Hirakawa explains pitstop that cost TOM'S Okayama win
Ryo Hirakawa has explained what exactly happened during the mid-race pitstop that cost the TOM’S Toyota team a likely victory in the SUPER GT season opener at Okayama.
Hirakawa’s temporary teammate Sena Sakaguchi led the first half of the 82-lap contest from pole position, keeping the #14 Rookie Racing Toyota Supra of Kazuya Oshima at bay as the two circulated the track well clear of the remainder of the field.
However, the race slipped away from Sakaguchi and Hirakawa after an incident for Yudai Uchida in the #360 Tomei Sports Nissan GT300, with almost the entire field heading into the pits to avoid being caught out by the safety car.
Sakaguchi and Oshima entered the pits virtually nose-to-tail at the end of lap 33, with Yuhi Sekiguchi in the #36 TOM’S Supra following them another 15 seconds behind in third.
TV pictures showed TOM’S mechanics pushing back the #37 Supra now driven by Hirakawa into the fast lane after completing the pitstop, losing the lead in the process.
When a clear order emerged behind the safety car, the Rookie Racing Toyota of Oshima’s teammate Kenta Yamashita took the net lead from Sho Tsuboi in the #36 TOM’S Supra, with Hirakawa slipping to fourth behind Yuichi Nakayama’s SARD Toyota.
Hirakawa was able to re-pass Nakayama to claim the final spot on the podium but could do little to eat into the advantage of Yamashita and Tsuboi despite the two drivers coming to blows multiple times, eventually finishing 13s behind the leaders in third.
Speaking to Motorsport.com, Hirakawa revealed a late change to the pitstop angle caused the initial delay, before the display on the steering wheel erroneously showed the car was in first gear when in fact it was in neutral.
“Frustrating,” the 27-year-old said when asked to sum up his day. “There was an issue in the pits. Not only one, [there were] many issues.
“First, before the race we had a meeting that if [there is a] safety car situation [and the] #37 car in front we can box that lap to the pitlane. But somehow just before the pitstop they changed to the dive, 45 degree. So we lost time a little bit there.
“Also somehow Sena went neutral or somewhere in the car gear but the dash said he was in first gear. So I thought I could go but [I got] no traction and I struggled to put the gear. We lost more than 10 seconds because before pitstop we had more than 10 second margin to the #39 [SARD Supra] and #36.
“One more issue was that we couldn’t put maximum fuel somehow. We had a problem yesterday doing the long run but unfortunately we had the same issue for my stint. I had to save fuel a lot for the stint so there was nothing I could do, just cruise, cruise, cruise. Not happy.”
While a need to save fuel was the primary reason why Hirakawa couldn’t close the gap to the leaders, he feels the slow pitstop did the team more damage at a track that is known to be difficult for overtaking.
“[Mainly the slow] pitstop because I struggled a lot,” he said when asked if a lack of fuel in the car also played a role in deciding the outcome of their race.
“[Others] were so slow but it was so difficult to pass tyre-wise. I overheated the tyre a lot, so I needed to wait. Even after passing I had no grip. And also saving fuel.
“Even without fuel saving it was difficult to pass. I don’t know why. You can see after me passing the #38 [Cerumo] or #17 [Real Racing] were struggling to pass [the SARD Toyota] also.“
Toyota once again made a dominant start to a SUPER GT season, locking out the top four positions in the race. Koudai Tsukakoshi and Bertrand Baguette were best of the non-Supra runners in fifth in the #17 Real Racing Honda, but half a minute behind the winning Toyota in a race where the gap to the front was erased twice due to safety cars.
However, Hirakawa doesn’t believe Toyota’s results were reflective of the true pecking order in GT500, as he feels the Supra benefited from higher than expected temperatures at the former Pacific Grand Prix venue.
“I think we were lucky because the temperature helped us quite a lot,” he said. “If we had low temperatures today maybe Honda [would have been] quite strong.
"We were just lucky, I think. It’s not really representative, this result.”
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