Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita have denied Lexus stablemates Nick Cassidy and Ryō Hirakawa the 2019 Autobacs Super GT Championship title in a thrilling finale at the Twin Ring Motegi.

Kazuki Nakajima and Yuhi Sekiguchi (Lexus Team au TOM’S) started on pole, sharing the front row with championship leaders Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita (Lexus Team LeMans Wako’s) started beside them in second. The third spot on the grid went to Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli (NISMO Motul Autech).

Championship contenders Ryō Hirakawa and recent Super Formula title-winner Nick Cassidy qualified fourth-fastest in their KeePer TOM’s Lexus. Trailing Oshima and Yamashita by seven points heading into the event, Hirakawa and Cassidy would need to win Sunday’s race and have their rivals finish third or lower to claim the crown.

There was bad news for last year’s Motegi winners Frédéric Makoweicki and Kohei Hiratem who failed to start the race due to mechanical issues with their Craftsports Nissan GTR.

For the final race of the season all the accumulated weight ballasts and fuel restrictors are removed, meaning this race always produces some nail-biting battles as the championship often goes down to the wire, and Sunday’s race was no different.

The championship leaders had a disastrous start, losing places to the #23 Nissan, the #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500 and the #17 Kehin NSX of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Bertrand Baguette, slipping back into fifth place by the end of the first lap.

With Oshima and Yamashita down the order, things would be much easier for the Hirakawa and Cassidy to take home the points they needed to win the championship.

Having caught up to the slower GT300 cars by Lap 5, Cassidy was now pushing up against the rear of second place Quintarelli. After sniffing around for an opportunity, Cassidy managed to get the job done on the next lap, going around the outside of Turns 3 and 4 to move up into second place. Quintarelli then lost third to Tsukakoshi on the following corner, a sign on the struggles that have plagued the Michelin-shod teams all year.

Lap 15 spelled disaster for the #12 Calsonic GTR of Daiki Sasaki and Katsumasa Chiyo, who started the race with a 15 second stop-and-go penalty. A large fire erupted from the car’s side-mounted exhaust, ending their race.

On Lap 20 the GT500 runners began to make their pit stops, including the #37 KeePer TOM’s car. Cassidy, who had been adamantly battling with the #36 AU TOM’s car for first, handed over the car to Hirakawa for the second stint of the race. The race leaders pitted on the next tour, along with the #6 Wako’s car. Until this point the championship leaders had been battling for third place, some way behind the battle for the lead between Cassidy and Nakajima.

The end of the pit stop cycle saw Nakajima and Sekiguchi remain in the lead from Cassidy and Hirakawa, while Oshima and Yamashita had successfully moved into third place and were now one position shy of being able to guarantee themselves the Super GT title.

Kazuya Oshima & Kenta Yamashita, Lexus Team LeMans Wako's LC500 - 2019 Super GT Motegi 250Km

Yamashita forces his way past Sekiguchi into P2.

On Lap 32, Hirakawa dived up the inside of Sekiguchi, who surrendered the lead to the sister TOM’s entry and now needed to play the role of rear gunner to keep a fast-closing Yamashita at bay.

Just six laps later, Cassidy and Hirakawa’s title hopes were dashed with a dramatic battle for second place was resolved in Yamashita’s favour. Sekiguchi was critically held up by several GT300 class runners as he tried to lap them, allowing Yamashita to close. The pair raced side-by-side in a drag race down the back straight, running two-wide under the bridge as Yamashita pushed Sekiguchi wide.

Sekiguchi counter-attacked through Turns 12 and Yamashita refused to give in as both cars bounced through the gravel at the Turn 13/14 chicane, spraying gravel and dust into the windshields of the GT300 runners behind them. It was a spectacular scrap, ultimately resolved in Yamashita’s favour and provided he maintained his position he and Oshima would claim the title by two points.

Hirakawa did all that he could, counting down the final laps to give he and Cassidy their first win of the season. Ultimately their victory would be bittersweet, as Yamashita brought his car home in second to give the Wako’s Team LeMans outfit its first Super GT crown since 2002.

Sekiguchi held off the Zent Cerumo LC500 of Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiurato complete the podium, giving the Lexus marque a 1-2-3-4 result.

Behind the Nissan of Tsukakoshi and Baguette, Jenson Button and Naoki Yamamototo (Team Kunimitsu Honda) finished in sixth from ninth on the grid in the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion’s final race in the series.

The Super GT season will end with a non-championship ‘Dream Race’ event at Fuji on November 23-24, where the Japanese championship’s field will race against a selection of entries from the DTM championship.

Drivers Team / Entry Result Pts
1. Ryō Hirakawa
Nick Cassidy

Lexus Team KeePer TOM’S
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
1:31:25.868 20
2. Kazuya Oshima
Kenta Yamashita

Lexus Team LeMans Wako’s
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 12.169 15
3. Kazuki Nakajima
Yuhi Sekiguchi

Lexus Team au TOM’S
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 14.871 12
4. Yuji Tachikawa
Hiroaki Ishiura

Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 15.492 8
5. Koudai Tsukakoshi
Bertrand Baguette

Keihin Real Racing
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
+ 21.338 6
6. Naoki Yamamoto
Jenson Button

Raybrig Team Kunimitsu
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
+ 22.018 5
7. Yuji Kunimoto
Sho Tsuboi

Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 46.232 4
8. Tsugio Matsuda
Ronnie Quintarelli

NISMO Motul Autech
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
+ 47.481 3
9. Hideki Mutoh
Daisuke Nakajima

Team Mugen Motul
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
+ 1:08.290 2
10. Mitsunori Takaboshi
Jann Mardenborough

Kondo Racing Advan
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
+ 1:08.885 1
11. Heikki Kovalainen
Yuichi Nakayama

Lexus Team Denso Kobelco SARD
Lexus LC500 / R14AG
+ 1:29.961
12. Narain Karthikeyan
Tadasuke Makino

Modulo Epson Nakajima Racing
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
1 lap behind
13. Tomoki Nojiri
Takuya Izawa

Autobacs Racing Team Aguri
Honda NSX-GT / HR-417E
6 laps behind
DNF. Daiki Sasaki
Katsumasa Chiyo

Team Calsonic Impul
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A
DNS. Kohei Hirate
Frédéric Makowiecki

NDDP Racing Craftsports Motul
Nissan GT-R GT500 / NR20A

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 Kazuki Nakajima / Yuhi Sekiguchi 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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