Autopolis SUPER GT: ARTA ends Honda's win drought

ARTA duo Tomoki Nojiri and Nirei Fukuzumi claimed victory in the sixth round of the 2021 SUPER GT season, ending a victory drought for Honda at Autopolis stretching back to 2007.

With the two cars that started on the front row dropping out of contention in a disrupted first stint, Fukuzumi quickly moved up to second place in the #8 ARTA NSX-GT before leapfrogging the Nakajima Racing Honda of Takuya Izawa in the pitstop phase to gift teammate Nojiri the lead.

The result marked ARTA team’s first win in SUPER GT since last season’s penultimate round at Motegi, and follows just a month after its victory challenge spectacularly unravelled at Sugo.

Story of the race

On the opening lap, a fast-charging Kenta Yamashita in the Rookie Racing Toyota passed the pole-sitting Mugen Honda of Toshiki Oyu to take the lead of the race, with Izawa remaining third in the Nakajima car.

However, the Rookie Racing team was never expected to be in the fight for victory thanks to a five-second stop/go penalty for an engine change, and Oyu duly retook the lead when Yamashita dived into the pits at the end of lap 6 to serve his sanction.

The first safety car was deployed on lap 12 when GT300 driver Hisashi Yada crashed his R’Qs Motor Sports Mercedes-AMG GT3 at Turn 11, possibly after being hit by another driver.

On the restart, Oyu pulled away cleanly to build a small buffer over the chasing pack led by Izawa. But Mugen’s hopes of scoring a first victory since its return to the GT500 ranks ended when the right-rear tyre suddenly detached from the car on lap 18, forcing a devastated Oyu to pull off the track and retire from the race.

This promoted Izawa into the lead but the race was neutralised yet again when Yudai Uchida moved across the track after passing Sean Walkinshaw's Team Thailand Lexus at Turn 3, suffering severe damage to his #48 NILZZ Racing Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.

With the pit window open by the time the safety car period ended on lap 24, several cars immediately dived into the pitlane to complete their mandatory stop, led by fourth-placed Heikki Kovalainen in the SARD Toyota.

But Izawa waited until the end of lap 29 to make his pitstop, allowing Nojiri - now at the wheel of the ARTA Honda - to snatch the lead of the race.

Hiroki Otsu did mount a fightback after taking over the driving duties from Izawa, running closely behind Nojiri once his tyres were up to temperature.

But once both cars had cleared traffic from GT300 cars, Nojiri was able to pull out a comfortable lead up front, taking the chequered flag by a crushing margin of 28 seconds.

This was the sixth GT500 victory for Nojiri, who was crowned the 2021 Super Formula champion a week ago at Motegi, and only the second for teammate Fukuzumi.

Nakajima pair Otsu and Izawa couldn’t make it a Honda 1-2 after the Dunlop tyres fell off a cliff as the race neared its conclusion, with Otsu losing four places in a span of one lap.

Initially this put Yuichi Nakayama - taking over the SARD Toyota from Kovalainen - in second with the NISMO Nissan of Tsugio Matsuda in hot pursuit. 

But in the end, Hiroaki Ishiura's recovering Cerumo Toyota (which had also served a drive-through penalty earlier on with Yuji Tachikawa at the wheel) cruised by both Matsuda and Nakayama to grab second place and record a first podium finish of a troubled season.

Matsuda was finally able to clear Nakayama with eight laps to go to finish third and clinch a second podium of the season for himself and Ronnie Quintarelli.

B-Max Nissan duo Kohei Hirate and Katsumasa Chiyo likewise charged from the back of the GT500 field, with Hirate snatching fourth from the SARD Toyota of Nakayama at the start of the final lap.

Behind, Naoki Yamamoto boosted his chances of defending the title with an impressive drive to sixth place in the Kunimitsu Honda he shares with Tadasuke Makino.

Although the duo had qualified 13th out of 15 GT500 cars with the Stage 3 fuel flow restrictor, an opportunistic call to pit just after the second safety car period catapulted the #1 NSX-GT well inside the top 10, before Yamamoto took advantage of fresh tyres to charge his way through the field and run as high as third, before dropping back to a still-respectable sixth.

