Tsukimura and Sakai Steal The Spotlight With Sepang Victory

Ai Tsukimura and Shouta Sakai took a dominant victory on their GT Super Series debut at the Round of Malaysia at the Sepang International Circuit.

After pole-sitter Antonio Reyna-Sanchez led off the line, the Super GT driver took the lead under braking for turn one and would not look back. While the Tom Douglas Racing driver would hang tough with Tukimura for the first four laps of the race, her raw pace would prove too much and she would start to build up a gap to the pack behind. While the battle for second was heating up with Gia Van Dycke, John Magnus, Matteo Rossi and Joey Alliot all having turns running second place, Ai Tsukimura would build up a lead of thirty seconds before the first round of pit stops would arrive.

Opening up the first round of pit stops would be the crews from Gulf Racing, Carson Speedworks and BMS Scuderia Italia with Rossi, Alliot and championship contender Evgeny Restov coming in at the earliest convince. The factory Ferrari pit crew would get James James Davies out ahead of Jacques Malenfant but still behind  the Gulf Aston Martin, now driven by Roland Davidson. All three would exit the pits having being put a lap down by Tsukimura who elected to pit at the very end of the pit window. After Tsukimura pitted, handing over driving duties to Shouta Sakai, the gap had shrunken by ten seconds to the Gulf Aston Martin in second. Davidson would not stay in second for long as James James Davies would hunt down the Aston Martin and pass his countrymen as the race approached half distance.

The gap would remain stable at twenty seconds, only changing when the leading three cars lapped Daniel von Schweiger in the People’s Republic Ferrari before the second, and final, round of pit stops were to begin. Joining the trailing pack behind Shouta Sakai was championship leader Einar Armannson catching and passing Jacques Malenfant for fourth place before Davidson, Davies and the Carson Speedworks driver would start the second round of pit stops. Davies, staying in the car, would exit the pits ahead of Matteo Rossi and critically ahead of yet to pit Shouta Sakai. Rossi and Alliot exited the pits trailing the Tsuchigami Saleen, with Rossi quickly closing the gap. Shouta would leave the door open for the Italian coming out of turn 5 but cut back too late and make contact with the Gulf Aston Martin. Shouta would bounce off the side of the DBR9 and slide into the gravel on the outside of turn 6, but able to continue. Shouta would pit two laps later, handing back driving duties to Tsukimura to close out the race.

Tsukimura would have a lead of eight seconds over the Factory Ferrari, and it would be as close as second place would get for the rest of the race. James James Davies electing to consolidated his position on track with championship rival Chris Winter in fourth place after passing Malenfant early in the final stint of the race and a hard charging Matteo Rossi launching an attack for second place overall that would end up being futile. Ai Tsukimura and Shouta Sakai took home the third overall victory of the season for an Independent in 2018 and the first for a Saleen since Tommy Douglas and Nikolai Nurmovitsch won at Spa-Francorchamps in 2016.

With their second place and Winter and Armannsson’s fourth place result, Evgeny Restov and James James Davies move back to being thirteen points behind the championship leaders with two races remaining. They are the only ones to remain in mathematical contention for the championship after the third place pairing of Fabian Rei and Ryota Wong failed to score in Sepang after struggling in the midfeld the whole race and spinning twice, one time at turn 6 and another at turn 14.

Another pairing that were in the midfield wars for most of the race were the Commonwealth pairing of Markus Jacobson and Valeri Kozar. Jacobson would make little progress from his twentieth place starting position in the opening stint of the race before handing over driving duties to the sole leader in the Independent’s Trophy. Once the field started to spread out, him and Jacobson would then start to make what progress they could up the field. They would end up finishing fifteenth overall and crucially seventh in class, only one position behind second place in the Independent’s Trophy Harrison Wilkinson and Carlton Cho. The Team LKM pairing started the race strong in the bottom half of the top ten before dropping back when quicker factory cars behind started to climb through the field, they finished fourteenth overall. Wilkinson and Cho are now twenty-four points behind the Russian, with twenty points regularly available and a additional ten for top five overall finishes, leaving Kozar likely to lock up the Independent’s Trophy in Zhuhai, China.

Race Results – After 60 Laps

228MRestov/DaviesScuderia Italia+12.292
603MLe Fay/FazioSolvalou+56.455
727Mvan Walwijk/ConstantiniScuderia Italia+1:02.201
821IVan Dycke/SeronBelgio+1:04.292
10555IA.+V. Reyna-SanchezTom Douglas+1:17.319
1255IDouglas/MelroseTom Douglas+1:18.732
133IBourne/TuckerBoutsen Ginion+1:30.588
162IKikkawa/GauthierBoutsen Ginion+1:33.963
1814MRei/WongGerald Pereria+1:39.208
1905IKremnicky/LuisaAoi Formula+1:40.571
2011ISetou/JafferBest In The World+1:41.083
2209IMelvanov/KabirovChris Short+1:45.145
25007MMagnus/GeiszlerFalken Tire+1:55.367
2699IEinfeldt/von SchweigerPeople's Republic+1 Lap
2841MTravesen/SparksGerald PereriaSpun off

Fastest Lap – Car 02 (Solvalou Lamborghini – Winter/Armannsson) – 1:55.545

Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race – Amato Agostini and Felix Horvath: The big winner of the midfield wars, got rewarded with their first points since the season opener.

Reject of the Race – Fabian Rei and Ryota Wong: Their championship campaign ended with a wimper.