L&T Motorsport

KeePer Lexus Storms to Victory at Okayama

Ryo Hirakawa held off Andrea Calderelli in a frantic closing 15 minutes to take victory at Okayama, while the Hatsune Miku Mercedes commandingly triumphed in GT300.

After Tatsuya Kataoka passed the LEON Mercedes a quarter of the way into the race, the Goodsmile run car remained unchallenged until the race’s conclusion, mostly down to an exciting squabble for 2nd position.

However, Honda will make headlines for all the wrong reasons, after 4 of their 5 cars retired with electrical issues at the very beginning of the race in a calamitous capitulation.

On the formation lap, Takashi Kogure’s Keihin Honda failed to move off the start at first but eventually got going, and was able to retake it’s grid spot. But on the third formation lap, the Keihin car stopped on track again and at the same time the pole sitting ARTA NSX and the Epson NSX stopped with an identical issue, forcing the race to be red flagged before it had even started.

In the end, the opening two laps of the race were run behind the safety car. When the race restarted Kazuya Oshima lead the field in the blue and pink Wako’s Lexus from Nick Cassidy in the Red Bull sponsored KeePer car. However, Cassidy wasted no time in taking the lead, aggresively diving up the inside of Oshima at turn 5.

The race didn’t have time to settle down though, before another Honda, this time the Raybrig car, stopped out on track with seemingly the same issue as the other NSXs. Then, seconds later, a Shigekazu Wakisaka mistake sent his Toyota Mark X into the barriers, bringing out the safety car on lap 4.

When racing resumed on lap 10, the field calmed down a bit. Cassidy started to open a gap to Oshima, and the duo of Mercedes pulled away from Kenta Yamashita in the VivaC Toyota 86. However, the leading LEON Mercedes, in the hands of Haruki Kurosawa, started to struggle and Kurosawa was forced to start desperately fending off the Hatsune Miku AMG of Tatsuya Kataoka.

Kataoka tried near-impossible, physics-defying overtakes multiple times, slowing the pair of Mercedes allowing Yamashita to close in again. In the end, the pass for the lead was anticlimacticly simple, with Kataoka slipping seamlessly up the inside at turn 8 on lap 21. He preceded to streak away rapidly.

On the contrary, Kurosawa slipped into the clutches of Yamashita and quickly lost out. On lap 31, the pair running in 2nd and 3rd in GT300 peeled into the pits. Takamitsu Matsui hopped aboard the VivaC car, which changed two tires as well. Polesitting driver Naoya Gamou took the wheel of the LEON car, which changed all 4 tyres. This was to become a great battle.

Gamou and Matsui, who incidentally are good friends, found themselves in a hard fought battle in which Matsui tried desperately, and successfully, to hold off Gamou, who was a faster driver in a faster car. Gamou simply ran out of tarmac to put his car on every time he tried to make a pass.

Around lap 35 of 81, more cars started to pit. Kataoka handed the baton over to Taniguchi, whose car was equipped with a fresh pair of tyres as well. Team Goodsmile were assuming that Gamou would be past Matsui in not very long, and Taniguchi would have to defend from a hard-charging, lap record-breaking Gamou. However, Matsui in the blue and white Toyota was doing a great job of keeping the 27 year old at bay.

On lap 37, the GT500 leader Nick Cassidy came into the pits and handed over to Ryo Hīrakawa. After the stops had filtered through, the Wako’s Lexus, now driven by Andrea Calderelli, was just in front of Hirakawa. However Hirakawa muscled past Calderelli almost immediately and the race settled down yet again.

One big surprise was the Mach 86, running confidently in 4th place after good strategy from the team, that was at least until the car stopped on track, at roughly the same time as the R&D sport Subaru BRZ. The Subaru retired from the race while the Mach 86 lost a lap. Gamou still remained behind Matsui, meanwhile.

Lap 54 marked another major turning point in the race. Morio Nitta had an enormous crash, piling head on into concrete barriers after contact with the remaining Honda. Nitta himself was OK, bar a bit of bruising, but the Ferrari was left in a rather sorry state.

A lengthy safety car intervention set up a frantic final 13 laps. Calderelli tried just about everything to pass seemingly the widest Lexus ever, piloted brilliantly by Hirakawa. This saw the spectacle of the pair weaving frenetically through GT300 cars which were busy having a battle of their own. It wasn’t long before Kohei Hirate and Hiroaki Ishiura had joined up in their respective Lexi to make a leading quartet. At this point, Calderelli calmed down to try and give himself one last chance. It failed though, and Hirakawa started to open a gap again.

But there was to be one last twist to the tale 5 laps from the race’s end. As Calderelli and Hirakawa came across the battle for second in GT300, Matsui, who was probably exhausted, lit up the rear tyres and spun at turn 9. He lost about 4 seconds, but it was enough to put Matsui off the podium in 4th. 3rd was inherited by The Gulf Racing Porsche of Jono Lester and Kyosuke Mineo, which had been driving an uneventful race. It was bitterly disappointing for the VivaC squad, which had worked unbelievably hard.

The order remained the same until the chequered flag, to top off an eventful, exciting race.

Resources

Results – Super GT Website

Full Race Replay With English Commentary – Nismo TV

Photos – Autosport WEB

All Photos courtesy of Autosport WEB

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