Suzuka Super GT: NISMO wins as Nissan locks out podium
NISMO pair Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda scored their first Super GT victory of the season at Suzuka as Nissan locked out the top three positions in the GT500 class.
Matsuda in the #23 NISMO car made the race-winning overtake at the hairpin on fellow Nissan/Michelin driver Kohei Hirate in the #3 NDDP/B-Max Racing GT-R on lap 41 of 52, with both cars having gained ground in the pitstop phase.
The #24 Kondo Racing Nissan finished third to make it a first Nissan podium lockout since the Autopolis round in 2014.
Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino took an important fourth place in the #1 Kunimitsu Honda NSX-GT, catapulting Yamamoto to the head of the drivers' standings, while the #36 TOM'S GR Supra (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Sho Tsuboi) completed the top five at the end of a weekend to forget for Toyota.
The two Dunlop-shod Hondas that started on the front row got away cleanly at the start as Takuya Izawa in the pole-winning #64 Nakajima NSX-GT led Toshiki Oyu in the Mugen car.
But Izawa's time in the lead was short-lived as he crashed out on the fifth lap at the final chicane following what appeared to be a brake failure, prompting a safety car period.
Oyu led at the restart from Quintarelli in the Nissan that had started third, with Daiki Sasaki running third in the Kondo Nissan and Katsumasa Chiyo in the #3 NDDP/B-Max GT-R.
But the Dunlop-shod Mugen car was unable to get away from the head of the field, and the cars that made their mandatory pitstops earliest were the ones that gained the most ground.
Oyu pitted on lap 20 to give the Mugen car to Ukyo Sasahara, but it was the #3 Nissan of Chiyo - despite pitting on the same lap - that emerged from the pitstop phase with the advantage ahead of the #12 Impul Nissan of Kazuki Hiramine (started by Nobuharu Matsushita).
NISMO's flagship #23 car lost ground as Quintarelli left it until lap 24 to pit to hand over to Matsuda, who emerged third behind the NDDP/B-Max car, now with Hirate at the wheel, and Hiramine's Impul machine but ahead of the Mugen Honda of Sasahara.
As Hirate stretched his lead at the front of the field, Hiramine was soon passed by a charging Matsuda, who went on to make short work of the five-second buffer built up by Hirate.
With a few spots of rain falling as the race entered its closing stages, Matsuda made the decisive move at the hairpin on lap 41, as the lapped Kondo Nissan GT300 car opened an opportunity for a lunge.
From there, Matsuda was untroubled on his way to a symbolically significant 23rd GT500 win and a 17th for Quintarelli, the duo also picking up their third win at Suzuka in a row.
Hirate and Chiyo scored their best result as a duo in second, but Hiramine was powerless to resist the Kondo Nissan (now in the hands of Mitsunori Takaboshi) in the fight for third.
Hiramine then lost further places to both Yamamoto's Kunimitsu Honda and Tsuboi in the TOM'S Toyota - despite both of those cars running the stage one fuel restrictor - bringing home the Impul machine in sixth and last among the Nissans.
The Real Racing Honda (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Bertrand Baguette), likewise with the fuel restrictor, banked valuable points for seventh place after a spirited battle with the Cerumo Toyota (Yuji Tachikawa/Hiroaki Ishiura) late on.
Sasahara brought home the #16 Mugen car in a disappointing ninth place, while the #37 TOM'S GR Supra (Ryo Hirakawa/Sena Sakaguchi) picked up the final point in 10th place.
With the championship-leading Rookie Racing Toyota (Kazuya Oshima/Kenta Yamashita), the only car in the field using the stage two restrictor, failing to score points for a second race in a row, it means Yamamoto is now on 40 points, five points clear of Oshima and Yamashita at the head of the drivers' standings.
The GT300 class was won by the #244 Max Racing Toyota GR Supra of Atsushi Miyake and Yuui Tsutsumi, the team taking its first Super GT win.
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