Okayama Super GT: Yamashita beats Tsuboi in opener
Kenta Yamashita and Kazuya Oshima claimed a maiden victory for the Rookie Racing team in the opening round of the 2021 SUPER GT season at Okayama, as Toyota monopolised the top four spots.
Now running independently of the Cerumo operation, the team named in honour of Toyota president Akiyo Toyoda's former dog took top honours at the former Pacific Grand Prix venue following a thrilling scrap between Yamashita and the #36 TOM’S Supra of Sho Tsuboi. Ryo Hirakawa and Sena Sakaguchi completed the podium in the second of the TOM’S Toyotas.
At the start of the race, Sakaguchi led away cleanly from pole position in the #37 TOM’S, leading the Rookie Racing Supra of Oshima and the sister TOM’S entry of Yuhi Sekiguchi.
An early safety car to recover the #30 apr Toyota Prius GT300 car allowed 2019 champion Oshima to close right on the tail of Sakaguchi, the latter competing in only his second GT500 race as a substitute for the absent Sacha Fenestraz.
But the 21-year-old did well to hold off the more experienced Oshima, never giving the Rookie Racing driver any space to make a pass.
However, Sakaguchi and Hirakawa would find themselves outside the lead battle following the pitstop phase, triggered by an accident for the #360 Nissan GT-R GT3 of Yuudai Uchida on lap 33.
In anticipation of a safety car, nearly the entire field across both GT500 and GT300 classes headed to the pits to complete their mandatory stops, shuffling the order up and down the pack.
With space a luxury in the pitlane, the TOM’S mechanics had to push back the #37 Supra now driven by Hirakawa from the pitbox, dropping from first to fourth in the process.
The #16 Rookie Racing driven by Yamashita emerged from the chaos in the lead, ahead of the #36 TOM’S of Tsuboi and Yuichi Nakayama in the SARD Toyota.
When the safety car period ended, Tsuboi started chasing Yamashita for the top spot, with the two engaging in a battle that would continue for more than a dozen laps.
Tsuboi, still chasing a maiden GT500 victory, made multiple attempts at overtaking the Rookie car but was rebuffed at each attempt by some stern defending from Yamashita.
Following another coming together at the exit of Turn 1, Tsuboi made another attempt at passing Yamashita at the exit of the hairpin with eight laps to run, only to lock up and drive straight into the runoff area.
This would prove to be the end of their battle, with Yamashita enjoying a clear run to the flag from there on to take a victory for himself and team-mate Oshima.
Tsuboi and Sekiguchi had to settle for second, while Hirakawa and Sakaguchi completed the podium spots after the former passed the #39 SARD Toyota of Nakayama and Heikki Kovalainen in the latter stages of the race.
The Real Racing Honda of Bertrand Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi recovered from a poor qualifying to finish fifth, ahead of the Cerumo Toyota of Hiroki Ishiura and Yuji Tachikawa.
Tomoki Nojiri and Nirei Fukuzumi were one of the big losers in the pitstop phase, eventually finishing seventh in the ARTA Honda, with reigning champion Naoki Yamamoto and team-mate Hideki Mutoh - substituting for a recovering Tadasuke Makino - classified eighth in the Kunimitsu Honda after spending much of the race outside the top 10.
Nissan squads finished ninth and 10th, with the B-Max/NDDP entry of Katsumasa Chiyo and Kohei Hirate beating the Impul GT-R of Kazuki Hiramine and Nobuharu Matsushita.
Nissan’s factory-entered NISMO car had jumped to sixth early on following a rapid start from Ronnie Quintarelli, before dropping to ninth after the pitstops.
The team was eventually forced to retire the car when Fukuzumi crashed into Matsuda on lap 50, with the latter going onto hit the #2 Lotus Evora. Matsuda picked up heavy damage to the front right section of his Nissan in the incident and was forced to return to the pits, before being wheeled back to the garage.
Nissan takes GT300 honours
Reigning champions Joao Paulo de Oliveira and Kiyoto Fujinami took top honours in the GT300 class, having benefited from the same mid-race safety car that contributed to Rookie Racing’s victory in the top category.
In the opening half of the 82-lap encounter, the pole-sitting #11 Gainer Nissan GT-R GT3 of Kasuyuji Hiranaka and Hironobu Yasuda led from the #52 Saitama Toyopet Green Brave Toyota Supra of Kohta Kawaai and Hiroki Yoshida, with the two cars running within a second of each other for much of the distance.
But both were pushed down the order during the chaos caused in the pits, with de Oliveira taking the lead of the race in the #56 Kondo Racing Nissan GT-R GT3.
The ex-Nissan GT500 ace had to initially defend hard from the #65 Leon Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Naoya Gamou that also gained multiple places in the pits, but was able to pull away from the field to start his and team-mate Fujinami’s title defence with a win.
The Saitama Toyopet team eventually finished third behind Gamou and Togo Tsunami, while the Gainer squad had to settle for fourth.
Subaru's new BRZ finished a lap down in 15th in its debut GT300 race.