Former Formula 1 drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi came out on top in a three-way, all-Lexus fight to win the Thailand round of Super GT series.
Super GT 2016 champion Kovalainen vaulted past the Real Racing Honda of Takashi Kogure at the start of the race and then started chasing down the pole-sitting car of Hideki Mutoh.
Although Mutoh had things under control early on, his Mugen Honda started to drop pace towards the second half of the stint.
Taking advantage of traffic, Kovalainen went towards the outside of a pair of GT300 cars at the exit of the hairpin, allowing him to gain the inside line at the following corner and steal the lead from Mutoh.
Meanwhile, Felix Rosenqvist was starting a charge of his own from 11th on the grid and soon joined a pack of four cars led by Kogure.
Just as Jann Mardenborough ran wide, Rosenqvist passed Joao Paulo de Oliveira and then Kogure to rise up to fourth place. He also managed to reel in Kenta Yamashita and Mutoh and suddenly found himself running a few seconds behind Kovalainen.
The two drivers pitted a lap away from each other, and Kobayashi and Rosenqvist’s teammate Kazuya Oshima carried on the same battle for the lead.
On lap 56, a GT300 car was unsighted by Kobayashi, forcing him to take avoiding action. This made him vulnerable to Oshima, but the latter ran wide at the next corner and dropped behind a fast-charging Yuhi Sekiguchi.
Sekiguchi then started hammering down Kobayashi, while also keeping at bay Oshima, who never slipped more than a couple of car lengths behind.
When Kobayashi ran deep at the hairpin in GT300 traffic, Sekiguchi ran side-by-side with his countryman, but the former just managed to hold on to the spot.
The battle between the leading trio of cars came to an end on the very final lap, when Sekiguchi began to slow down on the pit straight after running out of fuel.
After limping for several corners, Sekiguchi was forced to park his car at the side of the track, allowing Kobayashi to cruise to the finish line.
It was Kobayashi’s first Super GT win and the third for Sard Lexus teammate Kovalainen.
Oshima inherited second place after Sekiguchi’s last-lap heartbreak, ensuring a first Super GT podium for his teammate Rosenqvist.
Yuji Kunimoto and Kenta Yamashita completed the podium spots in the Bandoh Lexus, finishing 10 seconds off the lead battle.
Reigning Super Formula champion Hiroaki Ishiura’s late charge allowed the Zent/Cerumo car he shares with Yuhi Tachikawa to finish fourth, as Lexus not only bagged its first win of the year but also the top four spots.
Mutoh and Mugen teammate Daisuke Nakajima eventually finished fifth as Hondas struggled for pace, while Impul pair Daiki Sasaki and Jann Mardenborough were Nissan’s top runners in sixth.
Kogure and Koudai Tsukakoshi managed to steer the Real Racing Honda to seventh after slipping as low as 10th, finishing just ahead of the #1 TOM’S car of Nick Cassidy and Ryo Hirakawa, which lost a heap of time in a botched pitstop.
Bertrand Baguette and Kosuke Matsuura scored their best finish of the season in ninth in the Nakajima Honda, while aforementioned Sekiguchi and his #36 TOM’S teammate Kazuki Nakajima were classified a lap down in 10th despite running out of fuel.
Erstwhile championship leaders Jenson Button and Naoki Yamamoto endured a difficult day in Thailand and finished outside the points. Button slipped from fifth to ninth early on and Yamamoto had to make an extra stop, reportedly due to an incorrectly-fitted wheel.
GT300: Nissan scores first win
Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Hironobu Yasuda scored the first win for Nissan’s 2018 spec GT-R GT3 in the GT300 class.
The #11 Gainer car ran in the shadow of the Hitotsuyama Audi and ARTA BMW, but the pitstop cycle catapulted it into the lead of the race.
Nissan managed to jump the BMW in the pits, while the race-leading Audi had to be pulled into the garage with technical problems.
The ARTA BMW later suffered a puncture while battling with #31 Toyota of Koki Saga and Kohei Hirate, which went on to finish second.
Ritomo Miyata and Hiroki Yoshimoto completed the podium spots in the LM Corsa Lexus.
|1|| Heikki Kovalainen
|2|| Kazuya Oshima
|3|| Yuji Kunimoto
|4|| Yuji Tachikawa
|5|| Hideki Mutoh
|6|| Daiki Sasaki
|7|| Koudai Tsukakoshi
|8|| Ryo Hirakawa
|9|| Bertrand Baguette
|10|| Kazuki Nakajima
|11|| Naoki Yamamoto
|12|| Tsugio Matsuda
|13|| Satoshi Motoyama
| Tomoki Nojiri
| Joao Paulo de Oliveira