Six of the top seven places in the championship were held by Lexus teams
After the conclusion of the eighth and final round of Japan’s dramatic SUPER GT championship in Motegi, Lexus secures two podium finishes, winning the 2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series, with #37 KeePer TOM’S Lexus LC 500 crowned as overall champion of the 2017 season. Despite being new to the series this year, the Lexus LC 500 dominated the top GT500 class from the start, with the six entrants accumulating a total of 14 podium finishes, of which five were outright wins, while KeePer TOM’S’ total championship points reached 105.
The grand final was held recently at the Twin Ring Motegi race circuit, where it saw #37 KeePer TOM’s LC 500, driven by Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy, finish in second place, and #38 ZENT CERUMO LC 500, driven by Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura, finish in third place, during a strategic yet on-the-pace performance.
Takayuki Yoshitsugu, Chief Representative, Middle East and North Africa Representative Office, Toyota Motor Corporation, said: “We are proud of the Lexus teams for all their hard work this year and we congratulate KeePer TOM’S on winning the prestigious championship title. The 2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series has proven to be a challenging one with the unpredictable changing weather, which placed the whole team’s skill to the test. Strategic thinking coupled with years of experience and amazing Lexus engineering has proven to be a successful combination for a victory. We would like to thank our dedicated fans for their unrelenting support to the teams throughout all the qualifying races.”
The start of the 53-lap, 250-km Motegi race saw the cars in grid positions one and two collide before the end of the formation lap, but the damage was relatively minor and the rolling start carried on as scheduled.
While the lead car maintained its composure and continued to create a healthy advantage, the second-placed #6 Lexus LC 500 had lost momentum during the disturbance and was passed by three cars in quick succession – all within the initial few corners. First of these was Nick Cassidy in the #37 Lexus LC 500, who immediately stole into second, while James Rossiter in the #36 Lexus LC 500 also capitalized on the early upset to leapfrog from seventh into fifth.
Further incidents within the midfield allowed the cars in positions one and two to create a comfortable breathing space. Cassidy was the first within the field to pit, initiating a stream of driver changeovers that extended from lap 21 to 35. By the time the final car had pitted, the #37 Lexus LC 500 was returned to second place with Hirakawa poised to bring it home. Despite running into many delays and challenging moments while overtaking backmarkers, the top three runners maintained their positions for the remaining 30 laps.
A second-place finish was enough for KeePer TOM’S to secure both the drivers’ and teams’ championships – the team’s first SUPER GT titles since 2009. At 23 years of age, both Hirakawa and Cassidy are now the youngest drivers to have won the championship.
Ryo Hirakawa said: “I thought that if we got this championship title, I would go wild, but I was just so happy when I got the chequered flag. We won this title because the whole team came together and worked well with no mistakes, so I just want to express my appreciation to everyone.”
Nick Cassidy said: “All I can say is that I am relieved as well. This is only my second season in the GT500 class, but the team put its trust in me and I worked hard to live up to that trust. All year it has been a season of holding back when we needed to hold back and pushing hard when we needed to push. The strategy for this race was to conserve the car and get enough points, but it went well and was a good race.”
No. 37 Lexus LC 500 KeePer TOM’S (Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy)
Race: 2nd, 53 laps
Best Lap: 1’40.483
No. 38 Lexus LC 500 ZENT CERUMO (Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura)
Race: 3rd, 53 laps
Best Lap: 1’40.414