Who can deny Chiyo’s greatness?

Katsumasa Chiyo began 2016 with another spectacular rally in the Bathurst 12 Hour, and if that won’t solidify his place among the best sports car racers in the world, what will?

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Image Credit – © NISMO Global

I spent the past weekend in a small-ish Alabama town called Anniston making an appearance at a local anime convention as a guest of honour. After a long, hectic day at the convention that involved two panels, one of which I can safely say I bombed, and knowing I would have to immediately drive back home at just past the crack of dawn, there I was, still awake at nearly 1 in the morning listening to the final laps of the Bathurst 12 Hour race on my phone.

Now, to set the scene, I’m staying in a luxurious, 19th century bed & breakfast run by a kind man who lives with his young sons. When I checked in that afternoon, there were dark chocolates sitting on the counter where I ultimately left my phone charger in my rush to head home the next day, and a white rose laid gently on the bed. This is a nicer place than I ever expected to be staying in for a night in central Alabama. It is really late. I’m put up in the house with the other guests, who are all either sleeping, or at least trying to. They have to get home the next day too. And it is so quiet and tranquil in this old, beautiful home that you can only hear the nearby train blasting its horn throughout the town as it departs for the next stop.

And then there’s me, recognizing the need for calm and quiet in the house, yet restraining myself about as hard as I could to do so because of a rally by Nissan Australia driver Katsumasa Chiyo that almost secured his team consecutive victories in the event.

Shane van Gisbergen has had the weekend of his young racing life, and he was basically driving the last few laps in his McLaren 650S GT3 in cruise control at the end to avoid throwing it all away in the last laps of the race. That’s not uncommon. Not when you, in essence, have the win in the bag after twelve hours of flat-out racing.

But what’s less common is for a lead of fourteen seconds, about the length of time it takes to drive the Bathurst circuit’s 1.1 kilometre Mountain Straight at speed, to be slashed down to just 1.276 seconds when the chequered flag fell on Van Gisbergen’s McLaren after 297 laps. Unless the lead car has a mechanical issue, a tyre blowout, or the driver just made a mistake and ran off the road or into a wall somewhere – if all they’re doing is just pacing themselves at the end, having already proven that they were the quickest team and driver combination all weekend long, that shouldn’t happen.

And yet, rattling off the Nissan GT-R GT3’s best laps of the entire weekend, at the very end of a grueling twelve hour endurance race, Katsumasa Chiyo closed to within a margin that made the final margin of victory closer than it had any right to have been. The record-breaking crowd roared in applause. The commentary team could not believe what they were seeing and calling for a worldwide audience. And back in Alabama, I was trying to hold back on screaming like a lunatic and trampling up and down the floor of this house like a stark-raving madman.

Chiyo just missed out on stealing the victory for Nissan, but he stole the show for the second consecutive year at Australia’s new great race, in a field containing some of the world’s greatest racing drivers.

Who, then, can deny the greatness of Katsumasa Chiyo?

Continue reading “Who can deny Chiyo’s greatness?”

Super GT Preview: Motegi GT 250km Race

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While NASCAR Nation makes a big hoopla about four-time series champion and six-time race winner in 2014 Jeff Gordon being pushed – figuratively and quite literally – out of the final race for the championship by Ryan Newman, who so far has yet to win a race in the 2014 season and could, if he does not win this weekend but just finishes ahead of Kevin HarvickDenny Hamlin, and Joey Loganocould become the first driver in the modern era of what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to win the championship without winning a single race – therefore invalidating the new, polarizing Chase for the Championship format that was based entirely upon rewarding individual race winners – I, as a fan and ambassador for the Super GT Series, would like to tell you, the reader at home and abroad – we did it first, and we did it better! Three times in fact. Three times in a span of four years, the GT500 class champions have won the championship without having a single race victory: Ryo Michigami was the first zero-win champion of the JGTC in 2000, Yuji Tachikawa and Hironori Takeuchi repeated a year later, and Satoshi Motoyama and Michael Krumm did it in 2003. And they didn’t need no stinkin’ elimination-style championship format to pull it off! Just a consistent strategy of scoring points and avoiding excessive weight handicaps accumulated over the course of a season!

There will not, however, be a winless champion in the GT500 class when the championship is decided this weekend at Twin Ring Motegi this Sunday (or late Saturday depending on which time zone you’re watching from). Motegi, of course has been no stranger to crowning champions, even beyond hosting the final round of the Super GT Series championship annually since 2009. A month ago, Marc Marquez captured his second MotoGP championship in as many seasons at Motegi. Motegi has also hosted CART World Series and IndyCar Series championship events as recently as 2011, and NASCAR exhibition events back in the late 1990s when the circuit was a new attraction.

