Despite a late-race charge from Jann Mardenborough’s #3 B-Max NDDP Nissan GT-R in the closing laps of the race, a bold pit strategy and a composed, defensive drive helped the #25 VivaC Team Samurai Toyota 86 MC of Takeshi Tsuchiya and Takamitsu Matsui win the GT300 class in the Buriram Super GT Race at Buriram United International Circuit in Thailand.
It was a much-needed first victory of the season for VivaC Team Samurai, from their third pole position of the 2016 season. But early on, it looked as if they were to suffer a repeat of their 2015 race misfortunes, as they quickly fell behind the #3 B-Max GT-R (Mardenborough/Kazuki Hoshino) and the #0 Gainer Tanax GT-R (Andre Couto/Ryuichiro Tomita).
That’s when VivaC Team Samurai elected to go for a fuel-only stop on lap 26, when Tsuchiya handed the car over to Matsui, and gained valuable track position over the B-Max GT-R with a lightning-fast 21 second pit stop. The B-Max GT-R pitted four laps earlier, with Hoshino yielding to Mardenborough. Unlike most of the other teams, they elected to take on fresh Yokohama tyres on their stop, and the chase began.
When the championship leading #61 Subaru BRZ (Takuto Iguchi/Hideki Yamauchi) suffered a heavy crash at Turn 7 on their 34th lap of the race, suddenly the fight for the GT300 win became a fight to take over the championship lead.
With less than ten laps to go, Mardenborough, on fresher tyres, was suddenly reeling in Matsui by a second per lap. To add to the strife for the VivaC 86 team, a fuel pump issue had their drivers and mechanics worried the car would run out of fuel. Surely, a repeat of their late-race heartache at the Suzuka 1000km couldn’t have been in the cards.
But in the end, with just enough fuel, just enough tyre life, but more than enough composure and pace, Matsui held on by just 1.189 seconds to take the VivaC 86’s first win of 2016, and deny the B-Max GT-R a third consecutive victory at the Buriram circuit.
“I was thinking that today’s race would be a contest between Takamitsu and Mardenborough (No. 3) at the end, and that is exactly how it turned out,” Tsuchiya said after the race. “At the end we had trouble with the fuel pump and there was some fear of us running out of gas. But we kept running that way toward the win.”
“It was Takamitsu’s driving that got us here [to the winners press conference] and I am very happy with this result.”
Matsui, exhausted from the scorching temperatures and the hard, resistant drive to victory, was just relieved to have won for the first time this season:
“We finally won. It feels very good to have gotten this win that we really wanted. Yesterday, after the qualifying, the team staff continued working on the car late into the night, and then in the morning free practice I made a mistake that caused a spin-out and that made more work for them.”
“But by race time they had everything fixed and ready for us. I am truly grateful to the staff for this. I also appreciate all the fans who came here all the way from Japan. I am really glad that I have been able to win with this team,” Matsui added.
The victory was the sixth for Takeshi Tsuchiya, who announced before the race that he would be stepping down from full-time driving duties in the VivaC 86 next year. For Matsui, it is his second career win – and he has now asserted himself, well and truly, as a dependable, and genuinely quick lead driver for the future.
And it is the second win also for a JAF-GT Mother Chassis car in Super GT competition – the first of which was also scored by the VivaC 86, last autumn at Sportsland Sugo.
Mardenborough still held on to take a very respectable second place for the B-Max GT-R, taking NDDP Racing’s third podium in as many races at Buriram, their first podium finish since winning the Fuji 500km in May, and maintaining a 100% points-scoring record in 2016.
Rounding off the podium, 25.879 seconds adrift of the lead battle, the #55 ARTA BMW M6 (Shinichi Takagi/Takashi Kobayashi) came home to take a somewhat quiet, but much-needed third place finish to rebound from a poor outing at Suzuka.
For the podium finishers in Buriram, their successes also translate to the lead in the GT300 championship.
With their victory, the VivaC 86 of Tsuchiya/Matsui go into the two-race Motegi GT Grand Finale with 54 pointsm and a five-point championship lead over the B-Max GT-R of Hoshino/Mardenborough (49 pts). The ARTA BMW of Takagi/Kobayashi is just six points out of the lead (48 pts), and despite their DNF, the Subaru BRZ of Iguchi/Yamauchi remains within seven points of the lead (47 pts) thanks to the strength of their Summer Series run.
The #0 Gainer GT-R of Couto/Tomita ended up finishing fourth, their race compromised slightly by getting into a collision in traffic that inflicted damage to the left front quarter-panel. The #31 apr Toyota Prius GT (Koki Saga/Yuichi Nakayama) finished fifth after a quiet but productive day in Thailand, keeping them within the title hunt, just ten points out of first place (44 pts).
Sixth was the #7 Studie BMW M6 (Jorg Muller/Seiji Ara), which snapped a rotten run of poor luck with their first points finish since April at Okayama, and in seventh, it was the second straight points-paying finish for the #33 Excellence Porsche 911 GT3-R (Naoya Yamano/Jorg Bergmeister), which climbed up from 21st on the grid.
Eighth was the best that the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) could do, but they remain within eighteen points of the championship lead (36 pts) with just two races left to go. Completing the points scorers were the #11 Gainer Tanax AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Bjorn Wirdheim) in ninth, and the #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracan (Manabu Orido/Kazuki Hiramine) in tenth.
Two laps down in eighteenth, the #35 Arto 86 MC of Toyota Team Thailand (Nattavude Charoensukhawatana/Piti Bhirombhakdi) won the mini-battle of the local wildcard teams, despite a minor crash in Sunday morning’s Circuit Safari leaving them to scramble for spare parts to make the start.
It was a tough day for some teams, such as the #18 Upgarage 86 (Yuhki Nakayama/Shinnosuke Yamada) and #60 Syntium Lexus RC-F (Akira Iida/Hiroki Yoshimoto) who were involved in a multi-car pileup late in the race that took out two GT500 title contenders. An early left-rear puncture was only the start of the problems for the #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 (Tomonobu Fujii/Richard Lyons), which finished 16 laps down in 24th, and fall to eighth in the standings.
The day never even began for the #2 Syntium Apple Lotus Evora MC (Kazuho Takahashi/Hiroki Katoh), who did not start due to a crash in Saturday practice leaving them without spares to take any further part.