It took exactly one year for the SUBARU Legacy B4 GT300 to go from zero to hero in SUPER GT's most widely-subscribed class – and what a journey it has been.
Last year's debut of the car (at the Suzuka 700-km event in August) was a bit of a disaster as the car suffered mechanical failure during qualifying. It was a bitter pill for the crack R&D Sport team, entrusted by STI with the development of their latest charger. Two titans in Japanese motorsport coming together would surely produce an instant hit, wouldn't they?
For the remaining rounds of the 2009 season the team made steady progress – but were still massively behind pole time in this hugely competitive class. By the opening round of this year's campaign however (pictured) the car had made considerable progress. Even at this early stage the progress was undeniable.
And in the race, the car was passing rivals like the Taisan Porsche (which ironically took pole last time out in Round 6, also at Suzuka). The winter had been well worth all the hard work the team had undertaken. It has to be said though, R&D Sport are one of the most incredibly well-equipped outfits in the country. I remember on a visit to their Atsugi facility about three years ago, when Director Motojima-san was kind enough to give me a tour round. We came upon the autoclaves, rather a large area, and I gave a puzzled look at this one cavernous thing, over sixty feet long. Immediately, Motojima-san reassured me, saying,"Oh, this autoclave has nothing to do with cars. It's used purely for rocket components." Alrighty then. THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is Japan. Kickass in a different kinda way.
OK, back to my story…In the season's second race at Okayama in April, the car qualified 18th and finished 12th. Progress was being made, but it was no cake-walk. Then in Round 3, the 400km event at Fuji Speedway, the Legacy lined up 20th on the grid, but failed to finish after retiring at 1/3 distance. The decision was made to sit out the next race (allowed under the very accommodating regulations), the series' only overseas event at Sepang in June, using the break to conduct further development (also allowed in-season) before the next domestic event on the calendar, the end-of-July race at SUGO.
When the team showed up for Round 5, there was an air of confidence – a quiet, calm assertiveness permeated the air. They lined up 11th in qualifying, and in the race (initially anyway) showed remarkable pace.
The Legacy jumped three positions on the opening lap, running eighth at the completion of the first tour. From there, starting driver Kouta Sasaki kept up the pressure on those ahead (he's really good at that, and the perfect driver partner to three-time GT300 champion Tetsuya Yamano).
By the time Sasaki pitted on lap 34 he was third in class. Here's the SUBARU running with the top contenders in the class.
Later on, a spin just by the pit lane exit cost considerable time, and there were other delays too – but the point had been clearly made; they were here to fight – and once all the pieces fit, they were going to score.
So to Suzuka. Known as the toughest event on the calendar – in part due to the heat (Japan is crazy tropical) and the race distance, this is the most brutal test of man and machine in the series. Once again, the Legacy took 11th in qualifying – though it was only a hair away from making it into S3 (this event using a knockout format, as opposed to the regularly utilised Super Lap) – which decided the top ten on the starting grid.
In the race, the car performed perfectly. When all the pieces fit….
The sliver machine was passing title contenders early on.
Continuing to move up, the Legacy was 2nd in class after only 35 laps (of 121). This must surely have been ominous for the rest of the GT300 field. It took over the top spot on lap 83, staying there for good from lap 89. The car had finally arrived, and with aplomb, securing victory in what is surely the most challenging event on the SUPER GT calendar. The future for the Legacy seems to be one of fortune – if their performance thus far is anything to go by. And I think it just might be.
– Len Clarke