Mazda cars dominate podium in rainy opening round of S-Tai
The #456 odula Star5 Roadster (Riku Hashimoto/Kosei Nukido/Tatsuya Osaki/Kouji Obara) took pole position in the dry qualifying session on the 20th, followed by the #66 odula TONE MOTUL Roadster and the #72 NATS Roadster (Ryotada Kanai/Tatsuya Okahara/Yasuhiro Matsuo/Misaki Furuta). The #103 Hiromatsu Mazda2 was just 0.3 seconds behind, and the #88 Murakami Roadster was 0.6 seconds behind, marking a good sign of things to come for Mazda in the race.
On race day, the 21st, it rained from the morning and the forecast was for heavier rain in the afternoon. The five-hour race was scheduled to start at 11.45am, but a 15-minute warm-up session was added as it was deemed necessary to run in the wet on the Hankook tyres, which were specified for all cars this season. However, the teams were unable to get a feel for how much tyre wear would occur on the rainy Motegi surface. With the weather showing no signs of improving, the rolling lap started at noon and after two laps of formation the race got underway.
In the ST-5 class, the cars ran in order of qualifying in the early stages of the race. As the rain intensified, the #66 Roadster closed in on the #456 Roadster, who was leading the race, with the rest of the field in third place. After an hour, the first safety car was called in, and although the race resumed a little more than 10 minutes later, the track was still very rough, with many spins and run-outs, and a second safety car run at 14:45. However, the rain showed no sign of abating and the wind picked up, forcing the race to be red-flagged at 15:25. With no improvement in sight, the organisers announced the end of the race at 16:00 and provisional awards were given out according to the standings at that time.
In the ST-5 class, the winner was the #66 Roadster, 2nd was the #103 Hiromaz Mazda2, 3rd was the #88 Murakami Roadster, 4th was the #37 NOPRO Demio SKY-D (Kaoru Ijiri/Kazunari Yoshioka/Toyo Seki/Tatsuya Nogami), 5th was the #456 Roadster, and 6th was the #17 NOPRO Demio (Tobio Otani/Mataka Inoue/Toshihiko Nogami/Yoshihiro Kato). The #72 Roadster finished 8th, the #78 LOVE DRIVE Roadster (Junko Fujii/Jco Iimura) lost time due to technical problems and finished 10th. Finally the #50 LOVE DRIVE Roadster (Koji Yamanishi/Hiroyuki Matsumura/Yoshihito Shinoda) finished 11th.
Takayuki Takechi of OVER DRIVE, who won the opening race of the season, said: “In the beginning, Ota did a great job, he got to the top from second place and then pulled away, so it was easy for me. It was my first race on rain tyres and I didn’t know what the air pressure would be. But the mechanics and engineers were very predictable and made the car easy to drive.”
Text and Photos by MZRacing