Seventh place went to Sugo winners Nobuharu Matsushita and Kazuki Hiramine in the Impul Nissan, while Real Racing Honda duo Bertrand Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi lost more ground to Yamamoto in the championship standings with an eighth-place finish, slipping 16 points behind the reigning champion with just the Motegi and Fuji rounds to run.

The top 10 was completed by the two TOM’S Toyotas, with the #37 car piloted by Ryo Hirakawa and SUPER GT returnee Sacha Fenestraz (the third and final car to serve a drive-through penalty) leading the sister #36 GR Supra of Yuhi Sekiguchi and Sho Tsuboi.

Such was the drop off on Otsu’s tyres that he plummeted to the rear of the field, crossing the finishing line in 12th place.

First GT300 win for hybrid Prius

#31 TOYOTA GR SPORT PRIUS PHV apr GT

#31 TOYOTA GR SPORT PRIUS PHV apr GT

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

The hybrid Toyota Prius converted pole position to claim a first victory in GT300 since it switched to a front-engine configuration in 2019, beating the K-Tunes Lexus team to top honours at Autopolis.

Although both the K-Tunes and Subaru squads mounted an attack for the lead at various times, neither could put on a sustained challenge, allowing Koki Saga and Yuhki Nakayama to take a convincing 10-second victory in the #31 apr Prius PHV GT.

With Sena Sakaguchi back at the wheel of the #96 Lexus RC F GT3 as Morio Nitta’s teammate after a stint in the GT500 ranks, the K-Tunes squad secured its first podium of the season in second ahead of championship leaders Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi in the #61 R&D Sport Subaru BRZ.

The Saitama Toyopet Green Brave Toyota GR Supra GT300 was fourth ahead of the #11 Gainer Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, which took fifth with an unorthodox late-stopping strategy.

Iguchi and Yamauchi’s nearest championship rivals Kiyoto Fujinami and Joao Paulo de Oliveira just missed out on scoring points, finishing 11th in the #56 Kondo Racing Nissan. 

Likewise failing to score was the #244 Max Racing Supra of Atsushi Miyake and Yuui Tsutsumi in 17th place, meaning Iguchi and Yamauchi take a 12-point lead into the final two rounds.

GT500 race results:

Pos.

No.

Drivers

Team

Car

Tyre

Gap

1

8

Japan Tomoki Nojiri

Japan Nirei Fukuzumi

ARTA

Honda

B

65 laps

2

38

Japan Yuji Tachikawa

Japan Hiroaki Ishiura

Cerumo

Toyota

B

28.548

3

23

Italy Ronnie Quintarelli

Japan Tsugio Matsuda

NISMO

Nissan

M

33.469

4

3

Japan Kohei Hirate

Japan Katsumasa Chiyo

B-Max/NDDP

Nissan

M

40.700

5

39

Finland Heikki Kovalainen

Japan Yuichi Nakayama

SARD

Toyota

B

43.636

6

1

Japan Naoki Yamamoto

Japan Tadasuke Makino

Kunimitsu

Honda

B

44.080

7

12

Japan Kazuki Hiramine

Japan Nobuharu Matsushita

Impul

Nissan

B

47.799

8

17

Japan Koudai Tsukakoshi

Belgium Bertrand Baguette

Real Racing

Honda

B

54.458

9

37

Japan Ryo Hirakawa

France Sacha Fenestraz

TOM'S

Toyota

B

1'02.817

10

36

Japan Yuhi Sekiguchi

Japan Sho Tsuboi

TOM'S

Toyota

B

1'12.309

11

14

Japan Kazuya Oshima

Japan Kenta Yamashita

Rookie Racing

Toyota

B

1'12.606

12

64

Japan Takuya Izawa

Japan Hiroki Otsu

Nakajima Racing

Honda

D

1'21.749

13

19

Japan Yuji Kunimoto

Japan Ritomo Miyata 

Racing Project Bandoh

Toyota

Y

1'37.379

14

24

Japan Mitsunori Takaboshi

Japan Daiki Sasaki

Kondo Racing

Nissan

Y

1 lap

Ret

16

Japan Ukyo Sasahara

Japan Toshiki Oyu

Mugen

Honda

D

48 laps

Motorsport.tv is showing the entire 2021 SUPER GT season live. Click here for more information.

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