The #24 Forum Engineering ADVAN Nissan GT-R of Daiki Sasaki and Masataka Yanagida scored its second win of 2016 in the first race of the double-header at Twin Ring Motegi. It was a remarkable win for the duo, who ran the entire race on one set of tyres, holding on for the win ahead of the hard-charging Denso Lexus RCF of Heikki Kovalainen in the closing laps. By finishing second Kovaleinen and his teammate Kohei Hirate sit atop the standings heading into tomorrow’s final round by three points over the Motul Autech Nissan.
“I was being chased hard in the late laps of the race and I hear that things were really tense for everyone in our pit, and to tell the truth, I was really tense out their too! We won today but I can’t feel really ecstatic about it yet,” said Yanagida. “I want to save that for when we win tomorrow and everything is over.
“The biggest reason for today’s win has to be the fact that we got a front-row spot on the grid. What is our strategy for tomorrow? I’ll leave it to you to imagine.”
At the start of the race Kovaleinen’s teammate Kohei Hirate held onto the lead from pole position, with the au TOM’S RCF second, initially struggling to keep up at the start after pushing the Forum Engineering GT-R to third.
The Safety Car though was called in the opening laps of the race after two huge and separate incidents in the GT300 class, forcing the MACH SYAKEN MC86 and ARTA BMW M6 into retirement.
When the race went green once again following the clear up, Hirate was unable to create much of an advantage, eventually battling with the au RCF of Daisuke Ito until the round of stops.
The top three running order was turned upside down during the cycle at the halfway mark of the race though, with the DENSO RCF of Kovaleinen slipping to third after taking four fresh tyres, while the au RCF took two and emerged second. The race-winning Forum Engineering GT-R meanwhile, stayed out a lot longer and just swapped drivers, handing the team a 12-second lead after rejoining.
From then on it was all about Kovaleinen attempting to fight back to take team’s first win since 2012; but he couldn’t get it done. Kovaleinen struggled, but squeezed past Nick Cassidy for second after a lengthy battle, but couldn’t quite overtake the leading GT-R which managed to run remarkably well with Yanagida managing the tyres. The duo ran nose-to-tail across the line after a tussle in the final three laps, ending with Kovaleinen frustrated he was unable to make anything stick.
Just off the podium, and making it five RCFs in the top six, were the WAKO’S, WedsSport and ZENT CERUMO cars in that order. For WAKO’s and WedsSport, the two cars battled hard in the second half of the race, with Andrea Calderelli in the former RCF snatching fourth place in the closing laps, before pressuring Cassidy’s au RCF until the flag for third.
Seventh and eighth on the road were the Calsonic and S-Road GT-Rs after a clash late in the race which saw both spin and recover, with the #1 Mogul Autech Nissan of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli finishing ninth – scoring just two points and giving up the championship lead to the DENSO squad.
The first of the Hondas on the results sheet was the Raybrig NSX, a lowly tenth.
In GT300, the action was just as dramatic, with the #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 of Richard Lyons and Tomonobu Fujii, which took the lead at the round of stops from the pole-sitting Gainer AMG GT3 taking the win. For the team and for Lyons, it was their first win in the GT300 class.
In the end, the Gainer AMG GT3 slipped down the order to fourth at the end of the race, leaving the Excellence Porsche of Jörg Bergmeister and the MANEPA Lamoborghini Huracan of Kazuki Hiramine fighting for second and third at the end.
In the title race, the #25 VivaC 86 MC driver pair of Takeshi Tsuchiya and Takamitsu Matsui held their lead in the series ranking by finishing seventh in this race. They hold a nine-point lead over the #3 B-MAX NDDP GT-R pair of Kazuki Hoshino and Jann Mardenborough, with five other teams also vying for the title in the final round tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s 250km Super GT finale at Motegi starts at 13:15 local time in Japan, and can be streamed live with English commentary on NISMO.TV