Suzuka 1000 Kms Report
The 33rd Pokka International 1000km meeting was held at the Suzuka International Racing Course from 20 to 22 August. With less GT500 cars on the entry list than had been expected, and no international entry, the fans nevertheless hoped for the same kind of competition they had seen in recent years.

Suzuka 1000km veterans, and multiple winners, SARD entered their GT500 Supra and enlisted their JGTC "rival" Akira Iida as help for their regular drivers, Jeremie Dufour and Andre Couto.

This team (above) was regarded as the "most likely to succeed", but two Honda NSX teams had other ideas. The 2003 winning TAKATA Dome NSX (below) was driven by JGTC regular Ryo Michigami and Frenchman Sebastien Phillipe, together with ARTA NSX driver Daisuke Ito.

The Raybrig NSX (owned by Japanese 2- and 4-wheel racing legend Kunimitsu Takahashi) was driven by Shinji Nakano and Hiroki Katoh. The GT500 NSXs are equipped with new twin-turbo engines this year; so it was expected that these teams would use the race as a long-distance test session. Actually, their engines for this race were a new spec. only introduced at the last JGTC round.

The national "RS" class did little to compensate for the lack of international prototype entries; this class is not very popular in Japan. "RS" stands for "Racing Sports"; and most RS races are run at Suzuka. Only four cars were entered in this race but they were on the pace of, and sometimes quicker than, the GT300 cars - even the GT300 "monster" Vemac 320R was outpaced by them in qualifying. The drivers all know Suzuka well - their only problem would be the electrics: these cars usually run without headlights, so the batteries are quickly drained.

Of the eight cars in the GT300 class, five were Porsches. With JGTC stars such as Hidetoshi Mitsusada, Masami Kageyama and Hironori Takeuchi driving 996s, they were strong contenders for the class win. Non-Porsche opposition came in the shape of a Honda NSX (Xavier Pompidou joined up with regular drivers Kazuho Takahashi and Akira Watanabe), and two Mosler MT900s - the K-Stadium car (Tanigawa / Yamashita / Suho) in Gulf colours, and the Mach-Go entry from the JGTC.

Two weeks after the 24 Hours of Tokachi, the Super Taikyu class only had 10 entrants, among them a brand new car, the Motul Advan Nissan Z. This car has not raced in the Super Taikyu Series itself yet; it is rumoured to be the 2005 version. The second-generation Z was driven by second-generation drivers: Kazuki Hoshino, son of Kazuyoshi, Haruki Kurosawa, son of Motoharu (and brother of Takuya), and Masataka Yanagida (son of Haruto). This car Z had had no prior testing so their mission brief was to drive "very sensitively". A 1000k race certainly makes for a good test session.

The Open class had five entries, among them singer / racer / team owner Masahiko Kondo, of Le Mans fame. He shared a Cup 996 with the car owner, Tomoya Ichiraku, and former French F3 Champion Ryo Fukuda.

The weather was typically Japanese, hot and humid throughout the weekend. In the Friday practice session, the SARD Supra dominated the proceedings, and recorded the best lap with 1'57"750; but Dufour crashed it at the Degner curve later in the session, and the team had to work all night to repair the damage.

The rain that had been forecast for the qualifying sessions on Saturday did not arrive. In the very humid weather, NSX ace Ryo Michigami showed his and his car's potential with a 1'57"722. It was enough to clinch pole position. The Raybrig NSX qualified third with a 1'58"901; but the Honda party was spoiled by Dufour in the repaired and evidently race-worthy Supra, with a 1'58"071, enough for the outside of row 1. This car broke a driveshaft late in the session, with Iida driving - an omen for the race?

At 1 p.m., in the midday heat, the 173 lap race was started. The RS class pole-sitting Team NCL car of Ryohei Sakaguchi had to start from pit because of mechanical trouble. It would not be the only trouble for the RS cars.

At the head of the field, #18 Dome NSX driver Ryo Michigami kept his position in front of the #39 SARD Supra with Iida at the wheel. The contest was evidently between these two cars, as the #100 Raybrig NSX could only keep up with them for the first few laps.

dailysportscar.comOn lap 25, Akira Iida pulled a great move out of the hat at the Spoon curve, and took the lead from Michigami; at the end of that lap, the #18 NSX came into the pits, Michigami handed the car over to Daisuke Ito. Iida made his stop two laps later, Andre Couto took over the Supra, and the SARD pit crew took its time: the team lost three seconds in the pits, the #18 NSX gladly accepted the gift, and went into the lead. Again, the Supra was playing catch-up, and started to reel in the NSX; but on lap 36, with Couto still driving, it stopped. The car lost speed coming out of Spoon Curve, and came to a halt on the back straight with a complete electrics failure. From this moment on, NSX #18 comfortably controlled the race, with an advantage of 1 min. 30 secs over the second-placed #100 NSX. The race was effectively over.

In the GT300 class, pole position for the #9 Gulf Mosler translated into the lead early on; but it suffered a puncture and was overtaken by the #20 Porsche, JGTC Nissan driver Masami Kageyama and fellow GT500 competitor Hidetoshi Mitsusada showing good performance with this car. Meanwhile, the Mosler crew fought its way back up into third place, and fought it out with Porsche #72 (Hirakawa / Fukuyama / Sunako) for second. Now in second place, the Mosler began to fade during the final stage of the race; on lap 155, it was overtaken first by the Porsche, then by Pompidou's NSX. Finally, the #20 Porsche not only took victory in the GT300 class but also third place overall, followed by Porsche #72 and the #2 NSX.

