ARTA NSX comes from 12th position on the grid to claim a stunning victory!
The FUJI GT 300km RACE, round 7 of the 2009 AUTOBACS SUPER GT, was held on Sept. 13 at Fuji Speedway (one lap 4.563 km - 66 laps) in Shizuoka Pref. The winners in the GT500 class for the first time this season were the ARTA NSX team of Ralph Firman and Takuya Izawa.
The ARTA team are proven winners with a series title in GT500 in 2007. But this has been a season where they have managed to mount the podium but have fallen short of a victory in each race, until today. The last round at Suzuka was a typical case, where they had been running among the leaders until their machine caught fire and ruined their chance of victory.
That fire also forced the team to change to a new engine, which cost them a penalty under the SUPER GT regulation that dropped them 10 places on the starting grid. As a result, despite qualifying 2nd, they had to start the race from 12th position on the grid.
As the teams starting driver, Ralph Firman wasted no time in working his way up through the field at a blinding pace until he took the lead on lap 24. After taking the wheel for the second half of the race, Firman's teammate Takuya Izawa was passed at one point but fought back hard to regain the lead. Once in the lead again, Izawa ran a controlled race with an eye on the machines behind him and took the checkered to bring his team their first victory of the season.
For Firman, this was his ninth GT500 victory. For Izawa it was his first SUPER GT career victory. For the team it was the first victory since round 8 on the 2007 season. For the Honda NSX teams it represented the first victory since round 5 of last year's series.
In the GT300 class, victory went to the DAISHIN ADVAN Ferrari (Takayuki Aoki/ Tomonobu Fujii), their first of the season. The race was an intense one with constant battles for position, from the start right down to the finish. On the last lap of the race, two Ferraris came out of the last corner side-by-side, and at the finish line it was Aoki in the 2nd grid starting DAISHIN ADVAN Ferrari who prevailed to claim the victory. (Spectators: 33,000)
No. 8 ARTA NSX [GT500]
Ralph Firman: "Fantastic! This is great! This season we have raced well time and again but just not been able to win. But, I'm very glad that we have won here. Today we had to start from 12th position on the grid, but we had been 2nd in the (qualifying) Super Lap and the machine was in such good condition that I wasn't worried. There was a lot of confusion in front of me at the start and when I tried to get around it on the outside I ended up running off into the grass, which made me very anxious for a moment. But I was able to run steadily after that, and fast as well. The last two races of the season are at Autopolis and Twin Ring Motegi, both of which are tracks where the NSX performs well. If we are able to reduce the point- ranking gap with the (leading) No. 1 GT-R to 3 or 4 points in the next race, we should have a shot at the title in the last round at Motegi (by the regulation) no machines will carry handicap weights. So, the next race is sure to be a very competitive one."
Takuya Izawa: "I still can't believe that we won. I don't even know how I should be happy about this. I guess that by tomorrow it will finally sink in and I'll feel good about this victory. As I watched Ralph race, I realized that the machine was very fast, so when (car No. 36) passed me I was certain that if I stayed cool I would surely get a chance to pass it back. When I finally did pass it, it seemed like No. 36 had made a mistake on the 100R turn and I caught up quickly and was able to jump to the inside on the Dunlop Corner. After that I continued to run at a good pace, but with five laps remaining I tightened up at one point and couldn't drive well (grimace). But Tsuchiya (Keiichi, team advisor) was constantly giving me advice over the radio and that calmed me down. The car was in such good condition that it was very easy to drive, so I knew we could win if everything went well."
No. 81 DAISHIN ADVAN Ferrari [GT300]
Takayuki Aoki: "This season there have been a succession of races where it looked like we could win but always fell short. People around us were saying that it was a machine that looked capable of winning and that put even more pressure on us. I was the driver for the second half of the race, and we were running on a strategy of just changing the two left side tires (to save pit time). But when we saw the wear on the left side tires when they came off, we knew that the unchanged right side tires would not last for the full race. When I was finally caught with two laps remaining I had to do some hard blocking to stay in the lead. I don't usually block to that extent, but we both wanted to win very badly. Still, I believe it was a fair fight. Looking back now I can see it as a fun battle, but when I was in the midst of it there was certainly no time for enjoying it (laughs)."
Tomonobu Fujii: "Since it had rained the day before, none of the teams had been able to run tests in dry conditions. In that sense we were all in the same position. Still, our car had worse balance (in the race) than we expected, so rather than trying to force myself past the other cars I decided to run at my own pace and save the tires. Our car doesn't have good fuel economy and that costs us about 10 extra seconds for refueling in the pit stop compared to the others. In order to make up for that, we were thinking of not changing tires, or only changing two of them. So, I was driving with the idea of creating a situation where we could jump ahead that way and then leave the rest to Aoki-san's driving in the second half of the race. Aoki-san is a driver who is good at battling with other cars, so we knew that, given the same conditions, he would not be beaten. But knowing that we were changing only two tires, I was afraid that the machine would be struggling near the end of the race. As I watched the last laps, I knew that it was just up to fate and Aoki-san."