The fourth time was the charm for ARN Racing, for Hiroaki Nagai and Kota Sasaki, and their #8 Ferrari 488 GT3 – as they took their first win of the 2017 Super Taikyu Series in the Group 1 race at Autopolis on Sunday.
The victory ended a remarkable eleven-race undefeated streak for the Nissan GT-R GT3s, who all hit trouble during the race – and have now turned the championship on its ear heading into September’s Fuji Super-TEC Endurance Race.
The Group 2 race held earlier in the morning was won overall by the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 (Takamitsu Matsui/Naoya Gamou/Sho Tsuboi), which won the ST-4 class for the third consecutive race.
It looked as if it’d be a case of “deja vu all over again” for ARN Racing, who gave up the lead at the very first corner for the fourth successive race after Sasaki and Nagai put the car on pole position. But remarkably, true gentleman driver Nagai held his own against the #1 ThreeBond GT-R of Tomonobu Fujii, and the #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R of Kazuki Hoshino throughout the first hour of the race.
But shortly after the first stop, the two championship-leading GT-Rs were all out of contention. The #3 Endless Advan GT-R (Yuke Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi/Yuya Motojima) was knocked out early due to a fuel leak, and the #1 ThreeBond GT-R (Yuudai Uchida/Tomonobu Fujii/Kazuki Hiramine) lost eight laps in repairs due to a gearbox problem. It was all up to the Y’s Distraction GT-R (Tadao Uematsu/Kazuki Hoshino/Kiyoto Fujinami) to keep Nissan’s winning streak alive.
Fujinami took the wheel for the closing stint, and was rapidly closing in on Nagai up front. But in trying to take the lead on lap 80, Fujinami and Nagai came together, resulting in damage for the GT-R. Nagai, meanwhile, was given a drive-through penalty for his involvement in the wreck.
That opened the door for the #777 D’station Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo), and in the final laps, Kondo closed the gap to within a second of the Ferrari ahead. However, it wouldn’t be enough to deny Nagai, Sasaki, and ARN Racing a long-awaited first victory carrying the Prancing Horse emblem of Maranello.
With the win, ARN Racing also move to the top of the ST-X Championship table with 60 points, Kondo Racing 6 points back, GTNET Motor Sports 10 points back, and Endless Sports 12 points back.
Behind the ARN Ferrari and the D’station Porsche, the #89 HubAuto Ferrari 488 GT3 (Morris Chen/Hiroki Yoshimoto/Yuya Sakamoto) finished third, to complete an all foreign-make podium in Super Taikyu’s top category.
The #98 Modulo Honda Civic TCR (Takuya Kurosawa/Keishi Ishikawa/Hiroki Katoh) took its third victory in four races in the ST-TCR category, finishing sixth overall after overhauling the pole-winning #45 Liqui Moly Audi RS3 LMS (Shozo Tagahara/Takuya Shirasaka/Naoto Takeda) late in the race. The win gives the #98 Civic crew a 19 point lead in the ST-TCR standings after four rounds, and the potential to clinch at the Fuji Super-TEC.
The #97 Modulo Civic TCR (Shinichi Itoh/Keiichi Tsuchiya/Shinji Nakano) dropped out of the podium places after a loose wheel on their final stop, giving third in class to the #19 BRP Audi Mie RS3 (Kouichi Okumura/Kei Akiyoshi/Yoshizo Ueno).
Seventh overall was the sole ST-1 car, the #31 Nissoku Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Katsuhito Ogawa/Masami Kageyama/Ryuichiro Tomita).
ST-3 class victory went to the #39 Advics Tracy Sports Lexus RC350 (Yuya Tezuka/Syuji Maejima/Akira Suzuki), taking its first win of the season ahead of the #62 Denso Le Beausset RC350 (Koki Saga/Yuichi Nakayama/Kenta Yamashita) in second, and the #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Takayuki Hiranuma) third in class. Le Beausset Motorsports still leads by 4 points over the #39 Tracy Sports team in the championship.
And in ST-2, it was a Mitsubishi 1-2, led by the class-winning #6 Shinryo Racing Dixcel Lancer Evo X (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi) taking their first win of 2017. The championship-leading #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh) finished third in class, four laps back of the Shinryo Evo X – but they’re still 24 points clear in the standings, and can also clinch a fifth consecutive ST-2 Championship at Fuji.
TOM’s Spirit picks up Group 2 hat trick
Despite carrying a 40 kilogram ballast handicap, no car in the field in ST-4 had an answer for the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 of Matsui, Gamou & Tsuboi – which led from pole position and completed the pole-to-win triumph in 85 laps during the Group 2 race.
It’s the TOM’s Spirit team’s third straight win of the season, and a win that extends their lead out to 18 points over the crew of the #13 Endless Advan 86 (Ryo Ogawa/Tsubasa Takahashi/Masayo Hanazata) which came home in second, 35 seconds adrift.
They were just ahead of the #93 SKR Engineering Honda S2000 (Masahiro Sasaki/Yuya Ohta), which took third place near the end after a gearbox issue for the #54 TC Corse iRacing Mazda Roadster (Teruaki Kato/Yuui Tsutsumi).
ST-5 saw a dramatic finish and an all-Mazda podium, as the #88 Murakami Motors Roadster (Hiroyuki Murakami/Takeshi Wakitani/Masanobu Kato) held off the #2 Team221 Bomex with Autolab Roadster (Katsuhiko Tsutsui/Junichiro Yamashita/Koji Yamanishi) by just 0.265 seconds to take their third straight victory in class as well.
The race pivoted when the #2 Bomex Roadster pitted for just two tyres on their final stop, looking to gain track position over the #88 Murakami Motors Roadster, which took four tyres. The gamble nearly paid off, but with an inspired final stint from Kato on four fresh tyres, the #88 Roadster took the lead away late in the race, and continued to hold off the Bomex Roadster through the final handful of laps in a dramatic finish.
Finishing 3rd was the #37 DXL Aragosta NOPRO Mazda Demio Sky-D (Yutaka Seki/Go Umeda/Kaoru Ijiri), taking its first podium of 2017.
Murakami Motors extends their ST-5 championship lead out to a whopping 29 points, with a clinching scenario on hand at the Fuji Super-TEC – which is the next round of the championship, to be held on September 2-3, the week after the 46th International Suzuka 1000km.
Images Courtesy of Super Taikyu Organisation (STO).