So after returning to GTPlanet for the first time in a while, I pondered finally upgrading to GT6 having seen it drop in price. Before someone handily informed me of the bewildering decision to drop endurance races from GT6...unless you count 20-minute races as 'endurance'. Endurance for an amnesic goldfish, maybe?! Unquestionably, part of the logic has been that for many, they are just a minor irritation - something to be completed as fast as possible in an X1. And thanks to GT's famously hopeless AI and lack of computer opponents, I would tend to agree. But I for many years have been a champion of endurance racing, having been inspired by our very own Smallhorses to deliberately seek out close endurance races and make them into true battles of skill and concentration. The strange decision to do away with A-Spec points means there's even less motivation to hunt for close races, but even so, as I plough through finally completing GT5, I don't want my quest for 100% completion to be a dull one. Time to search for a good old fashioned dogfight Pacific Rim: Suzuka 1000km (Hat tip to the ever reliable AMG for the track map!) 172 Laps, 620 Miles. Pit Window 20-30 Laps. The Suzuka 1000km is a particularly tough one to make entertaining. The track is long and arduous (I would argue tougher than the Nurburgring) and in GT4, it turned into a six-hour slog (which you can read partially here) which wasn't helped with only FIVE AI opponents - all from the Pastor Maldonado school of not being particularly good drivers Happily in GT5 things look better, with the field doubled in size and a full contingent of up-to-date Super GT machines ready to do battle. I tested a huge amount of cars for this race, and finally decided to go back to the future. Team Weds-Sport, my services are ready for you once again! 2008 Lexus Weds-Sport IS350 GT300 Power: 447bhp Drivetrain: FR Weight: 1150kg Tires: RM/RM Performance Points: 580PP Mods: Turbo Stage 3 In my previous tilt at this race in GT4 I used a Weds Sport GT300 machine, at the time their Toyota Celica. Since then they have moved on to the bigger IS350 saloon, but it still drives and handles crisply and without effort - you don't want to be fighting your own car for six hours! And whilst in GT4 I could get away with having stock power, that just won't cut it this time. Hence the turbo kit strapped on - as the movie tagline says, 'To Fight Monsters...We Built A Monster' Starting Lineup: 1. 2006 Honda ARTA NSX GT500 2. 2008 Nissan Autech GT-R GT500 3. 2008 Lexus Denso Dunlop Sard SC430 GT500 4. 2008 Nissan YellowHat YMS Tomica GT-R GT500 5. 2006 Nissan Xanavi Nismo Z GT500 6. 2008 Nissan Woodone Advan Clarion GT-R GT500 7. 2008 Lexus Weds Sport IS350 GT300 () 8. 2006 Honda Takata Dome NSX GT500 9. 2008 Lexus Petronas Tom's SC430 GT500 10. 2005 Toyota YellowHat YMS Supra GT500 11. 2008 Lexus Eneos SC430 GT500 12. 2006 Lexus Bandai Direzza SC430 I have missed this kind of combat. As the flags and banners unfurl in the grandstands, I'm already sweating in my race overalls. I keep banging the GoPro on my helmet against the rollcage, and getting distracted by the rear facing camera screen on the dashboard. But today, in the sweltering sunshine (no danger of rain!), I will need all my powers of concentration. On raw pace, the NSX duos are the ones to watch, particularly with one starting pole. I can gain time around the pitstops, on worn/cold tires and in the pits, but otherwise the NSXs have me covered on the track. Willing to sacrifice six hours of hard work to finish 2nd...I must be nuts We line up for the double-file rolling start, the crowd are on their feet...I'll see you back in the pits in six hours lads! TALLY-HO!!! (Shot from my GoPro obviously - I wasn't doing a NASCAR driver and tweeting from the cockpit ) Part 1: Laps 1-25 As expected the Takata NSX next to me gets the jump, and I move right to cover the angry YellowHat Supra (doesn't sound very menacing, does it? ) before we all dive into 1st and 2nd curve for the first time. I audaciously dive up the inside of the Takata NSX with one or maybe two wheels on the grass, before hitting the cork in the bottle, the blithering Clarion GT-R, dawdling through the middle of 2nd curve. The Takata NSX is in no mood to dawdle, so drives around the outside, and I attempt to follow before the lumbering Nissan politely shuts the door in my face! The dithering halfwit is finally cleared on the outside of the Gyaku Bank Curve. Lap 1 is negotiated without further incident, and I stalk the Takata NSX through lap 2 before sensing a chance under breaking for the