Super GT 2011 - Round 1

BY Burnpavement

Consecutive victories for the GT-R, the CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R wins at Okayama!

Photos: Super GT

Because of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Okayama Race originally scheduled for April 3rd as Round One of the season, had to be postponed to be the race after the Fuji Speedway Round Two held on May 1st. Also the race distance was reduced from 300 to 250 kilometres. Race day at Okayama Circuit saw heavy rain showers from early morning, but the weather gradually improved, and by the time of the start, the skies were clearing. From the start, the cars went into the first corner in their grid order with the No. 17 KEIHIN HSV-010 (Toshihiro Kaneishi) in the lead, followed by the No. 12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R (Joao Paulo Lima de Oliveira), No. 100 RAYBRIG HSV-010 (Takuya Izawa), No. 36 PETRONAS TOM'S SC430 (Andre Lotterer) and the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO SC430 (Yuji Tachikawa).

Meanwhile, as the race proceeded, Loic Duval in the No. 1 Weider HSV-010 was gradually moving up through the field from ninth position. The same was true for the winner of the last round at Fuji and in 12th position this time, the No. 23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R. After passing car No. 8 (Kobayashi) on the first lap, Duval (No. 1) went on to pass the No. 6 ENEOS SUSTINA SC430 (Kazuya Oshima) on lap five and the No. 39 DENSO SARD SC430 (Hiroaki Ishiura) on lap eight to catch up with the group battling for third position. After driving conservatively in the early going to preserve tyre performance, Treluyer in car No. 23 moved up to pass car No. 6 (Oshima) on lap 21 and then went past both car No. 39 (Ishiura) and the No. 24 ADVAN KONDO GT-R (Bjorn Wirdheim) brilliantly on lap 23. Treluyer continued to hold a steady pace as he extended his distance to a longer than usual stint.

Throughout the first half of the race, the battle for the lead was a two car contest between car No. 17 (Kaneishi) and car No. 12 (Oliveira), with the gap between them varying from three to as much as five seconds at times. Some distance behind them was a close fought battle for third between car No. 100 (Izawa) and car No. 36 (Lotterer), with Duval in car No. 1 eventually joining the fray. The first among these to make a move were Izawa in car No. 100 and Lotterer in No. 36. At the end of lap 28, these two returned to the pit at the same time. When the two cars returned to the race, car No. 36 now driven by Kazuki Nakajima, was in front of No. 100, now driven by Naoki Yamamoto at the wheel. On the next lap, No. 17 (Kaneishi), No. 38 (Tachikawa) and No. 6 (Oshima) made their pit stops.

Then at the end of lap 30, No. 12 (Oliveira) returned to the pit. During this series of pit stops there was one change in position as No. 12 (Matsuda) effectively moved ahead of the others. When Duval in car No. 1 returned to the pit for the routine stop three laps later, the team\'s plan was to skip the tyre change in order to save time and move up toward the front considerably. However, a problem in setting the seat belt after the driver change cause a big delay. This dropped No. 1 behind No. 17 (Tsukakoshi) when it returned to the track, rather than in front of it as had been planned. Next it was car No. 32 EPSON HSV-010 (Ryo Michigami) that returned to the pit at the end of lap 35 with the intent of turning the wheel over to Yuhki Nakayama without making a tyre change. Just after Nakayama got out on the track, however, he collided with car No. 39 (Takuto Iguchi) and had to return to the pit again. Then, after a long stint, it was time for Treluyer in No. 23 to make the pit stop at the end of lap 42. Taking the wheel from Treluyer, teammate Satoshi Motoyama was able to return to the race in good position in sixth place.

Just after that, something happened in the battle for the lead. Tsukakoshi in car No. 17 had been chasing Matsuda in No. 12 at a faster pace and was already on his tail by lap 45, where he made a braking mistake going into the hairpin turn and did a half-spin that sent his car colliding into No. 12. (Matsuda). This caused Matsuda to spin as well. Tsukakoshi (No. 17) recovered first and took the lead, but three laps later the decision was made to give him a drive-through penalty as the one responsible for the collision. On the same lap 47 where Tsukakoshi was given his penalty, the battle for third was heating up. Yamamoto in car No. 100 passed car No. 36 (Nakajima) in the Atwood Curve. When No. 17 (Tsukakoshi) returned to the pit lane for the drive-through penalty, it moved No. 100 (Yamamoto) up into second position. From this point on, Yamamoto in car No. 100 began to close the gap slowly on No. 12 (Matsuda), but the gap was too was too big for him to catch No. 12 before it took the chequered and the win.

