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The SUGO GT 300km RACE, Round 4 of the 2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series, was held at Sportsland SUGO (one lap: 3,704m x 81 laps) in Miyagi Prefecture on July 23. The GT500 class race was won by the No. 1 DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500 driven by Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate and the GT300 class race by the No. 11 GAINER TANAX AMG GT3 driven by Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Bjorn Wirdheim.

On race day July 23, the weather was unstable from morning, with the rain that had stopped as the start approached suddenly began to fall again about eight minutes before the start, causing the team to struggle with their tire choices. After the Parade Lap led by three motorcycles of the Miyagi Police and then the Formation Lap (one each), the race got underway. The first laps saw a fierce battle among the Honda NSX-GT cars that had won the top spots on the starting grid in the previous day’s qualifying. Emerging as the leader was the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto). On the slippery track in the early stages of the race, there were a number of accidents, beginning with a crash by the Gt300 class No. 35 ARTO 86 MC 101 that brought out the Safety Car to control the race. Although the rain continued in the early stages of the race, it was falling lighter after the 20th lap and after the 35th lap, the track began drying. It was on the last turn of the 40th lap that the No. 24 Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R (Joao Paulo de Oliveira) crashed, bringing out the Safety Car for the second time. Then, just two laps after the race was restarted, two GT300 class cars crashed and again the Safety Car was called in. After the second and third Safety Car breaks the lead cars made their routine pit stops, and it turned out that the two cars that chose to make their pit stops after the second Safety Car intervention on the 48th lap came out with an advantage. Thanks in part to the great charge put on by Heikki Kovalainen in the No. 1 DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500, moving up to 4th place from a 7th-place grid start, his teammate Kohei Hirate found himself in the lead after their pit stop, and Satoshi Motoyama was now in 2nd place in the No. 46 S Road CRAFTSPORTS GT-R thanks to the great first-stint driving of teammate Katsumasa Chiyo after starting the race from the very back of the grid in 15th position. As it turned out, these two cars were now a full lap ahead of the rest of the field from 3rd place and back. The two machines ran on with very little margin between them until the No. 46 S Road CRAFTSPORTS GT-R began to close the gap rapidly on the No. 1 DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500 in the latter stage of the race. On the final lap of the race the two cars were battling nose-to-tail. By this time the rain was falling hard again and the two cars collided with each other while running side-by-side in the SP corner. As the two cars slid, it was the No. 1 DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500 that managed to come out of the turn in the lead and race on to take the checkered flag in 1st place. The No. 46 S Road CRAFTSPORTS GT-R finished 2nd and the No. 6 WAKO’S 4CR LC500 (Kazuya Oshima/Andrea Caldarelli) finished 3rd. The Honda NSX-GT cars that had led the race in the early stages lost their lead due to the repeated Safety Car interventions in the unlucky race development.

In the GT300 class, the No. 65 LEON CVSTOS AMG (Hiroki Kurosawa) had built up a lead in the rainy early stages of the race, but ended up falling back considerably in the field due to the Safety Car interventions and pit stop timing. Emerging instead to take the lead was the No. 11 GAINER TANAX AMG GT3 (Bjorn Wirdheim to Katsuyuki Hiranaka) and ran on to the win. Finishing 2nd was the No. 50 Ferrari 488 GT3 (Akihiro Tsuzuki/Mori Nitta), while 3rd place went to the No. 25 VivaC 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui/Kenta Yamashita).

Winner Comments

GT500 Class

Heikki Kovalainen
“At the start, it was neither completely dry not completely wet, which made for very difficult conditions. I chose to start with a harder wet tire, and that turned out to be the best choice. This season our car had been delivering high performance from the beginning, and today the tire choice and the timing of the Safety Car interventions turned out best for us. Actually I was only hoping for a podium finish, so getting the win is a great result.”

Kohei Hirate
“After the start, we didn’t know what the weather would do. So I didn’t know what tires to choose, and when I think about it, SUGO tends to have more than its share of difficult races like this. Today we chose to start with harder wet tires and that turned out to be a great choice. And because of the timing of the Safety Car breaks, we managed to finish our pit stop at the best possible time. After leaving the pit it was a one-on-one battle with car No. 46. While paying attention to tire management, I was able to keep the lead at the end. I’m glad that I was able to win here at SUGO, because this is a place that I consider my second home.”

GT300 Class

Katsuyuki Hiranaka
“Bjorn (Wirdheim) ran very well in the first stint and quickly got us into the top ten. And then the team did a great job with the pit work. These were the big reasons for our win today. Also, we were helped by the Safety Car, which was lucky. It has really been some time since we felt we had a chance to win and were able to run with assurance, and for that reason, there was a feeling of some pressure too. So, I am really relieved that we won.”

Bjorn Wirdheim
“Today, the start was very difficult, but it turned out to be the best conditions for the Dunlop tires. For the first ten laps after the start the traffic (crowded track) was really tough, so I had to run very carefully at the high pace I was going and I managed to get up to 6th position. After that, the track conditions changed and I lost some ground, but the performance of the Dunlop tires in the early stages of the race and the and the fact that we executed a strategy of doing our pit stop as soon as the Safety Car ended up leading to the best result. I am very happy to get this first win in some time.”

Source. Super GT


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