The Tokachi 24 Hours
Ara's Second 24 Hour Win
The Eleventh Tokachi 24 Hours Endurance Race was held in Tokachi, Hokkaido, Japan on 7-8 August. Just as for the JGTC a month before, the shorter Clubman course at the Tokachi International Speedway was used.

The East Circuit of Tokachi Speedway is a stop-and-go track comparable to the Twin Ring Motegi, except that Tokachi is flat. The only perceptible elevation change for the drivers is the gentle uphill slope as the cars go the final corner and onto home straight.

dailysportscar.comThe race was started by 37 cars that were divided into several classes: four cars ran in Class 1 (all of them Porsches – wherever there is an endurance race, there will be Porsches running); six cars in Class 2 (two Subaru Imprezas and four Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIIIs); seven cars in Class 3 (two Mazda RX-7s, two Nissan Zs [C-West car, right], two Honda NSXs and one BMW M3); Class 4 had 12 entrants, all of them Honda Integras and S2000s; six cars ran in Class N+ (Honda Accord, Integra and Toyota Altezza modified production tourers); and two Production Class cars (a Civic and an Integra)., There was also a class for JGTC cars, with no entries this time. As the Nürburgring 24 Hours earlier this year showed, JGTC cars are not built to last for 24 hours. A fair number of JGTC drivers were present anyway.

This event is a round of the Super Taikyu League, an endurance racing series for GTs and touring cars; the field is lined up according to the championship points table, and the cars’ nominal performance : the Class 1 cars line up in front of Class 2, and so on. There is no qualifying session. This year, determining the pole sitter was a little trickier than usual as three cars have so far scored an identical number of points in Class 1. Based on the number of race wins, it was still a dead heat; so the winners of round 1, the Falken Motor Sports Porsche 996, lined up at the head of the field, with the winners of round 2, the Advan Kondo Endless Porsche, alongside. It was a battle of the tyre manufacturers, with both cars liveried in the company colours - the blue and turquoise of Falken vs. Advan’s red and black. With company pride at stake, and double points to be won at the end of the race, reinforcements were brought in. The Falken team chose Le Mans winner Seiji Ara to accompany Nürburgring regular Tetsuya Tanaka and ex-JGTC champion Hironori Takeuchi. The Kondo squad called upon Dominik Schwager - Kondo’s driver in Formula Nippon last year and current Advan-backed JGTC driver - to join Takayuki Aoki and Mitsuhiro Kinoshita. Shinichi Yamaji and Advan works drivers, Nobuteru Taniguchi and Manabu Orido were lined up to drive the third placed Advan DG Xenadrine Porsche 996 GT3. Another interesting entry was the Class 3 pole sitter, the Mobilecast Advan Nissan Z for Kazuki Hoshino (son of Nissan legend Kazuyoshi Hoshino), Masataka Yanagida, JGTC driver Yuji Ide, and the reigning JGTC Champion, Satoshi Motoyama. Call this the Nissan works car if you will (below), we couldn’t possibly comment.

Further back on the grid, the Formula Toyota Racing School (FTRS) fielded two Spirit / TOM’s Altezzas in Group N+ for a group of Formula 3 drivers. None of the F3 hotshots had raced a touringcar before, not to mention in a 24 hour race; the regular FTRS Spirit Altezza drivers acted as mentors and shared their experience with the young rookies. This team, too, showed signs of factory involvement.

In free practice on Sunday morning, the Kondo Porsche had to stop twice out on the course. The first stop was down to a minor electrical issue but the second problem was more serious, the brakes were acting up. The Advan Xenadrine Porsche had developed a drive shaft problem, and they had to change all the transmission. All this, and the race had not even yet started. With pole position guaranteed, the Falken team skipped this session altogether to save car and drivers for the race.

And so at 1500 hours on 7 August, on a sunny, breezy Saturday afternoon, the race was on. The Advan Xenadrine 996 took the early lead, Orido at the helm; but the fourth of the front-running Class 1 Porsches, the Porsche Club Japan entry with Masami Kageyama, caught him before the first pit stop. The fastest cars were close together; the first round of scheduled stops brought no change, and no car was able to pull away. Then the Kondo Porsche disappeared from the picture: a slow puncture and subsequent repairs lost this car three laps.

As the sun set over the Tokachi circuit, the drivers had to come to terms with a weather conditon not unknown to this part of the country: fog. A faint haze when the lights went on the racecars around 7 p.m., it grew more and more dense as the ambient temperature dropped. At this time, the teams of Advan Xenadrine - quicker on the course - and Falken - quicker at the pit-work - seemed to be the two main contenders for this 24 hour race. But this battle ended prematurely: the Advan 996 pulled off the track with transmission trouble, and had to be towed back to the repair area.

Now the Falken Porsche established what looked like a secure lead; but the Kondo squad came back to second position, and the gap between these two cars was still only a single lap: less than two minutes. A small problem for the Falken car was all it would take for the Kondo Porsche to take over first place.

