The SUPER GT in KYUSHU 300 km, Round 3 of the 2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series, was held at the AUTOPOLIS circuit (one lap 4,674 m x 65 laps) in Oita Prefecture on May 21. In a race marked by sizzling battles all around the track, the GT500 class victory went to the No. 36 au TOM’S LC500 (Kazuki Nakajima/James Rossiter) that managed to recover magnificently from their failure in the qualifying the previous day to take the team’s first win of the season. In the GT300 class, the victor was the No. 25 VivaC 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui/Kenta Yamashita).
Fine weather greeted the first SUPER GT race at Autopolis in two years and an extremely large gallery turned out to watch the action. At 2:00 in the afternoon the action kicked off with a parade lap led by five police motorcycles and two patrol cars of the Oita Prefectural Police followed by the usual one-lap Formation Lap leading into the start of the 65-lap race.
The opening laps of the race saw the pole-starting No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto) running away in the lead. But, on the last turn of the fifth lap, the pit-starting No. 8 ARTA NSX-GT (Takashi Kobayashi) spun out and was hit from behind by the GT300 class No. 31 TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT and others, which brought the Safety Car out on the track to control the race. This took away the margin of lead that car No. 100 had built up and started a close-quarters battle between it and the No. 46 S Road CRAFTSPORTS GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama) and No. 1 DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500 (Heikki Kovalainen) in hot pursuit. Around the track of this first race at Autopolis in two years fierce battles going on everywhere, making for a thrilling spectacle. Among these, the No. 36 au TOM’S LC500 (James Rossiter), which had been working up from a 7th-place start, managed to move into 3rd place on the 21st lap. Then, on the 32nd lap, Rossiter was pressing a three-way fight against the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT and No. 1 DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500 in the lead.
After all the cars finished their routine pit stops, the No. 36 au TOM’S LC500 with Kazuki Nakajima now at the wheel had moved into the lead. Behind him came the No. 1 DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500 (Kohei Hirate) and the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Takuya Izawa). Gradually losing contact with the two leaders with its slower pace, car No. 100 found itself in a six-machine battle for the last spot on the podium with a group led by the No. 17 KEIHIN NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi) that had worked through the field from a pit start and other machines including all three of the makes. Then, in the final stages of the race the No. 1 DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500 began rapidly closing on the leading No. 36 au TOM’S LC500, resulting in a collision between the two. The collision caused cat No. 1 to run off the track while No. 36, although suffering some machine damage managed to keep running in the lead. After this, the No. 36 au TOM’S LC500 was able to defend its lead and take the win. It was the third victory in a row by Lexus LC500 machines. Finishing 2nd was the No. 17 KEIHIN NSX-GT (Takashi Kogure/Koudai Tsukakoshi) that had started the race from the very back of the pack, and 3rd place went to the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa).
In the GT300 class race, a heated battle developed in the early stages of the race between the No. 25 VivaC 86 MC and the No. 61 SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT. At one point due to the difference in timing of the leaders’ pit stops, the No. 55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 ran in the lead, but eventually the battle for the lead returned to a contest between car No. 25 and No. 61, with the latter finally closing the gap rapidly on the last lap of the race. However, No. 25 VivaC 86 MC managed to cross the finish line first by a mere 0.091 sec. to take the win. Second place went to the No. 61 SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT and 3rd to the No. 55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3.
No. 36 au TOM’S LC500
“After yesterday’s qualifying, I was starting to lose my confidence (laughs), so I decided to race calmly today. But, James [Rossiter] did a magnificent job at the wheel and got us to where we could take the lead. That was more than I ever expected. I had a bad time getting through the traffic (of back markers) and it allowed the No. 1 car to catch up with me. There was nothing I could do about the ensuing collision and that was unfortunate. There was some damage to my machine, but fortunately I was somehow able to get to the finish first.”
“Today was truly a day full of action. At first, I was running behind the battle between Andrea [Caldarelli, No. 6] and Nick [Cassidy, No. 37] and that was the toughest part. But after the Safety Car came out, I though that the real race would be from that point on, so I pushed hard. I kept running in full-attack mode, and I really enjoyed it. We got the win, so I am satisfied.”
No. 25 VivaC 86 MC
“In the first half I was hoping that [Kenta] Yamashita would break out and give us the race, but things didn’t go that easily (wry laugh). Since it seemed that it had been tough going in the first half, we changed the tire choice for the second half, and after they got warmed up, things went well. Because Autopolis is said to be a track where the JAF-GT300 cars have an advantage, I’m relieved that we were able to win here.”
“When I was running laps in the 1 min. 35 sec. range I thought it was a good pace, but the Subaru BRZ (No. 61) was able to stay with me and it was hard for me to build up any kind of a solid lead. But in the second half of the race, [Takamitsu] Matsui did a fantastic job, and although there was some trouble along the way, we managed to get the win. The drivers and the team really worked hard and we just managed to get the win, so I am glad.”
Source. Super GT