After a fairly processional first half of the first-ever joint race weekend between the Japanese Super GT series and its European-based counterpart, DTM, Sunday’s Dream Race 2 at Fuji Speedway delivered plenty of excitement and drama…and incidents as Narain Karthikeyan (Super GT Modulo Epson Honda NSX-GT) won the safety car-punctuated finale.
After his heartbreaking exit on Saturday before even taking the start, Loic Duval (Audi RS 5 DTM) triumphed during Sunday morning’s qualifying session, earning second but taking pole following a grid penalty for the fastest car. Daisuke Nakajima (Motul Mugen Honda NSX-GT) had initially set the quickest lap, but a five-place penalty for changing the monocoque following a massive practice shunt for teammate Hideki Mutoh on Friday meant the Japanese racer would start what would be his final Super GT race from sixth. The 30-year-old announced his retirement today.
Indian driver Karthikeyan quickly took control of the race, slipstreaming past polesitter Duval at the start of the second lap and seeing off a lengthy challenge from the chasing cars of Naoki Yamamoto (Raybrig Honda NSX-GT), Koudai Tsukakoshi (Keihin Honda NSX-GT) and Nakajima.
These four cars set the pace at the front until a number of safety car periods began to ramp up the pressure, finally causing a series of frantic, multi-car accidents that slimmed down the field and resulted in a nail-biting single-lap charge to the checkered flag.
The first two safety car periods were called in order to clear debris resulting from left-rear punctures to Duval and Rene Rast (Audi RS 5 DTM) — possibly as a result of running a sub-optimal set-up following a lack of dry running this weekend, according to Head of Audi Motorsport Dieter Gass.
At the second restart, two multiple-car accidents took out several Super GT cars, including front-runners Tsukakoshi and Nakajima. A third safety car was then called out to clear the increasing amount of carbon fiber debris left scattered across the racetrack, and to remove James Rossiter’s Calsonic Impul Nissan GT-R, which had rolled to a halt at the first corner with heavy accident damage.
If Karthikeyan was able to successfully manage the pace at the front, it grew increasingly unruly behind him: on the very last lap, Duval and Marco Wittmann scrapped mightily for second, switching positions several times. The Frenchman only took runner-up spot on the chase to the finish line — but was then penalized one second for nudging Wittmann a couple of corners earlier. The top three was separated by just 0.935s, with the German earning second place — appropriately enough on his birthday.
“Our car immediately felt good on the Hankook tires, so we thought we’d have a chance to fight at the front. Still, it was fantastic to find we were quick in all conditions – to win the race was just a dream come true,” declared Karthikeyan. “Having this joint race between Super GT and DTM has been very special – the DTM drivers are fantastic, so this was fantastic exposure for both series.”
Wittman admitted the dramatic finish had been particularly rewarding.
“Until today, the weekend had been quite difficult for us – we struggled quite a lot on Friday and Saturday and were a bit unlucky with our strategy yesterday. But today it all went to plan, especially coming through from seventh,” he said. “It was an action-packed race — really good fun, and a great show and good entertainment for the spectators. That last lap was really special – even in DTM we don’t see those sorts of fights too often.
“Fighting with Loic was really, really good fun: I knew he was on fresher tires, but I was going to defend like hell to keep second place. It was a good fight, the last three corners particularly, which is what everyone wanted to see. I think everyone enjoyed today.”
Behind the top three, Yamamoto came home fourth from Kamui Kobayashi (BMW M4 DTM), who drove a hugely spirited race to fifth on his debut weekend in a DTM car.
Although both race wins went to Super GT, the DTM cars gained in competitiveness throughout the weekend. Gerhard Berger, chairman of DTM organizer ITR, was very satisfied by how this first joint venture between the two series had turned out, and indicated he hoped it will become a regular fixture.
“When I walked out onto the Fuji grid before Saturday’s very first Dream Race, the realization of what ourselves and GTA had achieved really struck me,” said Berger. “Seeing five world-class manufacturers on the grid, understanding that we had brought two racing worlds together after seven years’ hard work, was quite an emotional moment.
“Furthermore, I could also see that the unification of our two series is clearly the right idea for us. We are heading in the right direction with this common approach. Of course, there’s lots more work to do but I hope we can learn from this weekend, take our experiences home, work out how to improve, and keep continuing along this path. I see a big future in this kind of racing.”