Saturday, March 21, 2009

HIS ADVAN KONDO GT-R Grabs Season Opener!

The race started at 14:00. At the start it was raining with the course completely wet, and the safety car paced the field for a full two laps before the racing began in earnest on the third lap.
Joao Paulo Lima de Oliveira drove the first stint in the No. 24 HIS ADVAN KONDO GT-R that would win the race. Moving up rapidly from his third-place position when the actual racing started, de Oliviera sped past the No. 35 KRAFT SC430 (Kazuya Ohshima) and the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO SC430 (Richard Lyons). The rain tires Yokohama Rubber had prepared this time seemed to fit the conditions perfectly. In the early running, the No. 18 ROCKSTAR DOME NSX (Takashi Kogure) showed determination not to let No. 24 get away, but after the tenth lap the gap began to widen and by the end of lap 22, de Oliviera has stretched his lead to about 10 seconds.

At the end of the 30th lap, cars were already beginning to make their pit stops, as No. 24 kept up its fast pace. De Oliviera continued his charge until the end of the 51st lap, by which time he had built up a lead of 1 min. 20 sec. over 2nd place.After its pit stop, No. 24 returned to the track still in the lead and with second driver Seiji Ara at the wheel. Ara continued to run lap after lap at a controlled pace, keeping an eye on the competition behind him. As the rain lightened in the latter stages of the race, however, his pace slackened, and at the end of the race when he took the winning checkered, that lead had fallen to just 21 sec.

This was the team’s first victory since round 4 of the 2008 season at Sepang in Malaysia and its third overall. But it was also their first victory on a circuit in Japan. For the GT-R camp, this was the fifth straight victory since round 6 of last season. Also, it was the first GT500 class victory in Japan for a car racing on Advan tires since the ECLIPSE ADVAN Supra (Manabu Orido/Dominique Schwager) won the opening round of the 2005 series here at Okayama.
Finishing 2nd in the race was the No. 18 ROCKSTAR DOME NSX (Ryo Michigami/Takashi Kogure). Starting from the 4th position on the grid, Kogure passed the SC430 machines in front of him at an early stage, but due to the fact that the team had predicted light rain and its choice of tires was not performing well in the heavy rain conditions, they made their pit stop as soon as the required 1/3 of the race was finished. In the latter stages of the race, Michigami continued to narrow the gap with Ara in the leading No. 24 machine but was unable to catch it before the race ended.

Third place went to the No. 8 ARTA NSX (Ralph Firman/Takuya Izawa). Like No. 18, the first driver, Firman, was forced to return for an early pit stop and was unable to give chase to the leaders.
The pole-sitting No. 38 ZENT CERUMO SC430 (Yuji Tachikawa/Richard Lyons) eventually finished 6th. This turned out to be the best performance by an SC430 team. The choice of shallow-slit tires before the start based on a prediction that the weather would improve turned out to be the handicap that kept Richard Lyons from maintaining the lead pace. In the latter half of the race, after changing tires and turning the wheel over to Yuji Tachikawa, they were able to pass many of their rivals on the track. But that didn’t relieve the frustration of having lost the lead and the victory.As for the defending champions, the No. 1 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R (Benoit Treluyer/Satoshi Motoyama), a collision with the No. 36 PETRONAS TOM'S SC430 (Andre Lotterer/Jyuichi Wakisaka) on the first corner just after the actual start of racing resulted in a drive-through penalty as well as damage to the left front fender that forced it to return to the pit for repairs and lose considerable ground in the race.

So it was another bad day in office for the Toyota teams. The poor tyre choice had throw away vital championship points to its rival. Hope they rebound in round 2.

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