The final round of the 2016 Super Taikyu Endurance Series was held at Autopolis circuit in Oita Prefecture, the first major racing event held at the track since the Kumamoto earthquakes of April.
Both the ST-4 and ST-5 class championships were decided at Autopolis, with the #13 Endless Sports Advan Toyota 86 of Nobuhiro Murata, Ryo Ogawa, and Yuya Motojima taking the title in ST-4, and the 2016 ST-5 class championship going to the #69 BRP★J’s Racing Honda Fit of Takahisa Ohno, Junichiro Umemoto, and Toshihiro Kubota.
Endless Sports teams won both three-hour races in the final race meeting of the Super Taikyu season.Saturday’s action was thrown into chaos due to heavy rain and fog, with the qualifying for Group 1 (ST-X, ST-1, ST-2, and ST-3) being cancelled, and the grid being set according to championship points.
But not before the Group 2 qualifying session went on in the inclement conditions, and it was an absolute must-win situation for the #86 Toyota Team TOM’s Spirit 86 (Takamitsu Matsui/Takuto Iguchi/Naoya Gamou), who needed to take pole position in order to stand any chance of preventing the #13 Endless 86 team from clinching the title on the eve of Sunday’s race.
Motojima and Ogawa’s cumulative best laps in the wet conditions, however, were good enough to seal the pole position – and with it, clinch the ST-4 Class Championship for Endless Sports.
On Sunday, they converted pole position into a win in a thrilling race that began under damp conditions, with a few teams benefitting from a gamble to start the race on slick tyres.
It almost paid off for the #41 Takumi x HERO’s Honda S2000 (Tadao Uematsu/Yuji Ide/Keishi Ishikawa), which was leading the race with a half-hour remaining courtesy of the 22-year-old Ishikawa, who was teammates with Tadasuke Makino in All-Japan F3 this season.
But they were forced to make a late driver change with just a few laps remaining, clearing the way for the Endless 86 of Motojima, Ogawa, and Murata to take their fourth ST-4 class win of 2016. The #41 Takumi x HERO’s S2000 finished 2nd, ahead of the #52 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave 86 (Juichi Wakisaka/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Koji Matsuda) completing the podium in Group 2.
Motojima wins Super Taikyu championships in consecutive years in two different categories, having won the ST-X Championship in 2015. Ogawa adds his first Super Taikyu title to his three Porsche Carrera Cup titles and All-Japan F3 National Class championship from 2015.
The ST-5 Championship would be the last title to be decided in Super Taikyu, with three teams still eligible for the championship, but the #69 BRP★J’s Fit was in prime position to clinch it with a podium finish.
Their teammates, the #19 BRP★J’s Honda Fit (Masanobu Komiya/Tomoya Matsuda/Koichi Okumura), did everything they could to take the championship with a win from pole position, their third win in a row to end the 2016 season.
But with a third place finish behind the #17 NOPRO Mazda Demio Sky-D (Tatsuya Tanigawa/Kaoru Ijiri/Tatsuya Nogami), the #69 BRP★J’s team of Ohno, Umemoto, and Kubota went on to take the title by just three points over the sister Honda Fit.
Bragging rights were on the line in the Group 1 race, with all the titles in the top four categories decided in Okayama. The ST-X Class champion #24 Kondo Racing Nissan GT-R of Yuudai Uchida, Tomonobu Fujii, and Kazuki Hiramine started the race on pole position.
It was a heated strategic battle between them and the #3 Endless Advan Nissan GT-R (Yuke Taniguchi/Kyosuke Mineo/Hideki Yamauchi). But as it proved in the Group 2 race, a late pit stop would affect the outcome, as Hiramine was forced to pit from the lead with six minutes remaining for fuel.
Mineo drove the #3 Endless GT-R home to its second win of the season, and completed a clean sweep for Nissan, who won six out of six races in the 2016 ST-X category with their GT-R NISMO GT3.
The #24 Kondo Racing GT-R finished second, and completing an all-Nissan podium in ST-X was the #5 Mach Makers GTNET GT-R (Takeshi Shirai/Kazuki Hoshino/Kiyoto Fujinami) in third place.
In ST-1, the #777 D’Station Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara) once again romped to victory, completing a perfect season of their own in the depleted category. They were eighth in the overall standings in Group 1.
ST-2 saw the first win of the season for the #7 Shinryu Auto Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX (Yoshiki Fujii/Carlos Honda/Katsuhiro Sato), the ten-year-old LanEvo model beating out the champions’ #59 DAMD Motul ED Subaru WRX STi (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh) – one of many ST-2 cars that hit trouble in the race.
And in ST-3, the #38 MUTA Racing TWS Lexus IS350 (Ryohei Sakaguchi/Makoto Hotta) romped to their fifth win out of six races, capping off an incredible championship-winning season for the Tracy Sports team.