D’station Racing picked up the overall win in a rain-shortened opening round of the 2021 Super Taikyu Series Powered by Hankook at Twin Ring Motegi. The #777 D’station Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT3 of Satoshi Hoshino, Tomonobu Fujii, and Tsubasa Kondo completed 81 laps in heavy rainfall, before a red flag was displayed after three hours and twenty-five minutes of racing.
The race began at 12:00 JST, with an additional 15-minute warm-up session being added prior to the race, in order to allow teams to practice on new tyre supplier Hankook’s wet-weather compounds. Because of the rain, the race officially began with a Safety Car start.
After three laps under safety car, polesitter Hiroaki Nagai led the field of 51 cars away in his #16 Porsche Center Okazaki 911 GT3-R, with Hoshino right behind him in second. Of the six teams in the ST-X class, two of them elected not to start the race with their Gentleman drivers – the #81 Daishin GTNET Nissan GT-R GT3 of Takayuki Aoki, and the #31 apr Lexus RC F GT3 of Kazuto Kotaka. On lap 9, Aoki and Kotaka swarmed past Nagai to take first and second. Aoki then went on to pull away from the field during his 80-minute opening stint, before being replaced by friend and Gentleman driver Noboyuki Oyagi after 41 laps.
As Oyagi struggled to find pace in the wet conditions, the #290 McLaren 720S GT3 of class newcomers Floral Racing with ABSSA took the race lead on lap 43. Shintaro Kawabata had come out in second place following a strong first stint from Tadao Uematsu, then quickly made his way past Oyagi. After two hours of racing, the #290 McLaren of Kawabata was leading his one-time Super GT teammate Kondo in the #777 Aston Martin by 46 seconds.
On Lap 55, the Safety Car was brought out as the rain began to fall much harder than at the start. D’station Racing responded by bringing their Aston Martin in for their second routine stop on Lap 57, completing a change of drivers to their ace driver and managing director Fujii. The Floral/ABSSA crew brought their McLaren in on the next lap, changing drivers to Keita Sawa. Unfortunately, by then the pit exit was closed, and the lead battle completely reversed – with Fujii now leading by over 35 seconds.
The rain continued to fall harder still, with poor visibility and standing water causing issues. On Lap 71, the Safety Car was brought out once more. The field would continue to circulate under the safety car for over half an hour, until it was decided with 1 hour and 35 minutes remaining – and two-thirds of the scheduled distance completed – to red flag the race.
At 16:00 JST, the race was declared, with the #777 D’station Vantage GT3 of Hoshino, Fujii, & Kondo scored as the overall winner – officially listed as completing 80 laps due to the red flag. Since the race was stopped after 2/3rds distance was completed, full points will be awarded for the victory.
The trio of Hoshino, Fujii, & Kondo have now won back-to-back races, following the last race of the 2020 season at Autopolis. It’s the first win of 2021 for the Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT3 across all categories.
The #290 Floral McLaren of Uematsu, Sawa, Kawabata, and Yuji Ide finished the race 14.973 seconds back in second place, a debut podium for the 720S GT3 and for class newcomers Floral Racing with ABSSA, last year’s ST-TCR champions. The #16 Porsche of Nagai, Yuta Kamimura, and Yuichi Nakayama rounded off the podium in third place, with 79 laps to their name.
MP Racing’s #9 GT-R (Joe Shindo/Yusaku Shibata/Masami Kageyama) was fourth, the #81 Daishin GT-R of Oyagi, Aoki, Kiyoto Fujinami, and Ryuichiro Oyagi was fifth, and the #31 Lexus (Hideki Nagai/Koki Saga/Kazuto Kotaka) ended the day seventh overall after the younger of the Nagai brothers spun off at the last corner after two hours, losing three laps in the process.
In a fierce 14-car competition, the debuting #22 Waimarama EBI Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 of Kizuna, Katsumasa Chiyo, Naoya Yamano, and Riki Okusa picked up the victory in the ST-Z class.
Polesitter Manabu Orido in the #47 D’station Vantage GT4 led the first hour of the race, but Chiyo was on a mission to get to the lead after starting 9th in his class – he was within 1.2 seconds of Orido after the 1-hour mark.
After the first round of pit stops, the #22 Porsche, now driven by Yamano, was still in arrears of the #47 Aston Martin of Takuro Shinohara, but gaining slowly. At 1 hour, 45 minutes, Yamano passed Shinohara for the class lead around the outside of Turn 5, and then began to pull away. At the 2h30m mark, Yamano held a 20-second lead over Shinohara. The #22 Porsche made its second stop on Lap 70, changing drivers to Porsche junior Riki Okusa during the second safety car.
When the race was declared, the #22 Porsche had completed 79 laps and scored the ST-Z class victory (6th overall) on their debut in the class. Even though Gentleman driver Kizuna had no drive time, the race stewards let the victory stand given the race conditions and the red flag.
It is also the first Super Taikyu victory for the newest Porsche 718 Cayman MR Clubsport.
Second place went to the #500 5Zigen Mercedes-AMG GT4 (Ryuichiro Otsuka/Toshihiro Kaneishi/Jake Parsons/Kakunoshin Ohta), with Gentleman driver Otsuka putting in an exceptionally competitive stint in the car.
