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Lexus teams have claimed a top-four finish in the GT500 class at the 300-km Autopolis race, in the seventh round of the 2018 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series, which was held recently at the Autopolis circuit in Oita Prefecture, Japan. The No. 1 KeePer TOM'S LC 500 took home victory and the No. 36 au TOM'S LC 500 finished second in the race, followed by the No. 19 WedsSport ADVAN LC 500 and the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO LC 500.
Meanwhile, Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy of the No. 1 KeePer TOM'S LC 500 secured the top spot on the Drivers’ Championship standings, climbing steadily through the field from a fifth-position grid start to take the lead in the final stages of the race and triumph as the hard-fought battle came to a close.
Commenting on the stunning achievement, Yugo Miyamoto, Chief Representative, Middle East and North Africa Representative Office, Toyota Motor Corporation, said: “We are thrilled with this outstanding performance by our teams and vehicles at the 2018 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series in Oita. The challenging mountain-top Autopolis circuit is the perfect proving ground for the Lexus LC 500. This triumph adds to our proven record in motorsports and we remain dedicated to continuously building on the experience gained on the racetrack to not only engineer vehicles with exhilarating performance, but also ignite our customers’ emotions. I would like to take the opportunity to thank our loyal fans for their constant support, which inspires our pursuit of delivering amazing experiences to them.”
The race’s start saw Kazuki Nakajima in the No. 36 au TOM'S LC 500 take advantage of the start timing to break into the three rival teams at the front of the grid, including the pole-sitting No. 8, the No. 17, and the No. 100 to move into third position. On lap seven, the No. 1 KeePer TOM'S LC 500, driven by Cassidy passed the rival car No. 100. The No. 36 au TOM'S LC 500 continued to put the pressure on the two leaders until the second hairpin of lap 10, where it came to contact with competitor No. 17 but managed to get past it into second position and then passed rival car No. 8 on the home straight of lap 11 to take the lead. From there, the No. 36 au TOM'S LC 500 maintained its momentum and opened up a 2.991-second lead over the No. 8 rival car in second place on the next lap and then went on to build a 5-to-6-second lead on the lap after that.
However, due to an accident on the 19th lap, the Safety Car appeared on the track to control the race on the 20th lap, and as a result, the No. 36 au TOM'S LC 500 was deprived of its lead of approximately eight seconds. When the race restarted on the 25th lap, the teams began their routine pits stops and both the No. 36 au TOM'S LC 500 and the No. 1 KeePer TOM'S LC 500 in the lead made their pit stops at the end of the 29th lap. When these two vehicles returned to the race in the same order, they were still ahead of rival teams No. 17 and No. 8 that had finished their pit stop earlier, which meant that the two Lexus vehicles now effectively held a 1-2 lead in the race.
As the race entered its second half, all of the cars had finished their pit stops by the end of the 34th lap except for the Kenta Yamashita-driven No. 19 WedsSport ADVAN LC 500, which had made an irregular pit stop on the 15th lap to refuel and change all four tires, but the regulation prevented it from making its required driver change at that point. Now, the No. 19 WedsSport ADVAN LC 500 was running in front of each of the No. 36 au TOM'S LC 500, driven by Yuhi Sekiguchi, the No. 1 KeePer TOM'S LC 500, with Hirakawa in the driver’s seat, and the No. 17 rival team, in fourth place.
True to its strategy, No. 19 had a 48-second lead margin when it made its second pit stop on the 41st lap and changed drivers to Yuji Kunimoto, and was subsequently able to return to the race in third position. Then, No. 17 was passed by the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO LC 500, driven by Hiroaki Ishiura, while running in fifth position.
The No. 1 KeePer TOM'S LC 500 passed the No. 36 au TOM'S LC 500 on the 60th lap of the race to an unchallenged win. For last year’s champions, Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy of the No. 1 KeePer TOM'S LC 500, this was their first win since Round 7 in Thailand in 2017. For Hirakawa, it was his fifth GT500 win overall, and for Cassidy, it was his third.
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