Hairpin curve (wow, imaginative naming there gents ) and slipping by with an aggressive but clean move The poor Denso SC430 has plunged to 5th already, and is now falling into my grasp; I negate my atrocious top speed with a crafty draft down the backstraight, before easing past through 130R and under braking for the Casio Triangle, which nearly takes me right up the exhaust pipes of the YellowHat GT-R! Are the Nissan drivers aware they are actually in a motor race today rather than a glorified parade? This ain't Goodwood y'know! Having nearly rear-ended the GT-R, the SC430 attempts to sneak past using his top speed down the front straight, but I will not stand for his insolence, and dispatch him for good under braking for 2nd curve. It seems weird how the Super GT series, which prides itself on having evenly matched cars, has such a disparity here today; the Lexuses (Lexi?) and GT-Rs are falling away whilst the NSXs move up. Shame we don't have the new DLC-only HSV-010s for company too? I sneak past the YellowHat GT-R in the Degners, and through Lap 4 I take off after the Nissan duo in front; the Autech GT-R and the Nismo Z, running 2nd and 3rd respectively. All the while the gap to the lead extends, but I'm not too worried about that for now - it's not like I've not got six hours to close that gap... I catch a draft from the Nismo Z through 200R and slice past under braking for Spoon Curve, before readying for the counter-attack down the backstraight. The Nismo Z is actually the highest-ranked car in terms of PP in this race, and flexes his muscles by powering back past, before a side-by-side duel occurs through 130R with me on the outside - a tense moment which I just about survive! It's a bit early for these kind of sprint race shenanigans surely?! The Autech GT-R is not too far ahead, and I pursue him ruthlessly through lap 6 before replicating my YellowHat GT-R move on him at the Degner curves. By this stage the ARTA NSX has pulled out to a whopping 14-second lead, but I'm staying calm for now - mainly as I know I have an ace up my sleeve. Technically two: 1) I can gain plenty of time around the pitstops simply by not filling my fuel tank up full like the AI, and 2) I can sneak a second or two around the pitstops on worn and cold tires. For now it is a hugely tense and close battle; the gap never closes to less than 13 seconds, but never grows to more than 15. Even our tires are wearing at an identical rate, even with me ceding 50kg to my opponent. I told you we were evenly matched on pace! If I push hard, I could perhaps take a few seconds out of his lead, but I'm not willing to take such risks this early in the game - especially as more than once I put a wheel wide in Degner One and narrowly avoid disaster! I do love this track, but it doesn't exactly love me I then make a slight blunder with my pit calculations. For some reason I got into my head that the AI pitted every 25 laps, but suddenly as I come across the line to start lap 25 I take the lead - turns out I was a lap out! Woops! It is an indicator of just how long the endurance pitstops take to complete that a 13-second lead translates into a 51-second deficit once the ARTA NSX has completed his pitwork and rejoined. It does however mean I will now be rejoining on cold tires with the NSX on warmer rubber...I think the battle is only just beginning I finish lap 25 in the pits, in 1st place with (at last checkpoint) a 51s lead over the 2nd placed ARTA NSX. Part 2: Laps 26-48 I take on 75 litres of fuel, rather than the recommended 83, hoping it can grab me some extra time over my opponent. In fact, it proves inconclusive - I actually come out 2 seconds further behind the lead NSX than when I pitted in! Since when did the AI get good?! I actually fall to 3rd in the pits, behind the bold YellowHat GT-R evidently trying a strategy move that kind of doesn't work by dint of the fact that I re-pass him within a lap with ease. Perhaps it's only the Honda teams on their A-game today in terms of strategy? Anyway, the gap is back to 15 seconds between me and the lead NSX. And thanks to my blunde-I mean moment of strategic genius in pitting a lap later than him, I now have one less lap to do on this set of tires before I synch strategies with him. Time to put the hammer down, open the taps and see what this IS350 really has to offer! A lot, is the answer. I regularly break into the 2:05s for the first 10 laps of this stint, with a 2:05.2 being my best so far on lap 28. The gap steadily starts to erode as I push harder and harder, and if there's any kind of race car which is easy to push to the very limit, it's GT300 machinery. 