Sepang, Race Day
The Most Bizarre.....
© Janos Wimpffen
The forecast for today is hotter with potential
scattered bits of rainstorms in the afternoon. Again, it will be
a dance between the clouds and the cars. The 54 lap, 300 kilometer
race begins at 16:00, shortly after the peak heat of the day. Whatever
the conditions today it should be a far cry from last year’s
edition that was run in 41° ambient air and well into the 50s
on the track. Sure, you want to run soft tires in the heat but at
that stage drivers were complaining that the rubber and the asphalt
was effectively merging into one substance.
For such a comparatively short race, the day begins
with a 45-minute warm-up session, quite long in ratio to the race
length. Japanese teams pride themselves on teamwork perhaps more
than anywhere else in the world and this session gives an opportunity
to practise pit stop servicing and driver exchanges.
A few minutes
into the session I saw one of the most bizarre—no, the most
bizarre thing I’ve ever seen at any motor race. A fleet of
luxury buses, separated by a few hundred meters headed out down
the pit lane and onto the circuit while the race cars continued
circulating unabated. The buses were each filled by camera-toting
local VIPs, team sponsors, and anybody else who could wrangle an
invitation. They kept away from the racing line—sort of, but
it was fun to watch the GT cars dart around the 60 kph behemoths.
It gives new meaning to concepts like speed differential and backmarkers.
Try that in America and you’ll have a busload of lawyers arrive
faster than an R10. As it turns out, this is not an uncommon practice
at Super GT rounds. It has a name in Japanese that roughly translates
to “Zoo Tours”—analogous to tour buses trundling
past bemused lions and tigers.
Most teams appear to be running at race pace during
the warm-up. The top GT500 teams are all in the 2:00 bracket. The
GT300 runners are favoring the 2:11-2:12 range.
Here are the top times:
#32, Loic Duval, NSX, 2:00.765
# 8 , Ralph Firman, NSX, 2:00.814
# 3, J.P. de Oliveira, Nissan Z, 2:00.911
# 7, Tetsuya Yamano, RX-7, 2:10.784
# 19, Shigekazu Wakisaka, Celica, 2:11.301
# 27, Shogo Mitsuyama, Vemac, 2:11.741