April 22, 2021

Five moments where Toyota lost the Super GT title

The #37 TOM’S Toyota GR Supra, shared for most of the season by Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy before the latter had to drop out to focus on his Formula E preparations, was in sheer speed terms the undoubted benchmark across the season.

However, after getting their campaign off to a winning start in July’s Fuji season opener, there were a number of occasions prior to the crucial decider where the #37 crew simply didn’t come away with the points that it should have.

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That meant Hirakawa arrived in the Fuji finale tied at the top of the standings and most likely needing to win to become SUPER GT’s first solo champion since Ryo Michigami in 2000, when he probably should have been defending a much larger points lead.

Here are five key moments of the season where the #37 crew lost valuable points (for these purposes, we are not considering ‘random’ events outside of the control of the team or drivers, like poorly-timed safety car periods), thus opening the door for Honda to snatch away the title from Toyota at the very last moment:

1. Suzuka I – Points go begging with slow stop

Possible result: 4th / Actual result: 7th / Points lost: 4

After a near-perfect start to the campaign, the first sub-par outing for the #37 car came in the third round of the season at Suzuka. Admittedly, being the second-heaviest car in the field means that seventh on the face of it isn’t such a bad result. But it could have been so much more, particularly when you consider that the only car that was running heavier, the sister #36 TOM’S machine, finished third.

Cassidy had been running ahead of Sacha Fenestraz in the #36 car in the early stages of the race, albeit was re-passed some laps later, but a slow stop meant that while Yuhi Sekiguchi started his stint in fifth, Hirakawa was left down in ninth. Both cars gained two places when the SARD Toyota and ARTA Honda came to blows, leaving the #37 crew in seventh.

#37 Team TOM'S Toyota GR Supra: Ryo Hirakawa, Nick Cassidy

#37 Team TOM’S Toyota GR Supra: Ryo Hirakawa, Nick Cassidy

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

2. Motegi I – Cassidy and Sekiguchi come to blows

Possible result: 4th / Actual result: 6th / Points lost: 3

Another sub-optimal stop from the #37 TOM’S pit crew set up a clash of the teammates in the fourth round of the season at Motegi. Cassidy this time was in the car for the second stint and hungry to make up ground from seventh place, but as he moved to the inside to try and pass Sekiguchi in the #36 car at Turn 5, Sekiguchi belated tried to defend the position, leading to the two cars touching and pitching Cassidy into a half-spin.

The debris left on track prompted a safety car, ironically eradicating the 10 seconds or so Cassidy lost in the clash and allowing him to recover to sixth. But considering the #14 Cerumo car wasn’t so far ahead at the time of the incident, it’s reasonable to think the New Zealander could have at least got that far up the order without hitting Sekiguchi.

#36 au TOM'S GR Supra, #37 KeePer TOM'S GR Supra

#36 au TOM’S GR Supra, #37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

3. Fuji III – Engine trouble blunts victory charge

Possible result: 2nd / Actual result: 4th / Points lost: 7

This is the race more than any other this season that TOM’S and Hirakawa can look back at as a major missed opportunity. All weekend the #37 had been suffering from engine issues that forced Hirakawa and Cassidy to nurse the car home towards end of the race, and prompting the former to drop from second to fourth.

Both drivers were convinced they could have beaten SARD pair Heikki Kovalainen and Yuichi Nakayama to the win with a healthy car. Had they managed it, it would have left them in a very healthy championship lead that Hirakawa could have managed to the end of the season.

#37 KeePer TOM'S GR Supra

#37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

4. Suzuka II – Cassidy rear-ends Makino in the pits

Possible result: 7th / Actual result: DNF / Points lost: 4

This one is a little speculative, considering the bizarre pitlane entry clash that effectively knocked out both title protagonists (giving both the #37 TOM’S machine and the #100 Honda their only non-scores of the year) happened relatively early in the race and before the safety car period that vaulted the NISMO Nissan from last to first.

Makino and Cassidy were running eighth and ninth respectively at the time of the incident, and considering where the cars in front of them at that stage of the race ultimately wound up, a relatively conservative estimate would have the two cars finishing sixth and seventh – still more than enough points for Hirakawa to have won the title.

#37 KeePer TOM'S GR Supra

#37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

5. Fuji IV – Hirakawa’s last corner heartbreak

Possible result: 1st / Actual result: 2nd / Points lost: 5

The most dramatic loss of points for the #37 crew of the year by far, Hirakawa was in some respects lucky that he was able to coast home in second place after his Toyota ran out of fuel exiting the final corner on the final lap. That was thanks to his advantage over the field in a race that, unusually for SUPER GT, went green from start to finish.

With the #100 Kunimitsu Honda close enough to benefit from Hirakawa’s misfortune, the three-point buffer that Hirakawa held over Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino pre-race was instantly transformed into a two-point deficit. TOM’S engineer Masaki Saeda post-race took the blame for not calculating the refuelling time at the pitstop correctly.

Ryo Hirakawa, Kenta Yamashita(#37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra)

Ryo Hirakawa, Kenta Yamashita(#37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra)

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

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