Joao Paulo de Oliveira says he's glad to put a "tough year and a half" in SUPER GT's GT300 ranks behind him with a first win in the category last weekend at Fuji Speedway.
The long-time Nissan GT500 man took the Kondo Racing Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 he shares with Kiyoto Fujinami to a dominant win on Sunday, over 20 seconds clear of the field.
De Oliveira stepped down to the GT300 ranks last year with the D'station Racing Aston Martin outfit, but he and teammate Tomonobu Fujii failed to score points all season.
Returning to the Kondo stable this year, the first half of the 2020 season had yielded a best finish of fourth for de Oliveira, who lost valuable points in a series of incidents at Suzuka and then a post-race penalty at Motegi.
"It’s been a tough year and a half," the Brazilian told Motorsport.com. "I honestly think this is a really difficult class to win a race, especially if conditions aren’t perfect. Sometimes it can be hard to even get a top five.
"It took me longer to win in GT300 than it did in GT500, it was earlier in the season in my second year . But I’m very glad and I hope it’s the first of many."
Fujinami took the start and moved up from sixth on the grid to lead by lap 15 of 66, but after the pitstops de Oliveira faced a deficit of some 15 seconds to the Saitama Toyopet Toyota GR Supra GT300, which leapt to the head of the field with a no-tyre change pitstop.
But the 39-year-old veteran was able to reel in the Supra at a rate of a second a lap, passing for the lead on lap 50 and building a 20-second buffer at the head of the field.
"It’s one of those things," said de Oliveira. "Sometimes in racing you feel like a victory can be so natural. We executed well today, everything went right: tyres, set-up, strategy, pitstop.
"We made sure we had the tyre in the temperature range and it was consistent. That’s all we needed. The car was working well, the balance was really good. Fuji at this time of year is a bit cooler, so this helps us a little bit with the Yokohama tyre."
De Oliveira and Fujinami have moved up to third in the GT300 standings, 14 points shy of LEON Mercedes pair Naoya Gamou and Togo Suganami, who finished third at Fuji despite carrying the maximum 100kg of success ballast.
The Kondo Nissan will be one of six cars carrying the maximum handicap next time out at Suzuka, having raced with a 48kg penalty at Fuji.
"Suzuka is more abrasive, it’s tougher on the tyres, and we’ll also have 100kg, which will change everything," said de Oliveira. "We need to make sure we select the right tyres for Suzuka, because we are doubling our weight compared to this race.
"The #11 [Gainer Nissan] on Dunlops, and also the #65 [LEON Mercedes] on Bridgestones have been able to [score well with maximum weight]. Now we’ll see if we can."