The second and final race of the Motegi GT Grand Final, Round 8 of the 2016 Autobacs Super GT Series, saw the #25 VivaC Team Tsuchiya Toyota 86 MC of Takeshi Tsuchiya and Takamitsu Matsui win the race, and take the 2016 GT300 Championship along with it.
Using the same aggressive pit strategy that had powered them to all of their greatest successes in 2016, the VivaC 86 rallied back from the brink of a last-round championship defeat by double-stinting their Yokohama tyres, taking the lead with 15 laps to go over the pole-winning #31 apr Racing Toyota Prius GT (Koki Saga/Yuichi Nakayama), and holding them off to take the title with their second win of the year.
This championship will be memorable for many reasons. This the first championship for a JAF-GT Mother Chassis car, in just the platform’s second full year of service. And after 21 seasons of Super GT competition, Takeshi Tsuchiya steps away from full-time driving having finally won his very first Super GT championship.
Sunday morning’s action began with the news that the #55 ARTA BMW M6 (Shinichi Takagi/Takashi Kobayashi) would not take part in the race due to their heavy crash on Lap 3 of Saturday’s race. Pole position went to the #31 Toyota Prius, with Nakayama setting a new Motegi lap record of 1:46.760. Tsuchiya and Matsui held a nine-point lead in the championship going into Sunday’s final race.
Saga led the field to the first corner in the Prius, followed by the #65 Leon Cvstos Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) and the #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracán (Manabu Orido/Kazuki Hiramine). Tsuchiya, meanwhile, dropped from sixth to tenth, driving a very conservative opening stint knowing that he would need to make the VivaC 86’s tyres last the whole race – but with the Prius building up a decent lead, if things finished as they did, the championship would go to the Prius of Saga & Nakayama.
Unlike Saturday’s race, there was very little attrition. The #2 Syntium Lotus Evora MC (Kazuho Takahashi/Hiroki Katoh) collided with the #60 Syntium LM Corsa Lexus RC-F (Akira Iida/Hiroki Yoshimoto) on lap 3, bringing an end to the prototype RC-F GT3’s service after two frustrating seasons. Meanwhile, the ManePa Lamborghini of Orido/Hiramine suffered a driveshaft failure on lap 7 that robbed them of a potential double-podium at Motegi.
As the pit window opened up on lap 15, Team Tsuchiya executed their strategy to perfection. It only took 19.7 seconds to refuel the VivaC 86, and for Tsuchiya to surrender the wheel to his young co-driver Matsui. The strategy paid off for the VivaC team, and once Matsui passed Gamou’s Leon AMG shortly after they pitted on the same lap, the VivaC 86 was now chasing down the #31 Prius, that had pitted one lap later for fuel only, for what would become the lead of the race once the rest of the field had stopped.
On lap 34, Matsui in the VivaC 86 made his move for the lead, passing Nakayama’s Prius at the V Corner (Turn 9). Tsuchiya, now with headset on as the team’s Chief Engineer, knew he was just 15 laps away from his first championship if the results stood.
Behind them, the battle for third place was on once the Leon AMG was forced to make an unscheduled second stop.
Thus sparked a battle for the final podium place between the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) and the #3 B-Max NDDP Racing GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Jann Mardenborough), with the two-time GT300 champion and former street racer Taniguchi going wheel-to-wheel with the former GT Academy champion Mardenborough, the latter desperate to get through the field and take back the championship.
Soon, the #26 Taisan SARD R8 (Yuya Motojima/Tsubasa Kondo) joined the fray, with the debuting Kondo charging through the field. Mardenborough’s championship challenge would be halted when he made contact with Taniguchi at the exit of the V Corner, resulting in damage that would allow the Hatsune Miku AMG to break away.
But at the front, it was Matsui who drove the winning stint of the race, taking the victory, and with it, clinching the championship for VivaC Team Tsuchiya in the final race of the season.
And on the Team Tsuchiya pitwall, Takeshi Tsuchiya and his father Haruo, the team’s founder and director, embraced as the younger Tsuchiya finally won his first Super GT championship in his twenty-first, and what will surely be his final full season of racing in the series.
“It makes me very happy that we were able to win and take the championship,” Tsuchiya said after the race. “We chose the same tires as yesterday, and since they weren’t effective yesterday, we gambled with some new settings.”
“There was such a confusion of things happening today, but now I am really happy with the way things went.”
Tsuchiya, who picks up his seventh career victory in GT300 competition, had nothing but praise for his co-driver Matsui: “It was great to see how cool Takamitsu was as he caught up with the leader. I hope we can continue to bring up young drivers like him.”
“It feels really great to have won the race and taken the championship,” said Matsui, who won his first GT300 Drivers’ Championship and his third career race. “Having this chance to race together with Takeshi-san, I have been able to absorb a lot. I am really happy to have been able to win the championship with this team.”
“Of course, I can’t let myself be satisfied with things as they are now. I want to take this opportunity to try to improve and become a better competitor. Anyway, I am just so happy now to have won the championship with a victory in the race today.”
Matsui has already been confirmed to race alongside 2016 All-Japan Formula Three Champion Kenta Yamashita next season in the VivaC 86, but some are suggesting he may already be promoted to GT500 after a breakout season.
For VivaC Team Tsuchiya, who previously claimed shares of the 1998 and 1999 GT300 championships with Team Taisan and apr Racing respectively, this is their third GT300 title, their first as a stand-alone team, and in just their second year back in the series. This is the first GT300 championship for a Mother Chassis car, the first for Dome as a car constructor, and the fifth GT300 title for the Toyota emblem.
Saga and Nakayama finished second to complete a 1-2 finish for Toyota, complimenting the Lexus top five lockout in GT500 to cap off what was a great day for Toyota Motor Company on the whole. With their second-place finish, they end the season second in the GT300 Drivers’ Championship.
Taniguchi and Kataoka held on to finish third, taking Goodsmile Racing’s second podium finish of 2016, their sixth top-five finish at Twin Ring Motegi – ending the year on a positive note despite their second consecutive season without a victory.
Finishing fourth was Saturday’s winning car, the #21 Audi Team Hitotsuyama R8 (Tomonobu Fujii/Richard Lyons), who move into third in the final championship standings with their result. The #33 Excellence Porsche 911 GT3-R (Naoya Yamano/Jörg Bergmeister) finished fifth, with Yamano ending the season in the top ten in the standings thanks to the outstanding turnaround at Excellence Porsche Team KTR in the second half of the season.
Sixth place was all that the B-Max GT-R of Hoshino/Mardenborough could manage in the final race, after falling down the order due to the damage on the car. NDDP Racing’s driver duo ends the year fourth in the championship, with Mardenborough ranked as the top rookie.
The Team Taisan SARD R8 of Motojima/Kondo finished seventh, a positive end to the season for one of Super GT’s most storied teams in their return year, and complimenting SARD’s GT500 title win perfectly.
Eighth place was another GT300 underdog, this time, the #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 GT3-R (Ryohei Sakaguchi/Hiroki Yoshida) which scored Gulf Racing with Pacific’s first points of the season, and putting both Porsches in the points for the first time this year.
Completing the top ten were the #18 Upgarage 86 MC (Yuhki Nakayama/Shinnosuke Yamada), and the #11 Gainer Tanax AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Björn Wirdheim).