This result gave the No. 12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Joao Paulo Lima de Oliveira) its first win of the season when the race ended on lap 68. Second place went to the No. 100 RAYBRIG HSV-010, which was the highest finish ever for the driver pair of Takuya Izawa and Naoki Yamamoto. Finishing third after having a second win in their sights at one point was the No. 17 KEIHIN HSV-010 team (Toshihiro Kaneishi/Koudai Tsukakoshi). By finishing fifth in this race, the No. 23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R pair of Satoshi Motoyama and Benoit Treluyer remains atop the season ranking. Six points behind them in second place in the ranking stands the No. 12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R, while the No. 36 PETRONAS TOM\'S SC430 moves up into third place in the ranking.

In GT300, the pole-sitting No. 11 JIMGAINER DIXCEL DUNLOP 458 (Tetsuya Tanaka) led the pack through the first corner. Chasing No. 11 in the early stages of the race was the No. 66 triple a Vantage GT2 driven by Kazuki Hoshino. Some distance behind these two machines came the No. 87 RIRE Lamborghini RG-3 (Manabu Orido) in third, followed by a four-way battle for fourth place between the No. 4 HATSUNEMIKU GOODSMILE BMW (Nobuteru Taniguchi), the No. 43 ARTA Garaiya (Shinichi Takagi), the No. 26 Verity TAISAN Porsche (Hideshi Matsuda) and the No. 33 HANKOOK PORSCHE (Masami Kageyama) that saw the positions change numerous times. As Tanaka in car No. 11 tried to maintain a good margin of lead, he was chased in the middle stages of the race by Hoshino in car No. 66, who gradually narrowed the gap to within one second. No. 66 (Hoshino) was the first to make a decisive move, returning to the pit at the end of lap 21 for an early pit stop. As the second driver for No. 66, Hiroki Yoshimoto drove hard until No. 11 made its pit stop on lap 28. When No. 11 returned to the track with Hiranaka at the wheel, No. 66 (Yoshimoto) was right behind it. With his tyres not yet warmed up on the first lap out of the pit, Hiranaka was helpless as Yoshimoto went past him. Yoshimoto continued to push hard and open up the margin over Hiranaka to 10 seconds at one point.

This appeared to put the No. 66 triple a Vantage GT2 in good position to take its first-ever GT win. But, an unexpected pothole waited ahead. On the 55th lap, the GT500 class No. 38 ZENT CERUMO SC430 (Kohei Hirate) bumped No. 66 (Yoshimoto) as it was trying to pass it and sent it into a spin. This allowed No. 11 (Hiranaka) to slip by into the lead again. A determined Yoshimoto pushed hard to recover however. Unable to match Yoshimoto\'s pace, Hiranaka in car No. 11 was overtaken by him with five laps remaining in the race. Back in the lead again, Yoshimoto drove the No. 66 triple a Vantage GT2 on to victory. It was a first victory for Yoshimoto and for the team and the Aston Martin in SUPER GT competition. For the No. 11 JIMGAINER DIXCEL DUNLOP 458 it was the second consecutive second place in the new season following the result at Fuji earlier in the month.

Finishing third after running much of the race alone came No. 87 RIRE Lamborghini RG-3 (Orido > Atsushi Yogo). After the fierce multi-car battle for fourth in the early stages of the race, it came down to a dual between two "itasha" (cars with anime or manga characters painted on them) cars, the No. 27 PACIFIC NAC IKAMUSUME Ferrari (Yutaka Yamagishi > Hideki Yamauchi) and the No. 4 HATSUNEMIKU GOODSMILE BMW (Taniguchi/Taku Bamba), of which No. 4 emerged to claim fourth place and No. 27 finished fifth. This meant that the first five places in the GT300 class went to European makes, while the first Japanese make to finish was the No. 74 COROLLA Axio apr GT (Morio Nitta > Yuji Kunimoto) in sixth place.