Sugo Super GT: Kovalainen, Hirate win after thrilling finish

The #1 Team SARD Lexus duo of Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate claimed their first victory in the 2017 Super GT season at Sugo after a last-lap tussle with the #46 MOLA Nissan.

Sugo Super GT: Kovalainen, Hirate win after thrilling finish
#17 Keihin Real Racing Honda NSX Concept-GT: Koudai Tsukakoshi, Takashi Kogure
#37 Team Tom's Lexus LC500: Ryo Hirakawa, Nick Cassidy
#36 Team Tom's Lexus LC500: Kazuki Nakajima, James Rossiter
#18 Team Upgarage With Bandoh Toyota MC86: Yuhki Nakayama, Shinnosuke Yamada
#52 Saitama Toyopet Green Brave Toyota Mark X MC: Taku Bamba, Shigekazu Wakisaka
#19 Team Wedssport Bandoh Lexus RC F: Yuhi Sekiguchi, Yuji Kunimoto
#35 Panther Team Thailand Toyota 86 MC: Nattavude Charoensukhawatana, Nattapong Hortongkum
#55 Autobacs Racing Team Aguri BMW M6 GT3: Shinichi Takagi, Sean Walkinshaw
#25 Team Tsuchiya Toyota MC86: Takamitsu Matsui, Kenta Yamashita

The first half of the race was in tricky wet conditions, with the #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda of Naoki Yamamoto and Takuya Izawa comfortably leading after passing the pole-sitting #8 ARTA Honda.

However, two safety car stints happening in quick succession mixed things up, as several cars, led by led by Team SARD's Kovalainen from third, pitted for slicks after the first one.

The decision paid off when the #55 Aguri BMW and the #51 LM Corsa Lexus GT300 cars crashed into each other, leading to the deployment of another lengthy caution period.

As a result, when Kunimitsu and the #65 Nakajima Racing Honda, second at that point, pitted following the second safety car phase, they rejoined well behind the #1 SARD Lexus, now driven by Hirate.

The Japanese driver initially looked set to take an untroubled victory before a late challenge by the #46 MORA of Satoshi Motoyama - who shares the Nissan GT-R with Katsumasa Chiyo - brought the race alive again.

The two drivers briefly touched on the final lap with the Nissan losing a part of its bodywork in the incident. This allowed Hirate to cruise to the finish line and continue Lexus’ winning streak in 2017.

The #6 LeMans Wako Lexus of Kazuya Oshima and Andrea Caldarelli took the final spot on the podium to emerge as the new championship leaders.

The #23 NISMO entry of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli was next up in fourth, while the best Honda could manage a fifth place finish with the #8 ARTA squad.

Mercedes beats Ferrari to GT300 win

Much like in the flagship category, the order in GT300 was turned upside down by safety car periods.

In the end, Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Bjorn Wirdheim claimed top honours in the #11 Gainer Mercedes AMG GT3, beating the #50 INGING Ferrari 488 GT3 of Akihiro Tsuzuki and Morio Nitta.  

#25 Team Tsuchiya's Kenta Yamashita and Takamitsu Matsui were classified third from pole position.

The #65 Leon Mercedes drivers of Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou dropped down to seventh after the two SCs, having led the race before they were deployed.

GT500 Results: 

1  Heikki Kovalainen 
 Kohei Hirate
Lexus 2:09'13.878
2  Satoshi Motoyama
 Katsumasa Chiyo
Nissan 1.022
3  Kazuya Oshima
 Andrea Caldarelli
Lexus 1Lap
4  Tsugio Matsuda
 Ronnie Quintarelli
Nissan 1Lap
5  Tomoki Nojiri
 Takashi Kobayashi
Honda 1Lap
6  Hideki Mutoh
 Daisuke Nakajima
Honda 1Lap
7  Kazuki Nakajima
 James Rossiter
Lexus 1Lap
8  Bertrand Baguette
 Kosuke Matsuura
Honda 1Lap
9  Naoki Yamamoto
 Takuya Izawa
Honda 2Laps
10  Ryo Hirakawa
 Nick Cassidy
Lexus 2Laps
11  Hironobu Yasuda
 Jann Mardenborough
Nissan 3Laps
12  Yuhi Sekiguchi
 Yuji Kunimoto
Lexus 4Laps
13  Yuji Tachikawa
 Hiroaki Ishiura
Lexus 5Laps
   Daiki Sasaki
 Joao Paulo de Oliveira
Nissan 47Laps
   Koudai Tsukakoshi
 Takashi Kogure
Honda 79Laps
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