Team NOPRO Demio SKY-D Grabs First Fuji 24 Hour Win
Mazda’s Qualifying Results After a rainy practice session on Thursday 3rd September, qualifying day on the 4th saw a complete turnaround and was blessed with good weather. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature at the start of qualifying was 30°C, with a dry track surface temperature of 53°C. A total of nine Mazda vehicles, one in the ST-2 class and eight in the ST-5 class, competed in the qualifying session. The #88 Murakami Motors Roadster (Hiroyuki Murakami/Keiji Amemiya/Hyosuke Nakajima/Naoki Yamatani/Tatsuya Tanikawa) took pole position in the ST-5 class, giving them a good start in their bid for a third consecutive championship. The #456 OVER DRIVE Roadster (Riku Hashimoto/Tatsuya Ota/Kohji Ohara/Koya Kusano/Carlos Honda/Tomohiro Seno) took third on the grid, seing the top group occupied by roadsters.
Tumultuous final sees four and a half hours of interruptions and 10 SC dispatches There were concerns due to rain being forecast the day before, but the day behan unexpectedly fine with the temperature rising to 30°C. However, just before the start of the race, it started to drizzle, which gave a hint of what was to come.
The race began on schedule with the green signal being lit at 3pm. In the beginning, the pole sitter, #88 roadster, and the #50 and #456 roadsters were battling for the lead. By lap 20, the #456, making its first competitive appearance in this race, took the lead. Then, after 50 minutes had passed, the #88 car slowed down at Advan corner. The #88 managed to return to pit lane under its own power and the team immediately began making repairs. Around this time, it started to rain and the track surface switched to wet. After that, the rain became intensified and there were several accidents involving machines from other classes, that resulted in a long period behind the SC (safety car). Around this time, the #456 and #66 OVER DRIVE Roadster (Takayuki Takechi / Seiyasu Kanamori / Arga Tomita / Yusuke Hashimoto / Sotozono Shuichiro / Nanami Tsukamoto) both had to pit in due to troubles and lost a lot of positions to carry out the repair work.
As the race approached sunset during the SC and the rain got even heavier, the race was suspended after the first 3 hours of racing when the red flag was flown. The cars were lined up on the home straight and the drivers were allowed to get out. The #78 was waiting in pit lane for the race to resume. At 22:30 the race resumed with the SC leading the way and after more than 30 minutes the green light was given, but 15 minutes later the SC was called back in due to thunder and heavy rain. During this time, the #50 car had mechanical problems caused by a contact. They did their best to repair the car but were unable to restart the race.
Just before dawn, the SC was temporarily lifted and a fierce battle ensued between the cars on track. In the ST-5 class, the #37 NOPRO Demio SKY-D (Kaoru Ijiri / Kazunari Yoshioka / Yutaka Seki / Junichi Uematsu / Yoshihiro Kato) was in first place at 6:30am, and the #102 H.M.RACERS Mazda2 (Kota Sasaki / Soichiro Yoshida / Yugo Osaki / Junpei Kato / Ryunosuke Yoshida) was in second place. When the tenth SC was lifted at 7:45am, the weather cleared up and the temperature rapidly increased, which saw the track dry in a very short time. The #102 continued to drive consistently despite some drivetrain concerns. The #37 car was battling with the #69 Fit for the top spot, and the two cars traded positions at each pit stop.
At 3pm, the #37 car finally took the checkered flag at the top of its class in this long-awaited Fuji 24 hour race. The NOPRO pits were filled with joy as the car won its first 24-hour race and the opening round of the season for the second year in a row. The #102 came home in 3rd place thanks to a well-timed pit stop in the final stages of the race. The #88 car also drove steadily after its early problems to finish in 6th place.
#37 Toshihiko Nogami, Team Principal “The unsettled weather conditions made for a tough race for the drivers and mechanics. The long red flag interruption and the introduction of the SC were not a positive factor for the diesel Demio because we count on the advantage of its superior fuel economy, but we made some challenging decisions in terms of refueling timing and tire selection, and as a result we were able to win the race. This was a result of the team working together as a whole, including the team staff and drivers. As a representative of the team, I’d like to thank everyone for their support.”
Text & Photos by MZRacing