#72 takes its long-awaited first win with a lights-to-flag in S-Tai opening round
This year’s season opener saw 8 Mazda vehicles in the ST-5 class and 1 in the ST-Q class. Almost all the teams had rebounds and changes in their vehicles for the season opener. In the official qualifying round held on Saturday, car No. 72, joined by the experienced Tetsuya Yamano from this season, showed overwhelming speed in the qualifying session to take pole position.
At 11:40 a.m., the final race finally gets underway. Yamano will be in charge of starting the No. 72 car. No. 66 in 2nd position and No. 50 LOVEDRIVE RACING Roadster (Koji Yamanishi/Yuhi Sekiguchi/Hiroyuki Muramatsu/Yoshihito Shinoda) chased it furiously, and by the 2nd lap, No. 66 was in the lead. While these three cars were battling for the top position, an accident occurred by a ST-5 class car just before the chicane. This resulted in an FCY (full course yellow), followed by an SC (safety car run) to restart the race. In this accident, No. 88 Murakami Motors Roadster (Hiroyuki Murakami/Tatsuya Tanigawa/Masamasa Kato) came to the pits with damage to his machine, but after repairs, he returned to the course. The three cars were engaged in a close battle, but as the higher class cars with faster speeds approached from behind, the gap between them opened up in the order of No. 66, No. 72, and No. 50.
After 3 hours and 45 minutes, FCY was introduced again to collect debris and vehicles that had stopped on the course. Once the FCY was called, no cars that were running were allowed to enter the pit from that point on. No. 17 Demio, which had started the race from 7th position, made a pit stop just before the FCY. The NOPRO pit area was filled with joy as this pit stop was an opportunity for the fuel-efficient No. 17 to make a significant improvement in its position.
Toward the end of the race, car 50, which was running in the top ten, was hit by a car in a faster class and stopped. It was out of contention for the prize. The top two cars, No. 66 and No. 72, were engaged in a heated tail-to-nose battle. With less than 10 minutes remaining, Yamano’s car No. 72, which was entrusted with the final stint, overtook the class leader No. 66. The same car was also desperately chasing Yamano, but due to a problem with the drivetrain, they were unable to overtake again. At 16:45, the 5-hour endurance race was over, and Car 72 took the checkered flag, winning its first victory in this long-awaited race. Car 104, Hiroshima Mazda HMR’s Hiromatsu Demio 2 (Soichiro Yoshida/Kouta Sasaki/Tomomomitsu Seo) finished in 4th place, and Mazda cars dominated the 1st through 4th positions.
Meanwhile, in the ST-Q class, where vehicles developed by automobile manufacturers participate, three manufacturers, Toyota, Subaru, and Mazda, entered their vehicles using their respective next-generation fuels. Car 55 MAZDA SPIRIT RACING MAZDA2 Bio concept (Kazuhiro Terakawa/Kaoru Ijiri/Yutaka Seki/Ikuo Maeda), which was equipped with increased power, finished 4th in class with no problems.
Team Principal, Toshiyuki Inozume’s comments on Car 72] We purposely did not attack during the practice sessions prior to the race, and instead spent our time calculating fuel consumption and times for the race, mainly with Yamano as the main driver. We went into the race with all the data we had on expected fuel consumption and times, and during the race we rearranged them and modified our strategy while observing the pace of car #66.
[Comment from Tetsuya Yamano in Car 72] After failing to finish on the podium in last year’s race at Suzuka because I used too much fuel, I knew it was imperative to make it a six-stint race. Then, after careful discussions with the team, I told them that the outcome of this race would depend on how long we could make the first stint. Although it may have been a close call, this strategy worked and we were able to go full throttle in the latter half of the race, which was the reason for our victory.
[Comment from Ikuo Maeda, team leader of Car 55] This was MAZDA SPIRIT RACING’s full-scale debut race, so I am relieved that we were able to complete the race without any trouble. Now that we have started, we have to make sure that the team is moving in the right direction, so I am very determined. As a driver, Suzuka is a difficult course, so I was very nervous, but I think I managed to fulfill my responsibility.
Text & Photos by MZRacing