The Super GT championship returns to action this weekend as the series moves into its final stages.
Team Wako’s dominance throughout the previous rounds means the rest of the frontrunners, including New Zealander Nick Cassidy, will have their work cut out for them as they battle for the remaining championship points. Catch all the action live and free on the Motorsport.tv website on Sunday afternoon.
|Autopolis – Ōita Prefecture, Japan|
|Circuit Length||4.673 km / 2.904 mi||Opened||1990|
|First Super GT Event||1999 (non-championship)||Direction||Clockwise|
When it opened in 1990, Autopolis International was met with rounds of fanfare, being touted as the future of motor racing. It was designed as a place for Japanese notables to escape the city life whilst watching motor-racing.
Whilst that goal was never realised, and the circuit has changed owners several times, it still operates today, hosting a range of national championships, including Super GT and Super Formula.
The circuit features several long straights, a series of switchbacks to the north of the course, and number of technical corners as drivers push into the second half of the track.
The circuit’s location, some 3000 metres above sea level, means that the air is significantly thinner, leading to cars struggling for air and tuning set-ups need to be changed accordingly.
|2019 AUTOBACS Super GT Autopolis 300 Km – Provisional Schedule|
|Event Dates||07-08 September 2019||Free Practice Session 1
|Qualifying Session 1||Sat 14:30-15:05||Qualifying Session 2||Sat 15:15-15:43|
|Warm-up Session||Sun 12:55-13:15||Race (65 laps)
All session times quoted in Japan Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 9:00)
Rewind to 2018
Last year’s Autopolis race made up the 2018 series’ seventh round, as opposed to the sixth round slot it takes up this year.
The race marked Cassidy and Hirakawa’s first win for the season in the #1 KeePer TOM’s Lexus (pictured above); keep in mind Cassidy and Hirakawa lost the championship by one point last season, so the podium finish so late in the season wasn’t of concern.
Cassidy and Hirakawa rose from fifth place to finish in first, placing them in the lead of the Super GT Championship standings leading into the final round. The #36 au TOM’s Lexus placed second, with the #19 Wedsport ADVAN Lexus round out the podium, a very similar offering of cars as this season.
The eventual championship winners, Jenson Button and Naoki Yamamoto, struggled in the final sector of this race, slipping back two places in the last six laps.
Meanwhile the venerable Nissan GT-R entries showed their age and struggled to earn points in the race.
The Autopolis Form Guide
As has been something of a feature in 2019, wet weather could well play a role at this weekend’s race, with the forecasts predicting rain.
Heavy skies might be the only thing however, that can help the Lexus teams lock out another race. With the Wako’s LC500 currently dominating, being one of the only GT500 teams to ever win two races in a row, the weight handicap on their car is substantial. The added weight may help the team keep the car stuck to the ground if the weather turns sour, however.
Teams with lesser handicaps, such as the KeePer TOM’s LC500 of Cassidy and Hirakawa might also be looking to take advantage of the added ballast and slip into the top spot of the championship as we head towards the penultimate round.
A pair of drivers slowly slipping from a podium finish are defending champions Jensen Button and Naoki Yamamoto. In a recent interview with Motorsport.com, Button said that a two-peat of the championship was unlikely.
“We’ve been very unlucky with three races, accidents,” he explained.
Considering last year’s performance at Autopolis, a podium looks unlikely for the former Formula 1 champion. The Honda NSX-GT teams have been struggling with cooling issues all season, and the thin air of Autopolis International will only make it harder for the NSX to produce results.
Image via Super GT