Okayama SUPER GT: Nissan wins bonkers wet/dry season opener

Nissan claimed a 1-2 finish in a wild 2023 SUPER GT season opener at Okayama, as changing weather conditions turned the race into a topsy-turvy contest between the three GT500 manufacturers.


The #23 NISMO Nissan Z of Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda survived multiple intervention periods to claim provisional victory at the former Pacific Grand Prix venue, leading the sister #3 NDDP car of Katsumasa Chiyo and Mitsunori Takaboshi.

The two Michelin-shod NISMO cars were the favourites heading into the race after locking out the front row, with the early laps suggesting Nissan was indeed set for an easy 1-2 result.

But both #3 and #23 lost ground at different stages as the complexion of the race changed rapidly every few laps, and it was only after the #36 TOM’S Toyota stopped on track with a loose wheel that Nissan was able to convert its front row lock out into a fine victory.

The #3 NDDP car was the first to drop down the order, with the timing of the first safety car on lap 16 leaving the pits closed and giving Chiyo no opportunity to switch to wet tyres.

When the action resumed on lap 23, Quintarelli struggled for performance on his Michelins and dropped down the order himself, falling behind Sho Tsuboi (#37 TOM’S), Nobuharu Matsushita (Real Racing Honda) and Kazuya Oshima (Rookie Toyota).

However, as the track began to dry out again, the race started coming back towards Nissan, with Quintarelli regaining lost places in quick succession and assuming the lead again on lap 41 with a pass on Tsuboi at Turn 1.

Quintarelli handed the car to teammate Matsuda on lap 46, with the Japanese driver tasked with keeping Tsuboi’s teammate Ritomo Miyata at bay for the remainder of the race.

#3 Niterra MOTUL Z

#3 Niterra MOTUL Z

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

But more rain threw spanner in the works and Matsuda made a pitstop to switch back to wet tyres just as another safety car was deployed, this time for a crash involving the #9 Pacific Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Liang Jiatong and the #88 JLOC Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo of Takashi Kogure.

It left a question mark over whether Matsuda had entered the pits under the safety car, and was thus subject to a penalty. But the issue was never investigated, essentially clearing Nissan of any wrongdoing.

Matsuda was able to regain lost places after the first red flag period, which was brought out due to lightning on track, with a botched pitstop from the TOM’S crew elevating the #23 into the lead of the race.

The timing of Miyata stopping on track with a loose wheel was crucial as the race had to be red-flagged again soon after due to worsening weather conditions.

An effort was made to restart proceedings, but the conditions remained too poor to run the race under green flag conditions, and the session was halted once 75% race distance was completed at the end of lap 62.

Quintarelli and Matsuda were hence declared the winners of the race, the latter clinching a record-extending 24th victory in the GT500 class with his latest triumph.

Incredibly, the sister #3 Nissan was able to recover from its early race woes to finish second, with the superior Michelin tyres allowing Chiyo and Takaboshi to charge back through the field after dropping to as low as 12th place.

The final spot on the podium surprisingly went to the #8 ARTA Honda of Tomoki Nojiri and Toshiki Oyu, thanks largely to some impressive driving from Oyu in changing weather conditions.



Photo by: Masahide Kamio

With a loose wheel denying TOM'S an against-the-odds win, Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita were the top Toyota runners in the Rookie Racing entry in fourth.

The #16 ARTA crew of Nirei Fukuzumi and Hiroki Otsu provisionally finished fifth after the squad controversially completed its driver change and mandatory pitstop during one of the several red flag periods. ARTA could be hit with a penalty if found to be in contravention of rules.

Sixth place in the race went to the Cerumo Toyota of Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura, while reignign champions Bertrand Baguette and Kazuki Hiramine were able to rebound from a tough qualifying to finish seventh in the Impul Nissan.

The top 10 was completed by Real Racing Honda's Matsushita and Koudai Tsukakoshi and two Toyotas, the SARD Supra of Yuhi Sekiguchi and Yuichi Nakayama and the Bandoh car of Yuji Kunimoto and Sena Sakaguchi.

The Kunimitsu Honda team finished outside the points despite a charging opening stint from Tadasuke Makino that saw him challenge the two Nissans for victory.

Makino was unlucky with the timing of the safety car and had to complete his pitstop while the pitlane was closed, earning a 60-second stop/go penalty that was too big to overcome.


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