The longest race of this year's SUPER GT was the 500km event at Suzuka Circuit (Suzuka city, Mie prefecture) where, despite bewildering changes in the weather, the #46 S Road MOLA GT-R (Masataka Yanagida/Ronnie Quintarelli) was able to pull off a huge upset and come home in 2nd place.Behind them, the #12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Joao Paolo de Oliveira) took third, while the #23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama/Benoit Treluyer) finished fourth.
The #46 GT-R, fresh off its first victory in the category in the previous round held at SUGO in July, remained a contender despite the massive 82kgs' success ballast onboard the car. In the rain on the day before the race, the #46 GT-R made it two pole positions in a row, before the 87-lap event on Sunday, which began in wet conditions. Though it wasn't raining hard as the race got underway, the large amount of water on the track ensured that every car threw up huge rooster tails of water spray every time they raced past.
Starting from pole, Quintarelli immediately built up a healthy gap over the rest of the field, running out on his own in the lead. By lap 4 he was eight seconds ahead of the pack. However, the #23 GT-R, running on intermediate tyres, was able to run at a quicker pace and soon caught up and passed the #46 machine. The erstwhile leader made its pit stop and driver change on lap 31, though time lost while stationary meant the machine rejoined the fray down in seventh place. Yanagida took charge for the middle stint, during which time things became confused as the Safety Car had to be called out because of an accident by another machine, negating any advantage he had built up in his early laps. He returned to the pit to hand the car over to teammate Quintarelli on lap 61. At this juncture, the team chose slicks and right away the car set a cracking pace, devouring those around it despite the possible threat of more rainfall.Quintarelli picked off adversaries one by one with an aggressive drive that saw the Italian reach 2nd by lap 80. And this was after starting his stint in sixth position just 18 laps earlier! Betting on his ability to also depose the leader, he pushed on, getting to within 1.8 seconds of the #1 HSV on lap 84. However, the rain restarted in earnest with just two laps remaining, thwarting his efforts for the perfect upset. He crossed the finish line in 2nd place. The MOLA team took another major points-haul, firmly advancing their maiden title bid.
In this race, the talking point that had the fans rejoicing was the relentless pursuit demonstrated by the #23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R. Benoit Treluyer took the start from fifth on the grid, and on intermediate tyres, was instantly a threat to the then-leading #46 GT-R. By lap seven, Trelyer was through with a deft move, skillfully using a GT300 machine to get into the top spot. He remained in the lead until making his pit stop and hand- over to teammate Motoyama. With the rain expected to get heavier, the team decided to run wet tyres. However, this strategy backfired as the increase didn't materialize, the mostly dry track causing the rubber to overheat and Motoyama to lose positions. The car was back in the pits on lap 58,Treluyer once again taking the wheel. With new boots on the car, an improved pace resumed and the fightback from 8th place began. By the 71st tour the car had advanced to 6th, and by lap 84, the final stage of the race, it was up to fifth. Due to a time restriction, the race was called on the 86th lap, and at that stage, Treluyer had snatched another spot to take a commanding fourth-place finish. Motoyama commented: "I expected us to finish well here as we had been strong all weekend. We made the right tyre choice at the start of the race, though things went slightly astray for the middle stint. In the end we were able to recover sufficiently, despite getting a penalty. I believe we're looking strong for the remaining rounds of the season."
Suzuka is a track that traditionally has been good to the #12 GT-R, and start driver Oliveira continued this trend by advancing from his grid position of fourth to an immediate third place at the start, further improving to 2nd place by lap 3. From that point, although passed by the #23 GT-R, the #12 machine defended third place throughout the first half of the race. Following the #23 and #46 entries, it was a trio of GT-Rs at the head of the field in the race's early stages. Although the middle stint tyre choice backfired, briefly dropping the car down the order, the machine kept in touch throughout, finishing the race in third place.
The #24 ADVAN KONDO GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda/Bjorn Wirdheim) was unable to ride the crest of the GT-R wave right from Saturday qualifying, starting the race from 12th on the grid and finishing in 10th.
NISMO Team Director Yutaka Suzuki's comment:"We would have preferred it if things went more closely to plan, and I think we read a little too much into the weather for the middle stint. The conditions were so changeable today that it was difficult to react at times However, we were able to score points and demonstrate the drivability of the car. I believe we're in good shape considering the tracks we're set to visit for the remainder of the season. We hugely appreciate your continued support."
#46 GT-R driver Ronnie Quintarelli's comment:"It was my decision to switch to slicks at the second pit stop. Although the weather was constantly changing, I thought it was a gamble worth taking. I consulted with Ma (Yanagida) and also the Team Director and we came to an understanding. I'm pleased we were able to take a good number of points, even though we didn't take victory."