Memories of Sepang: Super GT’s first flyaway race

Next weekend, Super GT will travel to Buriram, Thailand for the series’ one and only race outside of Japan. Since the start of the 21st century, the series has had at least one international race – but originally, it was Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia that was the home away from home for Super GT.

From 2000 to 2013 (with the exception of 2003) Sepang was a fixture of the JGTC and Super GT calendars. Earlier this year, the GT-Association and president Masaaki Bandoh has said that the freshly-renovated circuit may return to the calendar in the near future if the series decides to add a second international race

And with Formula 1 making their trip to Sepang this weekend for the Malaysian Grand Prix, we wanted to look back at some of the memorable moments of Super GT’s time in Malaysia.

 

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2004: Denso Supra survives the chaos

From 13th on the grid, the Denso SARD Supra of Andre Couto and Jeremie Dufour powered their way to a rather improbable victory in Sepang in 2004 – the first year back in Malaysia after the SARS pandemic scrapped the 2003 event in favour of a double-header at Fuji Speedway.

A wet qualifying session put them back in the order, but within nine laps of a dry race in the Malaysian sunset, Couto had driven all the way up to third place, in pursuit of the leading Calsonic Impul Z and WoodOne TOM’s Supra. As fate would have it, the Calsonic Z would get tangled with a GT300 backmarker, and the WoodOne Supra would spin out of the lead – allowing the Frenchman Dufour to drive on to the victory in Sepang.

The win helped Couto and Dufour finish 2nd in the 2004 GT500 championship, tying Toyota/Lexus Team SARD’s best JGTC/Super GT result.

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2005: NISMO defeats ARTA in grueling battle

Races at Sepang are often defined by the punishing heat and humidity of the summer months. The 2005 Japan GT Championship Malaysia was no different, with the temperature at 34°C.

The Xanavi NISMO Z of defending champions Satoshi Motoyama & Richard Lyons found themselves chasing the ARTA NSX of Daisuke Ito & Ralph Firman for most of the race. With 10 to go, Lyons finally caught and passed Ito, but Ito would find a way past with just three laps left. But only for a moment, as an exhausted Ito gave up the lead at the last corner just before the penultimate lap.

Lyons wouldn’t look back, and the Xanavi Z took its only victory in the 2005 season – and what a memorable win it was.

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2008: The beauty of All-Wheel Drive

The Cusco Subaru Impreza may be one of the most beloved GT300 machines in Super GT, with its roots in rallying, the flagship performance sedan also made for a damn fine car on the GT circuit. Cusco Racing only scored two race wins, but the second of which was a milestone – a milestone recorded in Sepang.

In 2006, Cusco Racing finally made the decision to switch their rear-wheel drive GT300 Impreza to an all-wheel drive car, reflecting the road-going Subaru Impreza, one of many cars by a company that prided itself on all-wheel drive performance and safety on the roads. The car showed great promise, and in 2008 at Sepang, Tetsuya Yamano and Kota Sasaki drove the car from pole position to a decisive victory.

It was the first and only win for an AWD car in Super GT history. The next year, AWD cars were banned, Cusco Racing had left the series, and R&D Sport would take over the mantle of representing Subaru in GT300 competition the following year. But this victory won’t be soon forgotten, especially by the Subaru faithful.

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No One Better

One driver who has incredibly fond memories of Sepang is Nobuteru Taniguchi. He’s a three-time winner in Malaysia in Super GT, and even a two-time overall winner at the Sepang 12 Hours endurance race.

In 2002, the 31-year-old rookie won his very first JGTC race at Sepang, aboard the famous RE Amemiya Mazda RX-7. For the former street racer, the man who worked as a freelance journalist and garage hand just to try and fund his breakthrough into legitimate circuit racing, that first victory – and in only his fourth start – demonstrated Taniguchi’s incredible skill as a true racer.

Nine years later, he captured another important milestone win at Sepang. This time, it was a nail-biting victory over the Gainer Ferrari 458. It was the first for Goodsmile Racing and their beloved Hatsune Miku BMW Z4, and the first of three victories in the 2011 season, which would ultimately propel “NOB” and co-driver Taku Bamba to the GT300 championship – the first for Taniguchi after nine years.

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2013: The Final Chapter

Bringing us to the last installment of Super GT in Malaysia, a 2013 race that saw the Calsonic Impul GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda and Joao Paulo de Oliveira go on to victory in GT500, and terrific side-by-side racing through the field behind them.

It also saw a historic first victory for the Honda CR-Z GT, and a 1-2 finish at that for the hybrid-powered Hondas. The ARTA CR-Z (Shinichi Takagi/Takashi Kobayashi) led home the Mugen CR-Z (Yuhki Nakayama/Hideki Mutoh), in a year where the Mugen team would go on to win the GT300 championship with the CR-Z.

Declining attendance and sub-par promotion, combined with the allure of the newer, more modern Buriram circuit in Thailand, spelled the end for Sepang on the calendar after fourteen years. But, with the recent renovations and renewed interest in adding another international event, we may not have seen the last of the Autobacs Super GT Series in Malaysia just yet.

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