Runaway victory for Masahiko Kondo's HIS GT-R team!
GT-R continues victory streak from last season to five in a row
The OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE, Round 1 of the 2009 AUTOBACS SUPER GT, was held at the Okayama International Circuit (one lap 3.703 km x 82 laps) in Okayama Pref. on March 22. The GT500 class winners were Joao Paulo Lima de Oliveira and Seiji Ara driving the HIS ADVAN KONDO GT-R.
The race started at 14:00. With rain making the track conditions bad, the HIS ADVAN KONDO GT-R driver, de Oliveira, made a good start from 3rd position on the grid to take the lead. After that, while the other teams struggled with the wet track, he continued run away at a high pace. By the time he turned over the wheel to second drive, Ara, they were already had a massive 60-second lead over the second place competitor.
From there on, Ara was able to run comfortably alone in the lead all the way to the checkered and victory.
This is the first victory for the HIS ADVAN KONDO GT-R since last season's round 4 at Sepang (Malaysia). The manager of this team is the singer and actor Masahiko Kondo, and this is his third victory as a SUPER GT team manager. The two previous wins were overseas, so this marked his team's first win in Japan.
Driver Seiji Ara won the 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours to become only the second Japanese winner in Le Mans history.
The Nissan GT-R made its SUPER GT debut last season, and this victory marked its fifth straight GT500 class win since round 6 of last season.
In the GT300 class race, the Weds Sport IS350 driven by Manabu Orido and Tatsuya Kataoka came from 2nd position on the grid to win the victory.
+ Winner Comments
No. 24 HIS ADVAN KONDO GT-R [GT500]
Joao Paulo Lima de Oliveira: "The machine's settings turned out to be perfect for today's rainy weather. The choice of tires was a good one. It felt very good out there on the course. After the start I watched how things were going for a while and then began to push to widen the gap over the field from lap five. (After the rain lessened) car No. 18 began to close the gap, and that was a bit worrying, but when the rain grew stronger again our machine was better suited for it, which was fortunate. The [machine] condition had been good from the pre-season tests, and a lot of progress was made with the tires. I will be concentrating on the SUPER GT this season, so I definitely want to try to win the series title."
Seiji Ara: "I lost a lot of the margin that de Oliviera had built up for us on his stint (embarrassed laugh). In the latter stages of the race when there was little water left on the track, the tires were no longer a good match. That is why the gap began to narrow. But de Oliviera had done such a good job on his stint that I was thinking I had to maintain our lead to the end and take the checkered first. His time Yokohama Rubber developed a new tire for us with the performance potential to win in the rain, so I ma very happy that we were able to get this result. In fact, the radio plug wasn't in properly, so I couldn't talk to Manager Kondo at all during my stint. Finally, after the checkered I reconnected it and was able to reach him and apologize for that (embarrassed laugh)."
Manager Masahiko Kondo: "I feel like I've been given the most important victory of all. Of course our two consecutive wins at Sepang were wonderful, but to win here at the opening round and to be victorious in the rain makes this especially rewarding. I think that this revives Yokohama's reputation as the tire maker that wins in the rain. The conditions this time made it a very difficult race, but our two drivers did there job well, and our mechanics also made their best tire changes of this race weekend (laughs). I had a feeling inside me that something good was going to happen this weekend. But on Saturday, JP (de Oliviera) ran off the track once. Still I felt that with the new Yokohama rain tires we would be ready for anything if it should rain on race day. JP performed very well. After changing drivers to Ara we didn't have radio contact, but even without any instructions he ran the race just as we wanted. This season's goal for us was to win a race in Japan for the first time, and I feel that this race has proven that we made the right choice as a team to not compete n formula racing and concentrate on the SUPER GT. So, we have to keep working even harder, now."
No.19 Weds Sport IS350 [GT300]
Manabu Orido: "Yokohama Rubber made new rain tires for us in the GT300 class as well. But when we went to try them out in the morning's free practice session our car got bumped off the track by another car, so we couldn't test the performance properly. Still, in the short test we had, the performance seemed to be good. After that morning happening I thought we might be in trouble, but Kataoka kept his good spirits as always and that helped my motivation a lot (laughs). In the race, all I had to do was to keep things going to the finish. In the latter stages of the race the No. 43 car seemed to have a good tire match with its Michelins and it started to narrow the gap on us. But after making some adjustments and opening up the gap again, it felt like they would give up thoughts of catching us. Anyway, I am especially happy to see that Yokohama tires won both the GT500 and GT300 races."
Tatsuya Kataoka: "While I was driving in the first half of the race the rain was changing, getting stronger at times and weaker at others, so the racing conditions were very difficult. But I was able to find that the machine balance was good. After taking the lead, I pushed hard but only to get caught behind cars that were slowing down and lose my margin. After that, I pushed like I was running in the qualifying and ended up running off the track once and returned to the pit at the end of my stint in 2nd position again. But I knew our pit work would be fast and that we could get back on the track in the lead, after which I knew that Orido would do the job for us. Still, the No. 43 machine turned out to be faster than expected, which scared us. Being able to win the opening round like this after coming to this new team makes me very happy."