Gardner and Yamaji Scored Season's First Victory
The green light for the 81-lap race at Sportsland Sugo was given in front of a huge crowd of 47,500 GT fans who gathered to view the race under changing skies. Pole position holder Ito in the No.100 RAYBRIG NSX made an excellent start off the line followed by Tsuchiya in the No.8 ARTA NSX, Kurosawa in the No.36 Castrol TOM's Supra, and Kageyama in the No.23 Pennzoil Zexel Skyline GT-R. But Ito soon lost the lead to Tsuchiya in the ARTA NSX once he found the opportune time to overtake.
Tsuchiya did well controlling the lead early on, but it wasn't before long that the Michelin users began showing signs of challenge and fighting their way through the field. Kurosawa in the No.36 Castrol TOM's Supra moved into second and Yamaji in the No.37 MatsuKiyo Zent TOM's Supra worked his way into fifth by lap 10. With his eyes set on the lead, Kurosawa in No. 36 rode hard on the tail of Tsuchiya, piling on the pressure and fighting him side by side through back traffic. On lap 20, Kurosawa overtook the Honda NSX to lead the field. But Tsuchiya retaliated and passed Kurosawa again before the routine stop. "Since Takuya Kurosawa is a good driver, we were able to show good form in the race. It was really fun to battle with him," said Tsuchiya afterward.
At this time, Kageyama in the No. 23 Skyline GT-R was running in third with a strong challenge coming from Yamaji in the No.37 Supra car. The pressure paid off, and Yamaji slipped by the No.23 GT-R before passing the wheel to Gardner in the routine stops. A five-car battle for fifth between Takeuchi in the No.38 Supra, Kato in the No.18 NSX, Schwager in the No.64 NSX, Mitsusada in the No.1 NSX, and Tanaka in the No.22 Skyline GT-R drew cheers from throughout the circuit.
Dufour, the Frenchman driving the No.39 Supra, had quite a day with contact. On lap 27, he tried to slip by under the No.22 Nissan GT-R driven by Tanaka, going inside at the first corner, but he bumped the GT-R and one of its tire blew out, forcing the car off the track and into the gravel. Tanaka recovered skillfully, but gravel debris was sucked into the car and caused engine problems. The No.22 Xanavi Hiroto Skyline GT-R retired before Michael Krumm could put in a single lap. Following routine stops by the top runners, which started around lap 33, Dufour hit another car on lap 37, this time the No.64 Mobil 1 NSX driven by Schwager.
Other incidents included Iida putting the No.100 RAYBRIG NSX into a spin and crashing into the sponge barrier course side on lap 47 and the No.86 Toyota Supra catching fire on the track-side green on lap 50. The latter required the introduction of the Safety Car, enabling the front-running group, Kaneishi in the No.8 ARTA NSX in first, Gardner in the No.37 Supra in second, Comas in the No.23 Skyline GT-R in third, Tsuchiya in the No.36 Supra in fourth, and Michigami in the No.1 Loctite MUGEN NSX in fifth, to tighten up.
The green light was given with 23 laps remaining. Gardner set his sights on the leader and began fighting his way up with the No.37 MatsuKiyo ZENT TOM's Supra. The Australian driver showed immense skill, first, by setting the fastest lap of the race and then catching and overtaking Kaneishi for the lead on lap 64. He kept the position until the end of the race. "Of course, I'm very glad to win the race. Especially, here in Sugo, as I narrowly missed the victory because of a fire two years ago. Yamaji drove well, and Tom's did a fantastic job," said the Australian. Yamaji commented, "I'm very happy to reply to our sponsor, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, which has been supporting me for four years now."
Bad luck hit on the third and fourth running cars; Comas was forced to do a stop-and-go due to overtaking under a yellow flag when Kageyama was behind the wheel, and Tsuchiya was given the same penalty for a refueling rule violation.