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Max Racing Lexus Snatches Pole In Super Taikyu Qualifying At Autopolis

Two GT4 runners withdraw due to separate practice crashes

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 But after sustaining heavy damage in a Friday practice crash, the #2 KTM has been withdrawn from the race.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)