In a dramatic first act of the 2018 Pirelli Super Taikyu Series at Suzuka Circuit, it was the #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET Nissan GT-R of Teruhiko Hamano, Kazuki Hoshino, and Kiyoto Fujinami that took the overall and ST-X class victory after 5 hours and 133 laps of racing on Sunday.
The win came following a drive-through penalty assessed to the #24 ThreeBond Nissan Gakuen GT-R of Yuudai Uchida, Tomonobu Fujii, and Kazuki Hiramine for a collision with the Y’s Distraction GT-R in the last 90 minutes of the race, relegating the polesitters to second in a Nissan 1-2 finish to kick off the Pirelli era in Super Taikyu.
Just five minutes into the race, there was big drama for the ST-TCR class pole-winning #19 BRP-Audi Mie RS3 LMS (Hirobon/Yossy/Takuro Shinohara/Koichi Okumura), which came to a halt at the end of the very first lap with heavy right-front suspension damage.
This would bring out the very first Full Course Yellow (FCY) in Super Taikyu history, the first of six during the race in total.
After a good start from ace driver Fujii, the #24 ThreeBond GT-R led from pole position through most of the first half of the race, followed by the #3 Endless GT-R (Yuke Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi/Tsubasa Mekaru) and the #99 Y’s Distraction GT-R.
But as the Endless GT-R was still in the hunt for a podium, they were forced into the pits for an exhaust fire on Lap 62, then on Lap 75, a suspension breakage effectively ended their day as they lost 30 laps in the garage due to repairs.
With 2 hours and 15 minutes left in the race, Nobuo Kubo spun the #112 Sato/Yamashita-SS Mercedes-AMG GT3 at the Degner Curves, bringing out the fourth FCY – which was a pivotal point in the race. The #24 ThreeBond GT-R, and the #777 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo) had pitted and changed drivers the lap before.
The #99 Y’s Distraction GT-R, however, stayed out one more lap, pitted just before the FCY came out, and exited the pits with a 15 second lead over the #24 ThreeBond GT-R. For this leg of the race, it was a straight fight between gentlemen drivers – Hamano in the #99 GT-R, Uchida in the #24 GT-R, and with the Endless GT-R in the garage, Satoshi Hoshino in the #777 Porsche.
Uchida had a pace advantage over GT3 newcomer Hamano, and was able to cut down the 15-second lead down to less than a second in a handful of laps, though Hamano did well to defend his place in traffic when the ThreeBond GT-R closed in. Uchida saw an opportunity to pass on lap 88, but locked up and straightlined the Casio Triangle chicane, dropping back a second and a half. Uchida closed down the margin once again, and tried a pass at the Hairpin Curve on lap 96. But the two GT-Rs tangled, Uchida sending Hamano into a spin, just before the end of their stints and the deployment of another FCY.
When Hiramine took over the ThreeBond GT-R for the final hour of the race, the Kondo Racing team were given a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact on Uchida’s behalf, moving the Y’s Distraction GT-R and young Fujinami to the lead with one hour to go.
With a 15-second lead in hand, Fujinami (above, middle) took the #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R to the victory for the second year in a row at Suzuka, together with second-generation Super GT veteran Hoshino (left) and new gentleman driver Hamano (right), who came away from his grueling battle for the lead with his first ST-X class win.
Behind them, the #81 J-Fly Racing Audi R8 LMS (Jeffrey Lee/André Couto/Shintaro Kawabata) were in play for a podium with 10 minutes to go. But they needed a splash of fuel to get to the end, and pitted – conceding third place to the D’station Porsche of Hoshino, Ara and Kondo.
The #82 Phoenix Racing Asia R8 (Alex Au/Alex Yoong/Shawn Thong) capped off the team’s Super Taikyu debut with a fourth-place finish, ahead of the J-Fly Racing R8 in fifth – capping off Couto’s 9-month recovery from spinal injuries sustained in a China GT crash in Zhuhai last July.
Debut victory for new Dome Racing Honda
Honda took a popular victory in the ST-TCR category at their home circuit, and a debut win for the new Honda Civic Type R FK8, with the #97 Modulo Civic TCR of Tadao Uematsu, Shinji Nakano, Hiroki Otsu and Takashi Kobayashi winning the class by a full lap – not a bad way for Nakano to celebrate his 47th birthday!
It’s Honda and Dome Racing’s sixth victory from seven races since the ST-TCR category was introduced at the start of last year, and it’s the very first competition victory for the new Civic which debuted in January at this year’s 24 Hours of Dubai.
All three TCR manufacturers got on the class podium, with the #10 Racingline Performance Volkswagen Golf TCR (Philippe Devesa/Shogo Mitsuyama) finishing second, ahead of the #45 Prisma Illya Audi RS3 LMS (Naoto Takeda/Takuya Shirasaka/Shozo Tagahara) in third.
The battle for ST-1 was spoiled one hour in when the #31 Nissoku Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Katsuhito “Jack” Ogawa/Masami Kageyama/Ryuichiro Tomita) retired from the race with an electrical failure, clearing the path for a win for the #47 D’station Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Tatsuya Hoshino, Manabu Orido, and Kenji Hama. This was Orido’s second win of the day – having won the Toyota 86/BRZ Professional race earlier that morning!
The #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI continued its dominance in ST-2, with Manabu Osawa, Hitoshi Goto, Takuto Iguchi, and Mizuki Ishizaka winning by two laps.
But it was a much closer margin of victory in ST-3, with the #38 muta Racing/Advics Lexus IS350 (Makoto Hotta/Ryohei Sakaguchi) and the #15 Okabe Jidosha Nissan Fairlady Z34 (Masaaki Nagashima/Kazuomi Komatsu/Makoto Fujiwara/Yasutaka Hinoi) both in contention for the win.
In the final leg of the race, Hotta held a 25 second lead in his Lexus, but Komatsu was lapping as much as 2 to 3 seconds per lap faster in his 370Z. But when Komatsu closed in, Hotta was able to hold him off, and take the win for the #38 Lexus by just 0.521 seconds!
Heading the pack in ST-4 and Group 2 was the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 of Takamitsu Matsui, Yuichi Nakayama, and Sho Tsuboi. The TOM’s Spirit all-star crew won by a full lap over the #13 Endless 86 (Ryo Ogawa/Tsubasa Takahashi/Masaya Hanazato), with the #54 TC Corse iRacing Mazda Roadster NC (Teruhiko Kano/Yuui Tsutsumi/Yuya Hiraki) preventing an clean sweep of 86es on the podium.
ST-5 also saw early drama. After qualifying, the #4 The Bride Honda Fit was demoted two grid places due to a pit work violation, giving class pole position to the new #168 Saekano Racing with FCA Honda Fit. But the Saekano/FCA Honda went to the garage with a transmission issue, and lost 25 laps in the first hour. The #4 Bride Honda also broke down in the final minutes of the race after an emergency stop.
Out of the chaos, the #2 Team221 Mazda Roadster ND of Katsuhiko Tsutsui and Ryuichiro Otsuka took the class win.
Many of the drivers in the field will be in action in next week’s Super GT season opener at Okayama International Circuit, but the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series itself will reconvene in four weeks at Sportsland SUGO, for two three-hour races on 29 April.