After voluntarily withdrawing from the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours in June for the well-being of their crew of student engineers, the #24 ThreeBond Nissan Gakuen GT-R of Yuudai Uchida, Tomonobu Fujii, and Kazuki Hiramine returned to action in the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series with an exclamation point, taking a pole-to-win victory at this weekend’s 5 Hours of Autopolis event at the Autopolis circuit in Oita prefecture.
Uchida and Fujii combined to take pole position on Saturday, and Fujii started from pole position, breaking out to an early lead over the #3 Endless GT-R (Yuke Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi/Tsubasa Mekaru) in second. But Alessio Picariello, a late addition to the #81 J-Fly Racing Audi R8 LMS crew, was the man on the move. The Belgian moved from 4th on the grid to 2nd within 6 laps, then on Lap 27, Picariello passed Fujii for the lead of the race.
After the first round of pit stops and driver changes, it was still the #24 ThreeBond GT-R out front, this time in the hands of Hiramine, who held a steady margin over Yamauchi in the #3 Endless GT-R of over 20 seconds. Jeffrey Lee took over the wheel of the #81 J-Fly Racing Audi in the second leg, but the gentleman racer couldn’t keep up with the pace of the drivers around him and slumped down the order.
But the third leg of the race proved to be decisive, when the gentleman drivers of the two leading GT-Rs took the wheel. Taniguchi took over the Endless GT-R on Lap 66, and Uchida took over the ThreeBond GT-R in Lap 79. Atoning from an unforced error in the 5 Hours of Suzuka that cost the Kondo Racing team a victory, Uchida was relentlessly quick, consistently lapping at the 1 minute 51 second range – a pace comparable to his more experienced co-drivers Fujii and Hiramine.
It was too much for Taniguchi to match, with Uchida building a lead of nearly a minute by the time he got out of the car on Lap 116, letting young Hiramine take the #24 ThreeBond GT-R home over the final hour of the race to take its first win of the season, the first win for this Kondo Racing crew since April 2017 at Sportsland SUGO in the second round of the season.
They completed 156 laps around Autopolis in 5 hours, winning the race by a final margin of 1 minute, 30.072 seconds.
Second would have been the #3 Endless GT-R, were they not penalized 30 seconds after the race due to a transponder error on their final pit stop when Taniguchi was relieved by Mekaru.
That promoted the #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R of Teruhiko Hamano, Kazuki Hoshino, and Kiyoto Fujinami, to second place, after holding off the #82 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 (Alex Au/Shawn Thong/Alex Yoong) and the #81 J-Fly Racing Audi of Picariello, Lee, and André Couto. Despite being passed by the Endless GT-R, then having to hold off the challenges of the two Audis behind him, Fujinami held onto a podium position that gives the GTNET Motor Sports team a big result that will put them one step closer to winning the ST-X Class Championship at the next round at Twin Ring Motegi.
The #82 Audi would finish 3rd, the #81 Audi in 4th, and the post-race penalty levied to the #3 GT-R would demote them to fifth. In sixth overall was the #83 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS (Lim Keong Wee/Melvin Moh/Shintaro Kawabata), and in seventh, the returning #112 Sato/Yamashita-SS Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Atsushi Sato/Ryosei Yamashita/Nobuo Kubo).
Eighth overall, and officially clinching the ST-1 Class Championship, was the #47 D’station Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Tatsuya Hoshino, Manabu Orido, and Kenji Hama. They were the only ST-1 entry in all four rounds held so far – giving D’station Racing a clear path to their second ST-1 title in three years.
In the ST-TCR class, there was no stopping the #98 Floral Honda Civic TCR of Taiyou Iida, Hiroki Katoh, and Kazuho Takahashi, winning from class pole position with a 9th place overall finish, and leading a Honda 1-2 ahead of the championship-leading #97 Modulo Civic TCR (Tadao Uematsu/Shinji Nakano/Hiroki Otsu/Takashi Kobayashi) in 10th overall, putting the #97 crew closer to the ST-TCR Class Championship.
It looked in the final hour that the #45 Prisma Illya Audi RS3 LMS (Naoto Takeda/Takuya Shirasaka/Shozo Tagahara) would cruise to the victory over the Honda duo, but Shirasaka ran off course with 25 minutes to go, putting them out of the fight in the last half-hour of the race. Behind the two Hondas, the #10 RacingLine Performance Volkswagen Golf TCR (Philippe Devesa/Shogo Mitsuyama) finished 3rd in class, 11th overall.
The #39 Advics Tracy Sports Lexus RC 350 of Yuya Tezuka, Kazuya Shimogaki, Syuji Maejima, and Sesshu Kondo won the ST-3 class and finished 12th overall, with their second straight class victory at Autopolis – and a win that puts them right back in the fight for the championship.
14 seconds behind them in second was the #34 Techno First Lexus RC 350 (Masaki Kano/Satoshi Matsubasa/Riki Okusa), who were leading until a late pit stop with 12 minutes to go, and in third, the #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Takayuki Hiranuma), which now leads the championship standings by 3 points over the #38 muta Racing Lexus IS 350 (Makoto Hotta/Ryohei Sakaguchi/Morio Nitta) which finished 6th in class.
The ST-2 class win went to the #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI of Manabu Osawa, Hitoshi Gotoh, Takuto Iguchi and Mizuki Ishizaka (20th overall). Undoubtedly the heroes of the Fuji 24h due to their gritty efforts to take the chequered flag, this time they had a flawless drive, and with the #6 Shinryo Auto Dixcel Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi) falling to third after turbocharger gremlins, the #59 Subaru retakes the lead in the ST-2 championship table. The #17 DXL Aragosta Mazda Axela Sky-D (Tatsuya Tanigawa/Tatsuya Nogami/Toshihiko Nogami) was a distant second in class, five laps down from the class-winning Subaru.
It was another banner day for the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 of Takamitsu Matsui, Sho Tsuboi, and Yuichi Nakayama, which rolled on from pole position to the victory in the ST-4 class, their eighth ST-4 class victory in the last nine races. 25 seconds back in second place was the #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing Toyota 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Hiroki Yoshida), which now moves into second in the standings, and the #27 D’station Fina Toyota 86 (Isao Ihashi/Ryuju Fujita/Ryo Yamada) finished third, their first podium finish of the season.
In ST-5, it was another Mazda Roadster 1-2, led by the #2 Team221 Roadster of Katsuhiko Tsutsui, Koji Yamanishi, and Masaki Tanaka, which won by 35 seconds over the #88 Murakami Motors Roadster (Hiroyuki Murakami/Keiji Amemiya/Kuninori Nakane/Souichiro Yoshida) in second, and the #69 J’s Racing Moty’s Honda Fit 3 RS (Junichi Umemoto/Hideo Kubota/Razak Ifwat) in third. The #88 Murakami Motors Roadster leads the championship in ST-5, but now only by 1.5 points over the Team221 Roadster.
The Pirelli Super Taikyu Series returns in two months’ time for another 5 hour race at Twin Ring Motegi on 23 September, the penultimate round of the 2018 season that may very well see the ST-X and ST-TCR championships clinched in favour of Nissan and Honda, respectively.
Images courtesy of the Super Taikyu Organisation (STO)