The #64 Nakajima Honda duo of Bertrand Baguette and Kosuke Matsuura claimed an unlikely victory in the 46th running of Suzuka 1000km, while 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button finished 13th after a torrid run of events on his Super GT debut.
The #17 Real Racing Honda passed the pole-sitting #24 Kondo Racing Nissan just before 130R in the first hour and was dominating the proceedings from that point onwards.
However, the penultimate round of pitstops changed the complexion from that point on, allowing the #64 Nakajima squad to leapfrog the sister Honda.
Despite a spin in the final hour that cost it 10 seconds, the Satoru Nakajima-run team was able to take the chequered flag and score Honda’s first Suzuka 1000km win since 2013.
Real Racing looked set to make it a one-two finish for Honda until a spectacular tyre failure left it in the barriers at Spoon.
Real’s retirement propelled the #23 Nismo duo of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli into second, the factory-backed Nissan outfit staging a remarkable recovery from a drive-through penalty that dropped it outside the top 10.
The #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda completed the podium spots after Super Formula champion Naoki Yamamoto, who shares the car with Takuya Izawa, passed the #1 SARD Lexus in the final 10 minutes.
The defending championships were dealt a major blow moments later when Kohei Hirate (teammate to Heikki Kovalainen) crashed at Degner.
As a result, the #19 WedsSport Bandoh finished as the top Lexus squad in fourth, with Yuhi Sekiguchi, Yuji Kunimoto and Kamui Kobayashi behind the wheel.
Daiki Sasaki and JP de Oliveira finished fifth in the #24 Kondo Racing Nissan, while the #37 TOM’S crew of Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy came home sixth.
Troubles for Button’s #16 Mugen team began when the Englishman was released into the path of the #7 BMW at the first round of pitstops, with the consequent drive-through penalty dropping the Honda squad from third to 12th.
Another penalty followed when Button overtook a car under the safety car, while two separate tyre punctures added to the misery.
The Englishman and his teammates Daisuke Nakajima and Hideki Mutoh eventually crossed the line in 12th position, only ahead of the #46 Mola Nissan, which spent several laps in the garage after a crash in the first hour.
Mercedes steals GT300 victory from Toyota
In the GT300 class, the #65 Leon Racing Mercedes’s Naoya Gamou and Haruki Kurosawa snatched victory from the #25 VicaC Toyota in the final 30 minutes of the race.
The pole-sitting squad pitted on first lap and ran out of sequence for majority of the race, until a well-timed safety car brought it in contention for victory.
The VivaC outfit not only lost the win, but also failed to finish the race after a crash left the Toyota upside down with four remaining.
The late-race accident elevated JLOC’s two Lamborghinis on the podium, with the #87 Huracan GT3 of Kazuki Hiramine, Manabu Orido and Koji Yamanishi edging the sister #86 car of Shinya Hosokawa, Kimiya Sato and Yuya Motojima.
|1|| Bertrand Baguette
|2|| Tsugio Matsuda
|3|| Naoki Yamamoto
|4|| Yuhi Sekiguchi
|5|| Daiki Sasaki
Joao Paulo de Oliveira
|6|| Ryo Hirakawa
|7|| Kazuya Oshima
|8|| Tomoki Nojiri
|9|| Kazuki Nakajima
|11|| Hironobu Yasuda
|12|| Hideki Mutoh
|13|| Heikki Kovalainen
|14|| Satoshi Motoyama
|15|| Koudai Tsukakoshi