The OKAYAMA GT 300 Km RACE, opening round of the 2018 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series, took place at the Okayama International Circuit (one lap 3,703 m x 82 laps) on April 8. In the GT500 race, the No. 17 KEIHIN NSX-GT driven by Koudai Tsukakoshi and Takashi Kogure raced to the win from pole position. The No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Jenson Button) finished 2nd to give the Honda NSX-GT a one-two finish. In the GT300 class, the No. 18 UPGARAGE 86 MC driven by Yuhki Nakayama and Takashi Kobayashi got their team’s first victory in this class.
The previous day’s qualifying had been plagued with rain, and while race day was cloudy, there would be no rain to deal with, and a crowd of 17,700 spectators came to Okayama International Circuit to enjoy a day of racing. And at 2:40 in the afternoon, following a parade lap led by two Okayama Prefectural Police motorcycle patrol bikes, the 82-lap opening race of the 2018 season got underway.
At the start, the pole-sitting No. 17 KEIHIN NSX-GT (Takashi Kogure) took the lead, followed by two NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT500 machines that had jump-started and would be penalized to drop back in the order. Taking their place as a result was last year’s winner here at Okayama’s season opener, the No. 1 KeePer TOM’S LC500 (Nick Cassidy). Although it had to start from 9th position on the grid, Cassidy’s awesome charge got him on the leading KEIHIN NSX-GT by the 25th lap of the race. From here it was a match race, with Kogure and Cassidy battling side-by-side at times until the KeePer TOM’S LC500 made its routine pit stop on the 38th lap.
However, when the prescribed pit stops were finished, it was the No. 17 KEIHIN NSX-GT (driver changed to Koudai Tsukakoshi) was in the lead again due to faster pit work. Behind it came the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto). Despite a late start from around 8th position, its driver, the former F1 champion Button had skillfully controlled tire wear to enable a shortened pit stop as the team opted to forego a tire change. In the tightly contested race, this turned out to give the No. 100 team a big advantage.
From here, the two Honda NSX-GT cars battled fiercely for the lead, at times bumping their machine sides together. Despite constant pressure from the rear throughout the race by the RAYBRIG NSX-GT, and having a broken piece of another car from an accident become lodged in the from of his car, Tsukakoshi in the KEIHIN NSX-GT managed to drive on brilliantly to take the win. For both himself and the team it was their second GT win and their first in seven years. Finishing 2nd was the No.100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT, which meant a first SUPER GT podium for Jenson Button, who is competing his first full season here in Japan this year. Third pace
went to the No.1 KeePer TOM’S LC500.
In the GT300 class race, the pole-starting No. 88 MANEPA LAMBORGHINI GT 3 (Kazuki Hiramine) fell back after the start, in a fiercely competed race that saw the lead change hands several times. After all the cars finished their routine pit stops, it became a race between the leading No. 25 HOPPY 86 MC (Sho Tsuboi > Takamitsu Matsui) and the No. 18 UPGARAGE 86 MC (Yuhki Nakayama > Takashi Kobayashi). True to his prowess as last year’ champion driver in the GT500 class, Kobayashi succeeded in driving the UPGARAGE 86 MC to a come-from-behind win. This gave both Nakayama and the team their first victory. (Spectators: 17,700)
■ Winner Comments
No. 17 KEIHIN NSX-GT [GT300]
Koudai Tsukakoshi: “I didn’t get any information from the team about the fact that I had a broken part from another machine stuck in my front or that cat No. 100 was racing the second stint with no tire change at the pit stop, so I didn’t learn about either until the race was over. I think this was because in the pit they all wanted to help me concentrate on my driving. And, indeed, since No. 100 was chasing me hard, I had to keep concentrated the whole time. So, I’m really happy to get this win.” Takashi Kogure: “In the second half of the race, I was really nervous as I watched the race on the TV monitor. It made me realize anew what tremendous tension goes into winning a race, and what a wonderful thing it is and what great joy it brings. It is my first win since coming to this team, so I am very, very happy.”
No. 18 UPGARAGE 86 MC [GT300]
Yuhki Nakayama: “This my fourth season since coming to this team. I am really glad that we have been able to give Ishida-san (Team Manager Ishida) this victory. I have always wanted to please Ishida-san, and with the stronger team organization this year, we were finally able to get a win for him in the opening round. It really makes me proud.”
Takashi Kobayashi: “I am so glad we won. I came to this team this season and I knew that they brought me to the team because they wanted to win. The results in yesterday’s qualifying were really poor, but today we got the best result we ever could have hoped for. I am relieved that we have won today, but I know that I can’t ride on this one success but have to keep working until we win our next goal, the championship.”