LOVE DRIVE Roadster takes its first victory at S-Tai Autopolis 5 Hours
The weather was fine on Saturday, when qualifying was held. The No. 456 odula Star5 Roadster (Riku Hashimoto/Kosei Nukido/Tatsuya Osaki/Kohji Ohara) would take pole position in the ST-5 class with Riku Hashimoto (driver A) and Kosei Nukido (driver B) setting the top times in their respective classes. The No. 72 NATS Roadster (Ryotada Kanai/Anna Inozume/Tatsuya Okahara), with its new bright blue color scheme, was driven by B driver Anna Inozume. B driver Anna Inozume fought hard and set the top time for the team, surpassing A driver Kanai, to qualify in 2nd place. Third place went to No. 66, and the three cars that performed well in the qualifying round of the previous Fuji 24-hour race were again at the top of the grid this time.
In the final race, all teams were at the mercy of the weather, making tire selection difficult. On Sunday, the circuit was foggy from the morning. Surrounded by mountains and located in a hollow, Autopolis is famous for its foggy weather. In the morning warm-up session, the track surface was lightly wet due to the drizzle. Later, the rain got heavier, but when it stopped, the fog started to fall. The circuit was enveloped in deep fog and clouds. There was no heavy rain during the grid walk, and some teams chose to use slick tires.
The race started at 11:03, and the 51 cars started the race after a one-lap formation lap. However, about 10 minutes after the race started, the safety car (SC) had to run due to poor visibility caused by deep fog, and the race control instructed all cars to turn on their lights. The race was restarted, but soon after, thicker fog and clouds rolled into the circuit, making it impossible to see even 100 meters ahead. Due to the poor visibility, the SC was called in again, but the race was red-flagged, and all the cars lined up on the home straight to allow the drivers to disembark. In the short time since the start of the race, the top positions had changed dramatically. The #456 car, which started from pole position on slick tires, was caught up by its rival, the Fit. As the race was restarted about 30 minutes later, the weather recovered and the track condition quickly changed to dry, which caused a huge traffic jam in the pits. After the restart, the race started with a fierce battle for the top spot between the No. 456 and the No. 4 Fit, but the No. 456 dropped out of the battle for the top spot due to an accident, and the No. 72 car took over the top spot with the No. 4 Fit. In the middle of the race, No. 50 rose to the top and continued to lead the race. Towards the end of the race, No. 103 HM RACERS (Kota Sasaki, Yugo Osaki, Tomomitsu Seo) suffered from transmission trouble and retired from the race. With less than 10 minutes remaining in the race, No. 17 caught up to No. 50 running at the top and closed in behind. Car 50 was unable to increase its pace due to the fact that it was on the verge of running out of fuel, and the team crew waited for the right moment with nervousness and anticipation for their first win. When No. 50 took the checkered flag, the pit area was filled with joy.
Koji Yamanishi of car #50 said, “While some teams started the race on slicks, the team decided to start the race on rain tires, and we were able to improve our position. We were lucky enough to start on SC after the red flag, and I think the reason for our victory was that the three of us were able to drive with a lot of determination.”
Toshihiko Nogami, the manager of car No. 17, which started 10th in the qualifying but made a great push and finished in 2nd place, 2.9 seconds behind the leader, said, “Of course there was tire strategy this time, but both drivers did their best. Mr. Otani has experience in fighting with diesel engines, but I felt that Mr. Inoue had not yet gotten used to driving with diesel engines. However, he was able to set a good time this time, so I entrusted him to drive the car all the way. At the end of the race, I was unable to overtake the No. 50 car, but I could feel the growth of Mr. Inoue in this race.”
The No. 50 car, which won for the first time this year, has shown speed in the past, but due to troubles and accidents, it has been difficult to reach the championship. In such a situation, we can say that this was a win where everything came together. Car 66 also earned points for its 3rd place finish, and is now in 1st place in the ST-5 class series ranking. The Super Taikyu Series is now entering the second half of the series. The next round will be held at Suzuka Circuit on September 18th and 19th.
Text by MZRacing, Photos by T.Ishida & MZRacing