With five rounds down and just under a month before the next race gets underway, now is a perfect time to look back the Japanese motor racing season so far. Defending Champions Team Kunimitsu are out of position in the Championship starting and have an uphill battle on their hands if they want to successfully retain their winners crown. As we wait for the next race, it is Lexus Team Lemans Wako’s who are in first place. Let’s investigate how the championship shaped up this way.
Race I – Okayama:
It was a wet start to the season which saw plenty of action from start to finish. The race commenced under the safety car and got going four laps later. Multiple spins and crashes from cars in both the GT-500 and the GT-300 race guaranteed the return of the safety car multiple times as the rain intensified. The lead swapped hands several times until the race as red flagged on Lap 31. Soon after, it was declared that the race was over due to the severe weather and half points were awarded. Team Arta – their drivers for this year being Tomoki Nojiri and Takuya Izawa – ended up finishing in first place. Second place went to Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli driving for Team Nismo. Finally, third place was achieved by James Rossiter and Daiki Sasaki driving for Team Impul.
Race II – Fuji:
Like the first race, Fuji was plagued with bad weather which brought with it plenty of action on a slowly drying track. However, the rain returned, and a thirty-minute-long red flag was in place before racing resumed on Lap 31. Teams Nismo, Tom’s and Zent Cerumo battled it out for the top three places for much of the race. Nick Cassidy, driving for Team Tom’s had an incident that on Lap 37 that took him out of the running’s. It was then down to Quintarelli and Tachikawa to fight for the victory, something the latter managed to gain after a last-minute move on Lap 99. He was able to keep the position until he safely over the finishing line with Quintarelli coming home in second. Team Kunimitsu finished in third place.
Race III – Suzuka:
A slow pit stop led to Nick Cassidy and Ryo Hirakawa for Team Tom’s to miss out on the top spot at Suzuka according to Cassidy. After coming in for the team’s mandatory pitstop in P2, they came out in P3 and had trouble climbing back up the order from there. The other Team Tom’s drove off into the sunset in first place with drivers Kazuki Nakajima and Yuhi Sekiguchi taking the win. Cassidy and Hirakawa manged to get back into second and finished the race there with Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita driving for Team LeMans in third place. The high temperatures that weekend attributed to some teams being slightly out of place with teams like Team Kunimitsu as a prime example of this down in thirteenth place.
Race IV – Thailand:
As the Super GT-500 Championship went to Thailand for its one race not on Japanese soil, it looked like a pretty straightforward race from the outset. Team Lemans and Team Tom’s (the outfit with Cassidy and Hirakawa driving for them) were battling it out for first and second. The teams switched positions a number of times, including in the mandatory pit stop that saw Yamashita take the lead, forcing Sekiguchi to chase him down to retrieve the number one spot. Jenson Button, Daisuke Nakajima and Tomoki Nojiri came together causing the safety car to come out whilst the debris was cleared away. Yamashita manged to stay ahead in the end to claim first position with Cassidy in second place and Team WedsSport Bandoh drivers Yuji Kunimoto and Sho Tsuboi finishing in third place. This meant that Lexus has secured all three podium positions in that race whilst all the Hondas fell to the back of the pack, marking the race as one to forget for them.
Race V – Fuji 500 Mile Race:
After initial trouble early in the race, the safety car gave Team LeMans another opportunity to claim the win in the longest race of the season. They duly took the win, ending up crossing the finishing line with one-minute lead. Team Kunimitsu were able to keep their championship hopes alive as Jenson Button and Naoki Yamamoto came home in a much needed second place. Third place went to Team Nismo which was unfortunate for them as they had been leading the majority of the race before Team LeMans made their comeback.
With three race left on the calendar, the Team Standings look like this:
1. Team LeMans (Oshima and Yamashita) – 60 Points
2. Team Tom’s (Hirakawa and Cassidy) – 44 Points
3. Team Nismo (Matsuda and Quintarelli) – 38.5 Points
4. Lexus Team Zent Cerumo (Tachikawa and Ishiura) – 30.5 Points
5. Team Kunimitsu (Button and Yamamoto) – 29 Points
There’s still everything to play for and whilst Team LeMans looks to be the favourite to win, it’s not over until it’s over.
What are your thoughts on the season so far? Who do you think will win the championship? Let me know in the comments below.