A well-timed pit stop before a Safety Car intervention, and confident, quick driving from drivers Hideki Yamauchi and Takuto Iguchi, helped power the #61 Subaru BRZ of R&D Sport to GT300 class victory at the 45th International Suzuka 1000km – a victory that moves the team to the lead in the GT300 class championship.
The Subaru BRZ overcame an awkward incident early in the race with the defending champion #0 Gainer Tanax Nissan GT-R on lap 26. Undeterred after being spun out in the S Curves, Iguchi drove his way back through the field in the blue boxer, and very smart strategy from the R&D Sport team helped them gain the track position they needed to get up to the front and stay there the rest of the way.
Their third pit stop came just before the safety car was deployed on lap 83 of the second division race, when one of the favorites in the class, the #2 Syntium Apple Lotus Evora (Kazuho Takahashi/Hiroki Katoh/Tadasuke Makino) crashed out unassisted. This allowed them to take the restart having already made a stop, while several other front-runners still needed to pit.
The well-timed pitstop was aided further by two stops for rear tyres only on laps 53 and 108, gaining even more track position in the process. From there, all that Yamauchi and Iguchi had to do was bring the car home through intermittent flurries of rain throughout the race, including a heavy cell in the final few laps, to take home the victory after completing 161 laps in front of thousands of devoted Subaru supporters.
This is R&D Sport’s fourth Suzuka 1000km victory in the last seven years, having previously won in 2010, 2011, and 2013 (the first-ever for the BRZ GT300). It’s their first Super GT victory since the extremely rainy 2014 Fuji GT 300km race, and their first with Dunlop tyres.
Hideki Yamauchi now has his first career Super GT race win in his 50th career start – in the biggest race of them all. For Iguchi, it is his second Suzuka 1000km victory in the GT300 class, his fourth career GT300 victory, and his first since Fuji 2014.
But most importantly for Subaru, Iguchi, and Yamauchi, the 25 points they gain from the victory move them into the GT300 championship lead, with 47 points and a nine point margin to the second placed team in the championship. The win comes off the back of consecutive podium finishes at Sugo and Fuji – three podium places in total for the 2016 Summer Series.
“It was a very long haul, but I am glad we won,” Iguchi said after the race. “This win came because of the team’s hard work. Today’s spin-out came when I was bumped during my stint, but I told myself not to give up and to keep pushing to the end.”
“The timing was fortunate when the Safety Car came out, and, with the exception of sinning out after being bumped by another car, it was a perfect race in one sense.”
“Personally, this is my first win, but I feel especially great that this first win came at the Suzuka 1000km,” said co-driver Yamauchi. “It has been really worth all the effort that Iguchi and I have made as a team. I also feel that this victory is due to the support we have received from all the fans. For this, I am truly grateful.”
That second place team was the #31 apr Racing Toyota Prius GT of Koki Saga and Yuichi Nakayama, who rallied back from a very early pit stop on lap six, having made the poor decision to start the race on wet tyres on a sufficiently dry track. They had to fight back through the field with long stints to get back on a normal pit sequence.
In the end, they were able to take second place from the Gainer GT-R of Andre Couto and Ryuichiro Tomita when Nakayama thundered past Tomita in the S Curves as the final batch of showers at the track began to intensify, the mid-engined Prius and its Bridgestone Potenza tyres able to tackle the damp track better than the bigger GT3-spec GT-R in the closing laps. The Prius held off the GT-R at the line by 0.357 seconds to clinch second place.
Saga and Nakayama now occupy second in the championship with 38 points thanks to their second place finish – just their second points-scoring effort of 2016.
Couto and Tomita still hung onto third place, in yet another story of overcoming early adversity when they were given a drive-thru penalty for Tomita’s collision with Iguchi early in the race. Like the apr Prius team, they too had to work to get back in contention for a podium place after going out of sequence.
It was not a bad defense of the GT300 victory from last year for the Gainer Nissan GT-R side, turning around what had been a subpar 2016 season with their first podium finish of the year.
Finishing fourth was the pole-winning #18 Upgarage Dome-Toyota 86 MC (Yuhki Nakayama/Shinnosuke Yamada), which led for most of the first half of the race, but lost out by not being able to pit until after the mid-race Safety Car was withdrawn. Still, this was an encouraging fourth place finish, tying their best result of 2016, and moving them into the top ten in the championship.
Coming home in fifth was another car that was forced to pit after the safety car, the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka). The Miku AMG looked to be a factor for the win before being caught out like the Upgarage team, and they ultimately fell off the lead lap – but nonetheless gained a valuable fifth place result to keep NOB and Kataoka in the title fight at 33 points.
Sixth was the #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS (Tomonobu Fujii/Richard Lyons) which had a quiet but productive day at the 1000k, picking up six more championship points.
Speaking of championship points, Porsche finally got on the board in 2016 thanks to a seventh-place finish by the #33 Excellence Porsche 911 GT3-R (Naoya Yamano/Yuya Sakamoto), which even led at some points of the race during the pit cycles. This was Excellence Team KTR’s best finish in Super GT since the 2014 Suzuka 1000km, and a much-needed result to turn around what had been a miserable year for Porsche’s retooled GT300 fleet.
Completing the points were the eighth-placed #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou), the #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracan (Manabu Orido/Kazuki Hiramine) in ninth, two laps down, and the championship-contending #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Jann Mardenborough), which had not been handling well for most of the race meeting.
The last two available points for the B-Max GT-R weren’t enough to keep Hoshino & Mardenborough from dropping to fourth in the championship.
The shocker of the final 45 minutes of the race came with fourteen laps to go, when the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC (Takeshi Tsuchiya/Takamitsu Matsui/Kenta Yamashita) suffered a gearbox failure while running inside the top ten, costing them crucial championship points and keeping their tally at 37 markers – dropping them down to fifth in the championship.
It was a shame for a team that had been contenders for most of the race, aided by aggressive strategy that included double-stinting a full set of tyres in the middle of the race.
Joining the VivaC team and the crashed Mooncraft Lotus in the list of notable non-finishers were the #11 Gainer Tanax AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Bjorn Wirdheim) which lost an engine mid-way through the race.
The #7 Studie BMW M6 (Seiji Ara/Jorg Muller/Augusto Farfus) never even got to start when the engine let go 20 minutes before the green flag, capping a poor weekend for BMW at Suzuka with the #55 ARTA BMW M6 (Shinichi Takagi/Takashi Kobayashi) that entered this race as the championship leaders, finishing 3 laps down in 14th and falling to third in the championship.