Before announcing their plans to challenge the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series in Abu Dhabi this week, D’station Racing picked up a commanding pole-to-win victory in Sunday’s TKU Super Taikyu Race in Autopolis, with the #777 D’station Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT3 of Satoshi Hoshino, Tomonobu Fujii, and Tsubasa Kondo.
It was a sunny, but cold day at Autopolis International Racing Course, with temperatures only peaking at 10°C during the afternoon. At the start of the five-hour race, it was Hoshino, D’station Racing’s gentleman driver and team owner, who took the start. Indeed, of the five ST-X (FIA GT3) cars in the field – only one pro driver took the start, the newly-crowned Italian GT Sprint Champion, Yuki Nemoto in the #888 Hirix Good Day Mercedes-AMG GT3.
But in Nemoto’s eagerness to get away from third on the grid, he picked up a drive-through penalty for jumping the start, sending him to the back of the five-car pack after taking the lead from Hoshino on Lap 2. Nemoto charged his way back up through the field to take the lead back on Lap 19, and put in a 43-lap opening stint before passing the baton to gentleman driver Daisuke Yamawaki.
The #777 D’station Vantage GT3 pitted on Lap 30, with Tsubasa Kondo jumping in for his first stint. When the #888 Hirix AMG pitted, Kondo assumed the lead and continued to put in consistently fast laps to build a lead of over a minute from the field. All the while, Yamawaki couldn’t keep the other pro drivers around him at bay, falling to fourth place by the end of his lone stint at the wheel.
After a 47-lap stint, Kondo pitted on Lap 77 to pass the baton to veteran pro Tomonobu Fujii, who continued to maintain the advantage that his teammates had built. After three hours, the gap to the second-placed #9 MP Racing Nissan GT-R GT3 was 1 minute, 18 seconds. Fujii gave way after a 40-lap stint, and on Lap 117, Kondo took the wheel to close the race out, and never relinquished the top spot thereafter.
Hoshino, Fujii, and Kondo completed 154 laps over five hours, with a margin of victory of 1’01.226.
“Since Autopolis is a long race with severe tire wear, we put a lot of emphasis on the race setup this weekend,” said ace driver Fujii. “Qualifying was tough, but the race went smoothly, so I’m grateful to the team staff for making a good car, and the three of us drivers for doing a good job, making it a perfect race.”
“From the start I was able to build a lead early, and my rivals made mistakes, which helped me,” said team owner Hoshino. “As it turned out, we all made no mistakes today, and it was a great race. There’s still a chance that we could just barely win the championship, so I’m not going to give up!”
The #9 MP Racing GT-R of Joe Shindo, Yusaku Shibata, Masami Kageyama, and Ryuichiro Tomita finished in second place, with the #81 Daishin GTNET GT-R (Noboyuki Oyagi/Kazuki Hoshino/Ryuichiro Oyagi/Kiyoto Fujinami) one lap off the lead in third place. The #888 Hirix AMG of Yamawaki, Nemoto, and Shaun Thong finished in fourth, which ensures that the ST-X Championship will be decided in the final round of the season at Suzuka Circuit.
The #31 Denso Lexus RC F GT3 (Hideki Nagai/Koki Saga/Kazuto Kotaka/Hiroaki Nagai) finished six laps down in fifth, after a late trip to the garage in the final 15 minutes of the race.
After five rounds, the championship-leading #888 Hirix AMG has 105 points, the #9 MP Racing GT-R has 87.5 points, the #81 Daishin GT-R has 82.5 points, the #777 D’station Vantage has 81 points, and the #31 Denso RC F has 79 points. Each team’s five best results of the season will be validated in the final championship standings, and the 5-hour race at Suzuka will have a maximum of 32 points available including pole position bonuses.
One champion was crowned in Sunday’s race, in the ST-2 Class, where the #32 Rookie Racing Toyota GR Yaris of Takuto Iguchi, Masahiro Sasaki, and President of Toyota Motor Corporation, Akio “Morizo” Toyoda took their third victory of the season, and mathematically clinched a debut championship for the new GR Yaris.
Iguchi, Sasaki, and Toyoda drove an issue-free race as mechanical gremlins struck the remaining three ST-2 runners, including the #59 DAMD Motul Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh/Mizuki Ishizaka) which was trying for its record eighth consecutive ST-2 title in 2020. However, a gearbox issue resulted in 45 minutes of repairs, and the Subaru finished third in its class, 27 laps off the lead.
The margin of victory to the second-ranked #7 Shinryo Auto/Varis Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Masato Narisawa/Kensuke Anzai/Yoshiki Fujii/Wataru Yamaki) was 18 laps.
In his post-race press conference, President Toyoda (pictured above, centre of Sasaki and Iguchi) remarked, “[The GR Yaris] just went on sale this year, and although the automobile industry has been focusing on electrification and other important issues, I think it’s been a while since a new style of automobile has appeared in motorsports.”
“Our goal was to break it down, and make it stronger from a privateer’s point of view before it was sold to the public, and the manufacturers, our engineers, and drivers really did a great job. I think we were able to make the car not only faster than I expected, but also stronger in a short time. That’s why, even at the first race at Fuji, even a driver like myself can now drive with peace of mind, whereas I used to drive with fear and trepidation. Now that the car is completed, I hope it will be used by many people.”
The two Rookie Racing cars came across the line in a formation finish, with their #28 Toyota GR Supra GT4 (Naoya Gamou/Daisuke Toyoda/Yasuhiro Ogura/Shunsuke Kohno) finishing 16th overall, and father and son, Akio and Daisuke Toyoda, taking the chequered flag together.
The #28 Rookie Racing Supra already clinched the ST-1 Class Championship by virtue of being the only car to enter in its class this weekend.
