Ryo Hirakawa, Nick Cassidy, and Lexus Team KeePer TOM’s took a massive step towards winning the Autobacs Super GT Series Championship, thanks to a confident win from pole position for the #37 KeePer TOM’s Lexus LC500 at the Chang Super GT Race at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand.
A sudden shower just minutes before the race left the track substantially wet when the race began, before quickly drying out just ten laps into the race. Despite most cars needing to make an extra pit stop, it worked out especially well for the young Kiwi Cassidy – who negotiated the variable weather with ease – before a great pit stop, and a solid, confident closing drive from Hirakawa sealed up the victory.
They are the first repeat winners of the 2017 season, with Hirakawa taking his fourth career GT500 race win, Cassidy his second.
They now move into the lead of the GT500 Drivers’ Championship, after the #23 Motul Autech NISMO GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli) took a massive gamble in starting the race on slick tyres. The conditions were too wet for Quintarelli to negotiate the circuit at speed, leaving them a lap down early in the race. Quintarelli, then Matsuda, would recover to finish 9th – but they concede the lead in the championship in the process.
The #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 (Kazuya Oshima/Andrea Caldarelli) finished second – their 12th top-five finish in the last 15 races together, as well as the third straight Buriram podium for Lexus Team Wako’s LeMans. They now move into second place in the GT500 standings, six points back of Hirakawa & Cassidy.
Jann Mardenborough had a genuine chance to pick up his first win of the 2017 season in the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R, but a lengthy second pit stop cost them any shot of the victory. Co-driver Hironobu Yasuda appeared to be able to salvage a third-place finish, but with three laps to go, the Calsonic GT-R broke down.
That promoted the #17 Keihin Honda NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure) into the third and final podium position, a bit of reparation after their heartbreaking defeat in the Suzuka 1000km.
Completing the top five were the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 (Yuji Tachikawa/Hiroaki Ishiura) in fourth, and the #36 au TOM’s LC500 (Kazuki Nakajima/James Rossiter) in fifth – the final two cars that are mathematically eligible to win the GT500 title on 12 November at Twin Ring Motegi.
In GT300, two more Toyota-backed young stars cemented their place in the title fight, after the #51 JMS P.MU LMcorsa Lexus RC F GT3 of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi took the victory, by 5.2 seconds over the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Nobuteru Taniguchi & Tatsuya Kataoka.
Second place for Taniguchi & Kataoka now moves them back into the lead of the GT300 Drivers’ Championship, with a nine-point margin over Nakayama & Tsuboi in second. The #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) suffered a devastating setback, finishing 13th and out of the points following a drive through penalty for a pit work infraction, and are now 13 points out of the lead.
It’s Nakayama’s fifth career GT300 class win, and the second for rookie Tsuboi.
The battle for third in GT300 went right to the wire in a fantastic finish, as Tomonobu Fujii in the #33 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (with Sven Müller) drove on from 15th on the grid to finish third, just two-tenths of a second ahead of Sean Walkinshaw and the #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (with Shinichi Takagi).
That narrow miss on a podium cost Takagi & Walkinshaw 3 more crucial points, needing a near-miracle to win the GT300 championship at Motegi with a 19-point deficit to overcome.
The best of the JAF-GT/Mother Chassis cars was the #18 Upgarage Bandoh Toyota 86 (Yuhki Nakayama/Shintaro Kawabata) in seventh, the best of a sub-par outing for the original Japanese-designed machines – as the #25 VivaC 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui/Kenta Yamashita) fell out of title contention with a lackluster 15th place finish.
There was heartbreak for the polesitters in GT300 as well, as the #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS (Richard Lyons/Masataka Yanagida) succumbed to an engine failure after 45 laps, the continuation of a nightmare 2017 campaign for Audi in Super GT.
To recap, Cassidy and Hirakawa lead the GT500 Drivers’ Championship by six points over Oshima and Caldarelli, and eight points over Matsuda and Quintarelli. James Rossiter, 16 points out of the lead, is still mathematically eligible, as are Tachikawa and Ishiura, who trail by 18 points – though the latter two need to win to have any shot at the championship.
Next month’s 250km Motegi GT Grand Final will see two new champions crowned at the end of what has been a fascinating season in the Autobacs Super GT Series.
Images courtesy of the GT Association.