Fuji Super GT: Honda beats Toyota to title on finish line

Honda drivers Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino took the SUPER GT title away from Toyota man Ryo Hirakawa at the end of a thrilling season finale at Fuji Speedway.

Yamamoto stole victory from the #37 TOM’S GR Supra of Hirakawa and Kenta Yamashita that had dominated the majority of the race up to that point, as Hirakawa appeared to run out of fuel exiting the final corner on the last lap.

It meant the Team Kunimitsu squad scored its second GT500 title in three years, with Yamamoto and Makino following up on the success that Yamamoto achieved in 2018 alongside Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button, and on the final race for long-time sponsor Raybrig.

It’s also Honda’s fifth title in SUPER GT’s top class and its first with a front-engined car since 2010, coming in the first season with its new-for-2020 NSX-GT.

How the race unfolded

Yamashita took the start from pole in the #37 car, but on the opening lap he dropped to second behind Ronnie Quintarelli in the works Nissan GT-R.

Quintarelli had a storming first lap from sixth on the grid, gaining two places in the opening corners and then sweeping around the outside of three Toyotas – Yamashita, Heikki Kovalainen’s SARD car and Sacha Fenestraz in the #36 TOM’S car – into Turn 10.

However, Nissan’s time out front was short-lived, as Quintarelli in the Michelin-shod car was soon caught by the Bridgestone-equipped Toyotas. On lap seven Yamashita re-passed Quintarelli and by the end of that tour the outgoing champion was 2.6 seconds to the good.

Two laps later he was five seconds in the clear, as Quintarelli came under attack from Fenestraz in the battle for second. Kovalainen meanwhile had been eliminated from contention after sustaining damage in a collision with Fenestraz.

As Quintarelli fell down the order, apparently struggling with tyre pick-up, Yamashita’s advantage over the chasing pack rose to 18s when the pit window opened on lap 22.

But there was another scare for the #37 crew when they were leapfrogged by the #14 Cerumo Toyota of Sho Tsuboi and Kazuya Oshima, who gained a huge chunk of time by electing not to change their Bridgestone tyres in the pits.

Tsuboi, who had moved up to a net second with the fast stop, took advantage of his warmer tyres to pass a struggling Hirakawa on his out lap at Turn 3.

But Hirakawa struck back just one lap later at the same corner, and proceeded to build a 15s advantage over the field in the first half of his stint.

Tsuboi was rapidly reeled in by the #36 TOM’S Toyota, now driven by Yuhi Sekiguchi, and another bout of intra-Supra contact – this time at Turn 1 – left the Cerumo car with ultimately terminal damage and promoted Yamamoto the status of Hirakawa’s closest challenger.

By lap 54, Yamamoto had got the gap down to less than 10 seconds, and the differential started to fall by a second a lap in the closing stages, and with three laps remaining, Hirakawa’s margin was down to just two seconds.

Hirakawa had appeared to stem the tide and looked on course for victory until his Toyota dramatically slowed exiting the final corner in scenes reminiscent of the marque’s Le Mans 24 hours defeat in 2016. Both Hirakawa and Yamamoto stopped on the slowing-down lap, suggesting that the two leading cars had run out of fuel.

Coasting over the line in second, Hirakawa lost the chance to become SUPER GT’s first solo champion since Ryo Michigami in 2000 – which would have been a result of regular teammate Nick Cassidy being forced to miss the final two races of the year for Formula E testing.

Sekiguchi came home for the final spot on the podium in the second TOM’S car to seal third place for himself and Fenestraz in the standings.

Real Racing Honda pair Bertrand Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi recovered from their qualifying position of 12th to finish fourth, ahead of ARTA pair Nirei Fukuzumi and Tomoki Nojiri.

Kondo Racing Nissan drivers Joao Paulo de Oliveira and Kiyoto Fujinami took the title in GT300 with a second-place finish in class behind the Saitama Toyopet Toyota GR Supra.

More to follow

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