Bryan Heitkotter recovered from a spin following contact with David Perel to earn his fourth GT Rivals Esports Invitational victory in five races at Suzuka on Sunday.
Heitkotter added to his previous GT Rivals wins at Laguna Seca, Paul Ricard and Spa-Francorchamps with a disciplined defensive drive in his Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 after being hunted down by Perel’s Ferrari 488 GT3 over the course of the one-hour race.
The GT Academy graduate started from second on the 38-car grid but moved ahead of pole-sitter Branden Ouellet on the opening lap.
Ouellet stayed right behind Heitkotter through the first 10 minutes but slipped to third when he spun his Mercedes-AMG GT3 at 130R, allowing Perel through.
Perel then set about eating away at Heitkotter’s three-second advantage and managed to erase the gap to less than one second by shortly after the halfway mark.
Heitkotter’s Nissan appeared to be quicker on the straights but Perel’s Ferrari was stronger under braking, which led to Perel making a lunge for the lead at the tight Turn 11 hairpin with 14 and a half minutes to go.
Perel tapped Heitkotter into a spin but allowed his rival to stay ahead in order to resume the lead battle, although the Ferrari pilot was handed a drive-through penalty.
Perel took the penalty with three laps remaining, promoting Kenton Koch’s Aston Martin Vantage GT3 to second and Ouellet’s Mercedes to third.
Regular IMSA competitor Koch had passed Ouellet moments before the race leaders’ incident with a brilliant dive down the inside at the sweeping Turn 1 right-hander.
Heitkotter crossed the line 11.2 seconds ahead of Koch, while third-placed Ouellet successfully held off Nelson Mason’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo at the end.
Andrew Worden rounded out the top five at the end of a consistent run in his Mercedes, while Perel settled for sixth after serving his drive-through.
Pirelli GT4 America front-runner Karl Wittmer finished seventh in his Honda NSX GT3 Evo, ahead of the Mercedes driven by Christian Szymczak, Kenny Murillo and Logan Seavey.
Round six of the eight-round GT Rivals Esports Invitational series takes place next weekend at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
RESULTS: GT Rivals Round 5