15 seconds becomes 10 seconds by lap 30 and just 7 seconds by lap 35. The chase is ON I'm helped along the way by the odd bit of traffic. One of the hapless SC430s is the first to fall, around lap 33 with a neat move under braking for 2nd Curve which helpfully doesn't slow me down at all. Seriously guys, there's FIVE Lexus-es in the field (technically six including the Toyota YellowHat Supra), and you're telling me the top representative is the GT300 car?! Mans need to buck up their ideas - but then that's pretty much applicable to most of the GT AI Having said that the Nissan gang aren't really on the pace either, as I lap two of their representatives in the next few laps; although at least they do me a favour and hold up the lead Honda momentarily. The Autech GT-R falls in an identical move to the one I pulled on the SC430 at 2nd curve, at around lap 39, and the hapless YellowHat GT-R fades and lets me coast past on the outside at the Dunlop Curve at around lap 42. By this stage my tires are paying the penalty for being abused for 15 laps straight, and mistakes start to occur; the most spectacular being an off at the Dunlop Curve as I push a little bit too hard at lap 43. Slightly hair-raising but luckily not too costly in terms of time, or indeed bent body panels! Despite this and a few more mistakes (including some now-regular slides in the Degners and a few hairy moments under braking at Hairpin Curve and Casio Triangle), the gap continues to close, down to just 2.7 seconds by lap 45. By this stage my tires have utterly given up the ghost, so the gap extends back out to about 5 seconds. But crucially I have taken a meat cleaver to that huge advantage the ARTA NSX made in the early laps as he shot off from pole position whilst I dealt with the blithering nitwits behind him. He swerves in for his 2nd pitstop at lap 48, and this time I shadow him in - this is where the race really begins... I end lap 48 in the pits, in 2nd trailing the lead ARTA NSX by 5.1s (at last checkpoint). Part 3: Laps 49-72 I top up to a full tank again, and strap on four fresh tires. Evidently my foe does exactly the same thing, as the gap remains almost identical upon pit exit. However, for a good five laps after the pitstop, he's marginally faster than me, boosting the gap out to a maximum of 7.1s - so much for being weaker on cold tires! He is undoubtedly aided by some lapped traffic, including the same SC430 from earlier, as well as the three tail-end charlies - the Bandai and ENEOS SC430s and the YellowHat Supra. Presumably they are 2 laps down now...? I don't know. Not really my concern currently I'm battling hard to stay on pace with the ARTA NSX - like a variant of the uncanny valley, the closer I get to him the faster he gets, and conversely the more mistakes I make. I stay calm though, as generally I am slightly better on worn tires than he is. So in the early part of the stint I weather the storm, and stay within 5-6s of him even whilst dealing with lapped traffic. Slowly I start to reel the gap in, shrinking to around 3s by lap 60. One of the hopeless SC430s has come to my aid; the Petronas car meandering around, minding his own business, has somehow caused fairly major problems for the leader! He breezes past up the back straight, and I aim to take advantage and make fairly light work - until I find out just why he was such a pain in the backside to get past! I sneak up the inside under braking for Degner One and assume I've cleared the useless Lexus easily, until a huge grey shape barrels up on my outside under braking for Degner Two! We both skid and slide through the corner and I somehow keep the car going straight, finally completing the pass! I know your car has Petronas stickers on it, but you can pack that Lewis Hamilton in right now! You absolute ing ...ahem, anyway... Luckily this bout of biff and barge hasn't cost me much time, and I continue to exhausting chase of the leader. Who'd have thought a 15-second gap would take nearly 70 laps to close? It shows we are in a very close race though, and the closer I get to the distinctive tail-lights of the big Honda, the more mistakes creep in, as if desperation to make the pass is creeping in more and more. Must stay patient, we're not even at half distance yet... By lap 65 the gap has closed to the closest it's been all race, under 2.5s, and continues to close until I finally start to sniff around the rear wing of my opponent by lap 69. With both of us living on tortured rubber, a tense game of shadow boxing begins. He cunningly (intentionally or not) brake-checks me at certain points in corners before using his superior power to blast away on corner exit, but my superior grip and braking means this gap never extends to more than 0.8s. And then finally the moment - a brave move, flat out round the outside at Dunlop Curve, takes me into the LEAD of the race at lap 70!! ...for all of 1/3 of a lap, before the muscular NSX powers back by on the back straight. Damnit. Never mind, patience is a virtue...or something. Grip by now is almost non-existant for both of us, as proven on lap 71 where I accidentally (honest!) tag the rear 3/4 of my opponent under braking for Hairpin Curve. Not wanting to take the lead through foul tactics (and not wanting to incur the wrath of the stewards...even though there aren't any in GT5 ), I ease off and allow the NSX to regain momentum, and I decide to calmly shadow my rival through the in-lap at lap 72. This goes completely to plan, and I cooly pull into the pits at the end of the lap - only to do a Lewis Hamilton and understeer off the pit entry road, and in this case straight into a tire bundle! Disaster! I frantically scramble for reverse gear, and finally get it (not often I have to use such a thing on a DFGT!) and recover my bearings in the pits with a majorly red face and most of the opposition pit crews and fans in the grandstands pointing and laughing at me Lap 72 ends with me in the pits, in 2nd place 1.1s (at last checkpoint) behind the lead ARTA NSX. Part 4: Laps 73-120 You may have noticed that this section is labelled as slightly longer than the previous ones...there's a very good reason for that. My embarrassing gaffe has cost me dearly, and from being right on the ARTA NSX's tail during the last stint, I'm now a whopping 18 seconds down - and as I've not been racing for a week or two, it takes me longer to get up to speed, meaning that gap extends out to 27 seconds by lap 80. Strangely, my car also feels slower too. My fastest lap stands at 2:05.285, but now I am struggling to get below 2:07, and it's costing me. The gap just won't budge, until later into the stint when it comes down slightly to 22 seconds by lap 90. The problem I have is by matching the ARTA NSX's strategy, we remain so equally matched that my gaffe in the pits has created a huge gap which is difficult to bring down. I'm also not helped by some truly brain-dead behaviour from lapped traffic. Most give away fairly easily, but as I pass the Clarion GT-R through Spoon Curve, something clicks in his brain. It's as if he's finally realised - hey, I'm better than this! WHY HAVE THE PD AI MADE ME SO RUBBISH?!?! I AM A RACING GOD!! Except, he kind of isn't. He blasts past me on the straight before brake-checking and blocking me into 130R, which I really don't appreciate. I outbrake him again into Casio Triangle and complete the pass, moving on and not thinking much about it - until he pulls the same stunt AGAIN at EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE on the next lap! And then to rub salt in the wound, his stupidity means I run wide into Casio Triangle, and coming across the s/f line, he does the same stunt A THIRD TIME under braking for 1st curve! Seriously, do you want me to pull a ing Marcos Ambrose on you after the race or something?!? I finally settle for barging him out wide in 2nd curve, waving some rude hand gestures at him and moving on. Meanwhile, the gap from 1st to 2nd is refusing to budge. There's only one thing for it. It's time to go...to the pit strategy darkside. If I stretch my tires for another four laps up to lap 100, I can either make it to the end on just two more stops - compared to my opponent's 3 - or I can go the other way, shorten my stints and maximise the life of my tires, whilst also going off-sequence to the NSX and undercutting him at certain points, i.e. my tires will be strong just as his are wearing down. Three 20-lap stints it is. So as the ARTA NSX peels in end of lap 96, I re-take the lead and push on, despite my tires gasping in desperation and having all the grip of a bar of soap in the bath. My normally light-footed IS350 is sliding and skittering around all over the place, and as the NSX rejoins, he chops the gap from 26 to 18 seconds in a matter of laps. I just can't take this anymore!! I duck in a lap earlier than planned, at lap 99. This doesn't affect the strategy too much - I'll run a 21-lap stint to get back on strategy. In fact, I could easily have just pitted at lap 96 anyway...oh well. But as I rejoin, something weird happens. The gap is out to 27 seconds again between me and the