Kenta Yamashita held off a charging Sho Tsuboi to win the first round of the 2021 Super GT season at Okayama alongside his TGR Team Eneos Rookie co-driver Kazuya Oshima.
Toyota dominated the 82-lap race held in dry conditions as GR Supras finished first, second and third and fourth in a near-repeat of the manufacturer’s sweep of the top five places during last season’s Fuji opener.
Yamashita and TOM’s driver Tsuboi, who was paired up with Yuhi Sekiguchi, battled through the second and final stint at the top of that Toyota spearhead.
The pair emerged from a chaotic mid-race pit window in first and second after their co-drivers Oshima and Sekiguchi ran the opening stint in second and third respectively.
Pole-sitter Sena Sakaguchi controlled the early stages aboard the No. 37 TOM’S Supra but lost ground in a hectic episode during the pit window when a stranded GT300 vehicle prompted a slew of cars to come in with teams expecting a safety car intervention.
The busy pit lane resulted in several cars, including Sakaguchi’s Toyota, getting stuck trying to return to the moving lane.
This handed the net lead to Yamashita with Tsuboi in second and Yuichi Nakayama, whose SARD Toyota teammate Heikki Kovalainen had been running fourth before the driver swaps, climbing into the top three ahead of Sakaguchi’s co-driver Ryo Hirakawa.
Kondo Racing’s Nissan GT-R Nismo led at the restart due to it staying out through the subsequent safety car, but was quickly swarmed by the front-running Toyotas.
Yamashita then launched away from all in the GT500 pack except Tsuboi who kept on the tail of the former High Class Racing FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 driver.
Tsuboi was particularly strong through the sweeping Turn 4 right-hander and twice used that part of the circuit to get alongside Yamashita into the next hairpin right-hander.
The pair touched on the first occasion, while on the next Tsuboi got his Toyota’s nose ahead of Yamashita’s but locked up and strayed into the gravel trap with eight laps left.
This afforded Yamashita several seconds and ultimately enabled the Team Eneos/Rookie driver to claim his and Oshima’s first victory since the Fuji leg of their 2019 title run.
A fired-up Tsuboi then reduced the gap to just 1.1 seconds at the flag, while TOM’s pilot Hirakawa placed 13 seconds back in third after passing Nakayama at the hairpin.
Hirakawa, whose teammate Sakaguchi was standing in for the absent Sacha Fenestraz, extended the gap between himself and Nakayama to around 16 seconds at the finish.
Koudai Tsukakoshi prevented Toyota from achieving a crushing 1-2-3-4-5 result when he overtook Hiroaki Ishiura in the No. 17 Real Racing Honda NSX-GT on lap 68.
Tsukakoshi’s teammate Bertrand Baguette started ninth but advanced a couple of places on track, while another position came during the pit window.
Despite losing fifth, Ishiura managed to remain in front of Nirei Fukuzumi in the Autobacs Racing Team Aguri Honda started by Tomoki Nojiri.
Reigning GT500 champion Naoki Yamamoto finished eighth in the No. 1 Team Kunimitsu Honda alongside Hideki Mutoh who was subbing for Tadasuke Makino.
The Nissan pairings of Katsumasa Chiyo/Kohei Hirate and Kazuki Hiramine/Nobuharu Matsushita completed the overall top ten.
NISMO’s Ronnie Quintarelli was the main charger in the first stint and reached as high as sixth place in the No. 23 GT-R, however an incident shortly after the second safety car restart prevented the Italian and Tsugio Matsuda from scoring any points.
Matsuda’s Nissan got caught up in a squeeze into Turn 6 and incurred left-front damage after contact with another car.
While Nissan struggled in GT500, the manufacturer scooped top honors in the GT500 class as Joao Paulo de Oliveira and Kiyoto Fujinami ignited their title defense with a win.
The Kondo Racing pair profited from the mid-race pit cycle and safety car frenzy to emerge ahead after the No. 11 Gainer Nissan and GreenBrave Toyota GR Supra GT500 diced for the lead early on.
In a tight conclusion, Oliveira crossed the line half a second ahead of the K2 R&D Leon Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo driven by Naoya Gamou and Togo Suganami.
Kohta Kawaai and Hiroki Yoshida completed the GT300 podium in their GreenBrave Supra, while the Gainer Nissan crew of Katsuyuki Hiranaka Hironobu Yasuda finished fourth. The top four in GT300 crossed the line within 1.021 seconds of each other.