But in several other classes, the championships will be decided in the season finale at Suzuka, including in ST-Z (FIA GT4), where the #3 Endless Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Yuudai Uchida, Hideki Yamauchi, Tsubasa Takahashi, and Togo Suganami took its third win of the season and finished sixth in the overall results.
It was a fierce fight for the class win between the #3 Endless AMG GT4 and two other cars, the #47 D’station Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT4 (Tatsuya Hoshino/Manabu Orido/Takuro Shinohara/Kenji Hama) and the pole-sitting #2 Syntium/K’s Frontier KTM X-Bow GT4 (Taiyou Iida/Hiroki Katoh/Kazuho Takahashi), who had the early advantage.
Indeed, it very well could have been two consecutive class wins for the #47 D’station Vantage GT4, were it not for a devastating 60-second stop/go penalty that was assessed to them for coming into the pits to refuel during a Full Course Yellow (FCY) intervention. That opened the door for the Syntium KTM, which had a comfortable lead – until Kazuho Takahashi, the long-serving Super GT gentleman driver, spun off after contact with a slower vehicle.
That opened the door for Tsubasa Takahashi (no relation) to take the lead, and even after a late charge from Orido in the #47 D’station Vantage GT4, Suganami brought the #3 Endless AMG GT4 to the chequered flag after 145 laps, taking the class victory (and 6th overall) by a margin of 24.805 seconds over the D’station Vantage, 2nd in class (7th overall). The #2 Syntium KTM finished a lap down, 3rd in class (8th overall).
Unofficially, the #3 Endless AMG GT4 (129.5 points) now has a 21-point lead to the #47 D’station Vantage GT4 (108.5) going into the last race of the season.
9th overall, and winners in the ST-TCR class for the first time in 2020, was the #97 Racer/Honda Cars Okegawa Civic TCR of Mitsuhiro Endo, Shinji Nakano, and Syun Koide. They made the move for the class win with 40 minutes to go, with Honda single-seater prospect Koide passing the #22 Waimarama Kizuna Audi RS3 LMS (Kizuna/Katsumasa Chiyo/Hironobu Yasuda/Riki Okusa) for the top spot, and won by a margin of over 32 seconds.
The #22 Kizuna RS3 finished second in its class (11th overall), ahead of the #65 Rebellion/Mars RS3 LMS (Taketoshi Matsui/Masanobu Kato/Masato Shimoyama/Toshiro Tsukada), third in class (15th overall). But the big drama in ST-TCR came when the #290 F-Link Home Civic TCR (Tadao Uematsu/Yuji Ide/Shintaro Kawabata) retired at the end of the first hour of the race, resulting in a massive swing in the championship table.
The #290 F-Link Civic still leads the ST-TCR championship thanks to the two bonus points for pole position, but the lead to the #22 Kizuna RS3 is just 1.5 points.
ST-3 class honours went to the #52 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Crown RS of Naoki Hattori, Hiroki Yoshida, Kohta Kawaai, and Takayuki Hiranuma, which finished 18th overall. The combination of the Crown’s turbocharged engine favouring the high altitudes of Autopolis, plus surprisingly good fuel economy from the luxury sedan, allowed the GreenBrave Crown to break away from the pack and claim its second win of the season – amidst swirling rumours that they may be driving the last-generation Crown sedan, which could transform into a sport-utility vehicle in 2021!
The #39 Air Buster/Winmax Lexus RC 350 (Kazuya Oshima [b.1997]/Yusuke Tomibayashi/Hirotaka Ishii) recovered from a spin in the final 90 minutes to take second place in class, 34.6 seconds adrift. The #39 Winmax RC350 still leads the ST-3 points standings going into the finale, but the gap is now just 3.5 points, with the #52 GreenBrave Crown taking the maximum 32 points available.
The ST-4 class victory (23rd overall) went to the #310 GR Garage Mito Inter Toyota 86 of Rintaro Kubo, Shinya Hosokawa, and Sho Tsuboi, their third victory of the season, after a gruelling battle with the #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing 86 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Yuji Kunimoto/Hiro Hayashi/Keishi Ishikawa) in second.
Pit strategy helped keep Shade Racing in the lead battle for the first half of the race, but eventually, the #310 GR Mito Inter 86 was able to break away to a definitive advantage. Victory was assured with 20 minutes to go when the #884 Shade Racing 86 was tagged with a drive-through penalty for a pit work violation. Still, they consolidated 2nd place to minimize the points loss going into the last round. The #310 GR Mito Inter 86 has a 15.5 point lead in the standings.
The #456 odula Avantech Mazda Roadster (Riku Hashimoto/Takafumi Katsuki/Carlos Honda/Koji Ohara) took its second ST-5 class victory of the year, a dominant pole-to-win victory (27th overall) as the rear-wheel drive Roadsters excelled in the dry conditions over their front-wheel drive rivals.
Another big story came in second place, with the #72 NATS/Cusco Roadster (Hiroko Komatsu/Anna Inotsume/Tatsuya Okahara/Makoto Kanai) taking its first podium of 2020 – with that, Inotsume and Komatsu, two of six women drivers in the field, nearly stood on the top step of the podium! This will be the last race for the #72 Roadster, as the students of the Nihon Automobile College that operate and maintain this vehicle will be given time to prepare for exams and job placements.
The #69 J’s Racing Honda Fit (Shinsuke Umeda/Hideo Kubota/Toshihiro Kubota) finished third in its class, not enough to seal the championship just yet – but they still have a big points advantage over the second-placed #456 Avantech Roadster, leading by 20.5 points.
2020 may be close to complete, but the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series will conclude on 23 January 2021 at Suzuka Circuit in the Suzuka Super Taikyu 5 Hour Race.