Nissan claimed its first win of the 2019 Super GT season, with the Craftsports GT-R of Kohei Hirate and Frédéric Makowiecki soaring to victory at Sportsland Sugo.

The penultimate round of what has been a truly unpredictable season saw horrible weather marr an action-packed 300-kilometre race which yielded the sixth different race-winners in seven races to-date.

The Keihin Honda NSX of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Bertrand Baguette claimed back-to-back pole positions after breaking the lap record in qualifying, and a Safety Car start saw the pair hold onto the lead from the entries of defending champions Jenson Button / Naoki Yamamoto (Team Kunimitsu Honda) and Kazuki Nakajima / Yuhi Sekiguchi (au TOM’s Lexus) who qualified second- and third-fastest respectively.

Championship contenders Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy qualified their KeePer TOM’s Lexus fourth-fastest, comfortably quicker than overall points leaders Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita (Wako’s Lexus) who started from eighth place.

The green flags were waved at the start of Lap 3, with the top four runners quickly breaking clear from the rest of the pack. Button dived for the lead into Turn 1, with an aggressive Cassidy gaining two places and slotting into second.

The pole-sitters, meanwhile, had gambled on the wrong tyres and quickly fell down the order to twelfth.

The third-placed au TOM’s of Nakajima and Sekiguchi made their first pit stop as early as Lap 8, taking advantage of a huge gap to the midfield by also serving a 10-second stop/go penalty for exceeding the maximum number of engine changes permitted during the season.

Promoted to fourth place, the Tsugio Matsuda / Ronnie Quintarelli NISMO was starting to make inroads on Kohei Hirate and Frederic Makowiecki (Craftsports Nissan) in third, with the Nissans seemingly more comfortable in the soaking conditions.

Championship leaders Oshima and Yamashita were also making steady progress, and were running in fifth place by Lap 18 after passing the Modulo Epson Nakajima Racing entry of Narain Karthikeyan / Tadasuke Makino. The two cars made contact in the manoeuvre, causing Karthikeyan to spin.

The rain showed no sign of stopping and track conditions were worsening, but that wasn’t stopping the Nakajima / Sekiguchi entry which was climbing back through the field after serving their stop/go penalty. The duo had climbed to eighth place.

Second-placed Cassidy pitted on Lap 28 and handed over to co-driver Hirakawa, with the stop and driver change seeing them rejoin in sixth place. That triggered a succession of pit stops among rival teams, with Oshima / Yamashita and Tomoki Nojiri / Takuya Izawa (ARTA Honda) also making visits to the pits.

Race leader Button made his pit stop just before mid-distance, handing driving duties to Yamamoto who rejoined in close company to Hirakawa. With his tyres already up to temperature, Hirakawa took the effective race lead on Lap 38.

A lap later, the #12 Calsonic Nissan GT-R of Daiki Sasaki and Katsumasa Chiyo spun off the circuit, triggering a Safety Car.

Having just inherited the race lead, the yet-to-pit DENSO Lexus of Heikki Kovalainen and Yuichi Nakayama were caught out by the timing of the Safety Car. Their 39-second lead was swiftly erased as they were forced into the pits.

The race returned to action on Lap 43 with new race leader Hirakawa quickly pulling clear, while points leaders Oshima and Yamashita quickly climbed up to third. Their time in a potential podium position was short-lived, however, when the Craftsports GT-R of Makowiecki quickly overtook them and also passed Yamamoto’s Honda for second.

With a layer of fog now setting in, Yamamoto was struggling to hang onto third place and was passed by Matsuda’s NISMO and Makino’s Honda in rapid succession. Makino then swept by Matsuda on Lap 53.

A costly error by race leader Hirakawa on the very next lap allowed Makowiecki to close in, and on Lap 55 the Frenchman blasted by into the lead.

Struggling on wearing tyres, Hirakawa was later passed by Makino and Matsuda, falling to fourth place.

Makowiecki would not be challenged for the rest of the race, pulling out a lead of almost 20 seconds by the chequered flag and give Nissan its first win of the season.

Makino and Karthikeyan finished in second place after a fine drive, claiming their first podium finish of the season. Completing the rostrum was Matsuda and Quintarelli, who netted their fourth podium finish of a consistent but so-far winless 2019 campaign.

Hirakawa and Cassidy finished in fourth as the best-placed of the Lexus runners, while championship leaders Oshima and Yamashita were sixth. The points gap between the driver pairings has been cut to just seven points ahead of the championship finale at Twin Ring Motegi on November 3.

Drivers Team / Entry Result Pts
1. Kohei Hirate
Frédéric Makowiecki

NDDP Racing Craftsports Motul
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
2:07:41.498 20
2. Narain Karthikeyan
Tadasuke Makino

Modulo Epson Nakajima Racing
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
+ 19.873 15
3. Tsugio Matsuda
Ronnie Quintarelli

NISMO Motul Autech
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
+ 26.710 11
4. Ryō Hirakawa
Nick Cassidy

Lexus Team KeePer TOM’S
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 45.046 8
5. Koudai Tsukakoshi
Bertrand Baguette

Keihin Real Racing
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
1 lap behind 7
6. Kazuya Oshima
Kenta Yamashita

Lexus Team LeMans Wako’s
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
1 lap behind 5
7. Heikki Kovalainen
Yuichi Nakayama

Lexus Team Denso Kobelco SARD
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
1 lap behind 4
8. Naoki Yamamoto
Jenson Button

Raybrig Team Kunimitsu
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
1 lap behind 3
9. Hideki Mutoh
Daisuke Nakajima

Team Mugen Motul
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
1 lap behind 2
10. Kazuki Nakajima
Yuhi Sekiguchi

Lexus Team au TOM’S
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
1 lap behind 1
11. Yuji Tachikawa
Hiroaki Ishiura

Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
2 laps behind
12. Tomoki Nojiri
Takuya Izawa

Autobacs Racing Team Aguri
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
2 laps behind
13. Yuji Kunimoto
Sho Tsuboi

Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
3 laps behind
14. Daiki Sasaki
Katsumasa Chiyo

Team Calsonic Impul
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
5 laps behind
15. Mitsunori Takaboshi
Jann Mardenborough

Kondo Racing Advan
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
5 laps behind

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 Koudai Tsukakoshi / Bertrand Baguette 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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