> Result: Race 1
Anthony Liu and Craft-Bamboo lead the Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia Powered by AWS standings with three rounds remaining following victory in Race 1 at Okayama earlier today.
The #37 Mercedes-AMG that also features Dani Juncadella collected its third win of the season by holding off AAS Motorsport by Absolute Racing's pole-sitting Porsche shared by fellow title contender Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and Alessio Picariello.
5ZIGEN's Nissan driven by Hirobon and Shintaro Kawabata completed the overall podium but also scored its second Fanatec Japan Cup win of the season. That particular championship will be settled tomorrow after Hiroaki Nagai and Yuta Kamimura fell just short of mathematically securing the overall crown, although they did clinch the Pro-Am title.
Likewise, Comet Racing's Yusuke Yamasaki and Yorikatsu Tsujiko are the new Fanatec Japan Cup Am class champions with a race to spare after they finished second to Mineki Okura and Hiroshi Hamaguchi.
Elsewhere, Sun Jingzu and Franky Cheng (Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute) extended their Fanatec China Cup advantage, while Phantom Pro Racing's Ling Kang and Cao Qi won the Silver class after their only rival, R&B Racing, suffered a heavy accident on lap one that caused significant barrier damage and a lengthy red flag delay.
Liu had sown the seeds of his win moments earlier by passing Inthraphuvasak into Turn 1. Hirobon then pushed the Porsche down to third before Yuan Bo's accident resulted in a Safety Car period that was soon escalated.
50 minutes remained when the race continued behind the Safety Car for two laps before Liu finally led Hirobon, Inthraphuvasak, Lu Wei, Nagai, Andrew Haryanto and Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim away in earnest. However, it was neutralised again soon after when Andrew Macpherson's accident at Turn 1 triggered a Full Course Yellow.
Green flag conditions coincided with the pitstop window opening after 35 minutes, and it was Inthraphuvasak's Absolute Racing squad that timed its driver change to perfection. Their Porsche was the only front runner to stop at the very first opportunity, and the extra lap with Picariello behind the wheel was enough for third to become second at 5ZIGEN's expense.
Juncadella emerged with a clear track ahead but was initially pushed hard by Picariello on his warmer tyres. However, the Mercedes-AMG star stood his ground and eventually began edging clear of the 911, which was unable to make a significant passing attempt. 1.6s separated them at the finish.
Kawabata couldn’t match the pace of the top two but was comfortable enough in third place en route to his, Hirobon and 5ZIGEN’s second overall podium of the season.
Behind, Triple Eight JMR's Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim did well to keep pace with his title rivals ahead by fighting through from ninth to fourth. His stand-in co-driver Mikael Grenier, who is subbing for Luca Stolz this weekend, enjoyed a particularly strong stint but came under intense pressure from James Yu (Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute Racing) towards the finish.
Both were also caught by Kei Cozzolino whose CarGuy Ferrari had started 16th in Takeshi Kimura's hands.
HUBAUTO with GTO duo Brian Lee and Hideto Yasuoka enjoyed their strongest GT3 outing to date in seventh, one place ahead of Porsche Center Okazaki's 911. Nagai and Kamimura appeared odds-on to win the Fanatec Japan Cup title at several points during the race only to be thwarted by D'station's crew who simply refused to give up.
Indeed, Satoshi Hoshino made an incredible start to shoot from 31st to 16th by the end of lap one. But the majority of that good work was undone immediately after the Full Course Yellow period when his FCY limiter initially refused to disengage. Tomonobu Fujii then battled his way back up to 15th and, crucially, fifth of the Fanatec Japan Cup contingent to keep his, Hoshino and D'station's hopes alive.
Further back, overall Am class honours went to Climax Racing’s Hu Yuqi and Bian Hao.
Race 2 is live on SRO’s GT World YouTube channel and J Sports across Japan at 11:20 JST on Sunday.