With a close race for the overall lead, there was plenty of action in the other classes as well, on the track and on pit row. The favourites in Class 2, the Advantage From A team which had won its class three times in a row, had to change the transmission on its Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII MR before the ninth hour, and lost almost 90 minutes; this left the Fujitsubo Subaru Impreza in control of the class. The BP Advan NSX led Class 3 for a long time with a steady run, but then lost the left rear wheel and also went “behind the wall”. It got the class lead back when its main rival, the (works?) Nissan Z needed a new driveshaft.

And just when you think things have settled down a bit, someone takes the script and throws it out of the window. With just four hours to go on Sunday, the Kondo Porsche, which had so far only made routine stops, made an unscheduled pit call, and went straight into the garage. A drivetrain problem had hit the 996, and the team realised that a quick fix was not an option if they wanted to get the car to the finish. They spent 25 minutes sorting out the problem. Roughly at the same time, the fight for the lead in Class 4 came to an end: the Verno Tokai Honda Integra was en route to a class win when it lost the left front wheel and hub. It was back on the road 12 laps later, but another Honda, the S2000 of the Forward Spoon team (they also took part in the Nürburgring 24 hours earlier this year) went on to win the class.

Two hours to go, and the Class N+ leaders were still running on the same lap; then the ARTA FOS Toyota Altezza stalled in the pits and took six laps to get going again (a fuel pump was the culprit in this instance), and so the #37 FTRS Spirit Altezza, one of the teams of Formula 3 “Learner Drivers”, scored a popular victory.

With the Kondo Porsche out of immediate contention, the Falken team was not in a hurry anymore. Until, with just 65 minutes left on the clock, the blue-and-turquoise Porsche limped into the pits with a broken shock absorber. Suddenly, everyone in the Falken garage was wide awake again. How long would it take them to get the car back out? – 15 minutes later, they were on their way again; and the Kondo crew realised they would not win the race this year.

And so at 1500 hours on 8 August, on a sunny breezy Sunday afternoon, the race was over. Behind the two Porsches, the Mobilecast Nissan Z had worked its way not only to the top of Class 3, but also to third place overall, overtaking the entire Class 2 field in the process. The Class 2 winning Fujitsubo Impreza came across the line just after them, and missed out on the overall podium. The F3 boys with their 2 litre Altezza came home in fifth, a fine endurance racing debut. And to conclude the string of class winners, the Forward Spoon Honda S2000 finished in seventh place and won Class 4.

But the title of “Best of the Best” goes to the Falken Motor Sports team: Hironori Takeuchi, Tetsuya Tanaka, Seiji Ara, and the Falken Porsche 996 were the winners of the 2004 24 Hours of Tokachi.
Tomoko Kobayashi & Johannes Gauglica

1.) #33 - 1st Falken Porsche 996 - 24:00’02.342, 947 laps
Hironori Takeuchi / Tetsuya Tanaka / Seiji Ara (winner, Class 1)

2.) #1 - Advan Kondo Endless Porsche 996 - 24:00’05.164, 927 laps
Mitsuhiro Kinoshita / Takayuki Aoki / Dominik Schwager (2nd, Class 1)

3.) #245 - Mobilecast Advan Nissan Z - 24:00’39.766, 910 laps
Kazuki Hoshino / Yuji Ide / Masataka Yanagida / Satoshi Motoyama (winner, Class 3)

4.) #2 - Fujitsubo Subaru Impreza - 24:00’20.649, 909 laps
Toshihiro Yoshida / Kazuo Shimizu / Kohji Matsuda / Tsutomu Shibuya (winner, Class 2)

5.) #37 - FTRS Spirit Toyota Altezza - 24:02’01.660, 901 laps
Masahiko Kageyama / Taku Bamba / Kazuki Nakajima / Sakon Yamamoto (winner, Class N+)

6.) #55 - ARTA FOS Toyota Altezza - 24:02’02.020, 896 laps
Kyosuke Mineo / Naoki Yokomizo / Shinichi Takagi / Hironori Saga (2nd, Class N+)

7.) #96 - Forward Spoon ED Honda S2000 - 24:01’14.368, 891 laps
Hideki Okada / Daisuke Ito / Naoki Hattori / Itsuki Ichishima (winner, Class 4)

8.) #10 - Advan Verno Tokai Move DC Honda Integra - 24:00’55.548, 890 laps
Takamasa Nakagawa / Akira Watanabe / Seiji Shiobuchi / Takahisa Ohno (2nd, Class 4)

9.) #86 - hpi racing Subaru Impreza - 24:00’20.750, 886 laps
Kazuhiro Koizumi / Yasushi Kikuchi / Haruhiko Matsumoto / Naoya Yamamo (2nd, Class 2)

10.) #15 - Racing Sparco Dixel Mazda RX-7 - 24:01’04.546, 880 laps
Masaaki Nagashima / Masaoki Nagashima / Tadao Uematsu / Isamu Tabata (2nd, Class 3)


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