Autopolis, October 6: The penultimate round of the 2013 SUPER GT season got off to a very soggy start, so wet in fact, that all of the round's Saturday sessions had to be called off due to the severe weather conditions. Dense fog and driving rain at the circuit located in Japan's southern island of Kyushu put paid to any on-track activity throughout the opening day of the meet, meaning that official qualifying had to be run on race morning, just hours before the start of the 65-lap event.
Always a favourite among fans and drivers alike, Autopolis presents its own unique set of challenges - and never fails to deliver an exciting race. Despite the hastily arranged changes to the weekend's schedule, the event went off without even the slightest hitch. As scheduled, the race began at 2:00pm, with heavily laden clouds threatening to unload their contents at any moment. The downpour never came however, and the race was run largely in the dry. A damp track at the start did catch out a few competitors, but as the expression goes, 'the cream always rises to the top', and this was no exception as the best drivers made it through to finish in the top positions after 300kms' racing.
Qualifying's truncated sessions produced the first pole position of the season for the GT300-class NDDP S Road Nissan GT-R, and the car would go on to lead the early stages of the race. Almost as if on cue however, trouble arose for the NDDP (Nissan Driver Development Program) squad, this time an electrical gremlin sidelining the car that has led the last three races - and retired from each. In their wake, an impressive run for the Arnage Racing-entered Aston Martin Vantage V8 saw the car lead for a while before eventually taking second place at the flag. The machine that came through the hotly-contested 24-car field was the GSR HATSUNEMIKU BMW - the same machine that took a convincing win last time out in Round 6 - and which, prior to that, had performed so convincingly at the 1,000km event at Suzuka until a penalty nullified their result there. The car is now one of a gaggle of machines that can mathematically take the title at the final round of the season, taking place at Twin Ring Motegi in three weeks' time.
The GT500 class saw the Round 6 winners from Team LeMans in their ZENT-liveried Lexus SC430 take pole, and duly lead the vast majority of Sunday afternoon's proceedings. It was only in the last handful of laps that the similar TEAM TOM'S SC430, which had started tenth but quickly scythed its way through the field, threaten the leaders. With three laps to go, former F1 driver Kazuki Nakajima slipped past at the second hairpin in a perfectly-timed move, securing the team's second victory of the season after also winning at their home track, Fuji Speedway in May.
The series moves on to the final event of the season on November 2-3 at Motegi. Typical of the closeness of the competition in SUPER GT, there are no fewer than eight cars in GT500, and five entries in GT300, that - mathematically anyway - can take the title at the season-ender.