The Lexus brand locked out the GT500 class podium at the Super GT round at Thailand’s Chang International Circuit, with Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita fighting off Nick Cassidy and Ryo Hirakawa for victory.

With track temperatures peaking at 35°C and humidity at a sticky 64%, drivers raced throughout in incredibly dense and hot conditions in the northeast of Thailand. The #6 Wako’s LC500 of Oshima and Yamashita started on pole ahead of the #19 WedsSport LC500 piloted by the 2016 Super Formula winner Yuji Kunimoto and co-driver Sho Tsuboi, with the #3 CraftSports Nissan GT-R of Kohei Hirate and Frederic Makowiecki third-fastest.

By Lap 5, the #36 au TOM’S Lexus LC500 of Kazuki Nakajima and Yuhi Sekiguchi had begun its charge up to third place, with the sister #7 KeePer TOM’S of Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy similarly making their own progress from seventh on the grid. On Lap 7, Nakajima pushed his way into second, using all of his World Endurance Championship LMP1 experience to thread his way through the slower GT300 class traffic which was already being lapped.

The Toyota ace finally made his way into the lead, passing the #6 Wako’s entry driven by Oshima on Lap 29. Hirakawa worked his way up to third before the cycle of mid-race pit stops, fuel top-ups and driver changes.

A marginally quicker stop saw the #6 Wako’s car take the lead once again after the #36 au TOM’S (now with Sekiguchi behind the wheel) had to slam on the brakes to avoid an unsafe pit release. The sister #37 KeePer TOM’s car now sat in third, piloted by Nick Cassidy.

Lap 37 spelled disaster for several Honda machines, headlined by last year’s champion Jenson Button. The #12 Motul Mugen Honda NSX-GT of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli collided with Button’s #1 Raybrig NSX-GT, damaging the Briton’s rear wing. The contact also caused a puncture for the #12 car, damaging its suspension in the process and leading it to spin at the next corner which caused a number of the following Honda runners to veer off in different directions to avoid the crash.

Button was left relatively unscathed, but with worsening handling he pitted under the Safety Car and effectively ended his hopes of a decent finish in Buriram. With he and co-driver Yamamoto having scored just 11 points at the halfway point of the season, they have quite a charge ahead of them to try and defend their 2018 title.

Likewise, the incident continued Honda’s dry spell at the Super GT’s international round in Thailand, which the marque has never won in either the GT500 or GT300 classes.

The Safety Car interruption did benefit some drivers, however, with Cassidy able to slash his 11-second deficit to the second-placed Sekiguchi. Once the Safety Car pulled into the pits, Cassidy immediately attacked at Turn 2, forcing Sekiguchi wide and over the rumble strips where his car momentarily became airborne. Sekiguchi lost two places as a result of this.

Two laps later, Cassidy had caught up to race leader Yamashita and attempted yet another pass in the same spot as just a few laps earlier. This time, it didn’t work out as well with Cassidy ending up side-by-side with the leading car as Yamashita defended his position.

Cassidy kept this up for the next few corners, with multiple points of contact along the way, trying to pass the #6 Lexus around the outside, however he had to pull back as the corners of Chang Circuit became tighter and tighter over the final sequence of the lap.

On Lap 49, the battle for the lead intensified as Yamashita and the still chasing Cassidy entered a pack of GT300 traffic. Yamashita did a better job navigating the slower cars, pulling out a 1.3-second gap at the start of Lap 52. Once clear of the traffic, Cassidy began to pull back the deficit once again, but had pushed his tyres too hard and dropped back in the final laps.

Yamashita crossed the finish line to claim victory at the end of the 66-lap race, ending a winless streak for the LeMans Lexus team that had stretched back to 2013. Cassidy and Hirakawa placed second for the second race in a row, but now trailed Oshima/Yamashita by just one point in the GT500 Championship standings.

The WedsSport ADVAN LC500 driven by Sho Tsuboi and Yuji Kunimoto rounded out the podium to finish another Lexus dominated race in Super GT.

The fifth round of the season sees the field head to Fuji Speedway for a second time on the weekend of August 3-4, but this time to contest a 500-mile race offering extra championship points.

Drivers Team / Entry Result Pts
1. Kazuya Oshima
Kenta Yamashita

Lexus Team LeMans Wako’s
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
1:44:12.812 21
2. Ryō Hirakawa
Nick Cassidy

Lexus Team KeePer TOM’S
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 1.236 15
3. Yuji Kunimoto
Sho Tsuboi

Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 10.249 11
4. Mitsunori Takaboshi
Jann Mardenborough

Kondo Racing Advan
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
+ 10.743 8
5. Heikki Kovalainen
Yuichi Nakayama

Lexus Team Denso Kobelco SARD
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 18.435 6
6. Kohei Hirate
Frederic Makowiecki

NDDP Racing Craftsports Motul
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
+ 23.668 5
7. Yuji Tachikawa
Hiroaki Ishiura

Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 26.457 4
8. Daiki Sasaki
James Rossiter

Team Calsonic Impul
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
+ 32.712 3
9. Kazuki Nakajima
Yuhi Sekiguchi

Lexus Team au TOM’S
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 33.212 2
10. Narain Karthikeyan
Tadasuke Makino

Modulo Epson Nakajima Racing
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
+ 1:25.917 1
11. Tsugio Matsuda
Ronnie Quintarelli

NISMO Motul Autech
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
+ 1:28.681
12. Naoki Yamamoto
Jenson Button

Raybrig Team Kunimitsu
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
14 laps behind
13. Koudai Tsukakoshi
Bertrand Baguette

Keihin Real Racing
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
15 laps behind
DNF. Hideki Mutoh
Daisuke Nakajima

Team Mugen Motul
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
36 laps
DNF. Tomoki Nojiri
Takuya Izawa

Autobacs Racing Team Aguri
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
35 laps

Championship Points:

  • Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers on a 20-15-11-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale.
  • The Kazuya Oshima / Kenta Yamashita entry is awarded an additional 1 championship point for claiming pole position.

Image via Masahide Kamio

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Keegan Bennett

Journalist - Japanese Motorsport at MotorsportM8

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