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Yamamoto, Makino Snatch Title after Final Corner Drama

Yamamoto, Makino clinch GT500 title after Hirakawa runs out of fuel at final corner…

Photo: Honda

Ryo Hirakawa’s leading Toyota GR Supra ran out of fuel at the final corner enabling Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino to clinch the 2020 Super GT title in dramatic fashion.

Hirawaka was on course to win the drivers’ championship after commanding the second stint of Sunday’s Fuji 300km season finale which he contested with Kenta Yamashita, only for his No. 37 Toyota to suddenly lose pace within sight of the checkered flag.

Scenes of despair over at TGR Team TOM’S were contrasted by jubilation and disbelief at Team Kunimitsu which saw its driver Yamamoto power through to overturn the No. 100 Honda NSX-GT’s three-second deficit and clinch both the win and the GT500 class title.

Hirakawa was inconsolable after abandoning his Toyota mere yards after the line, while Yamamoto’s Honda halted a few corners later on the warm-down lap, also out of fuel.

It marked the second championship triumph for Yamamoto, who won the 2018 title with Jenson Button, while Makino became champion in the GT500 category for the first time.

Hirakawa was aiming to win the title on his own with his regular co-driver Nick Cassidy absent from the final round because of Formula E pre-season testing commitments. 

Cassidy’s stand-in Yamashita started the race from pole after setting a new lap record in qualifying on Saturday and maintained his lead through the first handful of corners.

However, the FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 ace was overtaken at the chicane on lap one by a charging Ronnie Quintarelli who impressively out-braked the three Toyotas of Yamashita, Heikki Kovalainen and Sacha Fenestraz in a single maneuver.

After making a small break, Nissan driver Quinterelli was reeled back in and passed by Yamashita who returned to the head of the field on lap seven with a move at Turn 1.

Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda’s NISMO car fell down the order after that and ended up finishing off the lead lap in ninth.

Elsewhere, a touch between Fenestraz and Kovalainen forced the latter to make an unscheduled pit stop for left-side repairs, enabling Makino – who had made a strong start from seventh on the grid – to move up to third.

Makino then overtook Fenestraz into the chicane on lap 21 shortly before the GT500 cars came in for their pit stops, with Yamashita running some 16 seconds clear at the front.

The lead changed on pit road as the No. 14 Toyota of Kazuya Oshima and Sho Tsuboi leaped in front of the other contenders, but Hirakawa was quick to get his Team TOM’S car back ahead at Turn 3.

Tsuboi then played a crucial part in the changearound for net second place as Fenestraz’s co-driver Yuhi Sekiguchi ran wide attempting to pass his fellow Toyota driver, which enabled Yamamoto to burst through on the exit past the bumping Supras.

Yamamoto had originally emerged from the pits ahead of Sekiguchi as expected, but the Kunimitsu Honda driver was muscled out of the way by his TOM’S rival coming onto the main straight before the two Toyotas touched in the braking zone.

This fighting enabled Hirakawa to strengthen his grip on both the race and the title battle with the No. 37 TOM’S Toyota driver holding a 15-second advantage.

Yamamoto gradually ate into the time difference but couldn’t get to within striking range over the remaining laps.

However, when Hirakawa’s spluttering Toyota slowed coming out of the final right-hander, the Kunimitsu Honda driver was on hand to grab both the race win and the title.

It marked the first victory of the season for Yamamoto and Makino, who arrived at Fuji sitting fourth in the GT500 standings.

Hirakawa crossed the line in second despite running out of fuel, with the margin of victory standing at 5.94 seconds and the championship difference between the Kunimitsu and No. 37 TOM’S crews established at four points.

Sekiguchi and Fenestraz rounded out the podium to finish fourth in the 2020 season table behind the Keihin Real Racing Honda pair of Bertrand Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi, who finished fourth in the race.

Honda NSX-GTs occupied three of the top five finishing positions as penultimate round winners Tomoki Nojiri and Nirei Fukuzumi came through in fifth for Team Aguri.

The highest-finishing Nissan GT-R Nismo was the sixth-placed car of Katsumasa Chiyo and Kohei Hirate.

They were seven seconds ahead of fellow Nissan drivers Daiki Sasaki and Kazuki Hiramine, while Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura’s Toyota ran eighth overall as the last car to finish on the lead lap.

In the GT300 class, Kondo Racing’s Joao Paulo de Oliveira and Kiyoto Fujinami clinched the drivers’ title with second-place behind Hiroki Yoshida and Kohta Kawaai’s winning Green Brave Toyota GR Supra.

Oliveira and Fujinami, driving the No. 56 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3, finished two positions ahead of their nearest title pursuers Naoya Gamou and Togo Suganami in the K2 R&D Leon Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo to consolidate their points lead coming in.

Kazuto Kotaka and Ryohei Sakaguchi completed the GT300 podium with their Toyota 86 mother chassis car.

RESULTS: Fuji 300km

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

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