The third installment of our 2016 Super GT race analyses picks up after an unexpectedly lengthened hiatus. With the third round at Autopolis ultimately rescheduled and relocated to Twin Ring Motegi at the end of the season, the Super GT series was laid off for nearly three months following the Fuji 500km on May 4.
Indeed, Super GT did return to action for the fourth round of the season, the Sugo GT 300km Race, held on July 24, 2016 at Sportsland SUGO.
Our driver rankings are compiled using average of the twenty fastest race laps by each driver in the race. This is inspired by the driver rankings compiled by endurance racer David Heinemeier Hansson, for WEC and IMSA events including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Each driver is ranked by their top 20 race laps’ average, as well as their fastest race laps and total number of race laps.
Owing to the unique elements of Super GT racing, we will also list each driver’s Success Ballast handicap, their tyre suppliers, and whether they drove the opening or closing stint of the race.
Be sure to click on the images of each driver rankings table to view them in full!
The Sugo GT 300km Race was a dry race held under cloudy skies – this despite rainfall in the morning of the race. Track temperature for the race was 22° C at the start, rising to 26° C by the end of the race. Air temperatures also rose steadily during the race, up from 20° C at the start, to 23° C by its conclusion.
The safety car was deployed once during the race, from laps 27 to 31, for a single-car incident involving the #5 Mach Syaken Toyota 86 MC (Tetsuji Tamanaka / Junichiro Yamashita).
On lap 76, a red flag was issued for a single-car incident involving the #18 Upgarage Bandoh 86 (Yuhki Nakayama / Shinnosuke Yamada), and the race was declared official at 3:50 PM JST, with official results being declared after 74 laps (70 in the GT300 class).
GT500 Driver Rankings
- Fastest Outright Stint: Andrea Caldarelli (1:15.522 Average). This race was probably the most fascinating to look at when compiling and looking over how these drivers’ averages ranked, compared to the results of the race itself. If Caldarelli had his way at the start, this might have been a romp for Lexus Team Wako’s LeMans. From pole position, Caldarelli immediately started lapping faster than most of the field. He tangled with a GT300 backmarker on lap 6, causing him to drop off the lead, and would have to chase hard to get back into the upper part of the top ten.
- Fastest Closing Stint: Koudai Tsukakoshi (1:15.542 Average). There’s a reason why I felt that Tsukakoshi was Honda’s most valuable driver in 2016. Like the Wako’s RC-F, the Keihin NSX was also leading, and also had a chance to break away until co-driver Takashi Kogure was tangled in a racing incident and spun out of the lead. Tsukakoshi thus had to use his race-ending stint to consolidate sixth place. Yes, having zero ballast certainly helped his speed, but Tsukakoshi was still averaging two-tenths quicker than Takuya Izawa (9th fastest) with similar ballast and the same tyres. He was the fastest Honda driver for the second straight round.
- Speaking of Kogure, he would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a 1:12.818, but problems with tyre wear and traffic after his collision with Hiroaki Ishiura meant he’d be stuck with the fourth-slowest Top 20 Average. Sugo is the shortest track, and the most densely populated with slower traffic during the later stages, so it is usually tougher to get a good string of successive fastest race laps after the GT500 cars start lapping GT300 backmarkers.
- Quite a few drivers had to drive at a high tempo to consolidate results. One such driver was Daisuke Ito (3rd fastest), whose #36 au TOM’s RC-F was already behind the proverbial eight-ball due to a stop/hold penalty early in the race for a monocoque change. As the laps ticked down, the veteran Ito showed that while his qualifying pace may have dropped slightly in recent years, his racecraft was still phenomenal, doing what he could have to secure a seventh place finish – which was ultimately stripped and demoted to 11th, due to a penalty assessed to Sugo specialist Nick Cassidy (4th fastest opening stint).
- This race was Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh’s breakout event on the season. Fifth place seemed a bit of a misleading result for the combined efforts of Yuhi Sekiguchi and Yuji Kunimoto, who both averaged inside the top six. Sekiguchi battled Heikki Kovalainen (7th fastest) for the lead over several laps, but there was only 0.006 seconds between both WedsSport drivers’ averages – and Kunimoto had a faster single lap by three-tenths. Give credit where it’s due to Yokohama Tyres as well, for bouncing back from a poor race at the Fuji 500km.
- Which leads us to the race winners at Kondo Racing. Masataka Yanagida only had the tenth-fastest opening average, bottom third of the table overall, in a stint where he had to battle back from an incident with Tomoki Nojiri. Daiki Sasaki was the tenth-fastest closing stint driver, owing to driving on tyres that had already done a full race stint. His averages, however, were still faster than his closest pursuer Kohei Hirate, and just a meager three-tenths slower than Yuji Tachikawa. Kondo Racing didn’t have the fastest car on the day, but in auto racing, cliché as it sounds, it’s not always the fastest car or drivers that win – it takes teamwork, strategy, and timely performances.
GT300 Driver Rankings
- Fastest Outright Stint: Takeshi Tsuchiya (1:21.156 Average). In a race spearheaded by the JAF-GT300 category cars, crafty veteran Takeshi Tsuchiya, in what would turn out to be his last full-time season, turned in his last standout individual performance as a driver with the fastest Top 20 Average.
- Afterwards, his co-driver Takamitsu Matsui, who had the fifth-fastest average, would assume the bulk of the driving duties in the remaining rounds. Coming off a great performance in an All-Japan F3 round at Fuji, this was the race where Matsui truly came of age as a legitimate top-tier driver – if his pole-winning performance in qualifying the day before didn’t already do it.
- Fastest Closing Stint: Yuichi Nakayama (1:21.215 Average). Yes, having zero ballast helped, but it was really, really fascinating seeing Nakayama reel in race leader Manabu Orido, attempting the same double-stinting tyre strategy that Kondo Racing won with in GT500, without the same results.
- Predictably, at a downforce-heavy track, eight of the top eighteen drivers drove JAF-GT300/MC cars. Takuto Iguchi (4th fastest) and Hideki Yamauchi (8th fastest) helped Subaru rebound from a first practice crash to a podium finish. Shinnosuke Yamada (12th fastest) was doing fantastically before his race ended in the sponge barriers at 110R.
- Two Nissan drivers deserve special mentions as well: Jann Mardenborough (3rd fastest) had the hero stint to bring the B-Max GT-R from 21st on the grid to a 5th place finish, because he’s as good as advertised if not better. But Tomei Sports’ Shota Kiyohara (16th fastest) drove phenomenally all weekend, getting the #360 GT-R into Q2, and giving them their best finish of the season in twelfth. It is a real shame that Kiyohara only drove three races last season, and is unlikely to get much running apart from the long-distance races in 2017.
- Unexpected ironman stint of the race went to Kazuya Tsuruta, who drove a whopping 57 out of the #111 EVA-01 Mercedes’ 67 laps – over 85% of the race, and in all actuality, going against the maximum two-thirds’ distance rule per driver that is, especially in GT300, as loosely enforced as an Autobahn speed limit. Dear GTA: Please don’t start keeping tabs on this.
Tomorrow, we look at the second race from Fuji Speedway, the Fuji 300km!