The first Flashback Friday (#FBF) looks at the last five runnings of the season-opening Okayama GT 300km Race at Okayama International Circuit.
The last five years at Okayama have seen it all, from dramatic final-lap battles for the victory, the launch of a new era in GT500, and a career milestone for one of the all-time greats. So take a trip down memory lane with us – you’ll be glad you did!
2012: ZENT vs Raybrig
The 2012 race saw one of the best battles for the lead between the #38 ZENT Cerumo Lexus SC (Yuji Tachikawa/Kohei Hirate) and the #100 Raybrig Honda HSV-010 (Takuya Izawa/Naoki Yamamoto).
With two laps to go, Yamamoto pulled off a nifty overtake on polesitter Tachikawa at Redman Corner – a victory for the Raybrig NSX appeared certain.
But on the final lap, Tachikawa forced his way past Yamamoto at the turn 5 Hairpin, and would not look back as Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo opened the 2012 season with a hard-fought victory.
In GT300, Audi picked up their first ever Super GT victory as the #11 Gainer Dixcel R8 LMS (Tetsuya Tanaka/Katsuyuki Hiranaka) passed the #911 Taisan Endless Porsche 911 GT3-R (Kyosuke Mineo/Naoki Yokomizo) with 8 laps to go.
2013: Seven years in the making
Victory seemed all but assured for defending drivers’ champions Masataka Yanagida and Ronnie Quintarelli in their first race for the NISMO #23 Motul Autech GT-R in 2013.
However, two hard-charging Hondas quickly found their way to the front, moving past the Nismo GT-R with five laps to go and setting up another memorable last-laps battle for the win.
The #17 Keihin HSV-010 (Toshihiro Kaneishi/Koudai Tsukakoshi) gave it a valiant final effort, but this time, the #100 Raybrig HSV-010 (Takuya Izawa/Takashi Kogure) held onto the lead to win Team Kunimitsu’s first Super GT race since 2006.
Gainer switched from Audi to Mercedes-Benz in 2013, and replicated the feat of taking a new GT300 manufacturer to victory from last year. The #11 Gainer Dixcel SLS AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Björn Wirdheim) won handily in GT300.
2014: The new era begins
2014 was the first race in the new era of GT500, the series debut for the turbocharged, two-litre, four-cylinder Nippon Race Engine (NRE) formula that would become standard in the premier class.
Lexus Team LeMans and the #6 Eneos Sustina RC F (Kazuya Oshima/Yuji Kunimoto) appeared certain for victory. But a momentary electrical glitch opened the door for the #37 KeePer TOM’s RC F (Daisuke Ito/Andrea Caldarelli) to go through to the lead.
The KeePer TOM’s RC F went on to claim the first win of the current era of GT500, fifteen years after the death of team founder Nobuhide Tachi’s son Shingo in a pre-season testing accident at the circuit.
BMW Z4s dominated GT300, with the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Z4 (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) holding off the new #7 Studie BMW Z4 (Jörg Müller/Seiji Ara) at the end to take a 1-2 finish for the Bavarian brand.
2015: Back-to-back, this one’s a KeePer
2015 was a race of wild weather conditions. At first, the pole-winning KeePer TOM’s RC F, now driven by Andrea Caldarelli and 21-year-old rookie Ryo Hirakawa, started well, but fell back as the track dried.
In the middle stages, Honda seemed to have the race sewn up with the #100 Raybrig NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa) leading at half-way. Then the rains came again, and to the benefit of the Lexus fleet.
Hirakawa passed Izawa with 11 laps to go, then stormed away by several seconds per lap in the heavier rain, to take back-to-back Okayama victories for Lexus Team KeePer TOM’s – Hirakawa’s first victory in just his third start.
Things were less dramatic in GT300, with the #31 Toyota Prius apr GT (Koki Saga/Yuichi Nakayama) leading uncontested from lap 3 and going on to win the first race of the 2015 season.
2016: Matsuda’s milestone victory
2016 saw a masterful race driven by the defending GT500 champions at NISMO, the #1 Motul Autech GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli) working its way through to the lead from third on the grid.
Quintarelli moved the car to the front by the time he handed the car to Matsuda, and Matsuda would drive on to the victory – a record-setting 17th win for Matsuda, putting him one clear of Yuji Tachikawa and Satoshi Motoyama for the all-time career GT500 wins lead.
The new Mercedes-AMG GT3 made a sterling debut, with a 1-2-4 finish led by first time winners K2 R&D LEON Racing and the #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou).