Giving it the upper hand in the 2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT championship, Lexus landed a stunning pole-to-win victory, the fifth of the season, in the penultimate round of the SUPER GT500 series, held recently at the Chang International Circuit in Thailand. Driven by Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy, the #37 KeePer TOM’S LC 500 finished first, followed by the #6 WAKO’s 4CR LC 500 in second place. The Lexus team KeePer TOM’S now leads the Team Ranking of the series with 87 points, while Hirakawa and Cassidy lead the Driver Ranking with 69 points.
The latest achievement the team sealed in the only round of the season to have hosted overseas gave the team and its drivers significant points advantages in the championship titles.
Takayuki Yoshitsugu, Chief Representative, Middle East and North Africa Representative Office, Toyota Motor Corporation, said: “We congratulate the Lexus teams on their victory in the penultimate round of the season and for bringing the championship title ever closer within our reach. This race demonstrated the skill and determination of our drivers and the engineering excellence of our cars as they had to swiftly adapt to changing weather. While participating in these events, we focus on testing our cars under extreme conditions on racetracks and bringing the best of Lexus’ amazing engineering and design to stimulate our customers’ emotions.”
Yoshitsugu added: “To our fans, we express our gratitude for their immense support throughout the races and for being an inspiring force behind our continued success.”
The unpredictable weather made it difficult for the teams to judge which tire compound to use. As the rain stopped just ahead of the start, only three of the 15 teams among the top-level GT500 class opted for slicks while others went for wet weather tires.
Due to the wet track, the officials opted for a controlled, three-lap start led by the safety car. Traffic and 30-degree temperatures eventually erased the wet tire advantage, but by the ninth round, the three cars on slicks were way down the order, having set lap times approximately 20 seconds slower than those on wets.
By the time the last cars returned to the race after the first round of pit stops, the #37 KeePer TOM’S LC 500 had resumed its lead – a feat it repeated in the second stop for the driver change from Nick Cassidy to Ryo Hirakawa. By this time, considerable gaps had opened between all the competitors, leaving no car to challenge the insurmountable #37 Lexus for the lead. Smaller gaps in the middle order delivered further excitement as the remaining five Lexus LC 500 teams also pushed hard to achieve.
With just two laps to go, an engine issue for the #12 competitor car in third place improved the ratio of LC 500s in the upper order. By the time the chequered flag fell, not only had the #37 KeePer TOM’S car secured its second victory of the season, but five of the top six places were held by Lexus LC 500 models.
The KeePer TOM’S team, therefore, goes into the final round as the championship leader, six points ahead of fellow Lexus team #6 WAKO’s 4CR in second place. This positioning is also mirrored in the drivers’ championship, where Cassidy and Hirakawa are six points ahead of #6 WAKO’s 4CR drivers, Kazuya Oshima and Andrea Caldarelli.
Based on these standings after round seven, the probability of Lexus securing both the teams’ and drivers’ championship is extremely high.
Nick Cassidy said: “I’m overwhelmed. Today was an amazing day, and I can’t thank the team and other parties enough. The result was important, but at the same time, I think this was one of the best GT races I have ever done. The power was really, really good and our choice of the wet tires gave me enough of an advantage to stay ahead of the cars behind, so I didn’t need to take risks in the traffic. After handing over to Ryo, he did an amazing job, as he always does. I am now really looking forward to Motegi, especially with no success ballast.”
“We achieved the best result,” said Ryo Hirakawa. He added: “Honestly, I was very nervous before the start and worried about which tire to choose, but the pace of the car in the rain was good. The timing to change to dry tires determined the race. With maybe some luck, we were able to get in the pit at the perfect time. The pit work was quick, and my out laps were nice and clean. After that, I never looked back and focused on not making mistakes and keeping the rank we were in. It was a great race, which has put us in a good position for the final round. All cars will lose the weight handicap at the final race in Motegi, so I hope to run another race as I did in the first round of the season.”
The grand final of the 2017 Super GT championship will be held on 11-12 November at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan.
No. 37 LEXUS LC 500 KeePer TOM’S (Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy)
Race: 1st, 66 laps
Best Lap: 1’25.943
No. 6 LEXUS LC 500 WAKO’S 4CR (Kazuya Oshima and Andrea Caldarelli)
Race: 2nd, 66 laps
Best Lap: 1’25.620