Just three weeks after Mercedes-AMG Team Hirix Racing driver Shinichi Takagi was injured in a high-speed crash in the last round of the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series at Okayama International Circuit, the first-year team brought a brand new Mercedes-AMG GT3 and a retooled driver lineup to Twin Ring Motegi, and took the overall and ST-X class victory in Sunday’s Motegi Super Taikyu 5 Hours Race.
Daisuke Yamawaki, Shaun Thong, and Yuki Nemoto took the win after nearly four and a half hours of battling the #81 Daishin Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of Noboyuki Oyagi, Kazuki Hoshino, Ryuichiro Oyagi, and Kiyoto Fujinami for the overall lead.
The stage was set for the #888 Mercedes and the #81 Nissan to battle for the overall victory after misfortunes plagued the other three ST-X cars in the field. Just three laps into the race, the pole-sitting #777 D’station Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT3 (Satoshi Hoshino/Tomonobu Fujii/Tsubasa Kondo) went to the garage, after a collision with a backmarker broke the right-front suspension arm. The #9 MP Racing GT-R (Joe Shindo/Yusaku Shibata/Masami Kageyama/Keiichi Inoue) was given a drive-through penalty for a separate incident, when Shibata made contact with Thong and sent the #888 Mercedes off-track.
Then the #31 Denso Lexus RC F GT3 (Hideki Nagai/Koki Saga/Kazuto Kotaka/Yuta Kamimura) looked strong for at least a podium at the end of the first hour, before a series of issues with the electrical system and the engine forced them into the garage for several laps. To make matters worse, they had a last-lap collision that impacted the ST-Z class outcome.
After Noboyuki Oyagi was relieved by Super GT title contender Fujinami for the second stint in the Daishin GT-R, Fujinami ran down Hirix Racing’s gentleman driver Yamawaki to take the lead. In the third stint, Kazuki Hoshino took the overall lead back from the Hirix AMG, now being driven by Yuki Nemoto – who’d just returned from Italy to replace the injured Takagi, and put in a spirited drive to chase down the veteran Hoshino. On Lap 105, the Daishin GT-R made its third pit stop and Fujinami boarded for his second stint. Nine laps later, the Hirix AMG pitted, and Thong would start his second stint.
But with 32 minutes left in the race, the Daishin GT-R dove back into the pit lane from the lead, and conceded the top spot to the Hirix AMG. The orange Daishin GT-R didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the finish on just three stops, so the GTNET Motor Sports crew topped off the tank and sent Ryuichiro Oyagi, son of Noboyuki, out for his one and only stint to close out the race.
The trio of Yamawaki, Thong, and Nemoto completed 150 laps in five hours to take their second win of the season – having already taken their first win in the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours, coming back from a spectacular pit lane fire to outlast the competition and take the victory.
It was a close call for Mercedes-AMG Team Hirix Racing just to make this race: Their car was totalled after Okayama, and they just managed to secure a backup from an acquaintance in Japan in time for the race. Thong and Nemoto weren’t formally confirmed as drivers until the start of the weekend, as there was a chance that they may have had to withdraw before running. Instead, they once again showed incredible resolve to take the victory and extend their lead in the ST-X Championship standings.
“Since I am also the manager of the team, I had to decide whether or not to arrange for another car and race, so I am really happy with the results,” said Yamawaki. “The two youngsters [Thong and Nemoto] worked very hard. We were very concerned about fuel consumption, but I’m glad that the race ended as planned and according to our strategy. I think the Mercedes is good for long-distance races because it doesn’t lose much time in the pits. It looks like everyone will be able to get home safely today, so I’m really happy about that.”
After two stints, Thong exclaimed in Japanese, “That’s wonderful.”
“Not only are we happy to get our second win of the season, I was also happy to win the Fuji 24 Hours, but it must have been difficult for the team to get a new car after what happened in Okayama, and it must have been difficult for Mr. Yamawaki, who has been working as the team manager as well. So I’m really glad I won today. Fuel was fine at the end, the team managed that part of the race very well.”
“To tell you the truth, this is my first time racing a GT car at Motegi, and there were some things I had to think about, such as how to handle traffic, so I think this was a race where I learned how to become even faster in the future,” said Nemoto. “Overall, my average lap times weren’t too bad, I was able to run a stable race without breaking anything, which is a good thing because I think I’ve grown from the past.”
The #81 Daishin GT-R finished 1 minute, 8 seconds behind in second overall, and the #9 MP Racing GT-R finished a lap down in third overall. The #777 D’station Vantage GT3 drove hard til the end, but still ended the day four laps down in fourth. As for the #31 Denso RC F, they finished 11 laps down, in 14th overall and fifth in class.
While D’station Racing’s GT3 entry had a tough day, their #47 Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT4 prevailed in a fantastic battle for the ST-Z class victory, with drivers Tatsuya Hoshino, Manabu Orido, and Takuro Shinohara taking the victory and fifth place in the overall results – taking the Vantage GT4’s first-ever victory in the Super Taikyu Series as well!
The ageless veteran Orido was locked in a showdown with the championship-leading #3 Endless Mercedes-AMG GT4 (Yuudai Uchida/Hideki Yamauchi/Tsubasa Takahashi/Togo Suganami) in the last hour. Suganami, who has already won at Motegi in Super GT this year, got in the car for the final stint and emerged with a narrow lead, but Orido had closed to within a second in the final twenty-five minutes, and just five minutes later, the gap had been completely erased. On Lap 134, the two were door-to-door through the corners, but it was Orido who finally made the move for the lead and the victory, as Suganami couldn’t keep pace with the Endless AMG’s 60 kilogramme Success Ballast handicap.
