It was the perfect weekend for premier class championship leaders ARN Racing this past weekend, at the Fuji Super TEC 10 Hour Race, the fifth round of the 2017 Super Taikyu Series, and the biggest event of the 2017 calendar.
The #8 Ferrari 488 GT3 of Hiroaki Nagai, Kota Sasaki, and guest driver Tsubasa Mekaru went from pole position, and outlasted the competition in a grueling ten-hour event to take their second straight win of the season. The victory also gives them a massive 19-point lead in the ST-X class championship standings, with just one round left to go in the season.
Further down the running order, Volkswagen took their first win in ST-TCR, and three of the seven class championships were decided – in the ST-2, ST-4, and ST-5 categories.
Ace driver Sasaki started the red Ferrari at the front of the field, but soon found worthy adversaries in the form of the #89 HubAuto Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 (Morris Chen/Hiroki Yoshimoto/Yuya Sakamoto/Shunsuke Kohno), and the #777 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo), who would intermittently wrestle the lead away from the ARN Ferrari of Nagai, Sasaki & Mekaru.
A safety car intervention during the third hour of the race for an oil leak on the frontstretch whittled the lead battle down to the ARN Ferrari and the D’station Porsche, which battled valiantly over the next three hours. However, with about four hours to go, the quick pit work from the ARN Racing mechanics, plus some great driving from their trio of pilots, put the Ferrari well out into a commanding lead over the final few hours.
Meanwhile, the once-impervious trio of Nissan GT-R GT3s all hit trouble: Both the #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R (Tadao Uematsu/Kazuki Hoshino/Kiyoto Fujinami) and the #3 Endless Advan GT-R (Yukinori Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi/Yuya Motojima) went to the garage for several laps, and the cruelest cut of all, at halfway the #1 ThreeBond Nissan Automobile Technical College GT-R (Yuudai Uchida/Tomonobu Fujii/Kazuki Hiramine) picked up a puncture and lost two laps.
But the day belonged to the ARN Racing crew, who had a flawless race and picked up the win in the final 10-hour running of the Fuji Super TEC, completing 335 laps over the ten-hour time frame. They also picked up 32 massive points in the championship to their name.
The D’station Porsche finished a respectable 2nd place, on the lead lap and 65 seconds back of the Ferrari. Third place seemed assured to the HubAuto Ferrari, a result which would have clinched the ST-X championship for ARN Racing.
However, HubAuto Racing were penalized 36 laps for a minimum drive time infraction, as fourth driver Kohno failed to drive 20 percent of the distance required. That promoted the ThreeBond GT-R into third place, keeping the championship alive going into the season finale at Okayama International Circuit on October 15.
But with a 19 point gap and 22 points available, the ThreeBond GT-R would need a victory at the bare minimum to have any chance of retaining the title in the premier class.
Promoted to fourth was the #999 CarGuy Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Takeshi Kimura/Naoki Yokomizo/Afiq Yazid/Kei Cozzolino), with the #25 K’s Frontier Porsche 911 GT3-R (Tetsuo Ogino/Taiyou Iida/Tomoki Nojiri/Shinichi Takagi) in fifth and the #112 Rn-sports Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 (Atsushi Sato/Ryosei Yamashita/Nobuo Kubo/Masayuki Ueda) in sixth.
Seventh overall were the ST-1 class winners, the #31 Nissoku Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Katsuhito Ogawa/Masami Kageyama/Ryuichiro Tomita), who finished 17 laps behind the ARN Ferrari, but a whopping 9 laps ahead of the #51 Diamango BMW Z4 Coupe (Shinya Hosokawa/Masamitsu Ishihara/Daisuke Ikeda/Atsushi Yogo) in ninth overall.
By virtue of being the only car to enter every round, apr Racing and the #31 Porsche were guaranteed the ST-1 championship going into this round of the championship.
In ST-TCR, it was a breakthrough first victory for the #10 Racingline Performance Adenau Volkswagen Golf TCR of Philippe Devesa and Shogo Mitsuyama, who combined with guest driver Juichi Wakisaka, won the class from pole position, completing 298 laps along the way. This was just the second race of the season for Adenau Racing and their VW Golf GTI, and a dominant victory at that, taking the class win by five laps over the #19 BRP Audi Mie RS3 LMS (Kouichi Okumura/Kei Akiyoshi/Daisuke Yamawaki/Yoshizo Ueno).
Both the Modulo Honda Civic TCRs hit trouble during the race, with the #97 Civic (Shinichi Itoh/Hidenori Kouuchi/Ryo Michigami/Shinji Nakano) finishing 27 laps down in third, and the championship-leading #98 Civic (Takuya Kurosawa/Keishi Ishikawa/Hiroki Katoh/Hiroki Yoshida) just barely making classification, 72 laps down in fourth.
However, Honda virtually have the title all but sewn up after the #45 Liqui Moly RS3 LMS (Shozo Tagahara/Takuya Shirasaka/Naoto Takeda/Toshihiro Arai) retired after two trips to the garage and completing 172 laps. The result drops them out of championship contention at Okayama.
The #98 Modulo Civic TCR now has a 17 point lead over the #97 team, and a 21.5 point lead over the #19 BRP Audi – which would need to win from pole to stand any sort of chance of taking the title in the final round.
It was a close battle for the victory in the ST-3 class, with the #62 Denso Le Beausset Motorsports Lexus RC350 (Koki Saga/Yuichi Nakayama/Kenta Yamashita/Yuya Hiraki) beating the #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Takayuki Hiranuma) by just 11 seconds, the closest finish in any class on the day.
The Le Beausset RC350 now leads the ST-3 championship by 15 points over the #39 Advics Tracy Sports RC350 (Yuya Tezuka/Syuji Maejima/Akira Suzuki/Taketoshi Matsui), which finished two laps behind in third place.
The first of three championship titles to be clinched at the Fuji Super TEC was the ST-2 championship, as the #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI of TOWAINTEC Racing, driven by Manabu Osawa, Hitoshi Gotoh, and Nobuteru Taniguchi won its class by five clear laps to take the team’s fifth consecutive class championship.
It’s TOWAINTEC Racing’s third victory in class in the 2017 season, and their second in a row at the Super TEC.
But the most dramatic championship clinching scenario happened with less than ten minutes to go in the ST-4 class.
The #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 (Takamitsu Matsui/Naoya Gamou/Sho Tsuboi/Takuto Iguchi) clinched the 2017 ST-4 championship after the #93 SKR Engineering Honda S2000 (Yuya Ohta/Masahiro Sasaki/Yusaku Shibata) lost its left front wheel while leading with eight laps to go.
That promoted the TOM’s Spirit 86 to the top step of the podium, and the SKR S2000, which needed at least a podium finish to extend the championship fight to Okayama, down into fourth place. The #13 Endless Advan 86 (Ryo Ogawa/Tsubasa Takahashi/Masaya Hanazato) finished second in class, and now moves to second in the championship standings ahead of SKR Engineering.
Finally, it was a banner day for Mazda in ST-5, as the #37 DXL Aragosta Team NOPRO Mazda Demio Sky-D (Yutaka Seki/Go Umeda/Kaoru Ijiri) took their first win of the season on the strength of their diesel engine’s fuel mileage, while in second place, the #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster (Hiroyuki Murakami/Takeshi Wakitani/Masanobu Kato/Keiji Amemiya) clinched the championship with their fifth podium finish of the season.
The 2017 Super Taikyu Series concludes on October 14-15 with two three-hour races at Okayama International Circuit.
Images courtesy of the Super Taikyu Organisation (STO).