Honda NSX Wins Dramatic Race
The green light for the 63-lap race at Twin Ring Motegi was given to 40 cars under fine blue skies and in front of a huge crowd of 44,000 spectators.
Pole sitter Schwager made a smooth start off the line with the No.64 Mobil 1 NSX to keep the lead followed by Couto in the No.30 McLaren F1 GTR, Takeuchi in the No.38 au CERUMO Supra, and Ara in the No.25 FK/Massimo ADVAN Supra. But the sign of an eventful race to come was given in the opening lap. Kageyama took the No.23 Skyline GT-R into the NISMO pit straightaway before passing the line on the initial lap. The team decided to retire from the race due to engine problems. Schwager in the No. 1 Honda NSX controlled the early stage, but the German driver, too, was forced to pit after only five laps because of a flat right rear tire.
With the No.64 Honda NSX going into the pits, Couto in the No. 30 McLaren F1 moved out in front. His second place start on the grid worked well to get him out in front and he ran consistently quicker to secure the lead. ("The feeling of the car is very good," said the Portuguese driver after the Saturday qualifying sessions. "I want to be at the center on the podium. This is a marvelous opportunity.") He kept the position until the routine stop on lap 30, but the No.30 McLaren car was not to complete the day without incident either. After receiving the wheel of the McLaren, Okada did a half-spin at the first corner just after leaving the pit when a back marker entered the corner at the same time. The No.25 Toyota Supra was also running well, but was forced to make an extra pit stop due to a flat tire...
Hoshino, running fourth in the No.12 Skyline GT-R in the first half of the race, fought hard to hold off challenges by Hattori in the No.21 McLaren, Dufour in the No.39 Denso SARD Supra, and Philippe in the No.18 TAKATA DOME NSX. An exciting battle among the four cars garnered the attention of all.
Accidents and spins occurred around the circuit throughout the race. Early on, Kaneishi banged up the front end of the No.8 ARTA NSX overtaking a backmarker. This was followed by a sensational mid-track half-spin by Nakaya in the No.21 McLaren, which caused another incident as the No.39 Supra driven by Dufour ran into the McLaren. Both cars made it back to their pits for repairs, but the No.21 McLaren retired from the race and the No.39 Supra remained in the pit for some time in order to repair a starter component. Dumas waited in the Supra's cockpit for nearly 45 minutes.
Philippe ran a consistent race with the No.18 TAKATA DOME NSX from the start, holding on fourth or fifth until the routine stop. When the car returned to the track, newcomer Treluyer got his first taste of GT racing. He overtook the No.100 RAYBRIG NSX driven by Ito to move into third place and later rose to second when the leader, Tachikawa in the No.38 Supra, slowed down due to tire problems. Matsuda charged hard in the No.64 Mobil 1 NSX after taking the wheel from Schwager and sent Treluyer in the No.18 NSX spinning into the gravel after bumping during his attempt to pass. Surely a depressing moment, the 2001 All-Japan F3 Champion ended his debut race in JGTC. After the No.30 McLaren and No.25 Supra dropped out of contention for the lead, it seemed that Tachikawa in the No.38 Supra would have a smooth drive to the checkered flag. But tire wear caused him to slow down in the final laps of the race, and Michigami in the No. 1 Loctite MUGEN NSX moved into the lead. Then, with only six laps to go, Michigami, too, was forced to pit for fuel. Matsuda and the No.64 Mobil 1 NSX took the lead and held to the checker flag to end the eventful race.
"I don't think it was a perfect race" said Schwager afterwards. "After three laps, I had to pit to change a tire. I was so disappointed. But I pushed hard when I heard there was only a difference of 25 seconds between me and the leader. Matsuda did a good job as well. We were unlucky in the beginning and lucky in the end."
"I thought we could win easily at the start, but Schwager had to make an unexpected pit stop. Even so, he climbed back up to second place. So I was determined to push hard. I was afraid there wouldn't be enough fuel for the last laps., and the tears started flowing when I crossed the finish line," commented Matsuda.