The final margin of victory was 5.240 seconds between the D’station Vantage GT4 and the Endless AMG, who each completed 142 laps. And as the final lap began, the #23 TKRI Matsunaga AMG GT4 (Daisuke Matsunaga/Yuya Motojima/Tetsuya Moriyama), which had been in that lead battle for most of the race, was expected to consolidate third place.
But on the final lap, Moriyama was hit from behind by the ST-X class #31 Denso RC F, and ended up beached in the gravel at Turns 1 & 2. Without taking the chequered flag, the TKRI AMG was not even classified in the end, and Motojima had to show restraint in commenting on social media after the race.
The last spot on the ST-Z podium went to the #500 5Zigen AMG GT4 (Ryuichiro Otsuka/Takayuki Aoki/Yuya Sakamoto), who finished 45 seconds behind the Endless AMG. Fourth in class was the #20 SS/YZ Studie BMW M4 GT4 (Hirokazu Suzuki/Takayuki Kinoshita/Jukuchou Sunako), another 55 seconds back.
5th in class was the #19 BRP/Sunrise Blvd Porsche 718 Cayman MR (Kohei Fukuda/Takeshi Matsumoto/Yusuke Shiotsu), the #21 STP with Studie M4 (Takashi Kochiya/Takumi Sanada/Yuji Takahashi) was 6th, the #505 A.T. Field Audi R8 LMS GT4 (Genki Nishimura/Shozo Tagahara) was 7th, and the #51 Diamango Porsche Cayman GT4 (Masamitsu Ishihara/Atsushi Yogo/Daisuke Ikeda) was 8th, as 79-year-old Ishihara’s first race of the year attracted some attention. The #2 Syntium/K’s Frontier KTM X-Bow GT4 lost 22 laps in the pits with a drive system issue and finished 9th in class.
Honda took a 1-2 finish in the ST-TCR class, as the #290 F-Link Home Civic TCR of Tadao Uematsu, Yuji Ide, and Shintaro Kawabata took its second victory of the season (10th overall), seven seconds ahead of the #97 Racer Honda Cars Okegawa Civic TCR (Mitsuhiro Endo/Hiroki Otsu/Syun Koide). Kawabata was able to maintain a steady margin over Honda-backed F4 prospect Koide after the final round of pit stops, and unlike at Sugo, there was no worries about fuel.
The #33 Audi Driving Experience Japan RS3 LMS (Hideki Nakahara/Ryuichiro Tomita/Masataka Yanagida/Yuki Fujii) finished third in its one-off entry, while the championship-leading #22 Waimarama Kizuna RS3 LMS (Kizuna/Katsumasa Chiyo/Riki Okusa) broke down just six minutes short of the finish at the end of a difficult race.
In the production classes, ST-3 class victory (17th overall) went to the #62 HELM Motor Sports Lexus RC 350 of Reiji Hiraki, Yuya Hiraki, and Tomoki Takahashi. Just the second race for the Hiraki brothers’ upstart team, born from the now-defunct Le Beausset Motorsports – and a victory from pole position, this despite a broken shifter lever suffered early in the race. Takahashi, a top performer in the Formula Regional Japanese Championship, was a late replacement for Ai Miura, but it was Yuya Hiraki’s two stints that really powered their maiden victory.
The #244 Queen Eyes Nissan Fairlady Z34 (Toru Tanaka/Tetsuya Tanaka/Atsushi Miyake) finished 2nd to take Max Racing’s first podium of the year – despite damage to the left-front quarter panel – and the #39 Air Buster/Winmax RC 350 (Kazuya Oshima/Yusuke Tomibayashi/Hirotaka Ishii) finished 3rd, their fourth podium in as many races to extend their championship lead.
Rookie Racing’s ST-1 class Supra GT4 didn’t start due to mechanical problems, but their ST-2 class #32 Toyota GR Yaris, driven by Takuto Iguchi, Masahiro Sasaki, and Toyota President/CEO Akio “Morizo” Toyoda, took the top spot in their category.
Strong stints from Sasaki and Iguchi gave Morizo the chance to close out the race with a massive margin. They finished 1st in class, 19th overall, and one lap ahead of the 2nd-placed #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh/Mizuki Ishizaka). The #6 Shinryo Auto/Dixcel Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi) finished 3rd in class.
ST-4 class honours went to the #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing Toyota 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/ Yuji Kunimoto/Hiro Hayashi/Keishi Ishikawa), their second straight class victory. The upstart #225 Kobe Toyopet Motor Sports 86 (Seita Nonaka/Hibiki Taira/Miki Onaga) finished a strong 2nd in class, and the #310 GR Garage Mito Inter 86 (Rintaro Kubo/Shinya Hosokawa/Sho Tsuboi) was 3rd, another podium for C.S.I Racing.
The #13 Endless 86 (Ryo Ogawa/Ritomo Miyata/Takamitsu Matsui) was running 2nd with half an hour remaining, but lost drive on the backstretch and finished 3 laps down.
ST-5 class victory went to the #69 J’s Racing Honda Fit of Shinsuke Umeda, Hideo Kubota, and Yoshikazu Sobu, who took the lead in the middle stages following a mechanical issue for the #37 DXL Aragosta NOPRO Mazda Demio Diesel Turbo (Kaoru Ijiri/Kazunori Yoshioka/Yutaka Seki/Yoshihiro Kato). In 2nd was the #456 odula Avantech Mazda Roadster (Riku Hashimoto/Takuya Kusano/Ryosuke Kagami/Koji Obara) and in 3rd was the #182 Close Up Racing Fit (Riki Tanioka/Tatsuya Osaki/Kyosuke Inomata/Shigetomo Shimono).
The penultimate round of the 2020 Pirelli Super Taikyu Series takes place on 13 December, for another five-hour race at Autopolis International Racing Course.
Images courtesy of the Super Taikyu Organisation (STO)