At Suzuka Circuit, allegiance to Honda runs deeper than any other manufacturer. It’s not hard to see why – Honda Motor Company has owned this circuit for the better part of a half-century, and some of their greatest triumphs in motor racing have come at this fabled figure-eight circuit.
But there’s just one problem for one of Honda’s star GT500 teams, Keihin Real Racing: The Suzuka 1000km has often been a haunted ground of hardship for them – hardship that they hope to reverse in their tenth entry in this race.
Real Racing’s founder and director, Katsutomo Kaneishi, is no stranger to success at Suzuka. As a Honda factory driver from 1998 to 2009, he won the Suzuka 1000km twice (1999 and 2000), with two more victories in the 300km race at Suzuka to his name as well.
But ever since an impressive fifth place finish in the 2007 Suzuka 1000km – their first year in GT500 – it’s been all downhill for his beloved blue team.
2008 saw the team’s very first front-row start at Suzuka, but a podium finish vanquished for the Real NSX when a GT300 class JLOC Lamborghini spun directly into its path through the treacherous S-curves, causing a crash and a retirement.
2009 – Katsutomo’s last Super GT race as a driver, and Real Racing’s first with Keihin as a title sponsor – saw their only highlight in an anonymous race come when they passed through the battle for the GT300 lead on the penultimate lap.
2010 wasn’t all bad – a fourth place finish in the debut year of the Honda HSV-010 was justly deserved, in a breakout performance for the team’s young, emerging superstar driver, Koudai Tsukakoshi.
From there, the hits just kept coming. The following year in 2011, the Keihin NSX was one of several cars that got caught out in heavy rain and crashed – from second on the grid.
The one everyone remembers, though, is Tsukakoshi’s enormous shunt at the 130R in 2012.
From sixth on the track with fifteen laps to go, a slight touch from Seiji Ara’s WedsSport Lexus SC was enough to cause Tsukakoshi’s right rear tyre to come apart at Suzuka’s most dangerous high-speed corner, in excess of 270 kilometers per hour, pitching the car into a spin – and subsequently, a violent airborne impact into the tyre barriers that caused the Keihin HSV to come completely apart.
For their efforts, they still ended up tenth place – in the points – on the final classification, and miraculously, Tsukakoshi was not injured.
A quiet seventh-place finish in 2013 was followed by two more hard luck incidents at the same 130R.
In 2014, while running second place and on the same five-stop strategy as the Petronas TOM’s RC-F in front, Tsukakoshi again got crossed up at the exit at 130R – not as catastrophically as two years prior, but clipping the tyre barriers at the exit of the corner was enough to rip a huge chunk of the right side of the car out. Their race was done not long after that 87th lap collision.
And then last year, from fifth place, a wayward GT300 class Nissan GT-R spun in front of them in wet conditions. New driver Hideki Mutoh never stood a chance at avoiding contact – ending their race with a thud after 38 laps.
Nine previous entries, three front-row starts, five crashes, four retirements, and not one podium finish to show for their genuine speed at this circuit.
This year, the driver lineup is Tsukakoshi joined by Takashi Kogure, who won this event in 2011 – albeit at a much shorter 500km distance. And thanks to some fierce, hard racing from Tsukakoshi at the last round at Fuji Speedway, the Keihin NSX-GT enters its tenth Suzuka 1000km as the leading Honda in the championship, the best of the home manufacturer’s fleet of five.
Perhaps this is the year their run of (dare I say) real bad luck finally turns around.