard charge after starting his stint 20th after the B-Max GT-R got involved in a clumsy incident at Dunlop corner with the #18 Upgarage 86 MC – just like the drive from P21 to P5 at Sugo two weeks ago.

Seventh was the #11 Gainer Tanax AMG-GT3 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka / Bjorn Wirdheim), and then in eighth, a remarkable race for the #26 Taisan SARD Audi R8 (Yuya Motojima / Shogo Mitsuyama) finishing eighth for Team Taisan’s first points since returning to Super GT this season. Motojima in particular drove a fantastic race, doing the maximum 2/3rds race distance by himself and briefly leading before his pit stop – a breakout performance for the 24-year-old rookie.

The #0 Gainer Tanax GT-R (Andre Couto / Ryuichiro Tomita) climbed up to finish ninth after starting in 19th, and completing the top ten after starting 24th was the Upgarage 86 MC (Yuhki Nakayama / Shinnosuke Yamada).

Among the notable non-finishers, the #65 Leon Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) retired from P6 with five laps to go due to a suspension issue. The #31 apr Toyota Prius GT (Koki Saga/Yuichi Nakayama) looked good for a top five before losing power on its pit stop, ending up as the last classified finisher in 24th and 16 laps down. And an electrical issue on the #7 BMW Team Studie M6 (Seiji Ara/Jorg Muller) lost them two laps to cap a frustrating weekend.

By virtue of scoring the maximum 21 points on the weekend, race winners Takagi and Kobayashi jump up from 6th to the lead in the GT300 Drivers’ Championship with 37 points, leading the non-scoring VivaC Team Samurai duo of Takeshi Tsuchiya and Takamitsu Matsui by four points, and the Hoshino/Mardenborough tandem by five.

Taniguchi and Kataoka climb to fourth in the standings, twelve points back of the leader, and now one point ahead of Fujii and Lyons in fifth – who jumped eight places in the standings with their podium finish.

Feature Image Credit: Takashi Ogasawara / AUTOSPORTweb

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