Yamamoto stole a last-gasp victory from the #37 TOM’S GR Supra of Hirakawa and Kenta Yamashita that had dominated the majority of the race, as Hirakawa ran out of fuel exiting the final corner on the last lap.
It meant the Team Kunimitsu squad scored its second GT500 title in three years, with Yamamoto and Makino following up on the success that Yamamoto achieved in 2018 alongside Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button, and in the final race for long-time sponsor Raybrig.
It’s also Honda’s fifth title in SUPER GT’s top class and its first with a front-engined car since 2010, coming in the first season with its new-for-2020 NSX-GT.
Naoki Yamamoto, Tadasuke Makino（#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT）
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
How the race unfolded
Yamashita took the start from pole in the #37 car, but on the opening lap he dropped to second behind Ronnie Quintarelli in the works Nissan GT-R.
Quintarelli had a storming first lap from sixth on the grid, gaining two places in the opening corners and then sweeping around the outside of three Toyotas – Yamashita, Heikki Kovalainen’s SARD car and Sacha Fenestraz in the #36 TOM’S car – into Turn 10.
However, Nissan’s time out front was short-lived, as Quintarelli in the Michelin-shod car was soon caught by the Bridgestone-equipped Toyotas. On lap seven Yamashita re-passed Quintarelli and by the end of that tour the outgoing champion was 2.6 seconds to the good.
Two laps later he was five seconds in the clear, as Quintarelli came under attack from Fenestraz in the battle for second. Kovalainen meanwhile had been eliminated from contention after sustaining damage in a collision with Fenestraz.
As Quintarelli fell down the order, apparently struggling with tyre pick-up, Yamashita’s advantage over the chasing pack rose to 18s when the pit window opened on lap 22.
But there was another scare for the #37 crew when they were leapfrogged by the #14 Cerumo Toyota of Sho Tsuboi and Kazuya Oshima, who gained a huge chunk of time by electing not to change their Bridgestone tyres in the pits.
Tsuboi, who had moved up to a net second with the fast stop, took advantage of his warmer tyres to pass a struggling Hirakawa on his out lap at Turn 3.
But Hirakawa struck back just one lap later at the same corner, and proceeded to build a 15s advantage over the field in the first half of his stint.
#37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Tsuboi was rapidly reeled in by the #36 TOM’S Toyota, now driven by Yuhi Sekiguchi, and another bout of intra-Supra contact – this time at Turn 1 – left the Cerumo car with ultimately terminal damage and promoted Yamamoto to the status of Hirakawa’s closest challenger.
By lap 54, Yamamoto had got the gap down to less than 10 seconds, and the differential started to fall by a second a lap in the closing stages. With three laps remaining, Hirakawa’s margin was down to just two seconds.
Hirakawa had appeared to stem the tide and looked on course for victory until his Toyota dramatically slowed exiting the final corner in scenes reminiscent of the marque’s Le Mans 24 hours defeat in 2016. Both Hirakawa and Yamamoto stopped on track on the slowing-down lap, but the Honda crucially doing so after taking the chequered flag.
Coasting over the line in second, Hirakawa lost the chance to become SUPER GT’s first solo champion since Ryo Michigami in 2000 – which came about with regular teammate Nick Cassidy being forced to miss the final two races of the year for Formula E testing.
Sekiguchi came home for the final spot on the podium in the second TOM’S car he shares with Fenestraz, 16s down at the finish.
Real Racing Honda pair Bertrand Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi recovered from their qualifying position of 12th to finish fourth, ahead of ARTA pair Nirei Fukuzumi and Tomoki Nojiri, but lacked the race pace needed to challenge for the title.
Best of the Nissans at the finish was the #3 NDDP/B-Max GT-R of Katsumasa Chiyo and Kohei Hirate in sixth, followed by the Impul car of Daiki Sasaki and Kazuki Hiramine.
From fourth on the grid, the sole remaining Cerumo Toyota of Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura had a race to forget, slipping to an eventual eighth ahead of the NISMO Nissan of Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda, which was a lap down at the finish.
Ritomo Miyata and Yuji Kunimoto clinched the final point for 10th place in the best-placed of the Yokohama-shod cars, the Bandoh Toyota.
GT300: Kondo pair come from behind to win title
Kondo Racing Nissan drivers Joao Paulo de Oliveira and Kiyoto Fujinami took the title in GT300 with a second-place finish in class behind the Saitama Toyopet Toyota GR Supra.
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Kohta Kawaai and Hiroshi Yoshida put on a clinic in their JAF GT300-spec Supra, leading by as much as 34 seconds at one stage en route to a second win of the season to follow on from their triumph in the Fuji season opener.
Fujinami meanwhile made steady progress from seventh on the grid, moving up to fourth place before making his pitstop on lap 24 to hand over to de Oliveira.
The LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Naoya Gamou and Togo Suganami meanwhile vaulted from fifth to second by virtue of not changing tyres during their stop, which meant that de Oliveira needed to finish third to assure himself and Fujinami of the title.
By the time the pitstops had shaken out, de Oliveira was fourth and facing a 10-second deficit to the third-placed Inging Motorsports Toyota 86 MC of Kazuto Kotaka.
But the Brazilian made short work of the gap and made the crucial pass on lap 52, before closing on a struggling Gamou and passing for second three laps later.
Kotaka then demoted the LEON Mercedes a further position before the finish to give Inging a second podium finish of the season, while the D’station Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Tomonobu Fujii and Takuro Shinahara scored its best result of the year in fifth place.
Of the other title contenders, the works Subaru BRZ was only eighth at the finish despite leading the first eight laps in the hands of Hideki Yamauchi, while the ARTA Honda NSX GT3 that started from the back of the grid after an engine change was seventh.
Faring even worse were Gainer Nissan pair Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Hironobu Yasuda, who made an unscheduled second pitstop on their way to 18th.
GT500 race results:
Real Racing Honda
|NISMO Nissan||64||1 lap|
|Bandoh Toyota||63||2 laps|
|Nakajima Honda||63||2 laps|
|Mugen Honda||63||2 laps|
|Kondo Nissan||63||2 laps|
|SARD Toyota||60||5 laps|