The 2017 Super Taikyu Endurance Series kicked off at Twin Ring Motegi on Saturday afternoon with the first of two 200 minute races to be held this weekend.
The two Honda Civic Type-R TCRs of Civic TCR Racing Project scored a 1-2 finish in the overall classification, with the #98 Honda Civic TCR of Takuya Kurosawa, Keishi Ishikawa, and Hiroki Katoh taking both the outright and ST-R class victories in the first-ever Super Taikyu race for the TCR touring cars.
The #98 crew recovered from an early drive-through penalty for a jump start to take the victory by 12 seconds over their teammates, the #97 Honda Civic TCR of Shinichi Ito, Keiichi Ebisawa, and Shinji Nakano – a popular 1-2 victory for the Honda Civics at Honda’s home circuit of Motegi.
Qualifying was held for both Groups 1 and 2 on Saturday morning, and despite the presence of the new ST-R class (to be known as ST-TCR from the second round onward), it was the ST-1 class #31 apr Nissoku Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Katsuhito Ogawa/Masami Kageyama/Ryuichiro Tomita) that took the overall pole position in a wet/dry qualifier.
The former GT500 champion Kageyama got off to a blistering start to the race on Saturday afternoon, breaking clear of the field by over a minute by the time he pitted on lap 33 to hand the car over to gentleman driver Katsuhito Ogawa.
Behind them, the ST-R class was producing great battles. The #45 Audi Team DreamDrive RS3 LMS (Shozo Takahara/Takuya Shirasaka/Naoto Takeda) started 4th, but starting driver Shirasaka had his hands full with the #97 Civic piloted by former MotoGP 500cc star Ito, eventually, the Audi was overrun by the Honda, Ito making a forceful move at the Hairpin (Turn 10) and eventually pulling away.
While that was going on, Kurosawa in the #98 Civic had to power his way back through the field after serving his drive-through for jumping the rolling start.
But the race took a drastic turn when Ogawa in the #31 Porsche spun off at V Corner (Turn 9), and was stuck in the sand trap, costing the Nissoku Porsche two laps by the end of the race.
The #98 Civic, now driven by young former Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) driver Ishikawa, had gone through into the overall lead of the race – and would soon take the #97 Civic with him into second place.
The reigning Honda Fit one-make champion Ebisawa in the #97 Civic was catching Ishikawa as the final hour of the race began, but by the time both cars made their final stops and driver changes, Super GT veteran Hiroki Katoh in the 98 had a comfortable lead over former F1 and IndyCar driver Shinji Nakano in the 97.
Katoh maintained a healthy margin, and held on to take the overall and ST-R class victory for the #98 crew in the debut race for the new car and the new category. Fittingly, it was a Honda 1-2 finish at Motegi, which is one of two major Japanese circuits owned by Honda.
Finishing 3rd overall and winning the ST-1 class was the #51 Diamango BMW Z4M Coupé (Shinya Hosokawa/Masamitsu Ishikawa/Daisuke Ikeda), which finished a lap ahead of the #31 Nissoku Porsche that spun earlier in the race. It was the first ever ST-1 win for the BEND Racing team.
The #20 RS Ogawa Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Kazuya Shimogaki / Takeshi Matsumoto / Setsushu Kondo) finished fourth overall and took victory in ST-2, ahead of four-time and defending champions TOWAINTEC Racing and their #59 DAMD Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Satoshi Gotoh), which had to recover from a poor start and repeated pit stop issues.
The #6 Shinryo Racing Team Lancer (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi) led early on, and was on course to take 2nd before an engine failure with eight laps to go.
ST-5 was won by the #700 J’S Racing Honda Fit (Hirobon/Leo Teranishi/Hirozaku Takahashi) in a race that saw many fast Fits afflicted with mechanical issues.
Both the #4 The Bride Fit (Junzo Shibatani/Susumu Nakamura/Toshiya Ito) and the defending champions’ #69 J’S Racing Fit (Takahisa Ohno/Junichi Umemoto/Hideaki Yamada) led the class early on, but both would lose several laps in the garage with mechanical issues.
That opened the door for the #700 J’S Racing Fit, but even their victory wasn’t without drama – when they were forced to pit for a splash of fuel with seven minutes to go. In the end, they won by a deceptively comfortable margin over the #11 Team Blood Sports Toyota Vitz (Takao Onishi/Takahiro Miki/Koki Oiwa) in second.
The #50 Love Drive Racing Mazda Roadster (Marie Iwaoka/Enami Kirihito/Hiroko Komatsu) broke down half-way through their first race, completing only 41 laps in what was a difficult first weekend for the first all-women’s team in major Japanese endurance racing.
The Group 1 race starts Sunday afternoon at 1:15 PM JST, with the ST-X class #8 ARN Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 (Kota Sasaki/Hiroaki Nagai) on pole position.
Image Credits: Naoyuki Hata / Super Taikyu Organization (STO)