The 2010 SUPER GT season so far has been as much about variety as it has excitement. All of the season's three rounds have produced different winners, one from each of the "Big Three" manufacturers in the series; Lexus, Nissan and Honda. While it isn't quite the halfway point of the season, the year is split into three parts (in my mind anyway): the first three rounds, the flyaway race in Malaysia, and the four events that make up the second half of the season.
The new HSV-010 GT from Honda has enjoyed something of a chequered campaign thus far, the factory machine of Takashi Kogure crashing out of a potentially historic win after putting the car on pole on its debut. He did the same for Round 2, minus the crash, and duly set up the win with teammate Loic Duval at Okayama. The car then took an impressive 7th with 40kgs' success ballast on board at Fuji. Currently fifth in the points, this is by far the strongest of the Hondas.
Next up among the new cars is the seventh-placed Raybrig machine from Team Kunimitsu, due in part to taking third on the podium in the opening round. The team should score again this season, but are no threat for the title.
The most consistent of the HSVs, Real Racing is an outfit clearly punching above its weight. They haven't yet scored a win, but had one pole position in 2008 before coming fifth in the title hunt last year. Not bad for a team currently in its fourth season in SUPER GT. Also, their cars always look blindingly cool!
If the Autobacs-liveried HSV-010 GT has had any luck at all this season, it's been bad! The 2009 runners-up were taken out in that famous incident in the season-opener – the one with the sister factory car. The duo was sixth at Okayama and then a strong third at Fuji until contact with a GT300 machine in the later stages spelled an end to their day.
Last among the Hondas is the EPSON car from Nakajima Racing. It's finished every round, but sits at the bottom of the standings at the moment. Honda stalwart Ryo Michigami is in the car this year, having switched with Loic Duval, now in the factory machine that runs on Bridgestone tyres.
Trying to find their previous form, 2008 Driver's champions Satoshi Motoyama and Benoit Treluyer in the #23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R were the victims of another vehicle crashing into them at Okayama, before drivetrain woes took them out at Fuji. Looking ahead to Sepang in two weeks' time however, and we might well see their fortunes turned around. The car is running a scant 6kgs' success ballast (after coming 8th at Suzuka) and are on the Michelins, which won in Malaysia last season bolted to the Hasemi Motorsport GT-R.
Sepang is a special place for the KONDO RACING GT-R, the team having taken their first two victories in SUPER GT at the Equatorial circuit with back-to-back wins in 2007 and 2008. Victorious in this year's opener (a repeat of 2009), the team, now in its fifth season, is emerging as a serious outfit. Their history at Sepang, and the Yokohama rubber under the car may be exactly what's needed for a strong result this year also. On the driver front, long-time pedaller Joao Paolo de Oliveria, in his fourth season at the team, is the soul of the driving effort. Plus, from this season he has his strongest teammate to date in Hironobu Yasuda.
The CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R has an excellent driver lineup this season, Ronnie Quintarelli joining Tsugio Matsuda. Plus, the car's on the preferred Bridgestone tyres – good in all conditions. They haven't lit up the sky yet however, taking 4th and 6th places so far in 2010 after going out early on at Suzuka.
The manufacturer occupying the top four spots in the championship is of course Lexus, with the reigning Driver's champions Andre Lotterer and Juichi Wakisaka from TEAM TOM'S proving once again that consistency wins the title fight. They were fourth at Suzuka, third at Okayama, and took second place at Fuji. Now with 68 kilos on board, Sepang heat may prove particularly tough.
Only two points off the lead (32 to 34), the Team LeMans SC430 of Bjorn Wirdheim and Daisuke Ito has also shown strong consistency with a trio of good results, including two podiums. The pair have won a number of times in the past, so are no strangers to doing what it takes to get the ultimate result.
The youngsters among the five Lexus-equipped crews, Hiroaki Ishiura and Kazuya Oshima took their maiden win at the Suzuka 700kms last year, and liked it so much they decided to romp to victory at Fuji a few weeks back as well. No fluke in the race, the pair had topped every session throughout the entire weekend. The car's heavy going to Sepang, but this pair will definitely be pushing.
Surely one of the strongest driver lineups in the series, the Team Cerumo SC430 of Richard Lyons and Yuji Tachikawa (with three titles between them – two to Tachikawa) took an excellent 2nd place at Okayama after a blistering fight in the later stages where Richard Lyons got past Juichi Wakisaka in the similar TEAM TOM'S machine just a handful of tours from the end of the 82-lap race.
Andre Couto and Kohei Hirate scored a superb fifth place at the Suzuka opener in the TEAM SARD SC430, but have taken only one point since. With the recruitment of super-engineer Ricardo Divila to the team, the squad may well see a breakout in terms of results this year. It has to be said however, the Dunlop tyres are not performing at the same level as the Bridgestones, Advans or Michelins.
That's my assessment of the 'runners & riders' in the GT500 class. Stay tuned for a run-down of the GT300 machinery in my next post.
– Len Clarke