Under friendly skies on a Saturday afternoon, the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series held its first qualifying session of 2019, setting the grid for Sunday’s season-opening five-hour race around legendary Suzuka Circuit.
The #1 GTNET Motor Sports Nissan GT-R GT3 of defending champions and race winners Teruhiko Hamano, Kazuki Hoshino, and Kiyoto Fujinami captured the pole position for Sunday’s race, hoping to give GTNET Motor Sports and their faithful last-gen GT-R their fifth win in the last six years at Suzuka.
The grid is set based on the aggregate fastest laps of each teams’ “A” and “B” drivers, in the top categories of ST-X, ST-Z, and ST-TCR, it is the team’s primary Gentleman driver and the team’s designated professional (Platinum or Expert grade) who will battle for pole position over two legs of qualifying.
Group A saw Hamano locked in a tight battle with Satoshi Hoshino in the new #777 D’station Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3, which set the fastest time in Free Practice by nearly 2.5 seconds! But the rest of the ST-X field still had the pace to unlock come qualifying, and Hamano was quickest of the gentleman racers, edging out 2019 Le Mans rookie candidate Hoshino by 0.260 seconds.
But the real fight was going to be in Group B, where the professional drivers did battle in a tight qualifying session. Kazuki Hoshino in the #1 GTNET GT-R was the first driver to break the 2-minute barrier all weekend. 20-year-old Harrison Newey was the star of the group, taking his #300 Tairoku Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 to the top spot in the session with a lap of 1’58.748.
But with the combined times of Hamano and Kazuki Hoshino, the #1 GTNET GT-R took pole position by three-tenths of a second, securing a point in the championship standings.
The new #777 D’station Vantage will start second on the grid tomorrow. Three-time Le Mans class winner Darren Turner finished fourth in Group B qualifying, but his time was still good enough to secure a front-row starting spot for himself and co-drivers Satoshi Hoshino and Tsubasa Kondo.
Newey’s hot lap in Group B puts the #300 Tairoku Ferrari third on the grid with his co-drivers Tairoku Yamaguchi, Nicolas Costa, & Shinichi Takagi. The #112 Sato-SS Sports Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Atsushi Sato/Yuya Motojima/Ryosei Yamashita) qualified fourth, ahead of the #244 MAX Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Toru Tanaka/Tetsuya Tanaka/Kimiya Sato) fifth, the #83 X Works Audi R8 LMS (Tse Ka Hing/Shinya Sean Michimi/Philip Tang) sixth, and the #9 MP Racing Nissan GT-R GT3 (Joe Shindo/Yusaku Shibata/Masami Kageyama/Ryuichiro Tomita) in seventh to complete the ST-X grid.
Eighth overall on the grid will be the ST-1 Class pole-winning #47 D’station Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Tatsuya Hoshino/Manabu Orido/Kenji Hama), and ninth will be the #998 Z-Rex Advics Audi R8 LMS Cup, which tweaked its lineup prior to the race (more on that in the Saturday Notebook section).
2019 sees the first true championship battle in the ST-Z (FIA GT4) class after two years in post-launch dormancy, and the #2 K’s Frontier Syntium KTM X-Bow GT4 (Taiyou Iida/Hiroki Katoh/Kazuho Takahashi) and the #3 Endless Sports Mercedes-AMG GT4 (Yuudai Uchida/Hideki Yamauchi/Tsubasa Takahashi) were by far the class of the field in the category.
But in the end, it was the striking #2 KTM which qualified fastest in class, tenth overall, as the best times of gentleman driver Iida and Super GT veteran Katoh bested the best times of Uchida and Yamauchi in the #3 Mercedes by just 0.202 seconds on aggregate!
It’s a long way down to the third-place #190 Birth Racing Project Mercedes-AMG GT4 (Kouichi Okumura/Akira Mizutani/Hisamori Hayashi/Daisuke Yamawaki), Okumura and Mizutani were seven seconds back of the other two ST-Z runners and qualified 24th overall.
But more encouraging results for Birth Racing Project came as their #19 Audi RS3 LMS of Hirobon, Takeshi Matsumoto, and Takuro Shinohara took pole position in the ST-TCR class. Hirobon led Group A amongst the TCR runners, and Matsumoto finished second in Group B, giving the #19 BRP Audi pole position in class, 12th overall by a second and a half.
A trio of Hondas followed, with the defending series champion #97 Modulo Civic TCR (Tadao Uematsu/Shinji Nakano/Mitsuhiro Endo/Hiroki Otsu) second in class, the #75 Azimuth Civic TCR (Toshio Tsukada/Yoshikazu Sobu/Kuniyuki Haga/Yuji Kiyotaki) in third, and on its debut, the #501 KCMG Annika Civic TCR (Paul Ip/Jim Ka To/Matthew Howson) in fourth. Fifth was the sole Volkswagen in the field, the #10 IDI Golf GTI TCR (Philippe Devesa/Shogo Mitsuyama/Jake Parsons).
