#TBT: Super GT in Kyushu 300km, 2011-2015

For this week’s Throwback Tuesday Thursday, we take a look back at the last five runnings of the Super GT in Kyushu 300km at Autopolis. With the 2016 race cancelled due to the damage caused by the Kumamoto earthquakes of April 2016, we are instead looking at the 2011 through 2015 races.

Though Autopolis does not quite have the stature on the calendar that tracks like Fuji Speedway or Suzuka Circuit have, this circuit has produced some incredible moments over the last five times the Autobacs Super GT Series has visited Kyushu – including an all-time last-lap thriller for the ages, two emotional championship-winning moments, and a handful of incredibly dominant performances from both teams and drivers alike.

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© Nissan

2011: Motoyama’s Furious Charge

Three-time GT500 champion Satoshi Motoyama put in one of his all-time greatest individual performances at Autopolis in 2011. In a must-win race for NISMO, and starting from back in 12th on the grid after a crash in Q1, Motoyama had made up nine places in just eleven laps aboard the #23 Motul Autech NISMO GT-R. By lap 26, Motoyama passed all the way up to the lead of the race.

Co-driver Benoît Tréluyer, four months removed from his first victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, took the lead again on lap 32, and in a race they needed to win to keep their title hopes alive until the season finale at Motegi, the Motul Autech GT-R scored one of NISMO’s most memorable victories.

This was Motoyama’s 15th career win, his last until the 2015 Buriram Super GT Race, and the 12th and final win for Tréluyer in Super GT, making him the winningest foreign-born driver in history.

In GT300, Tetsuya Yamano and Kota Sasaki took their second win in three races aboard the #62 Subaru Legacy R&D Sport. A ninth-place finish for the #4 GSR & Studie Hatsune Miku BMW Z4 would knock them out of the championship lead, setting up their title-winning victory in Motegi the next month.

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© Nissan

2012: MOLA’s title-winning, rainy-day thriller

The #1 S Road Reito MOLA GT-R of Masataka Yanagida and Ronnie Quintarelli were on a tear late in the 2012 season, but nobody expected them to become only the second team in GT500 history to clinch the series championship with one race in hand.

To do so, they had to overcome a 58 kilogram Success Ballast penalty, a poor wet qualifying session that saw them buried down in tenth on the grid, and persistent rain throughout the 65 lap race. A top-five finish would have put them in the drivers’ seat to take the title, but that wasn’t enough for Yanagida, who was chasing down a surprise leader.

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© Nakajima Racing

That was the #32 Epson HSV-010 of Ryo Michigami and Yuhki Nakayama, which was flying to the front on its Dunlop tyres in the wet conditions. Scoreless in the first six races, Nakayama was just a lap away from scoring Nakajima Racing’s first Super GT win in nearly five years. But on the final lap, a hard-charging Yanagida powered past at the uphill 30R (Turn 11), and Nakayama ran wide, sending the Epson HSV into a spin.

Yanagida drove on to take the win, and with their nearest title rivals from Lexus Team SARD and Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo finishing a distant fifth and seventh, Yanagida and Quintarelli clinched back-to-back GT500 titles in improbable fashion – MOLA were now two-for-two since stepping up to GT500 the year before.

In GT300, the #3 S Road NDDP GT-R of Yuhi Sekiguchi & Katsumasa Chiyo seemed set to take a dominant victory, until the left rear wheel fell off with 8 laps to go and Sekiguchi driving it home.

That would allow the #66 a speed Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 of Kazuki Hoshino and Hiroki Yoshimoto to take its second win in three races, and move them back into a three-way fight for the GT300 title with the Porsches of Team Taisan Endless and Hankook Team KTR.

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2013: TOM’s overhauls Cerumo in last-laps battle

Weather once again affected the race weekend at Autopolis, with qualifying postponed to the morning of the race due to rain and poor visibility. For the third year in a row, the eventual race winner would have to come back from the fifth row of the grid or lower to take the GT500 class win.

That was the #36 Petronas TOM’s Lexus SC of Kazuki Nakajima and James Rossiter, which started tenth, slowly working its way up through the field and eventually, to the lead of the race with three laps to go – when Nakajima and the #38 ZENT Cerumo SC of Yuji Tachikawa had to dodge a wreck in front of them, giving Nakajima an opportunity to swoop past and take the win, putting them four points back of Tachikawa and Kohei Hirate for the GT500 championship lead.

A crash just a few laps into J.P. Oliveira’s stint in the #12 Calsonic GT-R effectively ended Team Impul’s chances of taking the title themselves.

Goodsmile Racing & Studie took their final win as partners in the #4 GSR Hatsune Miku BMW Z4 of Nobuteru Taniguchi & Tatsuya Kataoka – who won by a clear lap over last year’s winning Aston Martin Vantage, now in the hands of first-year privateers Arnage Racing, who scored their first podium.

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© Nissan

2014: NISMO ends three-year winless drought, GT-Rs sweep the podium!

Going into the 2014 Autopolis race in May, NISMO hadn’t won in Super GT since they last won at this venue in October 2011. But drivers Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli put to rest any doubts that NISMO could win races again, and ended their winless drought with an emphatic lights-to-flag victory that saw them lead all 65 laps.

In fact, the new Nissan GT-Rs were so dominant that they achieved Nissan’s first clean sweep of the GT500 podium since 1995, with S Road MOLA finishing 2nd, and Calsonic Team Impul finishing 3rd, ahead of a heated battle between the two Lexus Team TOM’s cars punctuated by some hard driving from 20-year-old newcomer Ryo Hirakawa, filling in for Kazuki Nakajima.

GT300 went down to the wire as the #55 ARTA Honda CR-Z GT of Shinichi Takagi & Takashi Kobayashi won by just 2.2 seconds over the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport of Takuto Iguchi & Kota Sasaki.

The race was marred slightly by Yuki Iwasaki’s frightening crash, when his apr Nissan GT-R lost a wheel and impacted the armco at the end of turn 1 with such force that the car cleared the tyre barrier and protective fencing over to the grass embankment. Thankfully, neither Iwasaki, nor any spectators, were injured.

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© GT Association

2015: Matsuda muscles through in GT-R double 1-2 finish

One year after Nissans took their podium sweep, Autopolis saw a double 1-2 finish for Nissan in GT500 and GT300, their second of the 2015 season.

This proved to be a pivotal race in the GT500 title chase, that was symbolically determined by Tsugio Matsuda’s pass for the win with 18 laps to go, his #1 Motul Autech GT-R taking advantage of Hironobu Yasuda’s slight error in the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R, after he and J.P. Oliveira had led all race long to that point.

That gave Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli the victory they needed to move to within two points of Yasuda and Oliveira’s lead heading into Motegi.

Meanwhile, André Couto entered this race on the verge of clinching his first GT300 Drivers’ Championship, and together with co-driver Katsumasa Chiyo, who had just become the first Japanese driver to win a European sports car racing championship earlier in the year, a second place finish behind the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R of Kazuki Hoshino/Mitsunori Takaboshi was all Couto needed to clinch the title with one race to go.

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