The Toyota GR Supra GT4 scored a debut podium in the ST-Z class, with the third-placed #111 Hiroshima Toyopet Racing GR Supra (Toshiyuki Matsuda/Yuga Furutani/Yasutaka Hinoi/Ryo Hirakawa) taking the honours. Hirakawa, as expected, shined in his stint as he moved his way through the field. Just behind them was the #311 Fabulous GRMI GR Supra (Hirokazu Suzuki/Rintaro Kubo/Yusuke Shiotsu/Kimiya Sato), C.S.I Racing picking up a fourth-place finish in their class debut. It was also a good day for the #34 Techno First Ginetta G55 GT4 (Yuki Tanaka/Hironobu Yasuda/Shinnosuke Yamada), in fifth – following a year on the sidelines for Techno First Racing Team due to the economic climate of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The #47 D’station Vantage of Tatsuya Hoshino, Orido, Shinohara, & Kenji Hama dropped to sixth after an ill-timed second stop.
Completing the top ten in ST-Z were the 7th place #23 TKRI Mercedes-AMG GT4 (Daisuke Matsunaga/Yuya Motojima/Takaaki Hamada), 8th place #20 SS/YZ Studie BMW M4 GT4 (Tomohide Yamaguchi/Seiji Ara/Yuya Sakamoto), 9th place #505 EVA Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4 (Genki Nishimura/Shaun Thong/Takeshi Okamoto/Yoshinari Fujiwara), and then in tenth, the #3 Endless AMG GT4 (Yudai Uchida/Hideki Yamauchi/Togo Suganami/Ryo Ogawa) – the two-time and defending ST-Z champions who endured a torrid day, finishing off the podium in ST-Z for the first time ever.
Just before the red flag, the #885 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing GR Supra (Hiro Hayashi/Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Ai Miura) had a humorous, yet costly moment in the pits when Hiranaka went into the wrong pit stall, having to be pulled back several metres by the Shade Racing mechanics for service – they had been running in the top ten prior to that.
The KTM X-Bow GTX scored its first win in Japan from pole position, as the #2 Syntium Apple KTM of Taiyou Iida, Kazuho Takahashi, and Hiroki Katoh took ST-1 class victory with a 9th overall finish.
The timing of the second Safety Car delayed the #38 muta Racing Toyota GR Supra (Yuui Tsutsumi/Ryohei Sakaguchi/Makoto Hotta) after their second pit stop, dropping them to second in class after they passed the #2 KTM on track just before the halfway mark.
While not competing for prizes, the #28 ROOKIE Racing Toyota GR Supra in the ST-Q class finished 17th overall, with drivers Naoya Gamou, Daisuke Toyoda, Yasuhiro Ogura, and Kenta Yamashita officially completing 76 laps.
The ST-3 class win went to Max Racing and the #244 Queen Eyes Nissan Fairlady Z34 (370Z) of Toru Tanaka, Tetsuya Tanaka, and Atsushi Miyake, in a reversal that happened when the top two in class got caught out by the second Safety Car.
Prior to that, the #39 Tracy Sports Lexus RC 350 (Yusuke Tomibayashi/Kazuya Ooshima) had battled back and forth with the #52 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Crown RS (Naoki Hattori/Hiroki Yoshida/Kohta Kawaai/Takayuki Hiranuma). Both cars pitted for the second time on Lap 68 – but in doing so, let the #244 Nissan, which made its second pit stop on Lap 54, through to the class lead as they were delayed coming out of the pits. The #39 Lexus finished 2nd in class, and the #52 Toyota was 3rd.
Kobe Toyopet Motor Sports took their first victory in ST-2, in their first race with the Toyota GR Yaris hot hatch. The #225 KTMS GR Yaris, driven by F4 Japanese Championship standouts Seita Nonaka and Hibiki Taira – together with young woman driver Miki Onaga – scored the class victory, with a 25th overall result.
2nd in class was the #7 Shinryo Auto/Varis Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Yoshiki Fujii/Masato Narisawa/Keisuke Anzai/Shingo Imai), and 3rd in class at their home race was the #743 Honda R&D Challenge Civic Type R (Junichi Kidachi/Hiroki Ishigaki/Hideki Kakinuma/Kengo Yamamoto).
Engine trouble kept the #32 ROOKIE Racing GR Yaris (Takuto Iguchi/Masahiro Sasaki/Akio “Morizo” Toyoda/Takamitsu Matsui) in the garage for several minutes, while the #59 TOWA INTEC Racing Subaru WRX STI (Manabu Osawa/Hitoshi Gotoh/Mizuki Ishizaka) also had a difficult race that included a penalty stop for multiple pit lane speeding infringements.
27th overall was the sole ST-TCR car, the #75 Team Noah Honda Civic Type R (Kuniyuki Haga/Yoshikazu Sobu/Shigetomo Shimono/Riki Tanioka). This race marked their return to racing after the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to suspend racing activities in 2020.
A great two-way fight for the ST-4 class victory went the way of the #884 Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing Toyota 86, driven by Toyota works driver Yuji Kunimoto and Keishi Ishikawa who finished 32nd overall. The #310 GR Mito Inter 86 (Sho Tsuboi/Shinya Hosokawa/Fuma Horio) finished 2nd in class.
Mazda locked out the podium in ST-5, led by the #66 odula Roadster (MX-5) of Takayuki Takechi, Tatsuya Ota, Takahisa Ohno, and Kyosuke Inomata. HM Racers’ #103 Mazda2 (Kota Sasaki/Soichiro Yoshida/Tomomitsu Seno) finished 2nd, and Murakami Motors’ #88 Roadster (Hiroyuki Murakami/Yasunori Nakajima/Tatsuya Tanigawa) finished 3rd in class.
Images courtesy of Naoyuki Hata / Super Taikyu Organisation (STO)