Narain Karthikeyan scored his first victory in SUPER GT machinery for Nakajima Racing Honda in a dramatic final leg of the SUPER GT x DTM Dream Race at the Fuji Speedway.
Karthikeyan survived three Safety Cars in a race of attrition to top the order ahead of DTM Series duo Loïc Duval (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) and Marco Wittmann (BMW Team RBM).
Duval, who missed Race 1 due to a crash on his sighting lap, started from pole position, but lost second place to Wittmann after the race due to a one-second time penalty for unfairly forcing the BMW off the road on the final lap while in battle.
Frenchman Duval inherited pole, having qualified in second on Sunday morning, courtesy of a five-place grid penalty for Daisuke Nakajima – a consequence of Hideki Mutoh‘s Friday Practice crash and resulting chassis change.
The Audi driver held his lead into Turn 1, despite the superior straightline performance of the NSX, while DTM champion René Rast (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) had a brief look at Naoki Yamamoto‘s (Team Kunimitsu Honda) third place.
But the Honda’s advantage could not be ignored at the start of the second lap, as Karthikeyan breezed past ex-SUPER GT driver Duval on the 1.475km start/finish straight.
Following Karthikeyan’s example, Yamamoto demoted Duval to the bottom step of the podium at the start of lap three and then the Audi lost another position, this time to the Kondo Racing Honda of Mitsunori Takaboshi, at the Turn 10 hairpin.
Duval continued to be the centre of attention in the opening stages, suffering a puncture and rear bodywork damage in the middle sector and falling to last place – also triggering the first Safety Car of the afternoon.
Wittmann survived a stewards’ investigation after the restart for running Rast out onto the run-off area at the final corner in his quest to keep fifth place, the pair entering the pits simultaneously shortly afterwards.
In the battle for the podium, Nakajima utilised the slipstream on the main straight to pass Yamamoto for third, sparking the 2018 champion to take his mandatory pit stop just before the halfway point of the 55-minute race.
One lap later, Karthikeyan and Koudai Tsukakoshi (Real Racing Honda) relinquished their positions at the head of the field in exchange for fresh tyres, but crucially kept ahead of the battling Nakajima, Yamamoto and Rast.
Rast’s charge, however, wasn’t to last long as he too suffered a dramatic puncture on the pit straight, completely ripping the rear left corner off of the Audi and bringing out the Safety Car once again.
The German limped back to the pits and returned to the race at the foot of the field.
Team Kunimitsu strangely decided to bring Yamamoto into the pits again just as the Safety Car was called out, also relegating him way out of the points.
After seven laps behind the Safety Car, another Indianapolis-style restart brought more chaos in the midfield.
New leader Benoît Tréluyer (WRT Hitotsuyama Audi), who still had to make his mandatory stop, had started to scamper away – helped by Karthikeyan passing Alex Zanardi‘s second-placed BMW at Turn 1 – before contact at Turn 4 between Tsukakoshi and Tomoki Nojiri (ARTA Honda) caused mayhem in the midfield.
The concertina effect caused by that triggered another four-car pile-up at Turn 10 between Nojiri, Kazuki Nakajima (Lexus Team TOM’S), Hiroaki Ishiura (Lexus Team Cerumo), Kohei Hirate (Nissan NDDP Racing with B-Max) and James Rossiter (Team Impul Nissan).
The significant level of debris forced a third and final Safety Car, seemingly gifting the race win to Karthikeyan – until Race Control announced that there was to be one final lap of racing, without Indy-style protocol.
Karthikeyan secured the win by timing his launch to perfection to leave Wittmann behind and into the clutches of Duval, the pair battling throughout the entirety of the 4.5km lap with little room to spare.
The stewards deemed Duval’s bold move on the BMW at Turn 15 to be a transgression of the rules, returning Wittmann to second spot on his 30th birthday.
Yamamoto used his fresh tyres to brilliant effect on the final lap, moving up from ninth to fourth and just shy of a second podium of the weekend.
Kamui Kobayashi fought well over the course of the race to take fifth for BMW, ahead of the retiring Nakajima’s Honda.
Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Abt Sportsline) scored points in seventh to make up for disappointment of Race 1, where he was spun while in contention for points late on, and finished ahead of the Race 1 winning Lexus – driven by Nick Cassidy‘s team-mate Ryo Hirakawa.
Rast survived the hefty damage to finish in ninth, as Tréluyer tenth place ensured that six DTM cars finished inside the top 10.
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