Last year’s GT300 champions Gainer continued their two-prong attack in the second tier with Nissan and a new Mercedes-AMG challenger. A solid fleet didn’t quite produce the results they enjoyed last season, however, but Tetsuya Tanaka’s team still finished strong in 2016.
#0 Gainer Tanax Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3
Drivers: Andre Couto / Ryuichiro Tomita
GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 8th Place (38 points)
GT300 Teams’ Championship: 7th Place (62 points)
Podiums: 1 (Suzuka)
Best Finish: 3rd (Suzuka)
Best Qualifying: 3rd (Buriram)
The big question surrounding the championship-winning Gainer Nissan team was how they would adapt with Katsumasa Chiyo stepping up to GT500, and with Tomita, a still relatively unknown commodity in the paddock, filling in alongside last year’s champion Couto.
The season didn’t start off so great for them: Just 11 points through the first four races, with only one appearance in Q2, didn’t bode well for their hopes of repeating as champions heading into the Suzuka 1000km. For context, Couto clinched the championship with a round to go last season.
Then, they had another stellar race in mixed conditions at Suzuka, finishing a season-best third – their Dunlop tyres are really some of the best in the wet stuff. Followed up with a fourth place at Buriram and a fifth place at the first race at Motegi, to at least take their slim championship hopes to the morning of Sunday’s last race.
A lot of times, they’d have to fight back from poor qualifying results. They weren’t quite as successful at this as NDDP Racing were with the same car, but their racecraft was still strong all-around. Couto is still a pro’s pro, but even though Tomita isn’t quite fast as his predecessor Chiyo was this time a year ago, he’s more than proved that he deserves his place at the team, with solid racecraft in his own favour.
If they can find more pace in qualifying, they’ll be right back on the cusp of championship contention again in 2017.
#11 Gainer Tanax Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Katsuyuki Hiranaka / Björn Wirdheim
GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 9th Place (32 points)
GT300 Teams’ Championship: 9th Place (49 points)
Fastest Laps: 1 (Motegi I)
Best Finish: 4th (Okayama, Sugo, Buriram)
Pole Positions: 1 (Motegi I)
For the fourth straight year, Hiranaka, who was recognized with his 100th career Super GT race appearance, and the Bearded Swede Wirdheim teamed up at the wheel of a Gainer Mercedes, but this year was another step further away from an elusive championship for the duo.
Things started off well, with two top-five finishes in the first three races. They ended relatively strong, with a pole position and another fourth place at Motegi, a track where this team has always excelled.
But the title bid came undone thanks in large part to two big mechanical DNFs at the two big races: The Fuji 500km, and the Suzuka 1000km, both races ended at the halfway mark with transmission failures that could have cost them big points tallies in those races.
The Mercedes-AMG’s disadvantageous BoP adjustments after their 1-2-4 finish at Okayama didn’t help much either, and their Chief Engineer Yosuke Fukuda is on record as saying the playing field is tilted too far towards the JAF-GT category cars.
Since losing the 2014 championship on a tiebreaker, Hiranaka and Wirdheim, through no fault of their own, have been slipping further away from the crown every year. Next year will be crucial as to their future together – if Gainer aren’t already thinking about a shake-up before then.