The Fuji 500 Kicks Off A Big Second Half To Super GT Year: Watch LIVE
After a break of almost a full month the 2018 Super GT Championship roars back in to life with the FUJI GT 500 taking place on August 5th. Championship contention is getting very intense in both classes and as the first race in the second half of the season, this round can be a critical step towards the title.
Last year’s Round 5 at Fuji was held as a 300km race, but this year the event has become the longest race of the season with a race distance of 500 miles, or around 805 kilometers. Without a doubt, the possibility of encountering unpredictable events would be higher than usual. In addition, the summer has been tremendously hot this year. Summer heat can create issues too.
In such situation, race strategy for when to come into the pit, etc. would be very important. Supplementary regulations of Round 5 mandates each team to have driver change at least four times during the race. How should the order and driving distance of drivers be? What about tires? Team manager and engineer’s ability to select right strategy or make right decision would have more importance in the outcome of the race besides the speed of the driver or car at upcoming Fuji race.
With the Lexus LC500 of Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashiwinning the race at previous round in Thailand, all three models of GT500 have scored a win. The LC500s appeared to be struggling in the early half of this season but according to pitlane rumour, the squad could be deploying the second engine of the two permitted in a year.
First team to watch would be the No.36 TOM’S LC500 of Kazuki Nakajima and Yuhi Sekiguchi that showed impressive speed at previous Thai race. Although the team experienced a heartbreaking last lap in Thailand, their handicap weight is rather light at 30kg. TOM’S has been strong at long-distance races like Suzuka 1000km, and, thus, some call them as the top candidate. In contrast the heavy 70kg handicap weight may force current point-leader DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500 to take a strategy for simply trying to secure a position as high as possible and concentrate on the big picture of winning the title.
Fuji also hosted Round 2 in May, and No.23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli dominated. The high-speed track at Fuji is a favorable circuit to the NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT500 but the MOTUL AUTECH GT-R may need to settle for points considering that their handicap weight has accumulated to 62kg.
As far as the GT-R squad is concerned, teams that are hungry for a win backed by a lighter handicap weight would be their hope for the victory, and No.3 CRAFTSPORTS MOTUL GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama / Katsumasa Chiyo) and No. 12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R (Daiki Sasaki / Jann Mardenborough) satisfy the criteria.
The Honda NSX-GT fleet could pull off a big surprise considering the long race distance and their key opposition carrying such heavy handicap weights.
In such context, expectations would be on No.16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT (Hideki Mutoh / Daisuke Nakajima) as well as the No.64 Epson Modulo NSX-GT (Bertrand Baguette / Kosuke Matsuura) both with a light handicap weight to doi well.
With the season reaching the halfway point, it would also be interesting to see what automakers are doing in their development of the car and how the cars are actually changing. LC500 squad could be deploying a new engine, but how about their rivals? If you go with the theory, a new engine should be coming in from Round 6 after finishing this long-distance race. However, a member from Honda looked even more confident with their current engine, “We can deploy the second engine at the final round (and use the first engine until then).” Lets look closely on how they will manage the situation not only upcoming Fuji but also next race at SUGO.
There is no one dominant team in the GT300 class up to this point and any teams can be in the title contention if they finish in the top group at upcoming Round 5. However, defending champion No.0 GOODSMILE HATSUNE MIKU AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi / Tatsuya Kataoka) would still be a team to watch despite such situation in the GT300 class. Although they have scored points at every race in past four rounds, they have not captured a podium finish yet. The team as well as drivers are reputed as a masters of long distance racing, and it won’t be surprising to see them coming in with strong determination to win this battle of endurance.
The FIA GT3 cars with powerful engines are considered to have advantage at the high-speed track of Fuji. Among them, Round 2 Fuji winner No.55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (Shinichi Takagi / Sean Walkinshaw) and last year’s Suzuka 1000km winner No.65 LEON CVSTOS AMG (Haruki Kurosawa / Naoya Gamou) should be added to the candidate list.
However the spectacular JAF-GT300 and mother-chassis cars should not be underestimated and the hope is still high for No.31 TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT (Koki Saga / Kohei Hirate) with strong record at Fuji as well as two-time Suzuka 1000km winner No.61 SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT (Takuto Iguchi / Hideki Yamauchi). For No.25 HOPPY 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui / Sho Tsuboi) and No.18 UPGARAGE 86 MC (Yuhki Nakayama / Takashi Kobayashi) with mother-chassis cars which are known to be easy on the tires, there is an option of no tire change if required to beat opponents.
Nonetheless, race strategy is a critical factor for win or lose in the GT300 class where the difference in performance among all cars are very small and that is even more so at a long-distance race.
LEON CVSTOS AMG took a strategy to complete the mandated pit-stop on the first lap and successfully won the race at last year’s Suzuka 1000km, while teams with mother-chassis cars may be able to gain a valuable time by doing two pit-stops without tire change.
Usage of a third driver is also an important factor. No.30 TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT (Hiroaki Nagai / Kota Sasaki) is adding Manabu Orido, who holds winning experience in both classes, and No.360 RUNUP RIVAUX GT-R will be joined by former GT500 and GT300 champion Masataka Yanagida as single-race participation. No.117 EIcars BENTLEY (Yuji Ide / Ryohei Sakaguchi) will also have a third driver, Jules Gounon, who is a works driver of Bentley. The team is also expecting to receive support from Bentley headquarter by this opportunity, which can help in accelerating the improvement of the car in rest of the season.
The Fuji 500 round 5 of the 2018 Autobacs’s Super GT Championship will be once again streamed live via NISMO TV with commentary from Sam Collins and Rod Barff.
The stream kicks off Sunday afternoon at 2PM AEST so with no Supercars this Sunday, and the Winter weather making a decision to stay indoors a little easier throughout most of Australia why not crack open a bottle of Sake and join in the fun.
Round 5 Fuji is the first race in the second half of this season. Fans can expect a sizzling hot race that can bring heat hotter than the temperature.
With Super GT Media Release.