The MOTEGI GT 250km RACE GRAND FINAL, Round 8 of the 2018 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series, was held at the Motegi Twin Ring circuit (lap = 4,801 m x 53 laps) in Tochigi Pref. on November 11 (Sun.). In the GT500 class, the pole-starting No. 8 ARTA NSX-GT driven by Tomoki Nojiri and Takuya Izawa won its second race of the season, while the season championship title went to the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Jenson Button) when they finished the race in 3rd place. In the GT300 class race, the No. 65 LEON CVSTOS AMG driven by Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou won their first victory of the season that also gave them a dramatic come-from-behind GT300 class season title win.
Race day at Twin Ring Motegi was blessed with fair weather. The final race of the season started on schedule at 1:30 in the afternoon with a parade lap to promote traffic safety led by five motorcycle police and two patrol cars of the Tochigi Prefectural Police and followed by the GT machines. At the start of the race, the pole-sitting (1st qualifier) No. 8 ARTA NSX-GT (Takuya Izawa) got a good start to take the lead, followed by the season point-leading and top title contender, the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto), the No. 64 Epson Modulo NSX-GT (Bertrand Baguette) and the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO LC500 (Yuji Tachikawa).
After the leaders had finished their routine pit stops, the No. 8 ARTA NSX-GT (Tomoki Nojiri) was still in the lead. But, behind it the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO LC500 (Hiroaki Ishiura) was narrowing the gap. And behind it came the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Jenson Button) and the No. 1 KeePer TOM’S LC500 (Ryo Hirakawa) that had moved up from a 6th-position grid start. Driving the RAYBRIG NSX-GT was the experienced 2009 F1 world champion, Jenson Button, in his first full season competing in the GT series. Button, who says that he learned a lot in this year, was pressing the attack while working his way through the GT300 class back markers. Meanwhile, Hirakawa had managed to erases the 5-second gap with Button in just seven laps and was now sitting on his tail. From this point on it was a breath-taking battle between the former F1 champ and the GT500 champ.
In the end the race winner was the pole-starting No. 8 ARTA NSX-GT, scoring its second win of the season after its one at Suzuka in Round 3. Finishing second was the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO LC500. In the race for 3rd that would determine the season title, Button in the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT managed to hold on and bring himself and teammate Yamamoto their first Drivers championship title. This result also brought a long-awaited Team title to TEAM KUNIMITSU, which has been competing in SUPER GT since the inaugural year of its predecessor, the All Japan GT Championship in 1994. Of the NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT500 teams, the No. 23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli) finished highest in 7th place.
In the GT300 class, the pole-starting MANEPA LAMBORGHINI GT3 (Kazuki Hiramine/Marco Mapelli) suffered machine trouble that dropped it out of competition for the win. Taking its place, the 2nd-position grid starting No. 65 LEON CVSTOS AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) successfully used a no-tire-change strategy to take its first win of the season. When the ranking leaders going into this final round, the No. 55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (Shinichi Takagi/Sean Walkinshaw) only managed to finish 9th on the day, the winning pair of Takagi and Walkinshaw became this season’s Drivers championship winners as well.
(Spectators: 37,000on race day)
GT500 Race Winners
No. 8 ARTA NSX-GT
“Because [Takuya] Izawa-san ran a good race in the first half, I was able to start out on my stint with confidence. The machine’s performance was great, and although car No. 38 was making some gains on us, I was able to run with my mind on good tire management while watching the margin between us, so I didn’t have any serious worries. I am glad that we won, but I am also disappointed [that we didn’t get the season title], so next year I want to focus from the opening round on winning the title.”
“The first stint I was running turned out to be unexpectedly short, but that was not due to the performance but rather to calculations about the position we wanted to be in when we came out of the pit stop. And the calculations were right on target. The second half became a long drive for [Tomoki] Nojiri-san, but he kept a steady pace to the end and got us the win. But right now I am full of regret [that we didn’t get the season title]”
No.100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT
“I want to thank everyone for cheering for us. It wasn’t all joy this season but also plenty of tough and hard times. But through the hard conditions the NSX-GT development continued and I want to express my gratitude to Honda and the Honda fans that continued to support us. And I also want to thank our team manager Kunimitsu Takahashi who brought me to the team when I was still an unknown driver and the team and RAYBRIG for all their support. Of course I am also very grateful to JB (Jenson Button) who also contributed so much to this title win.”
“Today’s was really a tough race. But we were able to get 3rd place in the end and that gave us the title. For Naoki [Yamamoto]-san this is his second title of the season following the Super Formula title, but for me this is my first title in nine years [following the F1 championship title in 2009], so I am very happy. I am also very happy that we were able to get this first title for our team manager Kunimitsu Takahashi and his team that has competed so long and hard.”
GT300 Race Winners/ Class Champions
No.65 LEON CVSTOS AMG
“We won the final round and at the same time this win brought us a come-from-behind win of the season title. I just have no words for how happy this makes me. In the end it turned out to be a great season, but there were certainly a lot of tough times along the way. But, through repeated trial and error, the team worked together to overcome every obstacle. And through all the hard times our owner continued to support us. In the course of the season, Naoya [Gamou] has become a great driver, and I am very happy for that too.”
“We went with a no-tire-change strategy but in the end we were somehow able to run at a steady pace to the end, so it turned out to be a perfect race. I want to thank the team for preparing the car so well for us. I still can’t really grasp the fact that we won the season title as well (laughs). But after the awards ceremony and the press conference, I am really looking forward to celebrating with the team.”