Photo: TCR Japan

Hirobon claims only TCR Japan win at Autopolis as Race 2 is canned

Birth Project Racing’s Hirobon extended his Saturday Series and overall points lead with victory in what proved to be the only TCR Japan race of the weekend at a rain-affected Autopolis.

The Cupra driver, who claimed a Saturday Series win on the opening weekend of the season at Fuji mastered the conditions just well enough to edge the impressive Ai Miura by just over half a second as rain battered the circuit.

Takuya Shirasaka started the opening Saturday Series race from pole position amid a torrential downpour and initially led off the line from Hirobon.

But the Honda Civic Type-R driver aquaplaned halfway around the first lap at Turn 4 and slewed heavily into the soft barrier before coming back onto the track.

Hirobon inherited the lead, while Shirasaka continued but at the rear of the field.

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR of Mineki Okura was another to fall afoul of the treacherous conditions on the opening tour, as he slid off at Turn 11.

By this point, the safety car had already been deployed, if not for the incidents then almost certainly due to the weather conditions.

Hirobon led again at the restart from the Team Mars Audi RS 3 LMS Masanobu Kato and Ai Miura’s DOME Racing Honda Civic Type-R TCR, as heavy spray affected visibility.

The top three began to escape very quickly and had gapped Kenji Suzuki’s Audi by a staggering 18 seconds within two racing laps.

Following the chaotic opening laps, just seven cars remained in the race entering the final 15 miniutes, and Suzuki slipped behind Jun Sato into seventh after struggling particular in the wet.

At the front, Miura managed to get past Kato for second exiting the final turn and immediately began pressurising the back of leader Hirobon.

Miura showed terrific speed in her Honda Civic Type-R TCR and probably had the measure of the Cupra in front, trying several times to find a way around.

But the move was lacking at the crucial moment and Miura had to settle for a nevertheless impressive second place, just six-tenths of a second behind Hirobon at the flag.

Kato completed the podium in third, bringing his Audi RS 3 LMS home some 11-seconds adrift of the top two, while Shirasaka typified the crazy nature of the race by recovering from his opening lap off with fourth place at the finish, just a second further back.

Akiland Racing’s Masayoshi Oyama finished fifth in his Honda Civic Type-R TCR, over a minute behind but ahead of Sato.

Suzuki was seventh in the second of the Birth Project Racing Cupras, while Okura was able to get help out of the Turn 11 gravel trap to continue on to eighth by the flag.

By Sunday, the weather had failed to improve and the circuit was coated with heavy fog as well as a wet road. With this in mind, the race organisers elected to cancel the race.

The next TCR Japan race weekend will take place at Sportsland Sugo on 24-25 July.