2016 Review: MOLA International

MOLA assembled a super team of sorts, combining a Nissan legend, a legitimate international superstar, and an effective car and tyre combination. Who would have guessed that by a slim margin, they’d be Nissan’s least successful GT500 team in 2016?

#46 S Road Craftsports MOLA Nissan GT-R

Drivers: Satoshi Motoyama / Katsumasa Chiyo (7 rounds) / Mitsunori Takaboshi (Suzuka)
GT500 Drivers’ Championship:
Motoyama – 10th Place (36 points)
Chiyo – 12th Place (23 points)
Takaboshi – 17th Place (13 points)
GT500 Teams’ Championship: 9th Place (54 points)
Podiums: 2 (Okayama, Suzuka 1000km)
Best Finish: 3rd (Okayama, Suzuka)
Best Qualifying: 2nd (Fuji 500km, Fuji 300km, Suzuka)

When the team was announced on February 26th, it lit up not just the Super GT fanbase, but turned heads across the world: Satoshi Motoyama, a three-time GT500 champion and one of the greatest Japanese racing drivers to ever race, would be joined in the S Road MOLA GT-R by Katsumasa Chiyo.

Chiyo, just a season removed from becoming the first Japanese driver to become a sports car racing champion in a major professional series outside of Asia, just a month removed from nearly repeating as champion of the Bathurst 12 Hour race in Australia in another heroic last-lap dash, and finally being promoted to GT500 after three seasons in the second tier.

And it was the 29-year-old GT500 newcomer who helped propel the S Road GT-R to a podium finish in his class debut. With the same Michelin tyres that helped propel themselves and NISMO to four out of the last five GT500 championships, with this driver lineup, and a strong team of engineers and mechanics behind them, the potential was there for this team to be right up in contention for the title in 2016.

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© Nissan

But at the very next race at Fuji, they fell afoul of new rules banning pit stops under the safety car – in the case of the 500km, the worst-timed safety car ever with the S Road GT-R running on fumes. Rather than risk running out of fuel, they bit the bullet, pitted and served a lengthy stop/go penalty, and ultimately settled for seventh in a race they could have realistically won.

When they returned to Fuji 3 months later, they were once again in a position to win, until a high-speed brake failure not only knocked them out of the race in a heavy crash at turn one, it also knocked Chiyo out of the Suzuka 1000km – a race that he’d taken over in the GT300 class last year.

Out of that opportunity, young Takaboshi immediately stepped up and delivered a great race at Suzuka, but they could only finish third, their race compromised early on when the veteran Motoyama overtook another car under yellow flags.

A botched strategy call at Sugo, a late puncture at Buriram, and a late collision at the first Motegi race only added to a season that should have shown great promise, but instead, resulted in MOLA being the only one of Nissan’s GT500 teams to fail to win a race in 2016. Though not for a lack of speed.

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© Nissan

Chiyo, despite missing the race at Suzuka, showed repeatedly that he has the legitimate speed and racecraft to be a GT500 champion many times in the future. He was a shade faster than Motoyama for most of the season, but don’t discount the 45-year-old veteran just yet, as his three front-row qualifying runs this year demonstrate that he still has more than enough speed when he needs it.

Takaboshi only had one race, but it was a successful audition for a future GT500 drive that, in all honesty, he has earned in 2017. But the pairing of Motoyama and Chiyo seems stable for next season, and rightfully so – potentially leaving Takaboshi to race in Europe for another season in Blancpain GT.

Much is made about the poor fortune that Team Impul had this season, or the entire Honda fleet, but send some commiserations to MOLA as well – they had a chance to be right up in the title fight if the breaks just went their way at least once.

But don’t send too many commiserations, because with Motoyama still hungry for championship number four at the end of his storied career, and with Chiyo eager to add another star on his already impressive CV, it’s hard to imagine how MOLA won’t be right back in contention next year.

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