SARD Lexus duo Kovalainen and Yuichi Nakayama braved the combined circumstances on the four.6km Kyushu-based circuit to file their first victory collectively, beating the pole-sitting Actual Racing Honda of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Bertrand Baguette by practically 4 seconds.
The important thing to the group’s victory was a decisive change to moist tyres simply earlier than the second of the three security automotive intervals, which allowed Nakayama to dash into the lead shortly after the race went again to inexperienced.
Previous to the pitstop, Kovalainen needed to spend a number of laps on a partially damp monitor on slick tyres, as nearly all of the circuit remained dry after early showers.
Kovalainen says he employed a cautious strategy throughout his stint, with recollections of outbraking himself and crashing into the again of the Bandoh Lexus at Fuji nonetheless contemporary in his thoughts.
“Within the final race, at Fuji, we had an opportunity to complete on the rostrum however I made a silly mistake there and I value us the race,” Kovalainen mirrored.
“I used to be a bit upset. I used to be decided to make amends for that. Even it’s been a tough season for us, we’ve hold working exhausting.
“This weekend we’ve managed to enhance our automotive. Even in qualifying yesterday we have been fairly aggressive. After all at this time, loopy race, a bit bit like Sugo 2016 with Kohei-san [Hirate, then-teammate]. And it appears SARD all the time does nicely in difficult circumstances.
“My stint was okay, I used to be a bit bit cautious when it rained, perhaps too cautious. I knew that there’s going to be numerous motion within the race in the direction of the tip of the race so I can not make a mistake.
“If I lose positions, that is going to be costing us an excessive amount of. So when it was raining, I used to be a bit cautious.“
Though Autopolis marked Kovalainen and Nakayama’s first victory of 2019, the 2 have largely been constant this season with three top-five finishes within the first 5 rounds.
Nevertheless, Kovalainen feels he hasn’t been “acting at my greatest” and is concentrating on an enchancment in efficiency because the collection nears its climax.
“I feel we nonetheless received work to do, we nonetheless should enhance,” Kovalainen mentioned. “However I feel this weekend we made a very good step ahead with our efficiency. So I hope that even in Sugo and Motegi we might be hopefully extra aggressive than earlier this season.
“Typically I feel SARD doesn’t get sufficient credit score for a way exhausting they work, the folks work actually exhausting to enhance even when issues are flawed. So we hold doing the identical.
“Additionally I really feel I wish to enhance myself, I don’t suppose I’m acting at my greatest, I feel I can do higher. So my goal can also be enhancing within the subsequent race, my driving.“
Podium: First place #39 SARD Lexus LC500: Heikki Kovalainen, Yuichi Nakayama
Photograph by: Masahide Kamio
The Autopolis end result propelled Kovalainen and Nakayma to 3rd within the standings, 25 factors behind LeMans Lexus pair Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita with 42 factors on provide within the closing two rounds of the season.
Nakayama, who grew to become the primary GT500 rookie to win a race this season, says the possibilities of SARD profitable the crown stay reasonable – and that he shall be pushing for the group’s first title since 2016, when Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate shared honours.
“SARD hasn’t gained for a number of years now the championship, so we’re actually aiming for it now,” mentioned the 28-year-old.
“As everyone knows SARD has a very robust core energy and when it comes out, nothing can cease us. Now that we’re robust and we discovered a set-up that I feel that can give us benefit within the subsequent two races.
“We will use it to a constructive and to attain our objectives and what we wish to have. For me as my rookie 12 months in GT500, very completely satisfied to have gained this race and I’ll hold combating.”
Kovalainen added: “[In] Tremendous GT all the things is feasible, like we noticed on Sunday. Earlier than this weekend we have been virtually, virtually neglect the championship for this season and abruptly we’re P3. So we hold attempting.”