0.091 seconds. That was the record-smallest margin, by which the #25 VivaC Team Tsuchiya Toyota 86 MC of Takamitsu Matsui held off the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport of Takuto Iguchi, as the two raced to take the chequered flag in the GT300 class of Round 3 of the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series, the Super GT in Kyushu 300km at Autopolis.
Overcoming a fuel pump issue in the final laps of the race, as well as a frantic charge from the Subaru of Iguchi and his co-driver Hideki Yamauchi, the #25 VivaC 86 of Matsui and co-driver Kenta Yamashita won from pole position in the GT300 class.
In doing so, Matsui and Yamashita scored the first victory for a JAF-GT300/Mother Chassis vehicle in 2017, as well as the season’s first victory for the defending GT300 champions VivaC Team Tsuchiya – but most importantly, the victory moves them into the GT300 Championship lead heading into the traditional Summer Series.
Right out of the gate, the race for GT300 victory seemed to be a two-car battle between the VivaC 86 and the turbocharged Subaru BRZ, who qualified on the front row and began to break away from the field.
On lap 5, the Safety Car was brought out when the GT500 class #8 ARTA Honda NSX-GT spun at the final corner, right in front of the #31 Toyota Prius apr GT (Koki Saga/Rintaro Kubo), which was unable to avoid a collision. They also collected the #18 Upgarage Bandoh 86 (Yuhki Nakayama/Shintaro Kawabata), and all three cars would retire from the race.
After 24 minutes and 8 laps under the safety car, the green flag waved once again, and the VivaC 86 of Yamashita and the Subaru BRZ of Yamauchi continued to break clear of the GT300 field behind them, with the reigning All-Japan F3 Champion Yamashita leading the way until coming into the pits at the end of Lap 29.
Yamauchi would lead the next three laps before coming in for four tyres, fuel, and a driver change on Lap 32. That allowed the #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 of Shinichi Takagi and Sean Walkinshaw to cycle to the lead, having started fourth and moved up to third on the opening lap.
Takagi came in at Lap 35 to switch over to the rookie Walkinshaw, but unlike the VivaC 86 and Subaru BRZ, they were able to gain time by changing only left-side tyres on the ARTA BMW, and Walkinshaw came out of the pits ahead of the 86 and BRZ – though it would only be a matter of time before the 86 and BRZ on fresher tyres passed the ARTA BMW on track for position, taking back first and second in the race, now with Matsui in the VivaC 86, and Iguchi in the Subaru BRZ.
Matsui had opened up a lead of over four seconds with ten laps to go, but with five laps to go, the VivaC 86 began to suffer a fuel pump issue, and started losing pace to the Subaru BRZ. Iguchi, a native of nearby Fukuoka Prefecture, saw an opportunity to go for the lead at his home track, and on the final lap, the two cars were going wheel-to-wheel for the win.
Coming out of the last corner, Matsui and Iguchi raced side-by-side to the line to take the chequered flag, and with just enough in reserve thanks to some intuitive preparation from chief engineer and deputy team director Takeshi Tsuchiya, Matsui beat Iguchi over the line to win the closest race in GT300 history for VivaC Team Tsuchiya.
This is the VivaC 86’s fourth victory since its 2015 debut, accounting for all GT300 Mother Chassis victories to date. For Matsui, it’s also his fourth career GT300 victory, and for 21-year-old Yamashita, it’s his first career Super GT win in either category.
“In the first half I was hoping that Yamashita would break out and give us the race,” said Matsui, “but things didn’t go that easily. Since it seemed that it had been tough going in the first half, we changed the tire choice for the second half, and after they got warmed up, things went well.”
“Because Autopolis is said to be a track where the JAF-GT300 cars have an advantage, I’m relieved that we were able to win here.”
“When I was running laps in the 1 min. 35 sec. range I thought it was a good pace,” said first-time Super GT winner Yamashita, “but the BRZ was able to stay with me and it was hard for me to build up any kind of a solid lead.”
“But in the second half of the race, Matsui did a fantastic job, and although there was some trouble along the way, we managed to get the win. The drivers and the team really worked hard and we just managed to get the win, so I am glad.” Yamashita also set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 15.
Matsui’s margin of victory over Iguchi, 0.091 seconds, is the closest margin of victory for the GT300 class in the history of Super GT. This beats the previous record set at the 2016 Fuji GT 300km Race, when Takashi Kobayashi beat Richard Lyons by just 0.106 seconds. The Toyota 86 MC is also the thirteenth different model of vehicle to win the GT300 class in Autopolis in thirteen championship races at the circuit.
But most importantly, VivaC Team Tsuchiya’s perfect result and the 21 points earned for winning pole position, move them into the GT300 Championship lead, with Matsui and Yamashita now atop the Drivers’ Championship by a single point.
After the race, Matsui and Iguchi, rivals in Super GT, would board a plane to Germany to race in the Nürburgring 24 Hours as teammates for Toyota Gazoo Racing.
Despite just losing out on the victory, R&D Sport and their drivers could at least enjoy scoring their first points of the 2017 season with a second-place finish, after a DNF at Okayama and a non-scoring finish at Fuji in which all the JAF-GT300/MC cars struggled for pace.
At Autopolis, however, Subaru’s new upgrades to the BRZ paid off at the technical circuit, as did the turbo power at high altitudes. Iguchi and Yamauchi are now seventh in the championship standings.
Although the two-tyre strategy didn’t get them the win, the #55 ARTA BMW did hold on to finish third, and score BMW’s first podium finish of the 2017 season.
This was also the first Super GT podium for second-generation driver Sean Walkinshaw, who did another fantastic job in bringing the BMW home in third place.
With two laps to go, the #11 Gainer Tanax Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Björn Wirdheim) was running a comfortable fourth place, and was on track to score more crucial championship points – until their left rear wheel came off in spectacular fashion, resulting in no points – and a ¥100,000 JPY fine for their troubles.
That promoted the #7 Studie BMW M6 GT3 (Jörg Müller/Seiji Ara) into fourth place to complete a BMW 3-4 finish, their best cumulative result of the season, and BMW Team Studie’s best finish since a 3rd place at Okayama in 2016.
The #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) was the last car on the lead lap, finishing 5th after a quiet, yet productive race to take home 6 more championship points and go into the Summer Series in third, now just two points back of the VivaC 86.
The #51 JMS P.MU LM Corsa Lexus RC F GT3 (Yuichi Nakayama/Sho Tsuboi) stayed out until Lap 42 before making their pit stop, and led a handful of laps, ultimately finishing 6th as the first car off the lead lap.
Though Nakayama and Tsuboi didn’t parlay their strategy into a win like they did at the Fuji 500km, they did manage to score some valuable points with a field-high 46 kilos of ballast on board – and they are now just one point back of the new championship leaders, in second place.
Seventh was the #33 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Tomonobu Fujii/André Couto), taking points for the third race in a row after starting well back in 16th – and former GT300 champion Couto also making the most of his Super GT return, replacing the absent rookie Sven Müller.
Finishing in eighth was the #5 Mach Syaken 86 GTNET (Natsu Sakaguchi/Kiyoto Fujinami), an incredible result for long-tenured independents Team Mach – who have finished at the very bottom of the GT300 Teams’ Championship for the last two seasons, but scored their first top ten finish in Super GT since the 2010 race at Twin Ring Motegi this past weekend.
Completing the points-scorers were 2015 Autopolis winners Kazuki Hoshino and Mitsunori Takaboshi in the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R, which moved up eight places to finish in ninth, and the #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) in tenth, holding off the #30 Toyota Prius apr GT (Hiroaki Nagai/Kota Sasaki) for the last points-paying position by just 0.235 seconds.
The series will break for two months before returning to Sportsland SUGO on July 22-23, the first leg of Super GT’s traditional Summer Series.