The new Lexus Gazoo Racing LC 500 delivered an astonishing result in its 2017 Super GT debut last weekend at Japan’s Okayama International circuit, not only monopolising the podium but locking out the top six places.
Victory for the #37 KeePer TOM’S LC 500 driven by Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy followed an authoritative performance in the official pre-season test day, where the team secured the fastest lap times in two of the four sessions.
2017 Super GT round one report: Okayama
Overnight rain meant Saturday morning’s qualifying action began with a wet surface, but by the start of qualifying the track had completely dried. With all six Lexus LC 500s similarly matched in terms of pace, the session brought fierce competition. The #6 Wako’s 4CR LC 500 secured second position on the starting grid, with the #37 and #38 LC 500s filling out third and fourth place respectively.
Start-line trouble for three of the Honda NSXs red-flagged the start of the race on Sunday, the outcome of which was a decision to reduce the race distance from 82 to 81 laps. At the restart, Oshima Kazuya leapt into the lead in the #6 car, but a decisive late-braking move by Cassidy at the hairpin of the second lap enabled the New Zealander to grab the lead. From that point onward, a full-scale battle emerged between Cassidy and Oshima, with the remaining four LC 500s running strongly behind following another safety car intervention on lap five.
The short and narrow Okayama course creates congestion around the slower-moving GT300 class cars and is tough on tyres, so there were plenty of opportunities to reshuffle the order through bold overtaking and efficient pit stops. Among these, British driver James Rossiter in the #36 au TOM’S car (below) managed a notable leap into third by the middle stage.
Following another reshuffle during the pit stops, the battles between the LC 500s intensified again. While Hirakawa carved through clean atmosphere in the lead in his #37 car, a duel between Nakajima in the #36 car and Caldarelli in the #6 car was decided when Nakajima ran wide at the end of the back straight on lap 41.
Another crash within the GT300 class brought the safety car out for the third and final time, narrowing the hard-fought gaps that had grown since the middle stage. So when the race was restarted with just 20 laps to go, the competitors rocketed away like they’d been released on a sprint to finish.
Another dramatic fight ensued between car #37 and car #6, the tension of which was relieved when the Wako’s 4CR LC 500 was momentarily slowed while avoiding a spin-out from a GT300 backmarker. With a comfortable cushion now created, Ryo Hirakawa (above right with Cassidy) cruised through the chequered flag to take a well-deserved win – his third GT500 victory and his second at Okayama.
2017 Super GT results after Okayama:
|1||37||KeePer TOM’S LC 500||1||Ryo Hirakawa / Nick Cassidy||1|
|2||6||Wako’s 4CR LC 500||2||Oshima Kazuya / Andrea Cardarelli||2|
|3||1||Denso Kobelco Sard LC 500||3||Heiki Kovalainen / Kohei Hirate||3|
|4||38||Zent Cerumo LC 500||4||Yuji Tachikawa / Hiroaki Ishiura||4|
|5||36||au TOM’S LC 500||5||Nakajima Kazuki / James Rossiter||5|
|6||19||WedsSport Advan LC 500||6||Yuhi Sekiguchi / Yuji Kunimoto||6|
|7||23||Motul Autech GT-R||7||Tsugio Matsuda / Ronnie Quintarelli||7|
|8||12||Calsonic Impul GT-R||8||Hironobu Yasuda / Jann Mardenborough||8|
|9||16||Motul Mugen NSX-GT||9||Hideki Mutoh / Daisuke Nakajima||9|
|10||24||Forum Engineering GT-R||10||Daiki Sasaki / Joao Paulo de Oliveira||10|
2017 Super GT: Where next?
The 2017 Super GT series continues with round two on the weekend of 3-4 May. The event will be hosted at the spiritual home of Lexus ‘F’ models – Fuji Speedway.