It’s the second-biggest race of the Super GT calendar, and it happens during one of Japan’s biggest holiday celebrations. The Fuji 500 Kilometer race, a tradition of the Golden Week holidays for over twenty years, will run exactly one week from today – on a Wednesday, May 4.
There are motor races that are so deeply synonymous with a holiday in North America: Memorial Day has both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola/World 600 at Charlotte, American Independence Day is the season of the Coke Zero/Firecracker 400 at Daytona, and Labor Day has, for the better part of 65 years, been linked to the Southern 500 at Darlington. And the ties to the Fuji 500km and the Golden Week holiday are no different.
Specifically, it’s the date of May 4, a date that for many years fell between two official holidays and was, in itself, declared a holiday. For most of the last twenty-two years, the Fuji 500km has been held on this date – no matter what day of the week it occurs.
If the Suzuka 1000km at the end of August is like the Daytona 500, or the Bathurst 1000, then the Fuji 500km could be considered analogous to the Southern 500, or the Clipsal 500 at Adelaide – the second-biggest race on the calendar, illuminating with a prestige and pedigree that has made it a perennial fixture on the Super GT calendar. Continue reading “Fuji’s Golden History: Super GT on Golden Week”
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?
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?
The 2015 Autobacs Super GT Series season will come to a close on Sunday (or late, late Saturday evening) – and yet again, we’re going to have a thrilling race for the GT500 crown with six teams and their twelve drivers still mathematically eligible for the championship going into this final 250 kilometer race at Twin Ring Motegi.
The GT300 title has already been decided in favor of International veteran racer Andre Couto, who won the Drivers’ Championship for GAINER at Autopolis. It was an emotional scene after the race, after Couto, a veteran of eleven seasons in GT500 and now two seasons in GT300 competition, dedicated the championship to his team, who won a Drivers’ Championship for the first time in over a decade of racing, his 2015 co-drivers Katsumasa Chiyo (who really should be considered for Driver of the Year honors in any credible sports car racing publication) and Ryuichiro Tomita (who will almost surely be in the frame for a full-time GT300 drive next year), and then to his late son Afonso, who died of childhood leukemia in November of 2010 at the age of seven.
Couto and Chiyo won’t have to push too hard when they race at Motegi with the championships already decided, however, if they drive the Tanax GT-R to a podium finish, Couto will be the first GT300 driver to amass 100 points in a season since Keiichi Suzuki and the late Shingo Tachi in their historic 1998 season, where they won an astonishing five of six races driving a Toyota MR2 jointly fielded by Team Taisan and Tsuchiya Engineering (now Team Samurai).
The GT500 championship, however, is far from decided, with six teams still mathematically eligible as the above table demonstrates. Realistically, it will likely be a two-horse race between the Calsonic Nissan GT-R of IMPUL and the Motul Nissan GT-R of defending champions NISMO, with three of the other four teams absolutely needing to win to have any chance of winning the championship. But as last year proved, an early mishap can potentially blow the whole thing wide open. So what’s at stake for the championship contenders in Motegi? Continue reading “The Final Battle: Breaking down Super GT’s title contenders”