GTNET Motor Sports took their third consecutive victory in the 2019 Pirelli Super Taikyu Series this Sunday. The #1 AIM GTNET Nissan GT-R GT3 of Teruhiko Hamano, Kazuki Hoshino, and Kiyoto Fujinami completed 129 laps in a race that was neutralized by a Safety Car with 45 minutes left in the race due to heavy rain and standing water. Add dense fog to the mix, and ultimately, the race was red-flagged with 15 minutes to go, never to restart.
A great start from Fujinami helped him take the lead on Lap 1 from pole sitter Tetsuya Tanaka in the #244 MAX Racing Lexus RC F GT3, followed by Tomonobu Fujii in the #777 D’station Aston Martin Vantage GT3, and Yuya Motojima, a native of Kyushu island, in the #112 Sato-SS Sports Mercedes-AMG GT3.
The track conditions were wet to start, but dried sufficiently for all teams to switch to dry Pirelli tyres 30 minutes into the race. There was already one Full Course Yellow (FCY) by the end of the first hour, and just after the start of Hour 2, a second FCY brought the leaders in for their first refuelling stop on Lap 28, and to change drivers.
It was in this second leg of the race that Tsubasa Kondo took over the #777 D’station Vantage, and he quickly began to pull out a significant gap over Hoshino in the #1 GTNET GT-R on the drying track. So much so that, after the second round of pit stops, Satoshi Hoshino took over the Vantage for his stint, with a lead of 26 seconds over Hamano – despite a slow exit from the pits.
As the gentleman drivers took over the two leading cars, it gave Motojima a chance to go for the lead in his second stint, taking the top spot on Lap 100 after first passing Hamano for 2nd, then Hoshino for 1st. On Lap 112, Motojima passed the baton to co-driver Atsushi Sato.
By this point, Fujinami in the #1 GTNET GT-R and Fujii in the #777 D’station Vantage were taking their cars to the end of the race. Fujii was leading with less than two hours to go, but with 70 minutes left, the rain began to fall once again. Both drivers stayed out as long as possible on slick tyres, and it was at this stage that Fujinami rapidly began to close in on Fujii for the lead. On Lap 116, both leaders pitted for wet tyres, and it was during this final stop that Fujinami took the lead from Fujii.
After a crash involving the ST-TCR #75 Azimuth Honda Civic Type R of Yoshikazu Sobu, the Safety Car was deployed with 45 minutes remaining. By this point, the Autopolis circuit was saturated with standing water. Race control had hoped to resume the race, but when the fog rolled in with 15 minutes left, that brought out a red flag and ended the race. The official classification saw the #1 GTNET GT-R win by 3.7 seconds over the #777 D’station Vantage.
With their third victory of the season, the #1 GTNET GT-R of Hamano, Hoshino, and Fujii now have a 42.5 point lead in the ST-X Championship, and would need only a finish of fifth place or better in the penultimate round at Twin Ring Motegi to clinch their second consecutive premier class title.
Satoshi Hoshino was thankful to be back on the podium after a frightening first venture to Le Mans, finishing second with Fujii and Kondo. And Motojima, alongside co-drivers Sato and Ryosei Yamashita, drove Sato-SS Sports and their #112 Mercedes to their first ever podium finish in ST-X, in third.
The #244 MAX Racing RC F (Toru Tanaka/Tetsuya Tanaka/Kimiya Sato) ended the day 4th overall, ahead of the #83 X Works Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Tse Ka Hing/Shinya Sean Michimi/Philip Tang) in fifth. An electrical failure on the #9 MP Racing GT-R (Joe Shindo/Yusaku Shibata/Masami Kageyama) ultimately dropped them to 22nd overall and last in class.
Two teams wrapped up their classes’ championship titles in the race, including the first-ever champions of the ST-Z Class (FIA GT4), the #3 Endless Sports Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Yuudai Uchida, Hideki Yamauchi, and Tsubasa Takahashi.
