If you know, you know, and if you don't, now you do — Super GT is one of our favorite mixed-class racing series that OG JDM heads will remember as the Japanese GT Championships (JGTC), and one any diehard racing fan should take a serious look at. Our Asian shooter at large, Streetmetal, made it out to the seventh round of the 2017 championship at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand, so you can see why this is still the series you need to follow.
Chang International Circuit — also known as Buriram International Circuit since Chang Beer is the name of the alcohol sponsor of the track — opened its doors in 2014 and has been the primary racing circuit in Thailand for the TCR International and Asian series, World Touring Cars, Asian Le Mans Series, and Super GT. Not only is it a very new circuit, it's the first ever FIA Grade 1 and FIM Grade A circuit in Thailand, meaning it's built to the highest safety standards set forth by both organizations and allowing high-quality, international racing to take place on the Indochinese Peninsula.
The seventh round of the 2017 Super GT Series began with qualifying in the wet, where the KeePer Tom's LC500 eventually took pole but it looked as if the Calsonic Impul GT-R with Hironobu Yasuda driving would take it as he set the fastest time in Qualifying Session One. In Q2, Ryo set fast time by running the LC500 to pole with a time of 1:25.011 while Jann Mardenborough just missed pole time with a lap of 1:25.060 and the Keihin NSX-GT driven by Koudai Tsukakoshi started third on the grid with a time of 1:25.214.
In GT300, the Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS took pole position with Masataka Yanagida behind the wheel in Q2 with the JMS Project Mu RC F GT3 behind him on grid. The ARTA BMW M6 GT3 qualified in third with Yuichi Nakayama and Nobuteru Taniguchi in the Goodsmile AMG GT3 in fourth, making it an all GT3 chassis top four. Fifth place was the highest Super GT GT300 chassis car, the Subaru BRZ R&D Sport driven by Hideki Yamauchi, who was sandwiched between another GT3 chassis. This is interesting since the GT300s are looked at as the superior chassis design over the FIA GT3 design, but those GT3s do have an advantage in wet weather conditions as the proved in qualifying and in the eventual race.
Race day saw a tropical rain come down just before the start of the round, so all but the points leading Motul Autech Nissan GT-R GT500 ran on rain tires at the beginning of the race. This ended up being a mistake, as despite the race running behind the safety car for the first three laps, the track wouldn't begin to take a dry line until lap eight and the Motul Nissan ended up falling behind even the GT300 class and losing a lap early on. Lap 13, the first of the GT500 cars came in for slick tires with the Raybrig NSX and the au Lexus LC500 taking fuel and tires without a driver change. However, most any car that came in prior to lap 20 came in again for a driver change and more fuel to go the rest of the 66-lap race.
A lap later, the KeePer Tom's LC500 with Nick Cassidy behind the wheel came in and took tires and fuel. The next lap, the Calsonic GT-R came in from the lead position to take tires and fuel with the Keihin NSX just behind him, losing the lead and falling behind the KeePer Tom's LC500. Disaster struck the Subaru GT300 BRZ team on lap 18 as the driver came in too hot and smacked into the jackman and pit sign. The jackman was all right and continued to service the car despite the hit.
On Lap 30, drivers came in to do their driver change and final pitstop to take them through the rest of the race. The KeePer Tom's LC500 came in to change drivers and put Ryu Hirakawa behind the wheel at lap 35. That put the Calsonic GT-R in the lead until their pit stop at lap 41, where Jann Mardenborough got out and Hironobu Yasuda got in.
On lap 51, the GT300 pole sitter, the Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS with Masataka Yanagida driving, pulled behind the wall with an engine issue; they eventually rejoined the race but ended up the last running car classified at 16 laps down. With three laps to go, the highest Nissan GT-R, the Calsonic car with Hironobu Yasuda behind the wheel, slowed down to a relative crawl just before turn three and eventually come to a stop on track between turns seven and eight. The Calsonic car was classified as finishing three laps down in 14 place, the last running car. However, this helped the Motul Autech GT-R in their points chase.
The winner, who started from pole position, was the KeePer Tom's LC500 with Ryo Hirakawa crossing the finish line in the driver's seat. The Wako's LC500 with Kazuya Oshima and Andrea Caldarelli wound up second and the Keihin NSX-GT with Koudai Tsukakoshi and Takashi Kogure took the final podium spot to prevent it being an all LC500 podium. Fourth to sixth were LC500s and the highest finishing Nissan GT-R was the Motul Autech car in ninth, one lap down. Despite the breakdown, Jann Mardenborough turned in the fastest race lap with a 1:25.499 in the Calsonic GT-R.
GT300 saw an all-FIA GT3 chassis from first to sixth place with the JMS Project Mu RC F GT-3 taking the win with Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi as its drivers. The Goodsmile Mercedes AMG GT3 took second with Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka, and third went to the D'station Porsche 911 GT3-R of Tomonobu Fujii and Sven Muller. The highest Super GT GT300 chassis was the Up Garage Bandoh Toyota GT86 with Yuhki Nakayama and Shintaro Kawabata driving. Proving his time attack abilities behind the wheel of the Goodsmile AMG, "NOB" Taniguchi turned in the fastest race lap with a 1:33.524.
At the press conference, Ryo Hirakawa stated, "I am very happy that we were able to get the win running from pole position in this way. The rain just before the start had made us nervous about the tire choice, but when we started on wet-use tires, Nick was able to run at a fast pace and build us a good margin of lead." Cassidy would add, "Today, we knew that the pit work would be very important, and the team did a really wonderful job. This was the best race I have ever experienced in Super GT."
GT300 winners Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi also commented on their day, with Nakayama stating, "The track dried out faster than it had in the qualifying, so we changed drivers to [Sho] Tsuboi after the minimum number of laps required. After that, I was just watching the race from the pit, but I was able to watch with assurance. I want to thank Tsuboi for the great job of driving he did for us." Tsuboi added, "I was careful not to put too much wear on the tires and push hard when I could. When I saw the sign saying that there were 25 laps left, that felt very long to me, but I am glad that in the end I was able to get the win for us."
With their win, Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy now lead the points in GT500 with only six points separating them and Kazuya Oshima and Andrea Caldarelli. Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli sit in third with only eight points to make up in the final round at Motegi. In GT300, Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka are sitting on the top spot but by only nine points ahead of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi and 13 ahead of Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou.
The championships in both GT300 and GT500 are tight ones heading into the final round, a 250-Km race at Twin Ring Motegi and the shortest one of the season. It will be a fitting sprint to the finish for not only the race but for the points overall. With so little between them, there will be so much to lose if these drivers make a mistake. We can't wait to watch this one on November 11th and 12th.