The opening round of the 2012 SUPER GT season was held at Okayama International Circuit on March 31st and April 1st. Like last year, there were four GT-Rs contesting the GT500 class, and for the first time in two seasons, a car in GT300. What's more, it was an FIA GT3-spec machine, the NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT3. This time around, the knockout-format qualifying session was held on the afternoon of the 31st.
The GT500 GT-Rs featured a new front fender. In addition, there have been numerous improvements in unseen areas on the car, such as the underside of the body. In comparison to last season, the car has been put on a diet. By moving the ballast from parts that have been removed to ideal locations, the car's balance has also been improved. In addition, in the GT500 class, the allowed restrictor size has been raised by two ranks, allowing for increased speeds across the board.
The 2011 champions in the #1 S Road REITO MOLA GT-R (Masataka Yanagida/Ronnie Quintarelli) proudly wore the #1 on their car. From the morning of the 31st it rained heavily. In the afternoon, the temperature stood at 7 degrees Celsius, making for a chilly knockout-style qualifying session. The reigning champions finished Q3 in 5th place.
Last year's FIA GT1 world champion Michael Krumm has returned to Japan and is partnering Satoshi Motoyama in the #23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R. This is the first time the former champions have driven together since winning the title nine years ago, back in 2003. The pair advanced to Q3 in qualifying, netting 4th place, best among the GT-R entries.
The #12 Calsonic IMPUL GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Joao Paulo de Oliveira) from TEAM IMPUL battled under weather that changed rapidly, from cloudy and dry to raining and wet, to sunny and dry, and during their attack run in Q2, Matsuda spun at the first corner, causing damage to the car and bringing the team's day to an end. They finished qualifying in 11th.
The #24 D'station ADVAN GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda/Bjorn Wirdheim) entered by KONDO RACING was running in heavy rain when part way through Q1 it came to a stop. They then had some bad luck. As Wirdheim was conducting his attack run, another car stopped out on track, bringing a sudden end to the session. The team took 14th on the grid as a result.
Making its domestic debut, the NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT3, as part of the NDDP young driver development program, was driven by last year's All-Japan F3 C Class champion Yuhi Sekiguchi and N Class title-holder Katsumasa Chiyo. The car is participating in the GT300 class as the #3 S Road NDDP GT-R. They finished qualifying in ninth place.
From the morning of race day, the weather was very pleasant. In the free practice session held from 8:20, the #12 GT-R set the 2nd-quickest time, while the #23 GT-R came third and the #1 GT-R was fourth, raising expectations ahead of the race. The #24 GT-R had tyres that didn't match the conditions, and came in fifteenth. Meanwhile, the GT300-class GT-R was fifth. Later, some light rain fell temporarily, but it did not have a major effect on proceedings.
As the race start approached, it was cold in Okayama, the mercury sitting at 10 degrees Celsius. The 82-lap (approx. 300km) race started at precisely 2:03pm. The starting drivers were Motoyama in the #23 GT-R, Quintarelli in the #1 car, Oliveira in the #12 GT-R and Wirdheim in the #24 machine. The GT300-class #3 GT-R was driven by Yuhi Sekiguchi.
After moving up a position on the opening lap, Motoyama in the #23 GT-R was able to advance further to second place at the first two corners of lap 7. A little later, on lap 33, he attacked at the hairpin curve, exciting the throngs of Nissan fans as he took over the lead of the race. He then entered the pit on lap 37 to hand the car over to Krumm. The pit work was performed rapidly, taking only 38 seconds.
The #24 GT-R was last on the starting grid so took the strategy of not changing tyres in its pitstop, driving a “daring race, taking risks” according to team leader Masahiko Kondo. From 1st place, the car made its stop on lap 44, Yasuda stepping in and returning to the race in 8th place. However, with unexpectedly worn tryes he was unable to improve his pace, and crossed the finish line in 11th place.
The #12 GT-R was hit up the rear during the start chaos, causing damage to the car's undertray. Although the car rose to 8th place, they had to make an unscheduled pitstop, dropping them to last. The GT-R returned to the race after pitting on lap 33 when Matsuda took over, advancing to 13th. He gave chase to his rivals ahead, setting a remarkable pace before advancing to 10th on the last lap. His efforts were rewarded with a solitary and vital championship point.
In the #1 GT-R, Quintarelli maintained 5th place throughout his stint, pitting on lap 38. Teammate Yanagida continued in this position throughout his stint, until colliding with the #3 GT-R at the final corner on lap 51. The contact resulted in a vibration at the wheels and he was unable to increase his pace, falling to sixth. On the final lap, two cars got past the GT-R and it eventually finished 8th.
Michael Krumm in the #23 GT-R lost a pair of places on his outlap due to the tyres not warming sufficiently, something that's common during the first moments of a driver's stint. In addition, on the entry to the hairpin on lap 69, he touched the kerb, went wide in order to avoid a collision and was overtaken by a rival. However, he regained the position at the corner after the hairpin on the final lap and finished 4th. While he may not have gotten a trophy on the winners' podium, he did secure 8 championship points.
Driving the #3 GT-R in the GT300 class, Yuhi Sekiguchi overtook a pair of rivals on the opening lap, and had risen to 3rd place by lap 35, before pitting on lap 38. Katsumasa Chiyo took over, maintaining 4th place until colliding with the #1 GT-R at the final corner on lap 47, going off track in the process. After returning to the pit, the team was given a drive-through penalty due to a violation, making for a bittersweet debut that resulted in a 19th-place finish.