Returning after missing the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours, MAX Racing took pole position for Sunday’s fourth round of the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series, the 5-hour TKU Super Taikyu Race in Autopolis.
It’s the first pole position for the #244 Lexus RC F GT3 of Toru Tanaka, Tetsuya Tanaka, and Kimiya Sato, since MAX Racing joined the premier ST-X (FIA GT3) class in 2018.
The first round of qualifying was led by the championship-leading #1 AIM GTNET Nissan GT-R GT3. Despite the GTNET GT-R being saddled with a 60-kilogram success ballast handicap, gentleman driver Teruhiko Hamano was the quickest in his group in dry conditions, with a best time of 1’50.783. Toru Tanaka, on the other hand, was second-fastest by just 0.066 seconds.
Just as the professional drivers were ready to start the second phase of qualifying, however, it started to rain, and the MAX Racing team – supported by top Super GT privateers Tsuchiya Engineering – made the call to be the first team to attack on wet tyres.
Five-time Super Taikyu top class champion Tetsuya Tanaka took advantage of having his tyres up to temperature for two flying laps, with a best time of 2’00.975 that was good enough to lead the second round qualifying session by almost a full second over the #83 X Works Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Shinya Sean Michimi.
The aggregate times of Toru and Tetsuya Tanaka were good enough to secure MAX Racing’s maiden ST-X pole position, by 1.3 seconds over the #1 GTNET GT-R of Hamano, Kazuki Hoshino, and Kiyoto Fujinami, who will start second. The #83 X Works R8 of Michimi, Tse Ka Hing, and Philip Tang, will start third, ahead of the returning #777 D’station Aston Martin Vantage GT3 (Satoshi Hoshino/Tomonobu Fujii/Tsubasa Kondo) in fourth.
The ST-Z (FIA GT4) class was dealt two blows before the start of on-track activities on Saturday.
Autopolis represented a must-win race for the #2 K’s Frontier Syntium KTM X-Bow GT4 (Taiyou Iida/Hiroki Katoh/Kazuho Takahashi), in order to keep their slim title hopes alive. But after sustaining heavy damage in a Friday practice crash, the #2 KTM has been withdrawn from the race.
And the #35 SUN’s Techno First Ginetta G55 GT4 (Masaki Tanaka/Hironobu Yasuda/Masaki Kano/Keisuke Kinoshita), which missed the first three rounds following a Friday practice crash at the season opener in Suzuka, suffered the exact same fate this weekend after Kano was involved in a practice crash.
All drivers involved were not injured, but the two withdrawals mean that the #3 Endless Sports Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Yuudai Uchida, Hideki Yamauchi, and Tsubasa Takahashi can clinch the ST-Z class title with two rounds in hand, if they finish the race on Sunday.
And having already qualified 5 seconds quicker than the only other GT4 car in the field, the #190 BRP Mercedes AMG GT4 (Kouichi Okumura/Akira Mizutani/Daisuke Yamawaki), the Endless Sports crew are in prime position to clinch the title tomorrow barring a catastrophe.
Another class title that could be decided this weekend is ST-1, where the #47 D’station Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Tatsuya Hoshino/Manabu Orido/Kenji Hama) qualified only 22nd overall, but still 6 seconds ahead of the #998 Z-Rex Advics Audi R8 LMS Cup (Jeffrey Zee/Jason Zhang/Leo Ye/Simon Chen).
With the bonus point for pole position, all D’station Racing need to do is finish the race tomorrow to wrap up the title in ST-1.
In a wild qualifying session for the ST-TCR class, it was a local favourite on pole position: Team Mars, based out of nearby Fukuoka, and led by local gentleman racer Toshiro Tsukada, got the first class pole position for their #75 Azimuth Honda Civic TCR.
Though Tsukada and Yoshikazu Sobu finished second quickest in their respective qualifying groups, their times were still the fastest on aggregate, putting them and co-driver Yuji Kiyotaki 8th on the grid for Sunday’s race, at the head of the ST-TCR field.
Second-round qualifying leaders, the #10 IDI Volkswagen Golf TCR (Philippe Devesa/Shogo Mitsuyama/Jake Parsons), start second in class, and the first-round leaders, the #97 Modulo Civic TCR (Tadao Uematsu/Shinji Nakano/Mitsuhiro Endo/Hiroki Otsu), will start third.
The Okabe Jidosha Motorsport Nissan Fairlady Z34s took a 1-2 in qualifying for the ST-3 class, lead by the #14 Hirix/Yaima Z34 (Manabu Yamazaki/Mitsunori Atake/Isao Ihashi) which qualified fifteenth overall, edging out their sister car, the #15 Okabe Jidosha Z34 (Masaaki Nagashima/Kazuomi Komatsu/Naohiro Furuya/Tomoaki Ichimori) by nearly two seconds.
At this technical circuit, the Nissan Z-cars are excelling over the championship-leading Lexus and Toyota runners.
TOWA INTEC Racing took a step towards their seventh consecutive ST-2 class title as Manabu Osawa and Hitoshi Gotoh took pole position in their class. Osawa, Gotoh, Takuto Iguchi, and Mizuki Ishizaka will line up towards the back of the Group 1 field in 23rd, ahead of both Shinryo Racing Team Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Xes.
For the fourth straight race in 2019, the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 of Sho Tsuboi, Yuichi Nakayama, and Takamitsu Matsui will start at the front of Group 2’s field after taking yet another ST-4 class pole position.
GT500 stars Tsuboi and Nakayama were able to edge Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Yuji Kunimoto in the #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing 86 for top spot in class by just four-tenths on aggregate.
And in ST-5, it was pole position for the #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster ND (Hiroyuki Murakami/Naoki Yamatani/Keiji Amemiya/Taro Kajitani) at the head of a Roadster 1-2-3, breaking up the recent front-wheel-drive monopoly in the class.
Sunday’s on-track activities will kick off with the Pirelli Super Taikyu Classic Challenge race – 28 cars entered including quite a number of UK-based classics like the Triumph TR3 and TR4, Austin A35, Sprite, and Mini Countryman, a Lotus Elan and two Caterham Sevens, plus Japanese classics such as the Toyota 2000GT, Nissan Skyline GT-R KPGC10, and even the rare Tommy Kaira ZZ!
Then the race itself will be live on Super Taikyu TV, starting at 11:30 AM JST / 10:30 PM EDT / 3:30 AM BST / 4:30 AM CEST.
Images courtesy of the Super Taikyu Organisation (STO)