NSX, but within two laps that gap is absolutely tumbling down to just SEVEN seconds on lap 102. Something really isn't right - I'm eating into his lead like a tramp with a plate of chips! More bizarrely, I catch up to him effortlessly through lap 102, charging right up onto his tail through 130R, and discover he is slipping and sliding all over the place - much like I was before my last pitstop. What on earth has happened?! He just pitted, right? Except he then pits AGAIN at the end of lap 102. The plot thickens even further?!? My only reasoning is that he has now put himself into a position where he can now finish the race on 2 more stops, at laps 126 and lap 150 - his stop at lap 96 must've been fuel only, a top-up. With my stops scheduled for 120, 140 and 160, that means I will twice undercut him in the next stint, but conversely after his stop at lap 150 he will have better tires than me for the following 10 laps. The plot is getting thicker than a tub of concrete right now folks... Anyway, right now I zoom into the lead proper for the first time since lap 25, and take a 35-second lead. Now it's all about consistency, and I keep the gap at around 35-37 seconds until I pit in at lap 120. The next six laps are going to be fairly pivotal... Lap 120 ends with me in the pits, in 1st place leading the ARTA NSX by 36.8s (at last checkpoint). Part 5: Laps 121-172 (Finish) Now comes the fascinating part. I exit the pits trailing by 37s, but for the next six laps he is on worn tires and I really get the hammer down, eating the gap down to 31s by the time he pits in on lap 126. This is like a game of long-distance tennis right now, back and forth spells in the lead. My turn now! Sadly I can't do much with it, and lead consistently by around the same margin I just sacrificed. Up until lap 135, my times match his blow for blow, but then the tires fall off a cliff, and he starts slowly eating into my lead...what to do? Hmm. Time for another shift of strategy - make the end of the race 2 x 17-lap stints, through to lap 155 and then on to the finish. That means I won't suffer too much of an undercut after the ARTA NSX's pitstop lap 150, and then it'll be a flat-out race to the finish...and one that's still hanging finely in the balance I charge out the pits on lap 139 after taking on 50 litres of fuel, and immediately start eating into the ARTA NSX's lead. Eating isn't the word - gorging? Nomming? DEVOURING?! No seriously, this is a massacre all of a sudden. 25s becomes 17s by lap 140, which becomes 7s by lap 144 and a battle for the lead by lap 145! This is incredible!! The poor ARTA NSX is shot to pieces, and offers little to no resistance. I charge up behind him through 130R, stalking him through the final sequence of corners, before sneaking up the inside into 2nd curve on lap 146! I'm waiting for the fightback, but there's absolutely nothing there - it's like he's thrown in the towel?! Either way, my lead rapidly extends to 3s by lap 147, and then shockingly out to almost THIRTY SECONDS by the time he pits at lap 150! Surely he's just thrown the race in the bin?!? He rejoins a whopping 1:21s behind, and that gap only comes down to 1:19s by the time I pit in for the final time at lap 155. Now, I know that's a huge margin, but pitstops are quite lengthy too...I only take 35 litres this time, all I need to get home. My palms are sweating...where is he?! Answer - not even close. I rejoin a massive 35s ahead, and despite me going into fuel economy mode for the final 17 laps to get to the finish with no mistakes, I still take the chequered flag by 36.8s at the end of an exhausting six hours of racing! Final Results 1. 2008 Lexus Weds Sport IS350 - 172 Laps in 6hrs 10mins 2. 2006 Honda ARTA NSX -36s 3. 2006 Honda TAKATA Dome NSX -1.5mins 4. 2006 Nissan XANAVI Nismo Z -1 lap 5. 2008 Nissan Woodone ADVAN Clarion GTR -1 lap 6. 2008 Lexus ENEOS SC430 -1 lap 7. 2008 Nissan YellowHat YMS Tomica GTR -2 laps 8. 2008 Nissan Motul Autech GTR -2 laps 9. 2008 Lexus Denso Dunlop SARD SC430 -3 laps 10. 2008 Lexus Petronas Toms SC430 -3 laps 11. 2005 Toyota YellowHat YMS Supra -4 laps 12. 2008 Lexus Bandai Direzza SC430 -4 laps Well my mission to find an interesting endurance race for the entire duration, and I succeeded - only with 25-odd laps to go was this race decided, in the final 45 minutes. In a six-hour-plus race, I don't think that's too bad, do you Kaz? Great race, and a great re-introduction to endurance racing for me. Time to rest my weary shoulders, enjoy my prize money and car, and prepare for the next epic challenge. Until next time folks!