Japanese manufacturer Nissan had at least two reasons to celebrate last week, as two of the Nissan-supplied teams managed to take home one championship title each in the japanese Super GT series.
Autobacs Super GT is a touring car series similar to the german touring championship DTM, but with heavy emphasis on endurance, and each race last between an hour to up to five hours. The series feature two divisions, the slower GT300 and the faster GT500, with both divisions racing on the same track simultaneously to increase intensity in the long races, as the faster GT500 cars regularly have to find a way past the GT300 cars without losing too much time.
Much like in 2014, Nissan's GT-R was the most dominant car on the grid this season, with the GT500 GT-Rs winning four out of eight races this season. Although starting with a bleak 13th place in the season opener in Okayama, defending champions Tsugio Matsuda (Japan) and Ronnie Quintarelli (Italy) for team Nismo followed up with a pole position and a win at Fuji's first race. They managed a top ten streak for the four subsequent races at Chang in Thailand, Fuji round 2, the 1000 kilometer race at Suzuka and Sugo, and managed their second win of the season at Autopolis. The season was not settled until they finally managed to score a second place in the last race of the season held on the Twin Ring Motegi, Japan. Nismo is now one of few Super GT teams to successfully defend a title. When asked how he felt after the race, Quintarelly responded:
"To tell you the truth, I thought it was going to be difficult for us to win the championship. Before the start of this 8th round I thought that we were probably in a difficult situation. Five laps before the pit stop, I was getting close to car No. 12, and that made me feel that we might win the championship after all. I feel that today's race has probably shortened my life by about five years. I also want to thank Matsuda-san for getting in shape [to help us win the title]."
Meanwhile, in the GT300 division, Gainer's GT-R had a similarly strong season, as André Couto (Macau) and Katsumasa Chiyo (Japan) won two races, scored a second place at Autopolis and managed to remain within the points through the whole season, while their Mercedes SLS sister car, driven by Björn Wirdheim (Sweden) and Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Japan) only managed a fifth in the championship compared to last year's second position.
Nissan's rivals had an overall decent season, but their cars lacked the GT-R's consistency throughout the season. In the GT500 division, Toyota's Lexus RC-F proved quite competitive in dry conditions. Lexus' KeePer TOM's team, with Andrea Caldarelli (Italy) and Ryo Hirakawa (Japan) managed two wins: one win at the season opener in Okayama, and one win at the season finale in Motegi. Two places out of the points were enough to place them in fifth, one place behind fellow Lexus team Zent. The second generally strong Lexus team, Lexus Petronas with James Rossiter (Great Britain) and Daisuke Ito (Japan) behind the wheel, managed only a seventh place due to one retirement and a streak of bad luck this season. Lexus Petronas claimed one win this season (1000km Suzuka).
Much like the last season, Honda had a difficult time with making their new Honda NSX-GT competitive, and the NSX only really shone in wet conditions. Nevertheless, Raybrig sponsored team Kunimitsu, featuring japanese drivers Naoki Yamamoto and Takuya Izawa, made the most of their car, and despite two retirements due to collisions and one place outside of the points at Autopolis, the two podiums in Okayama and Motegi and the win at Sugo was enough for Team Kunimitsu to grab the third place in the championship. Next Honda powered team ended up 8th in the championship. The main reason Honda is facing troubles in this series is believed to be due to difficulties with the chassis. The regular NSX is an all wheel drive mid-engine super car, while the NSX-GT use a rear wheel drive, front-engine layout to comply with current regulations, and its believed that Honda has a hard time finding the correct balance for this setup. The NSX has the only hybrid engine in the GT500 division, but has not show any of the weaknesses of it's Formula 1 counterpart.
Meanwhile, due to a new partnership between Super GT and DTM, the two series will be getting more and more similarities in terms of technical regulations. Both series has since 2014 begun to move on to using turbocharged inline four engines and Drag Reduction Systems, or DRS, and more changes are supposedly under way. When questioned in a press conference after round 7, Chairman Bandoh stated:
"I went to confirm about this issue as well as sustenance of the collaboration between two parties. I came back with it and then discussed with the manufacturers of Japan the other day. We are precedingly using an inline 4-cylinder turbo engine and there is no change in that. We have been and will continue to be discussing positively with the German side."
The full season finale with english commentary was uploaded by Nismo TV on Youtube for anyone to watch, and can be viewed below.
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing