Sunday of the JAF Grand Prix Fuji Sprint Cup weekend was highlighted with the second pair of 22-lap single-class SUPER GT events, the crowds out in full force on the last of the three jam-packed days of motorsport action. The GT500 entrants got off the line with the #12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda on pole, though it was a position he wouldn't hold onto for long…
Daisuke Ito in the #6 ENEOS SC430 had started in 2nd place, but pounced into the top spot just moments after the starting lights went out. It was a position he was to hold onto unchallenged.
Kazuya Oshima in the MJ Kraft SC430 fell back initially but then really roared toward the front. He got up to 2nd place, crossing the line less than one second behind the winner, though was never in a serious position to challenge for the lead.
In contrast to his 2010 GT500 title-winning partner Loic Duval on the previous day, Takashi Kogure was able to avoid trouble around him, leaping up the order in the early stages of Sunday's race to move from a starting position of twelfth. He finished on the final step of the podium.
In the end, the #6 ENEOS-liveried LEXUS SC430 took the spoils in the JAF Grand Prix for the GT500 class, netting the cumulative top spot for the weekend after a sixth-place finish by Bjorn Wirdheim in the first race and the win in the second (It was also Ito's first victory since he became a Toyota driver at the start of the 2008 season). The win was a bit of sweet justice after the bitter disappointment a couple of weeks earlier in the 2010 SUPER GT season finale at Motegi where the team lost any chance at the crown after a mistake on the way to the starting grid.
Pole-sitter Tsugio Matsuda had a less-than-stellar event to eventually finish fifth – though he was top among the trio of GT-Rs.
Yuji Tachikawa in the #38 Cerumo SC430 fell back after making contact at the start. In stark contrast to his teammate winning the first race, he finished at the bottom of the timesheets in race 2 after serving one of the many drive-through penalties meted out during the race.
Recently-crowned 2010 Formula Nippon champion J.P. de Oliveira was also in the wars in this event, netting a pair of penalties in the race – including one drive-through. It didn't stop him from salvaging 10th place after an incident-filled 22 laps.
It's nice to see all three factories battling so close together – a hallmark of SUPER GT.
And while this image is not dissimilar, I've included it to illustrate the many battles Juichi Wakisaka was involved in during the race. It was by no means a crash-fest, but there was a lot of very aggressive driving – terribly exciting to watch. Wakisaka went on to finish seventh after starting in 11th.
In GT300, Haruki Kurosawa was just 75 thousandths off pole in the Vemac RD408R (the car runs the same engine as 997-type 911s, the M96/77), but both he and pole-winner Morio Nitta in the ARTA Garaiya were handed drive-through penalties for jumping the start – which in all fairness, was rather obvious.
Leaping to the front was the pair of Nissan Fairlady Zs, the #3 car (recently-crowned GT300 champions) from seventh (to 2nd) and the #46 MOLA machine from 6th to the lead. They ran in the opposite order to the image above until Yokomizo (#3) darted past Yanagida a little after the halfway point. The pair of Nissans led until the last five laps when…
…a truly on-form Ferrari F430 GT, this time with Tetsuya Tanaka at the wheel, demoted the pair to 2nd and third places. The Italian car would go on to score perfectly in the JAF Sprint Cup standings with a pair of victories over the course of the weekend. After finishing fifth in the first race, the #3 Z of Hoshino and Yanagida took an overall 2nd place in the JAF Grand Prix standings.
In its last-ever race, the RE Amemiya RX-7 looked majestic. It is a car with a storied history, and one with many successes. Nobuteru Taniguchi left the grid in twelfth, and despite not being able to use tactics (the team is famous for employing strategies such as changing only two tyres in pitstops etc. in regular-season events) he vaulted the rotary-powered car six positions (exactly as teammate Orime did in the first race) to run sixth at the flag.
Another crowd favourite is the R&D SPORT LEGACY B4 GT300, this time at the hands of Kouta Sasaki. Without enough time to sort the car prior to the weekend's pair of sprints, the team had their work cut out – and a 16th-position start netted only a 15th-place finish. Disappointing for the car that so convincingly took its maiden victory earlier this season.
Disappointment too for Hideshi Matsuda, who, in stark contrast to his teammate Hiroki Yoshimoto the previous day, qualified only 20th for Sunday's race, going on to reach the chequered flag in a muted 16th place.
The whole JAF Grand Prix Fuji Sprint Cup weekend was thrilling, though unbelievably busy. If they hold it again next year, and I sincerely hope they do, it is, in my opinion, something well worth making the trip all the way to Japan for. How's that for a testimonial!
– Len Clarke