Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate took the Super GT Drivers Championship after converting pole position into their first win of the season in the DENSO TEAM SARD Lexus RC F in the the final round of the season at Twin Ring Motegi.
“This was an amazing weekend for us,” said a jubilant Kovalainen after the race. “I am grateful to the team and Lexus/Toyota for the wonderful car they prepared for us. Of course, another big reason for our success was that Kohei [Hirate] won us the pole position.
“In the final stages of the race I was struggling a bit as the tire wore down, but I worked to keep them from deteriorating seriously in hopes of being able to pull away again at the very end. In the end, everything went according to our race strategy. I am very happy to have gotten this first win and the championship title at the same time.”
In the GT300 class, the #25 VivaC 86 MC of Takeshi Tsuchiya and Takemitsu Matsui, completed the same feat, winning the race and the GT300 title.
“It feels really great to have won the race and taken the championship,” said Matsui. “Having this chance to race together with Takeshi [Tsuchiya]-san, I have been able to absorb a lot. I am really happy to have been able to win the championship with this team.
“Of course, I can’t let myself be satisfied with things as they are now. I want to take this opportunity to try to improve and become a better competitor. Anyway, I am just so happy now to have won the championship with a victory in the race today.”
In the same fashion as Saturday’s race, the finale began with the #39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD RC F of Hirate made a good start from pole position to take control of the race. Hirate was kept under pressure though, by the pursuing #6 WAKO’S 4CR RC F of Andrea Caldarelli and the #37 KeePer TOM’S RC F of Ryo Hirasawa.
Meanwhile, the #1 Motul Autech Nissan which was second in the championship going into the race, was down in eighth position.
Hirate led comfortably until the pit cycle, and his LEXUS TEAM SARD mechanics performed a perfect stop with no mistakes and sent Heikki Kovalainen back into the race effectively in the lead in the DENSO car
When all of the teams had completed their pit stops, the DENSO KOBELCO SARD RC F was securely in the lead, but the #6 WAKO’S 4CR RC F of Kazuya Oshima was closing in on Kovalainen, but the ex-F1 driver kept his cool and reached the checkered flag first by just 0.472 sec.
For Kovalainen, who began competing in SUPER GT last season, this was his first win, and for Hirate it was his sixth.
The Team championship also went to the #39 LEXUS of TEAM SARD, meaning that the long awaited first title for this venerable team that has been competing in SUPER GT since its inaugural year, 1994, came as a double title. For Kovalainen it is his first title and for Hirate his second in the GT500 class.
In the GT300 class, the #31 TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT team’s Yuichi Nakayama won the pole position in the morning qualifying. But in the race, the #31 TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT of Koki Saga that had run in the lead from pole position would end up relinquishing the top spot to the VivaC crew.
There #25 VivaC 86 MC of Takeshi Tsuchiya started from sixth position on the grid elected for an early routine pit stop with the strategy of running the second half without a tyre change.
This strategy proved successful and brought them up to tail the leading PRIUS, then of Yuichi Nakayama in the late stages of the race. With excellent driving by Takamitsu Matsui, the 86 MC finally passed the TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT and went on that way to take its second win of the season.
With this win, the #25 VivaC 86 MC pair of Tsuchiya and Matsui claimed the GT300 class Drivers championship as well. The Team championship also went to #25 VivaC team TSUCHIYA.