Fuji Super GT: Real Racing Honda holds on to win after late drama
Real Racing Honda duo Koudai Tsukakoshi and Bertrand Baguette held on to take an unlikely SUPER GT victory in a dramatic Fuji 500km Golden Week race on Tuesday.
Tsukakoshi had been running third when the race turned to its head just after a late full course yellow period, with the two leading cars dropping out of contention in rapid succession due to unrelated reasons.
That put Tsukakoshi in the lead of the race and the 34-year-old was able to withstand intense pressure from Kenta Yamashita's Rookie Racing Toyota to win SUPER GT's sole endurance event of 2021.
The Real Racing squad had qualified down in 11th place in a grid of 15 GT500 cars, but became the favourite for victory mid-race after an inspired decision to pit under the full-course yellow granted it the lead.
A spectacular middle stint by Baguette, where he stretched out an 11-second advantage, only improved its prospects, but a slow second pitstop brought the the ARTA Honda and the #36 TOM'S Toyota back into play.
ARTA driver Nirei Fukuzumi emerged in the lead of the race following the final round of pitstops but was unable to defend from the Real Honda on cold tyres, dropping initially to second.
However, once his tyres were up to the temperature, the two drivers engaged in a thrilling duel and traded places for several laps, before Fukuzumi made a decisive move coming into the final corner on lap 87 of 110 to reclaim the lead.
Shortly after TOM'S driver Sho Tsuboi also passed Tsukakoshi for second, a third FCY of the race was deployed to recover the #31 apr Toyota Prius that had stopped on track with apparent technical issues.
When the race resumed, Tsuboi couldn't return to full power again and was forced to park the Supra near the Coca Cola corner, seemingly granting Fukuzumi an easy run to the chequered flag.
But shortly afterwards the ARTA Honda driver was handed a drive through penalty for overtaking a car under the FCY, putting Tsukakoshi back in the lead of the race.
Photo by: Motorsport Images
As the first of the GT500 runners to complete its second stop on lap 68, Real Racing was marginal on both fuel and tyres in the final stint, allowing Yamashita to close right on the tail of Tsukakoshi.
A wide moment at Turn 1 following a tyre lock-up gave Yamashita a glimmer of hope, but Tsukakoshi never let the gap to close down enough to allow the 2019 champion to make a move.
On the final lap Yamashita fell into the clutches of a charging Ryo Hirakawa, allowing Tsukakoshi to escape and score Real Racing's first victory since last year's Motegi event.
Yamashita held on to second in the Rookie Supra he shares with Kazuya Oshima, while Hirakawa completed the podium spots in the #37 TOM'S Supra he was driving with Sena Sekgacuhi.
Naoki Yamamoto and the returning Tadasuke Makino recovered from the rear of the pack to finish fourth in the Kunimitsu Honda, losing a place to Hirakawa right at the death end of the race.
The B-Max/NDDP team finished as the top Nissan squad in fifth, but with Kohei Hirate and Katsumasa Chiyo finishing over 30 seconds behind the leading quartet.
The SARD Toyota of Heikki Kovalainen and Yuichi Nakayama couldn’t match the pace of the other Bridgestone-shod Supras but benefitted from the late drama to finish sixth, ahead of the Yokohama-shod Bandoh Toyota of Yuji Kunimoto and Ritomo Miayata that dropped from first to sixth in the opening two laps and could never quite recover from its slow start.
After serving the late penalty, Fukuzumi brought home the ARTA Honda NSX he shares with Tomoki Nojiri in eighth, as the Impul Nissan (Kazuki Hiramine and Nobuharu Matsushita) and Nakajima Honda (Takuza Izawa and Hiroki Otsu) teams completed the points scorers.
While the full-course yellow made its debut in SUPER GT at Fuji, the race also witnessed a full-blown safety car when the NISMO-entered Nissan GT-R suffered a spectacular engine blow-up at the start of lap 3, leaving a cloud of smoke behind.
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