Round 7 of SUPER GT was held at Autopolis, located near the crater of Mt. Aso, on September 29 and 30. NISSAN was represented by four GT-Rs in the GT500 class and one GT-R in GT300. Having won two victories for this three races at the circuit, the R35 GT-R is a machine considered well-matched to the track, though the approach of typhoon #17 from the morning of qualifying day threatened to bring huge amounts of rain.
For this round, handicap weights were halved, meaning the #1 GT-R was carrying 58kgs, while the #12 machine, winner of the previous round, had 43kgs onboard. The #23 car was transporting 30kgs, and there was 14 kilos in the floor of the #24 car. Meanwhile, in the GT300 class, the #3 machine kept its full complement of success ballast, in accordance with series' regulations. Following in the footsteps of Tsugio Matsuda at Suzuka, this round was Masataka Yanagida's 100th GT race, and a small event was held behind the pit to commemorate the milestone.
Qualifying for this round used a knockout format. The MOLA #1 S Road REITO MOLA GT-R (Yanagida/Ronnie Quintarelli) advanced to the second session after Quintarelli took the top time in the first, but the second qualifier was interrupted by a red flag and Yanagida ended up finishing tenth, setting their place in the grid. “It's no good being on the defensive, ” said Yanagida afterwards, determined to turn things around the following day.
The #12 Calsonic IMPUL GT-R (Matsuda/Joao Paolo De Oliveira) from TEAM IMPUL finished eleventh in the first session with Oliveira at the wheel. In the second period, Matsuda took the driver's seat and ended up eighth, determining their place on the grid. “I made a few mistakes of my own, but the tyres didn't develop grip like I had expected, making this a difficult qualifying. Tomorrow, I want to change the settings and do better, ” said Matsuda.
Hironobu Yasuda took KONDO RACING's #24 D'station ADVAN GT-R (Yasuda/Bjorn Wirdheim) to sixth in the first qualifying session, guaranteeing the squad a berth in the second, where teammate Wirdheim netted second. In the third and final qualifying session, Yasuda had his best finish of the season with third place, giving the team a start from the second row.
The NISMO-entered #23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama/Michael Krumm) finished fourth in the first qualifying session with Motoyama at the wheel. In the second sitting, Krumm took the wheel and grabbed the top spot, advancing to the third session. Motoyama was back behind the wheel for the last session, and finished a mere thousandth of a second behind the top time, taking second. They earned a favorable starting position on the front row.
Ranked second in the GT300 class, the #3 S ROAD NDDP GT-R (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Katsumasa Chiyo) from NDDP RACING took the top time in the first qualifier under Sekiguchi, despite the 96kgs' handicap weight onboard. Chiyo then repeated the feat with another top time in the second session, before Sekiguchi made it three for three by netting the quickest time in the final session, and a well-deserved maiden pole position for the young driver outfit.
From the morning of race day, Autopolis was shrouded in thick fog and the morning's free practice session had to be abandoned after only 8 minutes because of bad visibility despite the fact that, with typhoon #17 moving away, neither the wind nor the rain worsened. With the fog continuing to grow thicker, the drivers were not even able to conduct warm-up laps before the race. In an ambient temperature of 16°C, cool drizzle fell intermittently.
The 65-lap race began at exactly 14:00 under the direction of the Safety Car (SC). The battle really got underway when the SC peeled off after two laps, and Satoshi Motoyama in the #23 GT-R snatched the lead at the S curves. He quickly built up a gap of 7.8 seconds over second place, essentially putting himself in a runaway position. However, a crash on lap 11 prompted the return of the SC, instantly erasing the margin held by the #23 GT-R.
Katsumasa Chiyo took charge for the opening stint in the GT300-class #3 GT-R, and led the race until the 21st lap. Reduced to second place for a time, his partner Sekiguchi was able to recoup the lead on lap 43. Just at the moment when everybody thought the team would continue like this to the finish, a departing left rear wheel forced the car to stop at the side of the track on lap 55. Unfortunately for the team, they were unable to complete the race distance.
With the morning's free practice cut short to only 8 minutes' running, the #12 GT-R was forced to go into the race without having confirmed setting changes from the previous day. Matsuda, responsible for the first half of the race, was under considerable pressure from the opening stages because of a mismatch between the track surface characteristics and his tyres. Handing over to de Oliveira for the second half, the team finished in 10th place, having performed two tyre changes.
After the removal of the Safety Car, Motoyama in the #23 GT-R opened up a 2.9-second gap between himself and his pursuers by lap 24. However, by the 27th lap serious tyre wear saw the car fall to third place, leading to a visit to the pit and a driver change to teammate Michael Krumm on the following tour. Though Krumm managed to hold on to third place, further trouble with tyre wear in the final stages of the race forced a second visit to the pit and another set of new tyres. Soon after, a penalty for coming into contact with another vehicle meant the car crossed the finish line in 6th place.
First successfully protecting his 3rd place, Bjorn Wirdheim in the #24 GT-R moved up to 2nd place just after the removal of the SC on lap 17. He then advanced further, taking over the lead of the race on lap 27, leading to a spirited fight for the top spot with #19 SC430, a vehicle also with ADVAN tyres. Handing over to Hironobu Yasuda with a pit stop on lap 40, the team opted not to change tyres, and regained the top spot on lap 44. However, serious tyre wear in the final stages of the race dropped the car to 4th position by the finish.
In the #1 GT-R, Ronnie Quintarelli drove the opening stint and quickly found himself embroiled in a battle with 3 other cars for 5th place. Unable to disentangle himself, he brought the car in earlier than scheduled, handing over to Yanagida on lap 24. By lap 45, he was in only 5th position, with a spread of 16.7 seconds between himself and the top runner. Nonetheless, he managed to pass each of his rivals, all suffering from tyre wear, to finally snatch the top spot on the very last lap for an upset victory! This was the GT-R's 2nd consecutive win at Autopolis.
With the result of this race, Yanagida and Quintarelli were crowned champions for the second year in a row, without having to wait until the final round of the campaign. Yanagida: “We weren't confirmed as champions until we reached the chequered flag. This was a great 100th GT race.” Meanwhile Quintarelli, for his part, stated, “The conditions were extremely difficult, but we kept going until the end.” This is the first time in the history of the series that the same driver pairing has won two championships in a row.