The midsummer's endurance event at Suzuka Circuit more commonly known as the Suzuka 1,000kms was held on August 18-19. Having been shortened to 700kms in 2009 and 2010, and then further to 500kms last year, this was the first time in four years that the event ran its full distance of 1,000kms. Four NISSAN GT-Rs competed in the GT500 class, while one more example of the car contested GT300.
Qualifying for this event used the knock-out format in use since the opening round. The #24 D'station ADVAN GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda/Bjorn Wirdheim) was able to advance to Q2 with Yasuda's seventh-place in Q1, but Wirdheim finished eleventh in Q2, which decided their grid position for the race.
The #12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Joao Paolo de Oliveira) from TEAM IMPUL went into qualifying with 26kgs' success ballast onboard. In Q1, Oliveira was able to take sixth place, and Matsuda then stole third in Q2, advancing the car to the final qualifying session, Q3. Here Oliveira once again took the wheel, finishing fifth.
NISMO's #23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama/ Michael Krumm) had 44kgs onboard their car. In Q1, Motoyama drove to fifth place, Krumm repeating the feat with another 5th in Q2. This ensured their advance to Q3 where Motoyama snatched 4th, securing a favourable starting position for the second time running.
In the #1 S Road REITO MOLA GT-R (Masataka Yanagida/Ronnie Quintarelli), there were 36kgs' weight handi in the car. Quintarelli threw down the gauntlet in Q1 with a third-place finish, before Yanagida made it stick as he went top in Q2. Quintarelli was back behind the wheel for Q3, and took his first pole position of the season.
Victors in the previous round at SUGO, NDDP Racing's #3 S-Road NDDP GT-R saw All-Japan F3 competitor Daiki Sasaki added as reserve driver to the regular combo of Yuhi Sekiguchi and Katsumasa Chiyo. In qualifying, Chiyo netted 6th in Q1, while Sekiguchi took 3rd in Q2. Chiyo then snatched 3rd place in Q3, securing an ideal starting spot for the team.
Suzuka Circuit was wet from heavy rain early in the morning of race day, but by about 9:20am, when the free practivce session was taking place, the track had largely dried out. During this session, the #24 GT-R, running on slicks, set the top time of the session, elevating expectations for the race.
With an ambient temperature of 32 degrees, and the track surface measured at 50 Celsius, the formation laps for the 173-lap event began at 11:30. In the middle of the summer holidays, families and fans came out in droves, packing the stands with upwards of 35,500 spectators.
The #23 GT-R battled for the top spot in the early stages, Motoyama starting and then alternating with Krumm. However, contact with a GT300 machine caused a slow puncture, forcing an unexpected pit stop. The battle recommenced in the race's final stages, but in the end, damage from the earlier incident left them finishing 5th.
The #12 GT-R saw Matsuda take the start, then handing over to Oliveira. Trouble with the paddle shift meant the duo couldn't get second gear. Finally able to compete for 2nd place in the race's closing stages, they ended up fourth, regretfully unable to score a place on the winners' platform.
The #24 GT-R employed a strategy using only four pit stops, while the other teams opted to stop five times. However, a mistake during one of the visits meant the car was forced to return once more for refuelling. Despite this, Wirdheim took third and for the first time since forming this driver combo, stood on the winners' podium.
Yanagida, driving the #1 GT-R during the early stages, was competing in the top spot. However, contact with a GT300 machine caused wheel damage and an unplanned visit to the pits. Even so, he controlled the race from lap 94, never once giving up the lead after lap 113. This was his first victory of the season and sees him rise to 2nd in the points' standings.
Racing in the GT300 class, the #3 GT-R had it tough in terms of fuel consumption, brakes and tyres, but stayed in contention and always ran near the top of the order. In the race's final stages, the #3 GT-R got to within 11 seconds of the leader, but due to a penalty was unable to snatch the top spot and had to settle for 2nd. The result sees the car rise to 2nd in the points.
Yanagida: “When I made contact with the GT300 car, I thought there was no longer any chance of victory. However, the damage to the car was only slight.” With the bonus points from this race added in, the car sits on 43 points, four away from the leaders. The team is leaving open the possibility for a comeback in the remaining three rounds.
Yuhi Sekiguchi commented, “I drove the car carefully, and was fortunate to finish this 1,000km event without any mechanical issues.” With the result, the squad has advanced to 2nd in the points' standings, and sits only one point off the leaders. This young driver combo is now actively vying for the GT300 title.