Two Super GT races in the space of a month sees the Japanese sports car championship head into its penultimate round of the 2019 season.
The Team Wako’s LC500 of Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita currently leads the championship by 10 points, sitting on 65, with their closest rival, the Lexus of Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy, sitting on 55 points. Will this be the round that Cassidy and Co. take the lead, or will Super GT be left up to a final round thriller like last season?
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|Sportsland Sugo – Miyagi Prefecture, Japan|
|Circuit Length||3.737 km / 2.323 mi||Opened||1975|
|First Super GT Event||1999 (non-championship)||Direction||Clockwise|
We return to Sportsland Sugo once again after the Super Formula race that was held earlier this year. Opened in 1975 by the Yamaha Motor Company as a test and race facility, whilst it originally focused on a much wider range of sports, hosting tennis, football and swimming events, the circuit focuses mainly on motorsports and tennis today.
The track features two layouts for both car and motorcycle racing, with the difference being the inclusion of a chicane on the final corner on the motorcycle variant. The circuit features two prominent straights, the first being after the ‘rainbow corner’ and the second being between the aptly named ‘final corner’ and ‘first corner’.
The circuit once held international events with the hosting of the World Superbike championship from 1988 until 2003. Currently the circuit has reverted to national level events, but does host the All Japan Road Race Championship, Japan’s premier motorcycle series, as well as Super Formula and Super GT, both of which you can catch here on MotorsportM8.
|2019 AUTOBACS Super GT Sugo 300 Km – Provisional Schedule|
|Event Dates||21-22 September 2019||Free Practice Session 1
|Qualifying Session 1||Sat 14:00-14:43||Qualifying Session 2||Sat 14:53-15:21|
|Warm-up Session||Sun 10:35-11:00||Race (81 laps)
All session times quoted in Japan Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 9:00)
The Sugo Form Guide
Qualifying well will be more critical than at any other event on the calendar, such is the Sugo circuit’s reputation as a track where overtaking is extremely difficult. The short lap and tight layout will see the field split into two qualifying groups to reduce the number of cars out on track at one time.
Expect some bold strategy calls over the 81-lap race. The year’s earlier Super Formula race saw half the field pit at the end of the opening lap in the hope of getting into clear air and ‘undercutting’ those on more conventional pit stop strategies. This kind of strategy is what we see when the teams are forced onto the smaller, tighter tracks that Japan has to offer.
In terms of drivers, we must call out the KeePer TOM’s LC500 of Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy. The pair stunned in the last race at Autopolis, overtaking three cars on the final lap of the race to grab the final spot on the podium. Miraculous efforts and consistency have allowed the pair to comfortably sit in second place on the championship for some time. However, the gap between the #37 car and the leading Wako’s L500 of Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita is only 10 points ahead, with a maximum of 42 points to play for over the remaining two rounds of the season.
The leading Lexus of Oshima and Yamashita is also carrying over 100kg of weight ballasts, and after finishing sixth at Autopolis, it seems unlikely they will be unable to defend their position from the relatively feather-weight KeePer TOM’s car. If Cassidy and Hirakawa can pull off another miracle, they might just slide into the championship lead after this race.
Meanwhile, frustrations from other manufacturers on the GT500 grid might cause troubles for Cassidy and Hirakawa. The NISMO team with their recently redesigned GT-R has seemingly disappointed throughout the season and has failed to live up to the hype. However as is with the KeePer TOM’s team, the GT-R driving pair of Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda has maintained incredible consistency, with two second place finishes and a third, landing them in fifth place on the standings. Keep in mind it is the team’s first season.
Image via Kartcom, Super GT