NISMO pair Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda claimed victory in the Fuji 500km, denying former Formula 1 driver Heikki Kovalainen a Super GT victory on Lexus home turf.
Quintarelli shot to the lead at the start of the race, passing Kazuya Oshima at Turn 1 before reeling in Yuji Tachikawa at turn 13.
Meanwhile, Kovalainen started his own charge from fifth on the grid, demoting Super GT returnee James Rossiter to move up to third by the end of lap 4.
It took him another 14 laps to find a way past Tachikawa, but once ahead he quickly started hammering down race leader Quintarelli.
When the Italian lost momentum in a gaggle of GT300 cars, Kovalainen took full advantage of the situation to make a move down turn 1 on the following lap.
The Sard Lexus maintained its lead until the second round of pitstops, when the NISMO team overcut its rival to move back at the front of the field.
Although Kovalainen, who was sharing the car with Japanese F3 runner-up Sho Tsuboi due to Kamui Kobayashi’s clashing WEC commitments, initially held on to the back of Quintarelli, he eventually dropped back as Nissan romped to a comfortable win.
Tachikawa and teammate Hiroaki Ishiura finished third in the Zent/Cerumo Lexus after repassing the Team LeMans Lexus of Kazuya Oshima and Felix Rosenqvist in the latter stages of the race.
Oshima then lost out to the #36 TOM’S Lexus of Rossiter and Yuhi Sekiguchi after running wide at the final corner with two laps to go.
Defending champion Ryo Hirakawa, who shares the #1 TOM’S Lexus with Nick Cassidy, also dropped a position right towards the end when Impul Nissan’s Jann Mardenborough (teammate Daiki Sasaki) slipped past him at the hairpin to grab sixth.
After a 1-2 finish at Okayama, Honda were surprisingly off the pace at Fuji, with the ARTA pairing of Tomoki Nojiri and Takuya Izara the best of the manufacturer’s drivers in eighth
Jenson Button and Kunimitsu Honda teammate Naoki Yamamoto could fare no better than ninth, handicapped by 30 kg of ballast following a second-place finish in Okayama.
Yamamoto rose up to sixth in the first stint before handing the car to Button, who appeared comparatively slow - presumably to save tyres - and dropped back down to 10th.
The Japanese driver took over the final 35 laps of the race and brought the car home in ninth as the second-best Honda runner.
Satoshi Motoyama and Katsumasa Chiyo rounded off the top 10 in the NDDP Nissan.
Lights to flag GT300 win for ARTA BMW
The ARTA BMW duo of Shinichi Takagi and Sean Walkinshaw were unchallenged in the GT300 class, taking a comprehensive win from pole position.
For Takagi personally, it was his 19th class win, making him the most successful GT300 driver in terms of number of wins.
ARTA’s win was made easy by the R&D Sport Subaru retiring from the race with engine issues.
That promoted the apr Racing Toyota of Kohei Hirate and Koki Saga up to second position, while Gainer duo Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Hironobu Yasuda secured the first Super GT podium for the new-generation Nissan GT-R GT3.
Unusually for Super GT, the race didn’t feature even a single safety car or full course yellow, although two Yokohama-shod GT500 teams suffered four punctures between them.
|1|| Tsugio Matsuda
|2|| Heikki Kovalainen
|3|| Yuji Tachikawa
|4|| James Rossiter
|5|| Kazuya Oshima
|6|| Daiki Sasaki
|7|| Ryo Hirakawa
|8|| Tomoki Nojiri
|9|| Naoki Yamamoto
|10|| Satoshi Motoyama
|11|| Koudai Tsukakoshi
|12|| Yuji Kunimoto
|13|| Joao Paulo de Oliveira
|14|| Hideki Mutoh
|DNF|| Bertrand Baguette