Real Racing led a Honda 1-2 in the opening round of the 2018 Super GT season at Okayama International Circuit, as ex-Formula 1 champion Jenson Button finished second.
At the start of the race, polesitter Takashi Kogure came under pressure from the #23 NISMO GT-R of Ronnie Quintarelli, who had made a rocketing getaway from eighth on the grid.
After dicing for a few laps, Kogure managed to establish a two-second gap as Quintarelli settled into second position.
The battle for the lead resumed on lap 17, when GT300 traffic brought down the gap between Kogure and Quintarelli down to almost zero.
The two were joined by Joao Paulo de Oliveira, who, like Quintarelli, had made a quick start from lower down the field in the #23 Kondo Nissan.
However, before there could be any change of positions at the front of the field, both de Oliveira and Quintarelli were handed drive-through penalties for jump starts, which dropped them outside the top 10.
The penalties brought defending champion Nick Cassidy into contention, who had already closed to the leading pack after starting from ninth on the grid.
Cassidy made a lunge on Kogure at the hairpin on lap 36, but sensibly backed off in the #1 TOM’S Lexus.
Two laps later, armed with better momentum, he made a move on the same corner, this time managing to make it stick to assume the race lead.
The Kiwi would stay at the front until the pit stop cycle, which changed the race order once again.
By stopping early, Kogure handed teammate Koudai Tsukakoshi the race lead, while Cassidy’s TOM’S teammate Ryo Hirakawa emerged out of the pits in fourth position.
The #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda of Naoki Yamamoto and Button surprisingly came out in second after the team took the strategic decision of not changing tyres in the pits.
Button had started the race from fifth position but slipped down to eighth early on, before also falling behind the #19 Bandoh Lexus in GT300 traffic.
Penalties for Nissan cars promoted the Englishman to seventh place and some swift pitwork allowed teammate Yamamoto to jump up to second.
After taking over in the car, the 2013 Super Formula champion closed in on race leader Tsukakoshi, who was compromised by a piece of external debris protruding out of his NSX-GT’s front grille.
The gap between the two drivers reduced to just a second on the penultimate lap, before GT300 traffic allowed Tsukakoshi enough breathing space to take Real Racing’s first GT500 win since Sugo 2010.
Yamamoto brought home the Kunimitsu Honda in second, ensuring a podium for himself and teammate Button.
Hirakawa managed to pass the #6 Team LeMans car of Felix Rosenqvist and Kazuya Oshima in the latter stages of the race, putting the TOM’S Lexus he shares with Cassidy on the final spot on the rostrum.
Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda recovered from the early drive-through penalty to finish fifth in the #23 NISMO car.
Toyota takes GT300 honours:
#11 Upgarage Toyota’s Takashi Kobayashi and Yuhki Nakayama took victory in the GT300 class, after taking advantage of late race traffic to move into the lead.
Sven Müller and Tomonobu Fujii finished second in the #7 D’station Porsche after a remarkable charge from 20th on the grid.
Tsuchiya Engineering’s Takamitsu Matsu and Sho Tsuboi finished third, ensuring two Toyota ‘mother chassis’ cars on the podium.
|1|| Koudai Tsukakoshi
|2|| Naoki Yamamoto
|3|| Ryo Hirakawa
|4|| Kazuya Oshima
|5|| Tsugio Matsuda
|6|| Joao Paulo de Oliveira
|7|| Satoshi Motoyama
|8|| Yuji Tachikawa
|9|| Yuji Kunimoto
|10|| Hideki Mutoh
|11|| Tomoki Nojiri
|12|| Heikki Kovalainen
|13|| Kazuki Nakajima
|14|| Daiki Sasaki
|15|| Bertrand Baguette