The first round of the 2015 Japanese Super GT Championship got underway and it was a wet and very entertaining affair…
On the afternoon of April 5, the Okayama GT 300km Race, Round 1 of the 2015 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series, took place at the Okayama International Circuit in (Okayama Pref.). The winner in the GT500 class was the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S RC F driven by Andrea Caldarelli and Ryo Hirakawa, while the winner of the GT300 class was the No. 31 TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT driven by Koki Saga and Yuichi Nakayama.
Last year’s season opener at Okayama was also held under rainy skies, and this year’s was again a wet race plagued by rain and constantly changing track conditions throughout the race.
Light rain fell on the Okayama circuit during the morning hours, but entering the afternoon the skies remained overcast but the rain was no more than a mist-like drizzle. The track remained wet, however. By start time the rain had stopped and the cars threw up little water from the track. The race started as scheduled at 2:30 in the afternoon, and in the GT500 class, while the No. 17 KEIHIN NSX CONCEPT-GT (Hideki Mutoh) chose slick tires, all the rest chose wet-use tires for the start of the 82-lap race.
By taking this win from pole position in the opening round, we have gotten the season off to a good start. But, today’s was a very difficult race from the standpoint of choosing what tires to use. But, strategically and with regard to the tire choices it turned out to be a great success. It was a perfectly run race. Being the opening round where no team is carrying any weight handicaps, it was a pure test of speed, so I am very happy that we were able to win here. Last year we were also able to win the opening round at Okayama, but we eventually missed winning the title by just two points, so I definitely want to try to win the title this year.
The race began with the pole-sitting No. 37 KeePer TOM’S RC F (Andrea Caldarelli) taking the lead. The No. 36 PETRONAS TOM’S RC F (James Rossiter) spun out in the early going but managed to recover and resume the race. Heating up back in the pack was a fierce battle between this season’s new team, the No. 15 Drago Modulo NSX CONCEPT-GT (Takashi Kogure) and the No. 39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD RC F (Kouhei Hirate). These two machines battled nose-to-tail for some time until the suffered a spin and Drago Modulo NSX CONCEPT-GT and dropped back in the field.
After the 35th lap, some of the teams began making their routine pit stops, while at the same time the rain was getting stronger, causing the teams worries in terms of their tire choices. As the race ran on, a drizzling rain continued to fall and some teams chose to delay their pit stops, and when the provisional leader, the No. 19 WedsSport ADVAN RC F, made its pit stop, a battle for the lead developed between the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX CONCEPT-GT (Takuya Izawa) and the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S RC F (Ryo Hirakawa). In the difficult conditions, this became a fascinating and intense contest.
With about 15 laps remaining in the race, the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S RC F was quickly catching up with the leading No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX CONCEPT-GT, narrowing the gap significantly with each lap. It looked as if the amount of water on the track was increasing, but that didn’t seem to slow Hirakawa’s aggressive driving in the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S RC F as he went on to overtake the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX CONCEPT-GT and reclaim the lead.
Meanwhile, the No. 8 ARTA NSX CONCEPT-GT (Tomoki Nojiri) that had been running in 5th position managed to pass the No. 12 CALSONICIMPUL GT-R to move into 4th position. While the other NSX CONCEPT-GT machines were losing speed, Nojiri in No. 8 was managing to press ahead.
It has turned out to be an auspicious start to the season. The tire choices were right on, and for Andrea [Caldarelli]’s stint, as well as for mine, the tires were chosen based on the decision that rain would probably fall again during the second half of the race, so we were able to run the second half successfully. During my stint in the first half of the race the competition was very intense and I was passed once by the NSX (car No. 100), but according to plan, you might say, the rain fell again in the second half and we were able to retake the lead. In the next race, round two at Fuji, we hope to be among the top finishers again, but rather than thinking about the results, I want to focus on racing with no mistakes and trying to bring out the full potential of the machine.
After this, the rain began to fall even harder, causing more water to build up on the track which resulted in an increasing number of machines running off the track. One of these was the No. 8 ARTA NSX CONCEPT-GT, although it managed to recover and rejoin the race, but more changes in the order were occurring in the final stages of the race, including the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO RC F (Hiroaki Ishiura) being passed by the No. 15 Drago Modulo NSX CONCEPT-GT in the Atwood Corner.
With two laps remaining, there was now a lot of water on the track but there would be no further changes in the order, leaving the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S RC F to take the victory in the opening round of the 2015 season, while the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX CONCEPT-GT in 2nd position had enough lead over the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO RC F in third to take 2nd place despite a slowing pace and relegate the ZENT CERUMO RC F to a 3rd-place finish.
The start of the GT300 class race saw the pole-sitting No. 10 GAINER TANAX GT-R (Andre Couto) hold its lead, followed by two hybrid machines in the No. 55 ARTA CR-Z GT (Shinichi Takagi) and the No. 31 TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT (Koki Saga). Starting from 2nd position on the grid, the No. 11 GAINER TANAX SLS (Bjorn Wirdheim) team had gambled on the weather improving and chose to start the race on slick tires. This turned out to be a mistake, however, and caused No. 11 to drop back nearly to the end of the pack.
Yesterday we made a bit of a mistake in the use of the tires, but today we succeeded in bringing out the full performance of the tires. As a result, I was able to finish my stint with about a 20-second margin of lead for Yuichi [Nakayama], so I am satisfied with the way I did my job. I won’t be driving in the next round at Fuji because I am competing in WEC, but I will be cheering on Yuichi and [Kota] Sasaki from the spa [in Belgium where the WEC race is held]. Then, from the third round on, I will be working hard to help Yuichi win the title.
After making its routine pit stop on the 44th lap, the leading TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT with second-stint driver Yuichi Nakayama now at the wheel continued in the lead with no slackening of its formidable pace. Although the ARTA CR-Z GT had been able to close the gap somewhat when there was a lull in the rain, Nakayama was able to pull away again when the rain once again began to fall harder in the late stages of the race. When he finally took the checkers at the finish, Nakayama had a 42-second lead over the ARTA CR-Z GT in 2nd place. Finishing in 3rd and 4th place were two of the Audi R8 machines that had performed so well in the pre-season tests, namely the No. 21 Audi R8 LMS ultra and the No. 86 Racing Tech Audi R8 (Christian Mamerow>Shinya Hosokawa).
[Koki] Saga succeeded in giving me a 20-second lead, but when I started driving there wasn’t much rain and it was difficult going considering the tire performance, still I was able to struggle on. To tell the truth, it was really tough going, but our manager Sasaki-san kept giving me encouragement [over the wireless], and as I ran the rain started falling harder and eventually I was able to build the lead to 40 seconds. Until now, I have worked hard as the team’s third driver, so I am very happy that we got this opening round win now that I am finally competing full-time.
The defending champion, the No. 0 GOODSMILE HATSUNE MIKUSLS (Tatsuya Kataoka>Nobuteru Taniguchi), ran a stubbornly determined race to move up from a 7th-place start to finish 5th. As for cars adopting the new mother chassis debuting this season, the No. 25 VivaC 86 MC (Takeshi Tsuchiya>Takamitsu Matsui) finished a respectable 6th. And, the No. 60 SYNTIUM LMcorsa RC F GT3 (Akira Iida>Hiroki Yoshimoto) managed to move up from a 20th-position start to finish the race in 10th. The LEXUS RC F GT3 also managed to finish in the points in its debut race.
All materials from SuperGT PR