Round 4 of SUPER GT was held on July 28th and 29th at Sportsland SUGO, located on the outskirts of Sendai. The first domestic event on the SUPER GT calendar since the beginning of the summer holidays meant that fans flocked to the circuit on qualifying day. In the NISSAN camp, four GT-Rs were set to contest the GT500 class, while a single GT300-class GT-R was also on the bill.
For this visit to SUGO, the GT500-spec GT-Rs were equipped with an array of aerodynamic developments. These included new front fender endplates, revised mirror geometry, and a new trunklid, all successfully designed to increase downforce, pushing the cars against the track surface and increasing grip.
The #24 D'station GT-R from KONDO RACING (Hironobu Yasuda/Bjorn Wirdheim) saw Wirdheim take the wheel for the first qualifying session. However, track temperatures rose far beyond expectations to 57 degrees Celsius, resulting in a less-than-optimal match between the car's rubber and conditions, resulting in the car finishing 13th. This ended the team's day as they were unable to advance to the afternoon's Super Lap (SL) session.
Last year here at SUGO the #1 S Road REITO MOLA GT-R (Masataka Yanagida/Ronnie Quintarelli) took their first victory on the way to the championship title. Yanagida took charge in the first qualifying session, netting sixth place overall and easily advancing to SL. In the Super Lap session, Quintarelli was at the wheel, securing sixth on the grid and a third row start in the race.
The #12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Joao Paolo de Oliveira) from TEAM IMPUL was carrying 26kgs of handicap weight upon its arrival at SUGO. In the first qualifying session, Matsuda took the blue car to 2nd place, while in SL, de Oliveira, despite losing balance slightly on the exit of SP corner, netted third place overall.
NISMO's #23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R entry (Satoshi Motoyama/Michael Krumm) was saddled with 44kgs' success ballast for the SUGO round. Krumm brought the red machine round third-quickest in the first qualifier, guaranteeing a berth in SL. Motoyama went on the attack in the afternoon, sealing 2nd place and a front row start in the race.
In the GT300 class, the NDDP RACING-entered #3 S Road NDDP GT-R (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Katsumasa Chiyo) saw Chiyo take the wheel for the opening qualifier, netting 8th place and a spot in the afternoon's SL. Sekiguchi then raised that position by two to sixth in Super Lap. The strong performance in both sessions raised expectations of the pair's first visit to the winners' podium.
Heavy rain during the pre-race Pit Walk on race day morning cleared away quickly under the strong sunshine that followed, drying the track almost instantly and avoiding any confusion at the start of the 81-lap event. The stands sat filled to bursting with over 27,500 fans eagerly awaitng the start. Though the temperature dropped slightly to 31 degrees Celsius just before the race got underway, it wasn't much of a respite from the intense 34-degree heat experienced the previous day.
In the grandstand near the entry to Turn 1, the NISSAN cheering party took up position and were in full swing as the directors and drivers from each team waved and bowed deeply to the fans in response to their unwavering encouragement and support. At this moment, one could feel the energy emanating from the stand, adding to the already blistering heat.
At preciesly 14:03, the 81-lap race got underway.However, almost immediately, de Oliveira in the #12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R made contact with the pole-sitting #6 SC430 at Turn 1. Out of control, the car then slammed into the #23 GT-R of Motoyama, pitching both machines off track and into retirement. In a most unfortunate ‘own goal’ moment, a pair of GT-Rs were abruptly taken out of the event.
Bjorn Wirdheim took the start in the #24 GT-R. However, from the middle of his stint he was forced to fight hard against a vibration, preventing him from raising his pace. In the second half of the race, teammate Hironobu Yasuda was at the wheel, reaching the finish in 10th place, three positions higher than where they had started. One precious championship point was earned, the team's first of the season.
In the #1 GT-R, Quintarelli took charge at the start. After 10 laps, his tyres' grip levels started to optimise and on lap 21, the Italian, skillfully using some backmarkers, caught and passed two rivals on the main straight, vaulting into second place. The timing of the pitstop saw the car come out in third place, a position teammate Yanagida maintained throughout his stint, netting the team their second successive SUGO podium.
Taking charge at the start in the #3 GT-R, Katsumasa Chiyo had brought the GT300 machine up to third place by lap 31. In the pit stop, taken on lap 42, only the two rear tyres were changed. Teammate Yuhi Sekiguchi then moved into 2nd place on lap 50, and took over the top spot seven tours later. Amply demonstrating the pace of the machine, the gap back to the second-place finisher was a massive 30 seconds when the flag fell. On just its fourth outing, the GT-R took its maiden victory.
“The feeling has changed and we start from here. Our next goal is victory,” commented Yanagida (right).“Although there was a small mistake, 3rd place and our first podium of the season feels more like a win. The team also did a magnificant job, and built my confidence in their abilities. I'm looking forward to the upcoming rounds at Suzuka and Fuji, where I believe we have a chance at victory,” said Quintarelli.
Sekiguchi (left) and Chiyo share their first visit to the centre step on the winners' platform. “It is fantastic that I was able to move up during my stint,” quoted Chiyo. Meanwhile Sekiguchi commented, “Everything was perfect. I believe we can aim at a higher ranking even at Suzuka since there was still more to come from the car here.” Team Director Masahiro Hasemi also praised "a perfect race" and the efforts of both his drivers.