The Super Taikyu Endurance Series held its second 200 minute race of the weekend at Twin Ring Motegi, the Group 1 race featuring the premier ST-X Class for FIA GT3 cars, as well as the ST-3 and ST-4 categories.
Overall victory went to the defending ST-X champions, Kondo Racing, who led a Nissan GT-R GT3 clean sweep of the overall podium with their #1 ThreeBond Nissan GT-R driven by Yuudai Uchida, and Super GT GT300 class standouts Tomonobu Fujii and Kazuki Hiramine.
Saturday qualifying drew up a surprise with the #8 ARN Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 (Kota Sasaki/Hiroaki Nagai) taking pole position in mixed wet/dry conditions.
It also brought on disappointment for one of ST-X’s pre-season favourites, as the #777 D’Station Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo) was forced to withdraw for the weekend as the result of a Friday practice crash.
Off the start, the #1 ThreeBond GT-R and the #3 Endless Advan GT-R (Yuke Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi/Yuya Motojima) quickly swept past the ARN Ferrari with a daring three-wide overtake of the polesitter, who suffered a puncture just 15 minutes later and would ultimately finish a lap down.
As Fujii in the ThreeBond GT-R, and Yamauchi in the Endless GT-R battled for the lead up front, they quickly left their closest pursuers in their vapour trails before passing the baton to their gentleman drivers – Uchida in the ThreeBond GT-R, and Taniguchi in the Endless GT-R.
Also making ground up was the #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Tadao Uematsu/Kiyoto Fujinami), which started fifth, but soon found its way up to third thanks to a brilliant opening stint from ace driver Hoshino.
The three lead GT-Rs left the final stint to their youngest drivers: Hiramine in the Kondo/ThreeBond GT-R, Motojima in the Endless GT-R, and Fujinami in the Y’s Distraction GT-R, none of whom turn 26 until next week.
Hiramine was able to maintain a steady margin over Motojima, giving the defending champions at Kondo Racing and their staff of engineers and mechanics from the Nissan Automotive Technical College a victory to open their 2017 ST-X Class title defense, completing 105 laps in 200 minutes around Motegi.
Nissan completed a clean sweep of the overall and ST-X podium with the Endless GT-R and Y’s Distraction GT-R finishing second and third respectively. This extends the Nissan GT-R’s undefeated run in the premier class of Super Taikyu to nine races, dating back to the 2015 Fuji Super-TEC Endurance Race nineteen months ago.
The ST-3 class was thoroughly dominated by their defending champions, the #38 Muta Racing Lexus IS350 of Ryohei Sakaguchi and Makoto Hotta, which led home a Tracy Sports Lexus 1-2 finish.
The #38 of Sakaguchi and Hotta lapped the entire ST-3 field en route to victory, their sixth class win in the last seven races dating back to the start of 2016.
The #39 Advics Tracy Lexus RC350 (Yuya Tezuka/Shuji Maejima/Ataru Suzuki) finished second, and the #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Takayuki Hiranuma/Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka) helped Toyota and Lexus sweep the class podium, with the ageless Hattori taking the final podium place in the last five laps.
It could have easily been the #62 Denso Le Beausset RC350 (Koki Saga/Yuya Hiraki/Yuichi Nakayama) on the podium with the two Tracy Sports Lexus, but a gamble to double-stint their Yokohama tyres on Hiraki’s mid-race stint backfired, forcing them to change drivers early and relinquish the podium. They ultimately finished fifth.
It would come down to ST-4, the largest and most competitive category in Super Taikyu, to deliver the closest finish of the weekend as the #93 SKR Engineering Honda S2000 (Yuya Ota/Masahiro Sasaki) battled with the #86 Toyota Team TOM’s Spirit 86 (Takamitsu Matsui/Naoya Gamou/Takuto Iguchi) for the class victory.
The final laps came down to the defending GT300 Drivers’ Champion Matsui in the 86, versus the defending Toyota 86/BRZ Race champion Sasaki, ironically in the S2000. Matsui and Sasaki battled for several laps, but Sasaki made his move for the lead on lap 85, and held off the Toyota by just 1.151 seconds to take the ST-4 victory.
It was Sasaki’s second win of the day, having already won the 86/BRZ Pro Race that morning, and it was the Honda S2000’s first ST-4 victory since 2015.
The reigning ST-4 champions’ #13 Endless Advan 86 (Ryo Ogawa/Tsubasa Takahashi/Masaya Hanazato) completed the podium in third place.
The next round of the Super Taikyu championship takes place in four weeks’ time at Sportsland SUGO, with two three-hour races on the weekend of April 29-30.
Image Credit: Naoyuki Hata / Super Taikyu Organization (STO)