Perfect Weekend for No.30 McLaren with Pole Position and Pole-to-Checker Victory
Fine blue skies greeted the 46,400 spectators (organizer announced) who came out to witness the final showdown for the JGTC 2001 series championships in the GT500 and 300 classes at CP Mine Circuit.
Okada kept the No.30 McLaren at the front of the field with a fine start off the line and led the pack into the first corner. Following in the order of grid position were Treluyer in the No.18 Honda NSX and Hoshino in the No.12 Skyline GT-R in third. Wakisaka got his No.6 Toyota Supra off the line well and picked up a position, overtaking Krumm in the No.22 Skyline GT-R.
Grappling incidents started in the first lap with Kaneishi in the No.8 ARTA NSX bumping the No.38 au CERUMO Supra driven by Takeuchi (point standings leader) from behind and causing him to spin. Takeuchi was able to recover, but found himself at the back of the field. Yamaji in the No.37 Supra felt the repercussions of the accident as well, having to run off the track to avoid the cars.
Okada in the No. 30 McLaren F1 did an impressive job of setting a pace to control the race with second running Treluyer in the No. 18 TAKATA DOME NSX doing his best to keep the pressure on the leader from second. Following team orders, Comas used the No.23 Skyline GT-R to hold off the No.1 NSX driven by Mitsusada so that fifth place Krumm in the No.22 Xanavi Hiroto Skyline GT-R could build a safety gap. But when the top runners began overtaking back markers, the gaps between the cars began to shorten again. Having done his best to help his teammate, Comas overtook Krumm when he was struggling to get by a back marker and went to work on catching the leader. The French driver showed veteran skills, lapping consistently quicker and fighting his way through the field: moving into fourth on lap 16 and third on lap 23.
Contention was strong everywhere as was expressed by the scenario involving two Honda NSXs, that of Mitsusada in the No.1 car and Kaneishi in the No.8 car. The two cars were neck-and-neck fighting hard for sixth place (and the championship title) when, on lap 34, Kaneishi took the No.8 ARTA NSX slightly off the track in a side-by-side duel. Unable to correct, he went through the gravel and crashed into a sponge barrier ending his day.
After completing routine pit stops, it was still the No.30 McLaren F1 GTR in front, setting the stage for a perfect sweep on the weekend. Couto maintained his cool and drove hard to increase the gap over his closest rival, the No.23 Pennzoil Zexel Skyline GT-R driven by Kageyama. (Couto claimed the fastest lap of the race.) The two top runners kept their positions to the checkered flag. Finishing third and fourth behind them were two French drivers, Philippe in the No.18 Honda NSX and Dumas in the No.39 Toyota Supra respectively.
"Andre did a super lap during the qualifying sessions to take the pole position," said Okada afterward. "I wanted to keep concentration today and give the wheel to Andre in good position. I did that, and then he did a great job as well."
Couto commented following the race, "Okada did a good job to make a big margin over the second placed car. I could lap with a good rhythm. I pushed, but tried to make sure to finish the race."