It’s time for another Throwback Tuesday segment, this time, reviewing the last five runnings of the Fuji GT 500km Race, the Golden Week classic at Fuji International Speedway.
In these last five years, we’ve seen historic milestones – from the first wins for a hybrid vehicle and a Super GT star of the future, to the final career victory for a legend of the series – and many incredible battles for the win in between.
2012: SARD ends eight-year winless streak
Rain and Fuji Speedway seemingly go hand-in-hand, it’s been that way since the 1976 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix at the circuit, and the rains came in 2012 – the most recent wet running of the Fuji 500km to date. It was also the first time the race returned to its 500km distance following three straight races shortened by Japan’s economic crisis and the Tohoku earthquake & tsunami of 2011.
Recovering from a first-lap incident, the #39 Denso Kobelco SARD Lexus SC of Hiroaki Ishiura and Juichi Wakisaka used savvy strategy and strong pace in the changing conditions, ultimately taking the lead with five laps to go after the Raybrig Honda HSV-010 went off at the first corner, to end a winless run for Lexus Team SARD dating back to the 2004 round at Sepang International Circuit.
For the three-time GT500 champion Wakisaka, who retired after the 2015 season, it was his eleventh and final career Super GT victory.
In GT300, reigning champions Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO & Studie took the win in their BMW Z4 GT3 driven by Nobuteru Taniguchi & Tatsuya Kataoka. The EVA Racing Mooncraft Shiden took its final Super GT podium in second place.
The GT300 race was marred by Tim Bergmeister’s savage crash on lap 63, which caused several major injuries which forced the German driver to sit out over a year of racing action. Bergmeister eventually returned to race in the Super GT series again in 2014 and again in 2016.
2013: Lexus quartet and hybrid-power history
As of today, the 2013 Fuji GT 500km Race is the last time that Toyota Motor Corporation have won at the Golden Week race – but what a day the Lexus SCs had in GT500, as they swept the top four positions in GT500, led by the #36 Petronas TOM’s SC of Kazuki Nakajima and James Rossiter, who became first-time winners in the premier category.
Thanks to quick work from the Lexus Team Petronas TOM’s crew and savvy driving from the ex-Formula 1 star Nakajima, they overcame a late charge from the Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo crew in second place.
But the story of the race might have been in GT300, as for the first time ever, a hybrid race car took overall victory in a Super GT race. The #31 Panasonic Toyota Prius apr GT (Morio Nitta/Koki Saga) overcame an early spin to take the win, after passing the #16 Mugen Honda CR-Z GT with nine laps to go – to take a milestone victory for the V8-hybrid, mid-engined Prius GT.
2013 would go on to be a banner year for the hybrid JAF-GT300 cars. After the apr Prius took the first hybrid win, the ARTA CR-Z won back-to-back races at Sepang and at Sugo, and the Mugen CR-Z of Hideki Mutoh and Yuhki Nakayama would go on to win the GT300 Championship.
2014: Super ‘Sonic
The 2014 Fuji 500km was the first under the new NRE (Nippon Race Engine) formula in GT500, and it would set the tone for Nissan’s dominance of Fuji International Speedway since the formula was introduced, thanks to a hard-fought victory for the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R of Hironobu Yasuda and João Paulo de Oliveira.
They suffered some damage after tripping over a GT300 JLOC Lamborghini, but that didn’t deter Yasuda or Oliveira – who also benefitted from their main Nissan rivals at NISMO and MOLA suffering terminal mechanical failures.
This race also saw a humiliating quintuple DNF for the entire fleet of Honda NSX Concept-GTs, and a somewhat eventful Super GT race debut for 20-year-old Ryo Hirakawa.
In GT300, the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku BMW Z4 of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka took their second straight win to open the 2014 season, holding off the #11 Gainer Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG at the bitter end to secure a victory despite carrying 40kg of success ballast.
It was GSR’s second Fuji 500km class win in three years, and a win that proved crucial as it helped them secure the 2014 GT300 Championship on a tiebreaker, two wins to one over the Gainer/Mercedes crew of Katsuyuki Hiranaka & Björn Wirdheim.
2015: Nissan’s Double 1-2 Finish
In the first Fuji 500km to be run on the traditional May 4 date in a decade, defending GT500 champions from 2014, NISMO and drivers Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli overcame a strong challenge from Calsonic Team Impul to take the win in the GT500 class.
Apart from the pit cycles, the #1 Motul Autech GT-R never surrendered the lead on merit, and the victory would help Quintarelli secure his record-breaking fourth GT500 championship later on that year.
The #10 Gainer Tanax Nissan GT-R (André Couto/Katsumasa Chiyo/Ryuichiro Tomita-DNR) scored a crucial win in their eventual championship win later that season, dominating the second half of the race thanks to strong driving from Couto and Chiyo, plus a puncture for their only rivals, the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Mitsunori Takaboshi).
But that puncture set up one of Hoshino’s finest drives, as he clawed back the deficit, injected himself into an already-heated battle for second, and blew away the apr Prius and Gainer Mercedes to secure a rare double 1-2 finish for Nissan at the Fuji 500km.
2016: An explosive climax
Once again, the battle for the GT500 victory would come down to Calsonic Team Impul and NISMO in their Nissan GT-Rs, and two of the most aggressive drivers in the series, J.P. Oliveira and Ronnie Quintarelli, scrapping tooth and nail for the victory.
But with four laps to go, a left rear tyre blowout on the Calsonic GT-R would end what was a hard-fought victory battle, and give the #1 Motul Autech GT-R of Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda the clear lane to take the win, opening the season with back-to-back victories.
Lexus did get two cars on the podium, including the first Super GT podium for ex-Formula 1 Grand Prix winner, Heikki Kovalainen, and Lexus Team SARD – who would go on to win the championship that year.
In GT300, the B-Max NDDP GT-R avenged their puncture from last year, and scored the victory with the new driver duo of Kazuki Hoshino and Jann Mardenborough, outdueling the ARTA BMW M6 GT3 that scored pole position.
Mardenborough joined Lucas Ordoñez as the second GT Academy graduate to win a race in the Super GT series, and became the first Black British driver to win a race in Japan as well. In 2017, Mardenborough was promoted to Nissan’s GT500 driver roster.