Autobacs SUPER GT – Round 3 – Sepang
27 Jun, 2011
Race day was the hottest yet in this race weekend at Sepang. By the time the formation lap started at 16:00, the heat had passed its peak and the skies were increasingly cloudy but it was still a hot 34 degrees C. with a 43-degree track surface temperature. When the official start was signaled after the formation lap, it was the pole-sitting No.1 Weider HSV-010 (Loic Duval) that got the hole shot. Following Duval into the first corner were the 2nd-place qualifier, the No. 46 S Road MOLA GT-R (Ronnie Quintarelli) and the 3rd-place No. 17 KEIHIN HSV-010 (Toshihiro Kaneishi). Behind them, the No. 12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R (Joao Paulo Lima de Oliveira) and No. 39 DENSO SARD SC430 (Takuto Iguchi) collided while running side-by-side. Both machines ran off the track as a result and dropped far back in the pack. Moving up into 4th position in their place was the No. 8 ARTA HSV-010 (Hideki Mutoh). In 5th position came the No. 24 ADVAN KONDO GT-R (Bjorn Wirdheim) and behind it a cluster of cars would begin a cramped battle for position.
Meanwhile, the top two machines managed to slip away from the pack and open up a considerable margin. Depending on the timing of their meeting back-markers after that, the gap between the two leaders would shorten and widen as these two machines alone continued to run laps in the 1'59 to 2' range. Some distance behind the two leaders there was a hot battle for 3rd raging from the early stages of the race. Locked in the close-quarters battle were Kaneishi in car No. 17 and Mutoh in No. 8. Farther back, in the group running behind Wirdheim in car No. 24, Takuya Izawa in car No. 100 RAYBRIG HSV-010 emerged to try to pass No. 24 on the last turn of lap six. Unfortunately the attempt failed as Izawa (No. 100) ran off the track and into the gravel bed. This dropped him back to last position in the GT500 class.
In the battle for sixth position, the No. 36 PETRONAS TOM'S SC430 (Andre Lotterer) overtook the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO SC430 (Kohei Hirate) on lap nine. After that, Lotterer in car No. 36 chased Wirdheim (No. 24) but the superior speed of the GT-R on the straights prevented him from making a decisive move. Meanwhile, Lotterer had to worry about cars No. 38 (Hirate) and the No. 35 D'STATION KeePer SC430 (Andre Couto) chasing his just a few tenths of a second behind him.
The next big development in the race came after the end of lap 16, when car No. 24 (Wirdheim), which had been blocking the trailing pack, and No. 12 (Oliveira) made their pit stops. After that, No. 39 (Iguchi) made its pit stop at the end of lap 19, followed by No. 36 (Lotterer), the No. 19 Weds Sport SC430 (Tatsuya Kataoka) and the No. 32 EPSON HSV-010 at the end of lap 20. At the end of lap 21, the leading pair of car No. 1 (Duval) and No. 38 (Hirate) made their pit stops. Car No. 46 (Quintarelli), which had moved into the lead after the leaders made their pit stops, finally made its own pit stop two laps later after lap 23, exactly half way into the race. After some quick pit work and changing drivers to Masataka Yanagida, car No. 46 rejoined the race just in front of car No. 1, which was now driven by Takashi Kogure. With his tires already warmed up, it wasn't difficult for No. 1 (Kogure) to pass No. 46 (Yanagida) on the second turn and retake the lead. After that, Kogure (No. 1) continued to widen his lead. Later, as the race entered its final stages, car No. 46 (Yanagida) suffered a shorting in the wiring in the cockpit that cause it to fall off the paces drastically. That ended it chances of chasing the leader any farther.
As a result of these developments, No. 1 Weider HSV-010 ran on to its first win of the season, having maintained a fast and consistent pace throughout the race. Finishing 2nd in the first GT podium finish for the team and the driver pair was the No. 46 S Road MOLA GT-R. In 3rd place came the No. 17 KEIHIN HSV-010, which had held on stubbornly despite struggling with its machine set-up.
In the season ranking, the No. 23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R managed to stay on top despite falling from 5th position to 14th in the second half of the race as its tires wore down due to the same no-tire-change strategy it had employed at the previous race at Okayama. This finish meant a no-pointer for the ranking leader. Moving to within 2nd place just one point below the ranking leader is the No.17 KEIHIN HSV-010. Another one point back in 3rd place in the ranking is this time's winner, the No. 1 Weider HSV-010. From fourth place down it is a close contest with half a dozen cars separated by just a few points. Already the series title race has turned into a hot contest
The GT300 class got off to an uneventful start. It was the pole-sitting No. 4 HATSUNEMIKU GOODSMILE BMW (Nobuteru Taniguchi) that got the best start, followed by the No. 88 JLOC LAMBORGHINI RG-3 (Yuhi Sekiguchi), the No. 27 PACIFIC NAC IKAMUSUME FERRARI (Hideki Yamauchi) and the No. 11 JIMGAINER DIXCEL DUNLOP 458 (Tetsuya Tanaka). Gradually, the lead BMW (No. 4) began to increase its margin over the pack.
The battle for 2nd place developed between the two Ferrari cars, No. 27 and No. 11. As they battled, No. 4 continued to increase its lead. Farther back in the field, the No. 2 EVANGELION RT TEST-01 IM·JIHAN Shiden (Hiroki Katoh), which had been unable to compete in the qualifying due to machine trouble and had to start from 14th position at the very back of the grid (for the third year in a row), was once again putting on a show of passing prowess while climbing to 5th position in just the first 10 laps.
Never faltering in the lead, Taniguchi in the No. 4 BMW managed to build a 14-second lead over the rest of the field before he finally made his pit stop and turned over the wheel to teammate Bamba. In contrast, the No. 11 Ferrari (Katsuyuki Hiranaka) had made an early pit stop and was closing to within 10 seconds of the fleeing leader, No. 4. Initially, both cars had been running laps in the 2'11 or 2'12 range, but with six laps remaining, Bamba's lap times in car No. 4 dropped by 2 or 3 seconds. Caught up in the battles of the GT500 cars mid-pack, Bamba's pace had been interrupted badly.
Seeing this, Hiranaka (No. 11) charged hard to try to catch him. With about six laps remain the gap was down to less than two seconds and with two laps remaining it had developed into a nose-to-tail battle between the lead BMW and the Ferrari. But Bamba in the BMW (No. 4) was not going to give up. Using his speed advantage on the straights, Bamba blocked the Ferrari in the turns and moved ahead on the straights to defend his lead for the final two laps to take the win.
It was the first GT win for the team and for the BMW Z4. No. 11 finished 2nd for the third race in a row. Finishing 3rd came car No. 27 (driven by Yutaka Yamagishi in the second half). For the third consecutive race this season the podium was swept by the European GT machines. Showing a magnificent rush to the front from the back of the grid was the No. 2 Shiden (driven by Kazuho Takahashi in the second half), and by holding off on its pit stop it had even taken the lead momentarily. However, a problem with the right-side door coming open in the final stages of the race, it finished in 10th place. With these results, car No. 11 (Tanaka/Hiranaka) moved to the top of the season ranking with its third straight 2nd-place finish. Eleven points back in 2nd lpace in the ranking is this time's winner, car No. 4 (Taniguchi/Bamba).