BERLIN, Japan – The opening round of the SUPER GT was met with unpredictable conditions that made for a very challenging race for the teams and drivers.
Starting from the front row on an initially dry road surface, the #23 MOTUL AUTECH Z and #3 Niterra MOTUL Z pulled away from the rest of the field in 1st and 2nd. The #1 Z dropped to 14th position in the first lap but recovered to 12th by lap 5. It was at this point that the first few rain drops began to fall and by lap 12 the clouds fully opened up and drenched the track.
In lap 15, the #23 Z and #24 Z went into the pits to change to wet tires. Soon after, a car went off the course and a full course yellow (FCY) was called resulting in a dispatch of the safety car (SC) as cars continued to go off the course and spin due to the severe change in conditions. In lap 18, while the SC was still out, the #3 Z was running in 1st position, the #1 Z in 3rd position, with both on slicks, while the #23 Z was in 7th, and the #24 Z in 11th, both on wet tires. At the end of lap 19, the pit lane was opened and the #3 Z and #1 Z went in to change tires. This put the #23 Z into 3rd, the #24 Z into 7th, the #1 Z into 12th, and #3 Z into 13th.
The #23 Z's tires struggled with the heavy rainfall and fell back to 6th by lap 24, but as the water gradually cleared from the course and the conditions improved, the #23 Z regained its pace and several positions. Running at a pace more than a second faster than its competitors, by lap 31 it had climbed back up to 2nd position. Then, in lap 41, the #23 Z retook the lead at the first corner, with the #3 Z following in 3rd, the #24 Z in 4th, and the #1 Z in 5th, seeing all four Z cars running in the top group.
After 42 laps, the #24 Z and #1 Z pitted and changed drivers, the #3 Z pitted at the end of lap 44, and the #23 Z at the end of lap 46. At this time, rain once again started to fall. This saw the #24 Z go off course at the hairpin, and although it was able to return to the track, it lost a number of positions. During another FCY, an accident occurred that brought out the SC in lap 51. With the rain becoming heavier, Matsuda in the #23 Z was running in the lead when the team instructed him to slip into the pits to change to wet tires just before the pit lane was closed. He returned to the course in 6th and the #3 Z moved up to 2nd position. As the rain became heavier and lightning was predicted, the race was red-flagged at the end lap 55.
After a 20-minute interruption, the race resumed with the SC leading the way. As soon as the race restarted, many cars changed to wet tires, and the #23 Z, which had already done so, took the lead. After quickly changing tires, the #3 Z returned to the lineup in 3rd position, and then an accident happened to the car running in 2nd, allowing the #3 Z to take its place, giving the Zs a 1-2 formation at the top. The #1 Z was running in 7th position, within the points sphere and the SC run was briefly lifted, but some cars stopped on the course and the SC was brought out once again. Conditions worsened further, and the race was red-flagged again after 61 laps.
Following a final SC led restart, the conditions failed to improve, and the race was red-flagged again, bringing about an early finish at the end of lap 63. The pole sitting, #23 Z showed consistent speed and ability to adapt to win the race, despite the turbulent conditions. The #3 Z also showed solid pace to finish in 2nd, and the Zs finished the season opener with an impressive 1-2 finish from after qualifying in the same. The #1 Z finished 6th, and the #24 Z 14th.
Following the race #23 driver Tsugio Matsuda said, "I didn't expect the conditions to be so unpredictable, but I think luck was on our side and the team's pit decisions were spot on. I want to thank the entire crew of the #23 car. I am glad that we were able to start this season in such a good way after all the hard work we put in last season." Ronnie Quintarelli followed, “I think it was literally a perfect weekend. In today's race we had to deal with a lot of difficult situations regarding tire choice and other things we had to endure as drivers, but we were able to handle it all and get the best result possible. This is my first opening-round win since 2016, and I am very grateful to the team staff as well as NISMO and Michelin for providing us with a great car."
In the GT300 class five NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT3s competed in the GT300 class. In a race that was red-flagged three times due to bad weather conditions, three cars were able to finish the race. Starting from 8th on the grid, the #56 REALIZE NISSAN MECHANIC CHALLENGE GT-R finished 10th, the #10 PONOS GAINER GT-R 11th, and the #48 SHOKUMOU Ks Frontier GT-R 18th.