The “Takanoko Hotel Okayama GT 300 Km RACE,” opening round of the 2021 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series, took place at the Okayama International Circuit (one lap 3,703 m x 82 laps) on April 11. Race Sunday was blessed with fine spring weather, and despite with-corona restrictions like social distancing, the fans were back to enjoy the first race here at Okayama in two years.
In the GT500 class the winner was the No.14 ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra driven by Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita, and in the GT300 class victory went to the No. 56 REALIZE NISSAN AUTOMOBILE TECHNICAL COLLEGE GT-R (Kiyoto Fujinami/Joao Paulo de Oliveira).
The race started at 1:30 in the afternoon with the air temperature at a warm 19 degrees Celsius. In the GT500 class, the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra (Sena Sakaguchi) that had taken pole position with a fabulous attack lap pulled away at the start to lead the race. Following No. 37 came the No.14 ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra (Kazuya Oshima) and three more TOYOTA GR Supra cars keeping their grid positions. Behind them, the No. 23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R (Ronnie Quintarelli) gave a stand-out performance in moving up from a 12th-position start to move into 6th position in the course of six laps. After that, the Safety Car was brought out on the 7th lap and the distances built up between the cars were eliminated, and after the restart of the race on the 13th lap, the leading car No. 37 and the 2nd-place car No. 14 began to pull away from the pack.
The order among the race leaders would then change considerably after a car came to a stop at trackside on the 32nd lap. Calculating that the Safety Car would be called out, many of the cars hurried to return to the pits, causing a bottleneck to form in the pit lane and resulting confusion. Here again it was the GR Supra cars that emerged to lead the race, but this time it was car No. 14 (Kenta Yamashita) that ran in the lead, while No. 37 (Ryo Hirakawa) followed in 4th place.
It began to look as if car No. 14 would run on that way to the win, but the No. 36 au TOM’S GR Supra (Sho Tsuboi) that had come out in 2nd place after the pit stops began to close in on No. 14, and the final stages of the race turned into a side-by-side duel between these two cars. From the 60th lap it turned into an all-out team battle. No. 36 pulled even a number of times, but No. 14 succeeded in blocking it skillfully to keep the lead. Finally, on the 75th lap, No. 36 over-ran in the hairpin and that mistake decided the outcome of their battle. The No.14 ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra (Kazuya Oshima/Kenta Yamashita) won the first race of the season. Finishing 2nd was the No. 36 au TOM’S GR Supra (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Sho Tsuboi), while 3rd place went to the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra (Ryo Hirakawa/ Sena Sakaguchi). This gave the TOYOTA GR Supra teams a sweep of the winner’s podium. As for the Honda NSX-GT teams, the highest finisher was the No.17 Astemo NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Bertrand Baguette). The top finisher among the Nissan GT-R teams was the No. 3 CRAFTSPORTS MOTUL GT-R (Kohei Hirate/Katsumasa Chiyo) in 9th place
In the GT300 class, the pole-starting No. 11 GAINER TANAX GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda) ran away in the lead, but during the confusion of the mass pit stops, last year’s champion team, the No. 56 REALIZE NISSAN AUTOMOBILE TECHNICAL COLLEGE GT-R (Kiyoto Fujinami/Joao Paulo de Oliveira) emerged in the lead. The No. 65 LEON PYRAMID AMG (Naoya Gamou/Togo Suganami) and two other cars closed in on No. 56, but eventually De Oliveira was able to outrun them to take the win. Finishing 2nd was car No. 65, while 3rd place went to the No. 52 SAITAMATOYOPET GB GR Supra GT (Hiroki Yoshida/Kohta Kawaai).
No.14 ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra
“When I drove in the first half, the car felt good, and the tires held out to the end of my stint. My pace was faster than the leading car No. 37, but I just couldn’t find a chance to pass it. But I stayed right on its tail and decided to trust the rest to our team’s pit work and my teammate “Yamaken” (Kenta Yamashita). Since we are a team that started from zero (a new team just in its second year this season), I never thought they could achieve such a great feat as this opening round win. I am really proud of them all.”
“Watching the first half of the race, I was impressed by how fast Oshima-san was. Then, when he came back for the pit stop, the team did their work perfectly and were able to get me out on the track in the lead. Both the car and the tires were good, so I thought I could hold that lead to the finish. But I wasn’t able to keep as fast a pace as I hoped, so it came down to a battle with (car No. 36’s) Tsuboi-san. At the end my tires were worn but they held out to the finish and we won.”
No. 56 Realize Nissan Automobile Technical College GT-R
“Since we had come through the qualifying better than I had thought (in 4th position), I thought that we might have a chance to be among the leaders. But I never thought that we would win the race. The timing of the Safety Car intervention and the condition of the car were both good, but I feel that more than anything it was the team’s pit work that got us into the lead. And then JP-san (De Oliveira), as always, ran strongly though this tough race. I really want to thank all of the people who cheered for us today.”
Joao Paulo de Oliveira
“There were a lot of mishaps in the early part of the race, and after they got me out there in the lead, car No. 65 was right on my tail, so I pushed hard from the beginning, but there was no room for mistakes. Still, I am very happy that we were able to start off the season with this win. And I am very glad that I have been able to savor this win with Fujinami-san (who fought together with me to win last year’s title).”
Source. Super GT