The 2016 Super Taikyu Endurance Series season will conclude with the sixth and final round of the season at Autopolis circuit, the first major auto race at the track in Oita Prefecture since it re-opened in October.
With all but one championship effectively clinched, pride is on the line for the teams in Group 1 (ST-X, ST-1, ST-2, and ST-3 classes) in this final race, while in Group 2, three teams still have a chance to win the ST-5 class championship, and only a miracle can result in the ST-4 title being overturned.
This weekend will feature two three-hour races to close out the 2016 season, with Group 2’s final race of the year starting at 8:30 AM JST on Sunday, and green flag for the Group 1 finale flying at 1:20 PM JST.
The ST-X championship has already been clinched for the #24 Kondo Racing ThreeBond Nissan GT-R (Yuudai Uchida/Tomonobu Fujii/Kazuki Hiramine), who have won four out of the five races this season and clinched the top class championship in Okayama. Fujii is coming off a breakthrough victory for Audi Team Hitotsuyama in the Super GT finale at Twin Ring Motegi, a race in which Hiramine finished on the podium for JLOC.
Nissan could end the season with a clean sweep of the ST-X class with a win for the Kondo Racing GT-R, as well as a win for the vice-champions, the #3 Endless Sports GT-R (Yuke Taniguchi/Kyosuke Mineo/Hideki Yamauchi), or the third-ranked #5 Mach Makers GTNET GT-R (Takeshi Shirai/Kazuki Hoshino/Kiyoto Fujinami).
Good news for the ST-1 class, there will be a second entry courtesy of the #108 Carguy Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo (Takeshi Kimura/Yusuke Hayashi/Hajime Noda) stepping down from ST-X to take on the ST-1 champions, the #777 D’Station Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tatsuya Hoshino).
In total, 23 cars will race in the Group 1 finale at Autopolis.
Group 2 will see another big entry list, 28 cars in total, with 19 coming out of the ST-4 class.
ST-4’s championship is effectively wrapped up. All the #13 Endless Sports Toyota 86 (Nobuhiro Murata/Ryo Ogawa/Yuya Motojima) is finish the race, and they’ll win the championship no matter what the second-place #86 Toyota Team TOM’s Spirit 86 (Takamitsu Matsui/Naoya Gamou/Takuto Iguchi) does in the race.
The controversial clash between Motojima and Gamou for the lead at the last round in Okayama resulted in a penalty for the Endless 86, but even after dropping from first to third in the official results that day, the Endless 86 is still 21 points ahead of the TOM’s Spirit 86. Only a pole-to-victory race for the TOM’s Spirit 86 and a DNF for the Endless 86 will give Masahiko Kageyama’s team the championship.
And after being promoted to the victory, can the #54 TC Corse iRacing Mazda Roadster (Teruaki Kato/Tsubasa Kondo/Yu Tsutsumi) author another miraculous performance in Autopolis after their upset win in Okayama?
In ST-5, however, the featherweights of Super Taikyu still have a championship to decide, with the top three teams in the championship separated by just 14.5 points.
The championship-leading #69 BRP★J’S Racing Honda Fit (Takahisa Ohno/Junichi Umemoto/Toshihiro Kubota) can clinch the title with a class win or second place, or third place with pole position.
The second BRP★J’S Racing entry, the #19 Honda Fit (Masanobu Komiya/Tomoya Matsuda/Kouichi Okumura) trails the #69 Honda by twelve points, needing at least a podium finish to stay in contention.
Last of the championship contenders, the #17 Team NOPRO Mazda Demio Sky-D (Tatsuya Tanigawa/Kaoru Ijiri/Tatsuya Nogami) is 14.5 points back of first place, needing to at least finish second to have any chance at the title.
The weekend festivities on November 19 and 20 will mark an important return to normal, or at least something as close to it as can be achieved, for the racing community in and around Autopolis. So to every one of the teams and drivers participating in what will be the last major race of the Japanese motorsport calendar, have a safe race.