Just one week before the 45th International Suzuka 1000km, many of Super GT’s top stars competed around the globe, between Super Formula and All-Japan Formula Three at Twin Ring Motegi, and the GT Asia Series in Shanghai, China.
The action was highlighted by a first career Super Formula victory for Yuhi Sekiguchi, in just his fourth career race.
Lights-to-flag maiden victory for Sekiguchi
Sekiguchi took pole position on Saturday in his Itochu Enex Team Impul Toyota, and led 46 of the 52 laps in quite comfortable fashion en route to a milestone first victory – and one that sees him move into the lead of the Drivers’ Championship by 1.5 points.
28-year-old Sekiguchi, who also races in Super GT’s top class for Racing Project Bandoh, is now only the third true rookie – with no prior experience in Formula 1 – to win a race in their debut Japanese Top Formula season in the 21st century, following fellow Impul alumni Tsugio Matsuda (2000), and Tomoki Nojiri (2014).
Andre Lotterer got a great start and moved into second on the opening lap, and held on to the second position after a heated battle with defending Super Formula champion Hiroaki Ishiura. It’s the first podium of 2016 for Lotterer, moving him into second in the championship, ahead of Ishiura who consolidated the final step on the podium – an all-Toyota podium at Honda’s second home track. The margin between the two was just 0.581 seconds at the line.
Behind Ishiura, his Team Cerumo/INGING teammate Yuji Kunimoto finished fourth, and James Rossiter completed the top five for Kondo Racing.
Stoffel Vandoorne once again showed his class as the top Honda in the finishing order, but could do no better than a distant sixth. Kazuki Nakajima finished seventh, ahead of the newlywed Naoki Yamamoto in eighth – who recovered well after running off into the gravel at the very first corner of the race, and completed the points scorers.
Nojiri started third, but his race ended with a gearbox failure after just six laps. Joao Paulo de Oliveira in the second Impul Toyota also suffered a gearbox failure, and retired after ten laps.
The series now moves on to a double-header weekend at Okayama International Circuit, scheduled in place of the cancelled round at Autopolis, on September 11.
Like a Bolt: Mardenborough sweeps F3 weekend at Motegi
As fans of sport worldwide celebrate Usain Bolt in his farewell from Olympic competition, Jann Mardenborough channeled the spirit of the track and field legend with some sprint dominance of his own. A double victory and a pole position helped Mardenborough strengthen his lead in the All-Japan Formula Three Championship at Motegi.
Mardenborough took a wet race one after a heated duel with polesitter Tadasuke Makino, that saw “Jann tha Man” sieze the lead from Makino on lap 11 with an opportunistic pass at the downhill 90° Corner. Makino held on to finish 2nd, ahead of TOM’s rookie Sho Tsuboi in third. Keishi Ishikawa, Kenta Yamashita, and Sena Sakaguchi completed the points scorers.
Race two was drier and a much more dominant display, as Mardenborough won by a whopping 8.121 seconds over second-placed title rival Yamashita, and Tsuboi in third – his astonishing eleventh straight podium from eleven races started. Chinese driver Ye Hongli scored his first points in fourth, with Makino and Sakaguchi completing the top six.
Race 1 in the National class was won by another of the B-Max Racing Team entries, 49-year-old privateer Dragon – because you absolutely, positively, need to know when a middle-aged journeyman racer going under the pseudonym “Dragon” wins a race at all times. Yoshiaki Katayama took the honours in Race 2.
Mardenborough’s double victory weekend now sees him take a 19-point lead in the championship from Yamashita, with Tsuboi just three points back of his veteran teammate. Five races remain in the championship, and it may just be the home stretch of Mardenborough’s victory lap unless something drastic happens at Okayama next time out.
Grandstand finishes, Bentley brilliance in GT Asia Shanghai
That’s how close the finish of the first race of the GT Asia Series round from Shanghai International Circuit in China was. The red & gold BBT Ferrari 488 GT3 (Davide Rizzo/Anthony Liu) pipped the big Bentley Team Absolute Continental GT3 (Duncan Tappy/Vutthikorn Inthraphubasak) to the line by 0.053 seconds, thanks to a daring last-corner pass by Liu.
In that shot, finishing third by just 0.222 seconds, was the Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 (Alex Yoong/Alex Au).
Carlo van Dam led the contingent of ex-Super GT drivers with a sixth-place finish for Singha Racing.
Race two saw a more comprehensive victory for the Bentley Team Absolute squad, only this time won by the #8 Continental GT3 of Jonathan Venter, and another former Super GT driver, Keita Sawa. The FFF Racing Team Lamborghini (Edoardo Liberati/Andrea Amici) finished second, with Tappy/Vutthikorn’s Bentley finishing third.
It was a hard weekend for both the Craft Bamboo Racing Porsche of Richard Lyons, and the GruppeM Racing Porsche of Jono Lester, the two active GT300 drivers failing to finish in the top ten in either race.