Thankfully, the cards were in our favour at Twin Ring Motegi – and we knew this before we started. A ‘stop-start’ layout, chilly autumn temperatures (12 to 14 degrees) and the entire 30-car GT300 field equalised with zero success ballast for the 250km SUPER GT Grand Finale.
We had a reasonable run through practice and the pre-qualifying Safari session. Nothing spectacular from my side – after 5 years away from Motegi I was having trouble getting my eye in. This place requires absolutely laser accuracy with your braking, apex points and corner speed.
Nevertheless, I felt more at home with every run, and with Mineo advancing the car into Qualifying 2 I had another chance to push for a competitive grid position for the Gulf Racing team. I found more speed on my ‘hot lap’, but a mistake through the tricky ’S’ corner bled 4-tenths of a second on the lap, and we had to settle for 9th on the grid.
Even so, there was a lot we could do from there. Mineo took the start, quickly dispatching of two rivals before latching onto the battle for 4th place, pitting early from 7th where I took over for a long 34 lap stint to finish the race.
I’d need to charge, but also manage my tyres. We wanted glory, but we needed points. A puncture was not in the equation.
The car felt great, and so did I. I had my eye in and began to work my way forward to fifth, locked on the back of the series champions in the Hatsunimiku AMG GT3.
We both passed the third placed Viva 86MC in a single corner, elevating me further to 4th, but with the laps winding down and the tyres beginning to fade, I couldn’t mount a final challenge for the podium, crossing the line in 4th place.
The team were elated, with the result jumping us from 12th to 8th in the GT300 team’s championship, and 8th in the driver’s championship. This means that Gulf Racing will be an ‘A’ seeded team in 2018 – a reward that brings with it many benefits that will allow this still very young team to evolve and grow next season.
And for me, I’m happy with my debut season in SUPER GT. Even with a handful of body blows to our points tally, we still maintained a competitive challenge and there is plenty to build on for next season.
Thank you my loyal group of Kiwi sponsors and supporters for being a part of the 2017 season, and to all of you who are reading this for your support and encouragement. I expect to announce plans for the new season before Christmas, and you’ll be the first to know – as per usual!
Source. Jono Lester