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Hirakawa, Cassidy Set Title Showdown with Autopolis Victory

Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy go level with Button and Yamamoto after Autopolis win…

Photo: Super GT

Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy erased the gap between themselves and Super GT points leaders Jenson Button and Naoki Yamamoto with victory at Autopolis.

The TOM’s Lexus pair won Sunday’s 300km penultimate race of the season while Button and Yamamoto finished fifth in their Team Kunimitsu Honda NSX-GT, resulting in a 14-point swing.

It means the defending champions are now level with the Formula 1 and Super Formula championship-winning duo heading into next month’s title decider at Twin Ring Motegi.

Hirakawa took the checkered flag 0.436 seconds ahead of Yuhi Sekiguchi in the sister TOM’s Lexus LC500 started by Toyota LMP1 driver Kazuki Nakajima.

The two Lexus cars swapped places near the end as part of a team orders maneuver after Nakajima and Sekiguchi led most of the 65-lap contest.

Nakajima charged into the lead from fourth on the grid and was seven seconds up on the field after eight laps before a safety car neutralized his advantage.

The FIA World Endurance Championship points leader then continued out front, while Cassidy overtook a trio of Hondas driven by Button, Takashi Kogure and pole-sitter Takuya Izawa to establish a Lexus 1-2.

Lexus then switched around Sekiguchi and Hirakawa six laps from the finish, as LC500s filled out the podium with Yuji Kunimoto and Kenta Yamashita finishing third.

In the second stint, Button’s co-driver Yamamoto overtook the two Hondas ahead to put their Team Kunimitsu car in fifth, making it Honda’s highest finisher behind the fourth-placed No. 38 Lexus.

As well as taking the GT500 win, Lexus also claimed victory in the GT300 class as Morio Nitta and Yuichi Nakayama chalked up their second win of the campaign.

The No. 96 Lexus RCF GT3 finished 17 seconds ahead of the JLOC Lamborghini Huracan GT3 driven by Yuya Motojima and former GP2 racer Kimiya Sato.

RESULTS: Autopolis 300km

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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