Though the championship journey was spoiled signficantly due to the early withdrawal of the #2 K’s Frontier Syntium KTM X-Bow GT4, they were cruising to their fourth victory of the season. On their final pit stop, however, a mechanical issue sent them to the garage with an hour left, but they re-emerged after 35 minutes to return to the track and be classified at the finish to score the requisite 22 points plus one for finishing second and clinching the title.
The ST-Z class victory ultimately went to the #190 Birth Racing Project Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Kouichi Okumura, Akira Mizutani, and Daisuke Yamawaki – their first victory in the ST-Z class – completing 112 laps and finishing 27th overall.
Further up the road, the #47 D’station Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Tatsuya Hoshino, Manabu Orido, and Kenji Hama clinched its second successive ST-1 Class championship by finishing the race, completing 122 laps and finishing 7th overall, 2nd in class, behind the winning #998 Z-Rex Advics Tracy Sports Audi R8 LMS Cup (Jeffrey Zee/Jason Zhang/Leo Ye/Simon Chen), taking their second win of the season by 17 seconds.
After two retirements in the first three rounds, the reigning champions of ST-TCR, the #97 Modulo Civic TCR of Tadao Uematsu, Shinji Nakano, Mitsuhiro Endo, and Hiroki Otsu got back in winning form by taking the ST-TCR class victory by over a lap, from the #10 IDI Volkswagen Golf TCR (Philippe Devesa/Shogo Mitsuyama/Jake Parsons) in second, followed by the #108 RFC Racing Honda Civic TCR (Jun Fujii/Takahisa Ono) in third.
The Modulo Racing with Dome drivers declared they would win the final two races of the season – will it be enough to complete a remarkable comeback in the championship?
In the other production-based classes, ST-3 saw the #34 Techno First Lexus RC 350 (Yuya Tezuka/Riki Okusa/Shuji Maejima) pick up its second straight win of the season and move into the lead in the championship following the early withdrawal of the #38 Advics muta Racing Lexus RC350 on Saturday. The #68 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X (Naoki Hattori/Shigekazu Wakisaka/Hiroki Yoshida) finished second in class, and the #62 Denso Le Beausset RC 350 (Koki Saga/Ryo Ogawa/Ryo Hirakawa) finished 3rd.
ST-2 saw the first victory of 2019 for the #7 Shinryo/Neoglobe Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Masato Narisawa/Turbo Asahi/Zene Okazaki/Wataru Yamaki), the #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh/Takuto Iguchi/Mizuki Ishizaka) in second – but a retirement for the #6 Shinryo/Dixcel Lancer Evo X (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi) due to an oil pump failure was a hammer blow to their title hopes.
In ST-4, the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 (Sho Tsuboi/Yuichi Nakayama/Takamitsu Matsui) took a convincing victory after breaking free from an early brawl for the top spot. They gain more points on the championship-leading #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Yuji Kunimoto/Hiro Hayashi/Keishi Ishikawa) in 2nd, and the #13 Endless 86 (Yuhki Nakayama/Ritomo Miyata/Naoya Gamou) in 3rd.
Toyota CEO Akio “Morizo” Toyoda finished 6th in class in the #104 Rookie Racing 86, with co-drivers Daisuke Toyoda, Masahiro Sasaki, and Yasuhiro Ogura.
And in ST-5, the #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster ND (Hiroyuki Murakami/Naoki Yamatani/Keiji Amemiya/Taro Kajitani) seemed to have the race in hand until they were caught out by the standing water and went off into the gravel trap, dropping them to 5th. That opened the door for HM Motors and their #101 Hiromatsu Mazda Demio (Soichiro Yoshida/Kota Sasaki/Kenbow) to take their first class victory.
The penultimate round of the 2019 Pirelli Super Taikyu Series takes place in just under two months’ time, on 15 September for the 5 Hours of Twin Ring Motegi.
Images courtesy of the Super Taikyu Organisation (STO)