#66 Roadster Moves One Step Closer to ST5 Title With Victory at Suzuka 5-Hour
This is the first time in two years that the S-Tour was held at Suzuka Circuit. This was the first time for the event to be held at Suzuka after the change of sole supplier to Hankook Tires. Eight Mazda cars participated in the event. On Saturday, the qualifying session was rescheduled due to the typhoon that was expected to hit the Kinki region. In the afternoon, the typhoon passed and the weather cleared up. In the afternoon, the typhoon had passed and the track conditions were recovering. Four roadsters showed their speed: Car 456, which has taken pole position twice so far this season; Car 66, the points leader; Car 50, which won for the first time in the previous round in Autopolis; and the strong No. 72 NATS Roadster (Ryotada Kanai, Tetsuya Yamano, Anna Inozume). Car 456 took pole, Car 72 came grabbed second on the grid, followed by Car 66 in third. This time, Tetsuya Yamano, an All-Japan Gymkhana champion who has also competed in the Super GT and Global MX-5 Cup, entered Car 72. Mr. Yamano and Mr. Toshiyuki Inozume, the team manager of Car 72, are rivals who used to compete for the Gymkhana championship. Mr. Yamano said, “I have raced many different cars in Suzuka, but the Roadster is a fun handling machine. The setting of the car that was prepared for us was also very good. Team Principal Inozume has great insight and imagination, and I think my senses are in tune with his. I would be happy if I could convey to the team what I have experienced so far and make them stronger.”
The formation lap for Sunday’s race started at 11:30. The circuit was clear and cloudless. In the early stages of the race, No. 50, which started from 4th position, quickly moved to the front and took the lead. No. 66 and No. 72 followed , and No. 456, which started from pole position, dropped to 4th position. As the race progressed, tire problems began to occur in other classes, but there were no major incidents that resulted in Safety Car Runs (SC) or Full Course Yellows (FCY), and the race continued to run cleanly. Soon, No. 66 took the top spot, followed by No. 72, No. 50, and No. 456. The four cars continued to race at a high pace in the 2 minutes and 35 seconds range. On lap 99, Car 72 rose to the top, and the pits were filled with anticipation for its first win. Yamano was in charge of the stint for Car 72, Hashimoto, the A driver for Car 456, and Yamanishi for Car 50. However, on the 107th lap, Car 72 pitted in for refueling. It was out of the battle for the top position. The battle between the #66 car, which wanted to defend its top position, and the #456 car, which was in hot pursuit, was won by the #66 car by a mere 3 seconds.
On the other hand, No. 37 NOPRO Demio SKY-D (Kaoru Ijiri/Kazunari Yoshioka/Toyo Seki/Tatsuya Nogami), which won at Suzuka in 2019, was steadily moving up the order, but in the second half of the race, when it was about to start after finishing its work in the pit lane, it encountered a problem. They were able to restart, but finished the race in 7th place. Team NOPRO’s No. 17 Demio (Hiroo Otani, Masaki Inoue, Toshihiko Nogami, Yoshiteru Kato) finished 6th, No. 78 LOVE DRIVE Roadster (Junko Fujii, Jco Iinuma, Hiroki Takenouchi) finished 9th, and No. 103 HM RACERS (Kouta Sasaki, Soichiro Yoshida, Tomomitsu Seo) finished 10th after having trouble due to an accident with a car in another class.
Takayuki Takeji, the representative of OVER DRIVE Car No. 66, said, “We prepared for this Suzuka race by focusing on fuel efficiency rather than power, as we knew it would be a tough race. Both Mr. Ota, who was in the first car, and Mr. Inomata, who was in the last car, did their best to drive with fuel efficiency in mind, even though their pace was increased. As a result, we were able to refuel once less, which was the reason for our victory,” he said with satisfaction.
For the S-Tai series ranking points, 5 out of 6 rounds are counted as valid points. Car 66, which has finished on the podium in all five rounds so far, has earned points this time as well, and is now the favorite to win the ST-5 class championship. Car 66 will have to finish 3rd or higher, and the 2nd placed car, 456, will have to win pole-to-win in the next round in Okayama to win the championship on its own. The final round in Okayama, to be held in November, is also expected to be a heated battle from the qualifying round.
Text MZRacing,Photos by S.Aso & MZRacing