This will be a busy weekend in racing, not just with the NASCAR season finale in Miami, the World Endurance Championship’s penultimate race at the Bahrain International Circuit, and the World Rally Championship finale at the legendary Wales Rally GB, but also the 61st Macau Grand Prix in which Formula 3 cars, touring cars, and superbikes will race around the Guia circuit – but please, do consider squeezing in some time for Super GT this weekend. Especially if you’ve never seen it in action, or have never seen it but want to see it – this two-class clash of the fastest and most technologically advanced silhouette cars competing on the same circuit with a mixture of the best cars the FIA GT3 specifications have to offer, and originally-designed Japanese silhouette cars that can compete on even footing with their western rivals. Especially considering that NISMO TV and Radio Le Mans are expected to broadcast this final, championship-deciding race as they did for the crown jewel event, the Suzuka 1000km in August. (EDIT: Now confirmed by John Hindhaugh himself on Twitter)

If you need to catch up and binge-watch the entire season of action before the race this weekend, please consult the newly-updated 2014 Super GT masterpost!

Now, for four words that will make Super GT fans really happy going into this championship finale…

THE BALLAST IS RESET

Yep. Forget all the accumulated success ballast over the course of the season – it’s gone, all of it, for the first time since the season opener all the way back in April at Okayama Circuit. This means that the only factors that will determine the championship outcome from here on out should be the drivers’ skill and the tactics of the engineers and principals on the pit wall, with only marginal differences between the three manufacturers’ cars in GT500 and how they work with the various tyre manufacturers. And at 250 kilometers in length, the shortest race in the series will be a true sprint to the championship.

Both the GT500 and GT300 championships will be decided this weekend. Between eight drivers for five teams in the GT500 class, and six drivers representing three squads in the second-tier GT300 class. Continue reading “Super GT Preview: Motegi GT 250km Race”

Super GT Title Fights: GT300

Yesterday, I outlined the challengers for the GT500 championship in the 2014 Autobacs Super GT Series. Today, I look at Super GT’s second class. The one that has, historically, given us rotary-powered Miatas and AE86 Truenos competing as recently as the year 2000. The one that pits the finest FIA GT3 supercars against the pride of Japan and their purpose-built JAF GT300-spec cars. As mentioned before, there’s only one race remaining after the inaugural event in Thailand at Chang International Circuit on October 5th, and that’s the 250km race at Twin Ring Motegi in November. The weight handicaps have been slashed down to 1kg per point in GT300 as well, and only the top two teams are carrying fuel flow restrictions in addition to the maximum 50kg of lead ballast allowed, which means the championship-contending cars will be able to run closer to flat-out than they were over the summer.

Examining the primary contenders for the GT300 championship begins with a look at the three-headed monster that is BMW’s Super GT effort, which has combined for three victories and takes up three of the top five places in the championship table. They were expected to be strong this season, and my goodness, are they ever.



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Let me go into full nerd mode here for a split second. Hatsune Miku isn’t an anime character. She’s a Vocaloid. It’s a huge difference, y’all.

And once upon a time, the only thing Goodsmile Racing had going for it was the fact that they had Hatsune Miku on the car. Then in 2011, after two otherwise irrelevant campaigns where they were just lucky to make it onto the grid at all for most weekends, the team aligned with Japanese F1 alumni Ukyo Katayama, signed drifter-turned-GT racer Nobuteru Taniguchi, and bought a BMW Z4 GT3 that already won championships in Europe. They dominated the 2011 season with three victories, claiming the title in the process – the first for Taniguchi after nine seasons, the first for BMW as a manufacturer, and the first for an FIA GT3-specification car in the GT300 class. Fast-forward three years, Hatsune Miku is still the team’s title sponsor and mascot and will even be a musical guest on fellow BMW team owner David Letterman‘s Late Show next Wednesday, Goodsmile Racing has split from Studie AG, the outfit with whom they joined forces with to win the championship in 2011, and yet they’re still leading the championship with 56 points and back-to-back victories to open the season at Okayama and Fuji I. Even with a colossal eighty kilogram handicap accumulated in the first two races that weighed them down all summer (which will now be cut to a more manageable 56kg in Thailand) they are still in the lead after adding two top-5 finishes at Fuji II (4th) and a crucial 5th place at Suzuka. Both Taniguchi and co-driver Tatsuya Kataoka are both seeking their second GT300 championships as drivers – Kataoka won his in 2009, driving for Racing Project Bandoh in their famous WedsSport Lexus. Continue reading “Super GT Title Fights: GT300”