Okayama GT 300km Race, the season opener of the 2014 Super GT series, was held at Okayama International Circuit on April 5-6, 2014. This was the first race for the all new GT500 cars, which have identical monocoque chassis sharing the same design with DTM cars in Germany, 2 liter in-line 4 cylinder direct injection turbo charged engines from each manufacturers, and carbon fiber brakes.
In the new look GT500 class, WedsSport ADVAN RC F and D'station ADVAN GT-R join the championship using the race tires supplied by Yokohama Tire again this year. And in the GT300 class, many different cars, such as Nissan GT-R, BMW Z4, and Porsche 911, all of which belong to FIA GT3 category, as well as a hybrid JAF GT category car, Toyota Prius, race with the Yokohama supplied tires.
Last year, the curtain raiser in Okayama had been hit by bad weather and history repeated itself. The weather was erratic throughout the weekend, with a cold wind blowing as if winter returned. But the race track remained in a dry condition at least for the official practice and qualifying sessions on Saturday.
The qualifying session was run under the knock out system, as it had been last year. In the GT300 class, 9 out of 13 cars that got through Q1 were using the Yokohama tires. Among them, OGT Panasonic Prius with Morio Nitta at the wheel clocked 1'26h774 - just fell short of a new course record, though - in Q2 and secure the pole position. With Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Z4 taking second place in the session, the two Yokohama shoed cars sat on the GT300 front row.
However, the two GT500 cars in the Yokohama camp were a little less fortunate. Daiki Sasaki, a promising GT500 debutant, drove D'station ADVAN GT-R in Q1 but he had a transmission problem during the session. Meanwhile, WedsSport ADVAN RC F's engine wasn't in perfect condition when Yuhi Sekiguchi, who moved to the Lexus camp this year, made his qualifying attempt. As a result, their efforts to make their way into Q2 were also unsuccessful.
The weather conditions became worse on Sunday morning and it even hailed just before the warm up session started. Because of this, the drivers had to run on wet tires for most of the session but Michael Krumm in D'station ADVAN GT-R was among the first in the GT500 class to switch to slick tires on the drying track. He eventually set the fastest time of the session, 1'28h638, and it looked promising for the race, given the erratic weather.
With Krumm in D'station ADVAN GT-R on the 10th grid and Sekiguchi in WedsSport ADVAN RC F on 13th, the race got under way at 2 o'clock p.m. They ably steered away from a minor incident on the opening lap and completed the lap in 10th and 11th.
When the race was about to enter into its 17th lap, it suddenly started raining but stopped soon after. After keeping their positions for a while, Sekiguchi overtook Krumm on Lap 21, exchanging the positions between them. As one of their opponents made a pit stop soon after that, they moved up to the point earning positions, WedsSport ADVAN RC F in 9th and D'station ADVAN GT-R in 10th.
During Lap 35, Krumm in D'station ADVAN GT-R made a pit stop to change to Sasaki. But the Japanese suffered from the car's strangely instable behavior that occurred during his stint and the problem prevented him from maintaining a good pace, especially in the closing stage of the race. At the end of the day, he had to settle for finishing in 12th.
WedsSport ADVAN RC F went on for much longer. The team opted to extend Sekiguchi's stint as long as possible and, after becoming the interim race leader on Lap 40, he finally came in on Lap 43 and changed to Juichi Wakisaka. Following Raybrig NSX Concept-GT closely in the early stage of his stint, the veteran showed a remarkable performance within the top 10 but he was overtaken by S Road Mola GT-R on Lap 80, which meant he ended the race in 11th, just one place shy of the last championship point.
As for the GT300 class, Tatsuya Kataoka in Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Z4 rocketed at the start and got ahead of the pole sitting OGT Panasonic Prius, with Nitta at the wheel, at the first corner. But Nitta didn't allow Kataoka to pull away and Seiji Ara in Studie BMW Z4 also joined them to fight for the lead position.
The leaders continued in status quo for a while, until a sudden shower on Lap 17 broke it; Bjorn Wirdheim in Gainer Dixel SLS, using a competing brand's tires, came up rapidly, because of the car's excellent electronic 'driver aids' such as traction control system. On Lap 20, the Swede finally became the race leader by overtaking Nitta at Attwood Curve and then Kataoka as well at the first of double hairpins.
But then Wirdheim was forced to make a pit stop on Lap 35, which was a little earlier than scheduled, because he had a problem on his tires. This gave the lead position back to Kataoka and, with Ara also moving up to second, the Yokohama shoed two BMW Z4's regained the one-two formation.
Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Z4 was the first of the top 2 to come in for the mandatory pit stop. Kataoka changed to Nobuteru Taniguchi and the team replaced only 2 tires on the left hand side during the stop. Being aware of the rival's clever tactic, Studie BMW Z4 made its pit stop on Lap 43 and they did the same, replacing 2 tires on the LH side, to send Jorg Muller, who was handed the car by Ara, to the track as quickly as possible. It was quite close but, when Muller left the pit exit, Taniguchi just went by on the pit straight at full speed.
The gap between the two BMW's was about 10 seconds at one time but it rapidly shrunk to less than a second in the closing stage of the race. Nevertheless, Tanuguchi managed to hold on to his lead and Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Z4's crew, he and Kataoka, smiled on the highest place of the season opener's podium. Studie BMW Z4 finished in second, rounding out the one-two finish of the Yokohama shoed GT300 cars.
Actually, 4 cars out of the GT300 class top 6 were equipped with the Yokohama tires, as B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Lucas Ordonez) finished in 4th and Leon SLS (Haruki Kurosawa/Kyosuke Mineo) in 5th. OGT Panasonic Prius, driven by Nitta and Koki Saga, retired on Lap 22 due to an electrical problem.