Okayama Super GT: Yamashita beats Tsuboi in thrilling duel

Kenta Yamashita and Kazuya Oshima claimed a maiden victory for the Rookie Racing team in the opening round of the 2021 SUPER GT season at Okayama, as Toyota monopolised the top four spots.

Now running independently of the Cerumo operation, the team named in honour of Toyota president Akio Toyoda's former dog took top honours at the former Pacific Grand Prix venue following a thrilling scrap between Yamashita and the #36 TOM’S GR Supra of Sho Tsuboi.

Ryo Hirakawa and Sena Sakaguchi completed the podium in the second of the TOM’S Toyotas after losing significant time in a crowded pitlane during the mandatory stops.

At the start of the race, Sakaguchi led away cleanly from pole position in the #37 TOM’S car, ahead of the Rookie GR Supra of Oshima and the sister TOM’S entry of Yuhi Sekiguchi.

An early safety car to recover the #30 apr Toyota Prius GT300 car allowed 2019 champion Oshima to close right on the tail of Sakaguchi, the latter competing in only his second GT500 race as a substitute for the absent Sacha Fenestraz.

But the 21-year-old did well to hold off the more experienced Oshima, never giving the Rookie Racing driver any space to make a pass.

However, Sakaguchi and Hirakawa would find themselves outside the lead battle following the pitstop phase, triggered by an accident for the #360 Nissan of Yudai Uchida on lap 33.

In anticipation of a safety car, nearly the entire field across both the GT500 and GT300 classes headed to the pits to complete their mandatory stops, shuffling the order up and down the pack. 

With space a luxury in the pitlane, the TOM’S mechanics had to push back the #37 Supra now driven by Hirakawa from the pitbox, dropping from first to fourth in the process.

The #14 Rookie GR Supra now driven by Yamashita emerged from the chaos in the lead, ahead of the #36 TOM’S car of Tsuboi and Yuichi Nakayama in the SARD Toyota. 

When the safety car period ended, Tsuboi started chasing Yamashita for the top spot, the two engaging in a battle that would continue for more than a dozen laps.

Tsuboi, still chasing a maiden GT500 victory, made multiple attempts at overtaking the Rookie car but was rebuffed each time by some stern defending from Yamashita.

On lap 65, Tsuboi tried to make a pass around the outside of Yamashita at Turn 5, but the two drivers banged wheels, with Yamashita holding onto his position.

Following another coming together at the exit of Turn 1, Tsuboi made another attempt at passing Yamashita at the exit of the hairpin with eight laps to run, only to lock up and drive straight into the run off area.

This would prove to be the end of their battle, with Yamashita enjoying a clear run to the flag from there on to take victory for himself and teammate Oshima.

Tsuboi and Sekiguchi had to settle for second, while Hirakawa and Sakaguchi completed the podium spots after the former passed the #39 SARD Toyota of Nakayama and Heikki Kovalainen in the latter stages of the race.

The Real Racing Honda of Bertrand Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi recovered from a poor qualifying to finish fifth, ahead of the Cerumo Toyota of Hiroaki Ishiura and Yuji Tachikawa.

Tomoki Nojiri and Nirei Fukuzumi were one of the big losers in the pitstop phase, eventually finishing seventh in the ARTA Honda, with reigning champion Naoki Yamamoto and teammate Hideki Mutoh - substituting for a recovering Tadasuke Makino - classified eighth in the Kunimitsu Honda after spending much of the race outside the top 10.

Nissan squads finished ninth and 10th, with the B-Max/NDDP entry of Katsumasa Chiyo and Kohei Hirate beating the Impul GT-R of Kazuki Hiramine and Nobuharu Matsushita.

Nissan’s factory-entered NISMO car had jumped to sixth early on following a rapid start from Ronnie Quintarelli, before dropping to ninth after the pitstops.

The team was eventually forced to retire when Fukuzumi crashed into Matsuda on lap 50, with the latter collecting the #2 Lotus Evora. Matsuda picked up heavy damage to the front-right section of his GT-R in the incident and was forced to return to the pits, before being wheeled into the garage.

Kondo Nissan takes GT300 honours

Reigning champions Joao Paulo de Oliveira and Kiyoto Fujinami took top honours in the GT300 class, having benefited from the same mid-race safety car that contributed to Rookie Racing’s victory in the top category.

In the opening half of the 82-lap encounter, the pole-sitting #11 Gainer Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Hironobu Yasuda led from the #52 Saitama Toyopet Green Brave Toyota GR Supra of Kohta Kawaai and Hiroki Yoshida, with the two cars running within a second of each other for much of the distance.

But both were pushed down the order during the chaos caused in the pits, with de Oliveira taking the lead of the race in the #56 Kondo Racing Nissan that had run third in the early stages in the hands of Fujinami.

The ex-Nissan GT500 ace had to initially defend hard from the #65 LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Naoya Gamou that leapt from fourth to second in the pits, but was able to hang on for the remainder of the distance to start his and teammate Fujinami’s title defence with a win.

The Saitama Toyopet team eventually finished third behind the Mercedes of Gamou and Togo Suganami, while the pole-sitting Gainer squad had to settle for fourth ahead of the Max Racing Supra GT300 and the K-Tunes Lexus RC F GT3.

Subaru's new BRZ finished a lap down in 15th in its debut GT300 race.

GT500 race results:

Pos.

No.

Drivers

Team

Car

Tyre

Gap

1

14

Japan Kazuya Oshima

Japan Kenta Yamashita

Rookie Racing

Toyota

B

82 laps

2

36

Japan Yuhi Sekiguchi

Japan Sho Tsuboi

TOM’S

Toyota

B

1.187s

3

37

Japan Ryo Hirakawa

Japan Sena Sakaguchi

TOM’S

Toyota

B

13.621

4

39

Finland Heikki Kovalainen

Japan Yuichi Nakayama

SARD

Toyota

B

30.142

5

17

Japan Koudai Tsukakoshi

Belgium Bertrand Baguette

Real Racing

Honda

B

30.562

6

38

Japan Yuji Tachikawa

Japan Hiroaki Ishiura

Cerumo

Toyota

B

31.677

7

8

Japan Tomoki Nojiri

Japan Nirei Fukuzumi

ARTA

Honda

B

32.171

8

1

Japan Naoki Yamamoto

Japan Hideki Mutoh

Kunimitsu

Honda

B

32.929

9

3

Japan Kohei Hirate

Japan Katsumasa Chiyo

B-Max/NDDP

Nissan

M

33.438

10

12

Japan Kazuki Hiramine

Japan Nobuharu Matsushita

Impul

Nissan

B

46.798

11

16

Japan Ukyo Sasahara

Japan Toshiki Oyu

Mugen

Honda

D

52.960

12

19

Japan Yuji Kunimoto

Japan Ritomo Miyata

Racing Project Bandoh

Toyota

Y

58.091

13

2

Japan Takuya Izawa

Japan Hiroki Otsu

Nakajima Racing

Honda

D

1 lap

14

4

Japan Mitsunori Takaboshi

Japan Daiki Sasaki

Kondo Racing

Nissan

Y

1 lap

Ret

23

Italy Ronnie Quintarelli

Japan Tsugoi Matsuda

NISMO

Nissan

M

-

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About this article

Series Super GT
Event Okayama
Author Rachit Thukral