The final stages of the Open Class race were worth watching. As it got dark, a light rain started to fall. Earlier on, the #25 Porsche had lost its engine cover, and two repair halts had cost this team lots of time. Also, owner / driver Ichiraku had spun the car on a few occasions. But Ryo Fukuda gave a remarkable demonstration of his talent, and on the wet track reduced the gap to second-placed #14, the Tomei Sport GT3R of Koyama / Watanabe / Sodeyama, to 13 seconds. This hard challenge took its toll: a late fuel stop on one of the last laps meant he had to settle for third place. With the (Saito / Yoshikawa / Haga) #112 Arktech-Mond Speed Cup 996, it added up to an all-Porsche Open Class podium.

The fastest, and also the most consistent, Super Taikyu team of the weekend was #6, the Falken-sponsored Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII of Tomiyasu / Seki. They were challenged hard by old reliable #1, an ex-Super Taikyu Nissan Skyline GTR; on lap 116, the Skyline took the lead. But this team's pitwork was far from perfect, and try as they might (and with the advantage of 4 wheel drive in the rain, both teams tried very hard), Kasuya / Misaki / "OSAMU" had to be content with second place. Meanwhile, the experimental Z "future car" spent several hours in its garage following a tyre failure and subsequent crash early in the race; Hoshino finally drove it across the finish line, but the team was not classified.

The RS cars experienced trouble on top of trouble. The fastest RS qualifier had to start the race from pit lane, the others frequently had problems with their batteries, crashed with other class car, or lost the headlights - the class winning #8 car also lost its headlamps as the sun set but the team was able to fix this; as the car got to the finish, in a respectable 14th place, the lights were about to fail again.

The fans felt this year's Suzuka 1000k left something to be desired. But the grand firework display at the end of the day made it a worthwhile experience for everybody. And next year the racers will hopefully provide the fireworks.
Tomoko & Johannes Gauglica

1 18 GT500 TAKATA Honda NSX R.MICHIGAMI S.PHILIPPE D.ITO 173 laps 6:08'47.528 2'00.502
2 100 GT500 Raybrig Honda NSX S.NAKANO H.KATOH 173 laps 6:10'17.930 2'00.944
3 20 GT300 ADVAN Porsche GT3-RSR H.WADA M.KAGEYAMA H.MITSUSADA 161 laps 2'10.156
4 72 GT300 Porsche 911 GT3-R A.HIRAKAWA H.FUKUYAMA S.JYUKUCHO 161laps 2'12.213
5 2 GT300 Honda NSX K.TAKAHASHI A.WATANABE X.POMPIDOU 161 laps 2'12.150
6 9 GT300 Gulf K-stadium Mosler MT900R T.TANIGAWA J.YAMASHITA S.SUHO 159 laps 2'10.291
7 69 GT300 Porsche GT3-RS M.WADA T.INOUE H.TAKEUCHI 157 laps 2'13.042
8 5 GT300 RD320R M.KIMOTO T.TAMANAKA M.HOTTA 156 laps 2'12.830
10 14 OPEN Tomei Sport Porsche GT3R ADVAN M.KOYAMA F.WATANABE S.SODEYAMA 150 laps 2'18.655
11 25 OPEN ADVAN DG Porsche GT3 T.ICHIRAKU M.KONDO R.FUKUDA 150 laps 2'18.316
12 6 S-E CT9A T.TOMIMASU Y.SEKI 150 laps 2'23.504
13 1 S-E BP ADVAN BNR34 GTR S.KASUYA K.MISAKI OSAMU 148 laps 2'21.837
14 8 RS SK93 T.SHIMAZAWA H.OHTA T.ITAKURA 145 laps 2'12.574
16 15 RS SK5.2 R.SAKAGUCHI K.WAKASONE H.NISHIMURA 145 laps 2'10.005
17 45 S-E DC5 T.ASANO T.KASAHARA K.MIZUKAKI 144 laps 2'28.829
20 87 S-E RISO DC5 T.KANAMORI H.NOJI S.TAKI 135 laps 2'27.138
21 70 GT300 Porsche 911 GT3-RS F Y.ISHIBASHI K.HOSHINO Y.YAMAGISHI 134 laps 2'13.466
22 602 S-E CP9A M.OKADA T.IWATSUKI Y.TORII 133 laps 2'30.643
23 280 S-E alpinestars PIRELLI NA2 S.MAEJIMA T.KOUNO K.KITANO 128 laps 2'26.708
24 47 OPEN Porsche 993 R.KUMITA T.SHIMIZU I.YOSHIDA 126 laps 2'19.453
25 80 OPEN JZA80 J S.KONDOU A.YOSHIMOTO A.TSUZUKI 123 laps 2'23.377
230 S-E Z33 H.KUROSAWA M.YANAGIDA K.HOSHINO 86 laps 2'22.665
22 RS SK5.2 M.YAMAMOTO H.MIYAGI K.YAMAMOTO 91 laps 2'11.948
00 RS SK93 Y.WAKAHARA T.UEDA M.UEDA 86 laps 2'11.047
39 GT500 JZA80 J.DUFOUR A.COUTO A.IIDA 36 laps 2'00.700
32 S-E PCJ A.FUJITA Y.HARA H.MATSUDA 14 laps 2'16.602


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