I've had some time to reflect on the season-ending round of Super GT at Twin Ring Motegi. It was action-packed with intense battles played out in both classes for the duration of the 250km event. Up front it was a massive fight between the race-winning and title-winning machines: the outgoing champions Andre Lotterer and Juichi Wakisaka in the TOM'S LEXUS SC430 vs. the new title-holders Loic Duval and Takashi Kogure in their Honda HSV-010GT. With the victory, the TOM'S pairing took 2nd in the title chase.
This was the shortest race of the season, and coupled with the fact that handicap weights had been removed meant an all-out sprint attack for the 37 competing machines. Finishing third in GT500 was the Real Racing HSV-010GT of Kodai Tsukakoshi and Toshihiro Kaneishi, the result cementing an equal position in the title hunt.
Most disappointed was the Team LeMans pairing of Bjorn Wirdheim and Daisuke Ito in their LEXUS SC430. Having gone into the weekend just a single point off the lead in the title chase, their non-scoring result saw the team fall to fourth in the championship.
Meanwhile in GT300, the HASEMI Motorsport squad not only dominated and won the final race of the year, they took the title as well.
Erstwhile points' leaders the ARTA Garaiya duo of Morio Nitta and Shinichi Takagi was another pairing to fall back in the final race of 2010, their 12th-place finish knocking them into 2nd place in the GT300 rankings.
The only car (from either class) to take two victories this season was the Re Amemiya RX-7 of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Ryo Orime, though they too, fell victim to circumstance in the race, netting only eighth place. Despite the result, they still took third in the title chase.
The weekend got off to a sunny start on Saturday morning with all teams eager to get in some track time after being out of action for two months due to the previous round at Fuji Speedway being cancelled because of a strong typhoon. Making its third appearance of the season was the ZENT Porsche RSR.
The final round of the season was one of despair for the ThunderAsia Racing squad as a blown engine on Saturday ended their weekend prematurely. The only foreign-based team (Singapore) has vowed to move operations to Japan for next season to take advantage of all the local talent and shorter turnaround time in situations such as they faced at Motegi.
It was the first visit for the Legacy B4 GT300 to Motegi, and getting the car set up optimally was a bit of a gamble in qualifying. The silver machine ending in a subdued 20th place out of 24 cars contesting the class. This side-angle shot shows just how gigantic the wheel arches are – and what a difference it is from its road-going cousin.
The Aston Martin Vantage GT2 made it into the second of the three knockout-style qualifying sessions, netting 9th in GT300.
Motegi also saw the return of the #51 Porsche GT3 RS from Team Taisan, taking part in its third round of the season.
The exit of Victory Corner proved slippery for the GOODSMILE RACING Porsche 911 GT3RS on Saturday – not the fastest way around a turn, though it did look cool!
While the Nissans negotiate it perfectly.
Victory Corner again, this time from another angle. The LMP Motorsport Ferrari F430 GT gets all crossed up at a point where a slew of cars went off, briefly stopping the session on two occasions while gravel was removed from the racing line.
The Re Amemiya RX-7 was in top form as it got into the swing of things on its final competitive outing. I'll be doing a feature on the car after the 'Sprint Cup' (a post-season non-championship double-header taking place at Fuji Speedway in ten days' time).
Come race-day morning, the LMP Motorsport F430 GT duo were back in top form, keeping their charge on the black stuff.
But it was the #17 HSV-010GT that topped the Free Practice session, just a hair's breadth away from the pursuing #18 Honda.
Concern on the faces of Team LeMans boss Donuma-san as he, driver Bjorn Wirdheim and an engineer learn of a likely penalty for leaving the pitlane under a red light on the way to the grid. Their worst fears would come to pass, ruining any realistic chance they had at the title.
Outgoing champion Andre Lotterer meanwhile, was in top form and his driving in the first stint would set up a well-earned win from fifth on the grid.
Standing in for regular driver Andre Couto, whose son's Leukemia has relapsed (www.saveafonso.com), is Dutch hotshoe Carlo Van Dam, making his first race appearance in a GT500 car.
The race got underway in dreary conditions. Although the grey clouds overhead didn't dump any rain, it was a pretty gloomy afternoon.
It was a lights-to-flag victory in GT300 as the Nissan Fairlady Z (350Z) of Kazuki Hoshino and Masataka Yanagida were never headed in the 49-lap race (53 laps for the GT500 cars).
Fans galore. The announced number of 32,000 is below the average attendance for a SUPER GT event, but the stands were nonetheless packed.
Taniguchi jumped up three positions to third place early on, showing the competitiveness of the outgoing rotary-powered machine.
There was no love lost among the Nissan GT-Rs in GT500 as handicap-weightless they battled hard for position.
While there was a huge battle going on for the lead in the GT500 class, this fight for third place in GT300 was more intense, going on relentlessly lap after lap, the cars incredibly evenly matched. Taking the final step on the podium was the #86 JLOC Lamborghini RG-3 of Koji Yamanishi and Yuhi Sekiguchi, just beating the seasoned duo of Tetsuya Tanaka and, in his best effort of the season, Katsuyuki Hiranaka.
Just off the podium in GT500 was the #35 MJ KRAFT LEXUS SC430. Winners at Fuji Speedway in May, this was their next best result and meant sixth in the title hunt.
The R&D SPORT-run Legacy B4 GT300 jumped ten positions to take the final points-scoring spot with 10th place. Here Kouta Sasaki uses every available inch of real estate (and this is the final lap!) to stay ahead of the Taisan Porsche and ARTA Garaiya.
Juichi Wakisaka takes the #1 car across the finish line in P1, a fitting end to the 2009 Driver's Champions' 2010 campaign.
But it was this car that emerged victorious in the 2010 title fight. Pole position on its racing debut, pole again in Round 2, and once more in the final race of the season. It's been a year of ups and downs for the squad, but they were there when it mattered most. Loic Duval and Takashi are deserving champions.
- Len Clarke