Fastest in ST-3 was the #62 Denso Le Beausset Motorsports Lexus RC 350 – the star tandem of Toyota factory drivers Koki Saga and Kenta Yamashita were two seconds up on the rest of the class in qualifying, and they along with Ryo Ogawa will start 18th overall.
The #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Hiroki Yoshida) was second in ST-3, and three different models made up the top three places in the class as the #15 Okabe Jidosha Nissan Fairlady Z34 (Masaaki Nagashima/Kazuomi Komatsu/Naohiro Furuya) finished third in class.
A scorching lap from veteran Yasushi Kikuchi took he, Tomohiro Tomimasu, and Masazumi Ohashi to pole position in ST-2 in their #6 Shinryo Auto/Dixcel Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, good enough for 27th overall.
Six-time and defending ST-2 champions, the #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh/Takuto Iguchi/Mizuki Ishizaka), will start second in class.
Down to Group 2 and the ST-4 class, where Toyota factory GT500 drivers Sho Tsuboi and Yuichi Nakayama were the class of the field in the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86. Tsuboi and Nakayama were fastest in their respective groups – with an aggregate time good enough for 31st overall – and they along with Takamitsu Matsui will lead the Group 2 grid (ST-4 and ST-5) come Sunday.
The #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing Toyota 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Yuji Kunimoto/Hiro Hayashi) will start second in class, the combined efforts of Hiranaka and Kunimoto still not enough to overhaul Tsuboi & Nakayama in qualifying. The new #310 GR Garage Mito Inter 86 (Rintaro Kubo/Shinya Hosokawa/Rei Yamaguchi) was a solid third in class.
The best of the non-86 runners was the #116 Captain Harlock/WS Engineering Honda S2000 (Ryuichiro Otsuka/Noboyuki Yoshida/Ouji Semba/Yotaro Akahoshi) in fourth, and in fifth, the #104 Rookie Racing 86 of Daisuke Toyoda, Akira Iida, Yasuhiro Ogura – and a headline-grabbing last-minute addition to the team named “Morizo” (see the Notebook section for more!)
And in ST-5, the Mazda Roadsters locked out the front row in the class, led by the #66 Odula Idia Roadster for OverDrive Racing, driven by Riki Hashimoto, Takayuki Takechi, and Katsuhiko Tsutsui, with the 41st best aggregate time overall.
Second was the #78 Love Drive Racing Roadster (Ryohei Tanaka/Yugo Ohsaki/Junko Fujii), and the best of the front-wheel drive cars was the #69 J’s Racing Honda Fit RS (Junichi Umemoto/Toshihiro Kubota/Shinsuke Umeda). The all-female #50 Love Drive Racing Roadster (Marie Iwaoka/Hiroko Komatsu/Sayaka Kato/Rika Nakamura) was tenth in class.
Saturday Notebook: Techno First Ginetta withdraws, Akio Toyoda joins the party
Sadly, the field is down from 53 to 52 cars as the #35 Monocolle/Sun’s Create Ginetta G55 GT4 suffered terminal damage in a crash in a Friday test session, and was forced to withdraw.
Three-time GT500 Champion and four-time Super Formula Champion Satoshi Motoyama was the headlining driver alongside Keishi Ishikawa and Masaki Tanaka. They’ll now take in the race as spectators, and Techno First Racing Team will move on to getting the car ready for the second round at Sugo on 27-28 April.
There’s been some additions to the entry list and some driver changes, and of them, the addition of fourth driver “Morizo” at Rookie Racing in their #104 Toyota 86 was the talk of the paddock today…
…as, of course, “Morizo” is the racing alias of Toyota CEO, Akio Toyoda. Toyoda, who most recently competed in the 2018 season finale at Okayama, will race alongside his son Daisuke tomorrow.
In ST-1, Jason Zhang and Leo Ye Hongli are now joined by Xu Ling Xiao and Kizuku Hirota in the #998 Audi R8 LMS Cup. In ST-2, Hirofumi Okumura and Carlos Honda have been added to the crew of the #7 Shinryo Lancer Evo X.
Back to ST-4, the new #54 TC Corse Mazda Roadster RF filled out its driver lineup, with Teruaki Kato now joined by Kenichi Obara & Yuya Hiraki – but their status for the race is uncertain after they failed to run at all this Saturday.
In ST-5, the TBAs in the #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster have been filled: Hiroyuki Murakami is now joined by Takeshi Wakitani, Yasunori Nakajima, and Taro Kajitani, while Zene Okazaki is a last-minute fourth driver addition to the #101 HMRacers Mazda Demio 15MB.
An updated spreadsheet of all the teams and drivers has been put together here
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Images courtesy of Mobilityland Corporation and the Super Taikyu Organisation (STO)