The GT300 class remains ever-competitive and ever-unpredictable through four rounds of the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series. So far, we’ve seen stunning results, first-time winners, rookie sensations, memorable photo finishes, and brilliant driving from top to bottom in the largest GT300 field in history.
The second half of the season kicks off at Fuji Speedway, spiritual home of Japanese sports car endurance racing, for the traditional 300 kilometer sprint after the Golden Week classic, the Fuji 500km. The middle leg of the Summer Series, the Fuji GT 300km Race has the makings of another potential classic, especially if last year’s memorable finish between Autobacs Racing Team Aguri and Audi Team Hitotsuyama serves as any indicator.
Halfway through the season, the top five drivers and teams in the GT300 Championship table are separated by just 14 points, and behind them, 6th through 14th in the standings are separated by just 8 points – and anyone in that second group could make a massive jump up the order going into the Suzuka 1000km in three weeks’ time.
At Fuji, the high-horsepower FIA GT3 category cars look to have an overwhelming advantage on paper over the JAF-GT300 and Mother Chassis machines, having won seven of the last ten races at this 4.5 kilometer circuit.
This could prove a troublesome spot for the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC of Takamitsu Matsui and Kenta Yamashita, who come into this round carrying 82 kilos of Success Ballast as the championship leaders. In their bid to repeat as champions, VivaC Team Tsuchiya return to a track where they struggled in May at the Fuji 500km, and last August in the 300km, with non-scoring finishes.
Even with 400+ horsepower on tap from their V8 engine and the technical mastery of Takeshi Tsuchiya behind them, VivaC Team Tsuchiya will be hard-pressed to muster a result out of this race.
Toyota’s best hope at a victory might instead lie with their two factory-backed Lexus RC F GT3s out of the LM Corsa camp: The #51 JMS P.MU RC F of Yuichi Nakayama and rookie Sho Tsuboi won here in May thanks to aggressive long-run strategy, of course, and now they’re fourth in the championship standings. But the #60 Syntium RC F of Akira Iida and Hiroki Yoshimoto also looks an intriguing contender for the GT300 victory this weekend, following a breakthrough fourth-place finish last round at Sportsland Sugo.
They, along with the rest of the GT300 field, will enjoy the same BoP settings that they had at the Fuji 500km earlier this year – so the Lexus RC Fs will have more horsepower on tap thanks to bigger air restrictors.
But on paper, it’s been three Mercedes-AMG GT3s that have been the strongest cars in the GT300 category, and they’re all at the head of the championship battle through three rounds.
The #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) will look to bounce back from a star-struck Spa 24 Hours debut with a win at a track where they’ve already won four times as a team – and so nearly won earlier this year, were it not for two devastating tyre blowouts during the 500km. They’re level on points with the Dunlop-clad #11 Gainer Tanax AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Björn Wirdheim), who won at Sugo, and finished 2nd at the Fuji 500km in May.
Also in the mix is the #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou), which led most of the race at Sugo before losing out in the safety car exchanges. They are fifth in the standings, and K2 R&D LEON Racing are in the midst of their best season yet.
But once again, the #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3, now driven by Shinichi Takagi and rookie co-pilot Sean Walkinshaw, enter this Fuji 300km as one of the favourites to win. ARTA won here in 2015 with the old Honda CR-Z GT, then won again last year by just 0.106 seconds as former driver Takashi Kobayashi edged out the Audi of Richard Lyons on the run to the chequered flag.
They will be more motivated for a good result after a great race at Sugo went to waste due to an on-track collision mid-way through the race.
One shouldn’t overlook the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport (Takuto Iguchi/Hideki Yamauchi), which finished third in this race a year ago. Nor should they overlook the #33 D’station Porsche, which had a spirited drive to third in this year’s Fuji 500km – and now they have Yuya Motojima, who drove the #87 JLOC Lamborghini Huracán GT3 to a fourth-place finish at the 500km, to partner Tomonobu Fujii for the second time at D’station Racing.
And then there’s the other protagonists of last year’s memorable finish: The #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS (Richard Lyons/Masataka Yanagida) – who have had a wretched zero-score start to 2017, and desperately need a good finish to salvage what’s been a miserable year for last year’s top FIA GT3 team in the standings.
All 30 cars will be here at Fuji Speedway this weekend, with the #22 R’Qs Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 (Hisashi Wada/Masaki Jyonai) and the #117 EICars Bentley Continental GT3 (Yuji Ide/Ryohei Sakaguchi) back after sitting out the previous round. The Bentley could be an intriguing sleeper pick to score points, with its massive twin-turbo V8 engine and the recent addition of extra support from Bentley Motorsport in Europe.
And don’t sleep on the likes of the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Mitsunori Takaboshi), the #7 Studie BMW M6 GT3 (Seiji Ara/Jörg Müller), the #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 (Jono Lester/Kyosuke Mineo), or even the #31 Toyota Prius apr GT (Koki Saga/Rintaro Kubo)…they could all be in with a shot at winning this race as well!
In the summer heat, this 300km sprint to the summit of Fuji Speedway could be a major highlight in the GT300 class season so far – and could go on to become a turning point in many teams’ championship challenges in 2017. But only one team can ascend to the top – this Fuji 300km promises to be another action-packed round of Super GT racing!