OKAYAMA, Japan – They have won back-to-back Super GT championships, and now Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli have triumphed in the opening round of the 2016 championship at the Okayama International Circuit.
The No.1 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R took maximum points with the No.46 S Road CRAFTSPORTS GT-R of veteran Satoshi Motoyama and last year's Blancpain Endurance Series driver's co-champion Katsumasa Chiyo claiming third to put two GT-Rs on the podium.
After starting third, Quintarelli began a charge through traffic to close on second place, bringing the gap down to 0.3 of a second by lap 20. On Lap 28 he made a pass at the hairpin and set chase after the race leader.
After closing to be right on the tail of the leading Lexus, the Italian took over the lead when his rival pitted on lap 35. Three laps later, incredible pit work by the NISMO crew had Tsugio Matsuda aboard the No.1 machine and back in the lead.
From that point on he ran unchallenged to the checkered flag, kicking off the duo's charge for their third consecutive championship in the best possible way.
"This is my first time winning in the opening round, as well as at Okayama, but I have to be honest – it really hasn't sunk in yet," said Quintarelli. "The team did a great job perfecting the car for this weekend, and Michelin really came through for us. Our tire selection is really what enabled us to win here. It really goes to show that if your car and tires are properly suited to the conditions, you can really push hard. We'll have a weight handicap in the next round, so we'll be working hard in the next round to overcome that."
Although the No.1 GT-R took victory, all eyes were on the No.46 GT-R and young star Chiyo. Although this was his debut GT500 race, in the previous day's official qualifying he managed to record the top time in the first qualifying session.
Yet it was his performance on race day that had everyone's attention. Veteran Satoshi Motoyama took charge of the first stint and maintained position until pitting in at lap 35. Here he handed the car over to Chiyo.
After taking the reins, Chiyo pulled out a momentous drive and began to swiftly close in on the rivals in front. By lap 52, he moved into third place after a stunning battle and then set his sights on second place. Despite a tough fight in the closing laps, he was unable to steal a GT-R 1-2 but still impressed with his GT500 debut.
"There were times when I was edging off the track, but I was totally focused on the road ahead and blindly pushed forward," said Chiyo. "Ever since it was decided I would compete in the GT500, I've been taught a great deal by Motoyama and the team, which I'm really thankful for. When he told me I'd done a great job I was really ecstatic."
In GT300, Jann Mardenborough made his Japanese Super GT debut in GT300 with Kazuki Hoshino and scored 10th place in the hotly contested 27-car field.
"It's a shame really because we were running in eighth for quite a lot of the race and then in the last five laps we were overtaken twice, which was pretty frustrating," said Mardenborough. "But we hit all our targets in the pit stop, and Kazuki did a great job at the start of the race. It feels good to finish my first Super GT race and to get a point. At the start and the middle of the race the car was pretty consistent. We had a big debrief with the engineers, and so we'll be getting prepared for Fuji. It's very early in the season and every point counts so we're going to keep pushing."
#1 GT-R driver, Tsugio Matsuda
"Our rivals were very fast in the tests carried out prior to this opening round, but this weekend our car's setup was perfect. Ronnie pulled out a fantastic drive in the first stint to raise us up the order and then our crew's blistering pit-work put us into the lead with a decent margin. It appears Chiyo was getting a great deal of attention in 3rd but I was only focusing on how big a lead I could build up. That was what was motivating me the whole time. We really achieved a well rounded victory today."
#1 GT-R driver, Ronnie Quintarelli
"This is my first time winning in the opening round, as well as at Okayama, but I have to be honest, it really hasn't sunk in yet. The team did a great job perfecting the car for this weekend and Michelin really came through for us. Our tire selection is really what enabled us to win here. It really goes to show that if your car and tires are properly suited to the conditions, you can really push hard. We'll have a weight handicap in the next round so we'll be working hard in the next round to overcome that."
#46 GT-R driver, Satoshi Motoyama
"Chiyo could not have done a better performance. During the tests there was a period where we were in a bit of a slump, but I don't think anyone could deny that he is ready for the GT500. [Chiyo] was able to get the top time in Q1 due to our tires matching the road surface temperature, but there was also a bit of luck and momentum involved. His battle with the #6 RC F was a little risky but he skillfully got passed him in the end. Although he used tires that were slightly softer than those I used in my stint, they clearly allowed him to confidently attack the course and drive with a good pace. I felt pretty at ease watching his drive."
#46 GT-R driver, Katsumasa Chiyo
"The #6 RC F was skilfully blocking me so getting passed him was a hard slog. From Attwood Corner to the hairpin our pace was faster so I felt like I could definitely overtake him. I wasn't able to make the final decisive blow and get in front of the #37 RC F and I think this is down to my lack of experience. There were times when I was edging off the track but I was totally focused on the road ahead and blindly pushed forward. Ever since it was decided I would compete in the GT500 I've been taught a great deal by Motoyama and the team, which I'm really thankful for. When Motoyama told me I'd done a great job I was really ecstatic."
FIA WEC, Silverstone, England
ELMS, Silverstone, England
V8 Supercar, Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia
Pirelli World Challenge, Long Beach, California, USA
Blancpain GT Endurance, Monza, Italy
Pirelli World Challenge, Barber Motorsports Park, Alabama, USA
Super GT, Fuji Speedway, Japan
FIA WEC, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
Blancpain GT Sprint, Brands Hatch, England
V8 Supercar, Barbagallo Raceway, Western Australia, Australia