Toyota title hopes hanging by a thread after tough Autopolis

Toyota concluded last weekend's Autopolis SUPER GT race with its title hopes left hanging by a thread after a race to forget for the GR Supra contingent.

Toyota title hopes hanging by a thread after tough Autopolis
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Just two of the six Toyota GT500 crews will head to next month's Motegi season finale still in with a mathematical chance of winning the title, namely Rookie Racing pair Kenta Yamashita and Kazuya Oshima and TOM'S duo Sacha Fenestraz and Ritomo Miyata.

However, both squads face a steep 20-point deficit to the championship-leading NDDP Racing Nissan of Katsumasa Chiyo and Mitsunori Takaboshi with only 21 left up for grabs in the title showdown.

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It was Fenestraz and Miyata who went to Autopolis as Toyota's best-placed pairing, but a dramatic spin at the final corner at the end of Q1 for Fenestraz left the #37 car languishing at the back of the grid.

TOM'S elected to take the start from the pitlane as the tyres that the #37 would have had to start on were ruined by the spin, giving the team a mountain to climb to get back into the points.

Fenestraz recalled speaking to Motorsport.com's Japanese edition: "Before the last corner, I lost the car a little bit, I had a bit of oversteer and I was a bit wide on the exit. And then the last corner, I took too much kerb, went off and bounced on the grass and lost the rear. It was really scary!"

Miyata took the start and drove for the majority of the race, leaving his pitstop until lap 41 of 65, with Fenestraz taking over for the closing stages.

The pair finally came away with two critical points for ninth place, coming up less than two seconds shy of the sister #36 TOM'S car of Giuliano Alesi and Sho Tsuboi in the fight for eighth place.

"The race pace was really fast, Ritomo was really consistent and very fast with the hard tyre," continued Fenestraz. "Then I put on the soft tyres for the last 25 laps and the car felt quite good.

"Our strategy was a little bit different to the other cars and I think this was a good idea, but we lost about six seconds with the full-course yellow because I was behind a GT300 car. Without that there was a small chance of P8."

 

Despite their gloomy prospects - they have to win at Motegi and hope the #3 Nissan as well as the #12 Impul Z and the #17 Real Racing Honda have disappointing weekends - Fenestraz isn't quite ready to give up on the chance of he and Miyata becoming the youngest-ever SUPER GT champion pairing.

"We still have a chance," he said. "Of course it’s difficult but it’s still possible. We just need a perfect weekend, a pole position and a win. But this is SUPER GT, you never know. The Nissan Z has been very fast this season so I think they have a big chance. But we will see."

The top Toyota at the finish at Autopolis was the #14 Rookie Racing of Kenta Yamashita and Kazuya Oshima, who took their best result since their win in the opening round of the season in fourth place.

That was after Yamashita came out on top in a race-long battle with the #12 Impul Nissan of Kazuki Hiramine, who with three laps to go went wide at Turn 3 and lost a place in his bid to pass the Toyota.

"My tyres were pretty much gone, and the #12 car was still quick, so I knew it would be tough to hold on," Yamashita told Motorsport.com. "But the team told me over the radio that if I held fourth, we would stay in the title fight, so I knew I had to keep the place and I gave it all to avoid being passed. 

"The target was to win, and it’s a shame we couldn’t. But it was a tough race for all the Toyotas, so I think to finish as the top Toyota, and to just about stay in the title fight, even if it’s right on the limit, was a good result."

#14 ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra

#14 ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Although the Rookie and TOM'S crews are level on points, unlike Fenestraz and Miyata, Yamashita and Oshima have to score the full 21 points that are on offer at Motegi, including the bonus point for pole to have any chance of the title.

That's because a haul of 20 for the win would not be good enough to beat Chiyo and Takaboshi on countback in the event of a tie.

"I don't see Motegi as a track that's well-suited to the Supra, but if we don't get pole it's all over, so for now we're aiming to win from pole and hope that we get some good luck," concluded Yamashita.

Toyota's remaining GT500 crews all officially dropped out of title contention at Autopolis, including the #36 TOM'S car of Alesi and defending champion Tsuboi.

SARD pair Yuhi Sekiguchi and Yuichi Nakayama were the second-best Toyota crew in the standings pre-race, but an alternative strategy left them with just a single point for 10th and five points shy of the tally needed to stay in contention.

Fifth for Racing Project Bandoh drivers Yuji Kunimoto and Sena Sakaguchi wasn't enough to keep them in the running either, while a fourth DNF of the season for veteran Cerumo pairing Hiroaki Ishiura and Yuji Tachikawa due to a loose wheelnut finally snuffed out any faint hopes of a late title challenge.

Additional reporting by Kenichiro Ebii

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