Nissan NISMO duo leads 2017 Super GT points tally with 2 races to go

  Another strong, consistent performance from Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda has propelled the No. 23 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT500 team to the top of the point standings after last Sunday’s Suzuka 1000km.

The 1000km race was held as part of the Super GT championship for the final time. For next year, a 10-hour race for GT3/GT300 spec cars will be run for the first time. Prior to the weekend, Quintarelli and Matsuda were only three points off the championship lead and were laden with an 82kg handicap weight (48kg actual ballast + second stage fuel restrictor).

The team’s single lap pace suffered with Quintarelli only able to qualify 12th fastest. At the green flag, however, the Italian gained one position on the opening lap and gradually made his way inside the top 10. He handed over to Matsuda on lap 29 who continued to make good progress through the pack to rise into podium contention. However, a later penalty for an unsafe pit stop release during the  middle stages of the race pushed them back to 12th place.

From that point on, the fight back began with Quintarelli and Matsuda charging back into podium contention. A crash by one of the leading cars elevated the No. 23 Motul/Autech GT-R to second place. They managed to hold that spot to the checkered flag to earn the runner-up spot for the second race in a row.

“From pre-season, I have been doing a lot of preparation for the Suzuka 1000km, including working on my stamina, and I think that made a big difference,” said Quintarelli. “Both Tsugio and I did the best we were capable of. It’s really unfortunate that we were hit with a penalty but I think we recovered well. The end of the 1000km last year saw us drag out a bad situation, but this year we were able to rise to the podium and I think we will be able to head into Thailand in positive spirits.”

The result has put Quintarelli and Matsuda into the championship lead by 11 points with only two rounds remaining. The drivers now have their sights set on the next round of the championship in Thailand on 8 October. The pair already has two championships as co-drivers in 2014 and 2015. “We both put everything we had into this race,” said Matsuda. “We might have had the potential to win but, to be honest, I didn’t expect us to be able to climb up this far. In the next round in Thailand, we are going to be the only ones assigned a fuel restrictor. Considering how the car felt at Fuji (where the same ranking restrictor was used), I don’t think it will be as big a burden as it was last year, but compared to other cars we will definitely be competing at a disadvantage. However, if the team works together to ensure we don’t lose this momentum, we will be able to grab the championship. I’ll be doing my best in the last two rounds.”

The No. 24 Forum Engineering GT-R started the race from pole with JP de Oliveira setting a new qualifying record. He led the race early and eventually finished fifth with Daiki Sasaki. Meanwhile, the no. 12 Calsonic Impul GT-R of Hironobu Yasuda and Jann Mardenborough started seventh and were strong early in the race, but contact with another car at the Suzuka chicane resulted in a damaged nose and subsequent penalty.

The No. 46 S Road Craftsports GT-R of Satoshi Motoyama and Katsumasa Chiyo started from fifth on the grid and battled strong at the front before Chiyo was squeezed off track exiting the hairpin and made contact with the tire wall. Repairs put them several laps down, and they fought on to a 14th place finish.

In the GT300,  Kazuki Hoshino and Mitsunori Takaboshi hopes were dashed by contact, a penalty and tyre issue on route to 14th place in the class, but Ryuichiro Tomita and Hiroki Yoshida took their no. 10 Gainer Tanaz GT-R to a hard fought fifth place result.