ENEOS Makes Victorious Return to Japanese Super GT Racing!
ENEOS has expanded its participation in global motorsport programs by returning to Japan’s legendary racing series — Super GT — after a six-year break. The Japanese oil company is sponsoring the #14 ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra of TGR Team ENEOS ROOKIE in the GT500 class. Driven by Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita, the team took its first victory at the opening race, the Takanokono Hotel Okayama GT 300km at Okayama International Circuit!
Marking the return of the Super GT series to the 2.2-mile circuit after COVID restrictions forced a break in 2020, thousands of fans enjoyed the thrilling sights and sounds of GT race cars campaigning across two classes amid perfect springtime weather. During qualifying, Yamashita locked in the second fastest lap, placing the team P2 on the starting grid.
Relative newcomer Sena Sakaguchi led the race from pole position with the KeePer TOM’s GR Supra, while veteran driver Oshima followed close behind in the ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra. The leading pack held their positions until lap 6 when the #30 Toyota GR Sport Prius PHV spun at the hairpin, causing a lap delay and resulting in the first Safety Car intervention on lap 8. With the race resuming on lap 12, Sekiguchi maintained his lead, but not for much longer.
Oshima would pass and pull away from Sekiguchi, skillfully maneuvering through the GT300 class traffic. On lap 33, the #360 RunUp Rivaux Nissan GT-R GT3 blew a front right tire, causing the GT500 cars to head to the pits for the second Safety Car, creating chaos and giving the lead to Yamashita during the driver change. The KeePer TOM’s car dropped three positions as Ryo Hirakawa replaced Sekiguchi behind the wheel.
The battle for the lead continued throughout the second half of the race and Yamashita continued to fight hard during the final stages. It came down to the ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra and the #36 au TOM’s GR Supra, piloted by two of Toyota GAZOO Racing Driver Challenge (TGR-DC) graduates, Kenta Yamashita and Sho Tsuboi.
On lap 75, with eight laps remaining, Tsuboi attempted a pass but locked up, sliding into a gravel trap, losing nine seconds and widening the gap between him and the clear victor, Yamashita. Despite severe tire wear, he claimed the first Super GT win for TGR Team ENEOS ROOKIE!
The win was Oshima’s seventh GT500 victory; his last being in the ENEOS Toyota at the 2013 Twin Ring Motegi season finale. “The car felt good during the first half and the tires held out to the end of my stint,” Oshima said. “My pace was faster than the lead car but I couldn’t find a place to pass. I decided to trust our pit crew and my teammate, Yamaken. I never thought we could achieve something as great as this opening round win, so I’m really proud of everyone.”
After returning from the FIA World Endurance Championship to Japan, this was Yamashita’s third GT500 victory. “I was impressed by how fast Oshima-san was during the first half of the race,” he said. “When he came back for the pit stop, the team worked hard to get me out on track in the lead. I wasn’t able to maintain the fast pace I wanted, but the tires held out until the end and we won!”
The second round of the Autobacs Super GT Series, the Takanokono Hotel FUJI GT500km Race, took place on May 3-4, 2021 at Fuji Speedway in the Shizuoka prefecture. We’ll have a full report very soon
Photos: Noriaki Mitsuhashi, N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY