Autopolis Super GT: Nakajima, Rossiter win after race-deciding crash
The Lexus crew of James Rossiter and Kazuki Nakajima won the third round of the 2017 Super GT season at the returning Autopolis Circuit after a charging first stint from the Englishman.
The race got off to a quiet start, with the frontrunners holding station for the opening 10 laps.
The #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda of Naoki Yamamoto established a comfortable buffer at the front of the field, with the #46 Mola Nissan and the #1 Denso SARD Lexus following the NSX in second and third places respectively.
However, a safety car - caused when the #31 Prius GT300 car crashed into a stationary #8 ARTA Honda - brought the race alive.
With the gaps closed up again, Rossiter initiated a charging drive from seventh place, dispatching the #6 Wako Lexus, the #37 TOM’S Lexus and the #16 Mugen Honda in quick succession to jump up to fourth.
A few laps later, both Rossiter and SARD’s Heikki Kovalainen passed the Nissan of Satoshi Motoyama to move up to third and second places respectively.
Kovalainen and the race-leading Honda car of Yamamoto pitted at the same time on lap 34, with some quick work by the the Lexus pit crew allowing it to leapfrog the Honda.
Meanwhile, Rossiter stayed out for another lap, using the overcut to full advantage for his team to assume the lead of the race.
However, the outcome of the victory battle was far from settled, with Nakajima, who took over from Rossiter, indulging in a tight scrap with #1 Denso SARD’s Kohei Hirate, who had likewise taken over the driving duties from Kovalainen.
Hirate dived down the inside of Nakajima to move ahead, only for the latter to run over the kerbs at the next corner. Nakajima lost control of his Lexus in the process, tagging Hirate’s car and forcing him into a retirement.
With his nearest rival out of the race and no action taken over the incident, Nakajima cruised to victory, making it three Lexus wins in three races in 2017.
The #17 Keihin Honda of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Takashi Kogure crossed the line in second, after passing the polesitting #100 Kunimitsu Honda of Yamamoto and Takuya Izawa.
Izawa was also overtaken by the Nissan of Motoyama and Katsumasa Chiyo, only for the crew to be forced to give back the position as the overtake was completed under yellow flags.
The #23 Motul Nissan duo of Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda finished fifth, while Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy took a sixth-place finish in the #37 TOM’S.
Meanwhile, the #25 VivaC Toyota of Takamitsu Matsui and Kenta Yamashita narrowly took a class win in GT300.
Matsui and Yamashita saw off Subaru BRZ’s Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi in a race-long battle between the two squads.
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