GT3 / 17 April 2023
Team UPGARAGE win Super GT opener with NSX GT3 Evo 22
The NSX GT3 Evo 22 took a sensational victory from 18th on the grid at the Super GT season-opener at Okayama as Takashi Kobayashi and Syun Koide gave Team UPGARAGE their maiden success with the car.
With the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship entering its 'Sprint' phase at the iconic Long Beach street circuit, it was an action-packed weekend for customer teams.
Qualifying on the ninth row, Team UPGARAGE's Takashi Kobayashi made steady progress during the dry opening phase of the Okayama race, but with rain starting within the opening 10 laps, an early switch to wet tyres helped him climb into the top 10.
By one-third distance he had climbed to fourth as the track began to dry and he continued his surge to snatch the lead 15 laps later, just before a second, heavier, rainshower hit.
With track conditions worse than at any point earlier in the day, the race was stopped, allowing Kobayashi to hand driving duties over to rookie co-driver Syun Koide.
Racing resumed for just six more laps before a result was declared with 21 laps still to run, handing the UPGARAGE team their first SuperGT win for five years.
Yogibo Racing's all-rookie line-up of Yugo Iwasawa and Reimei Ito ran competitively throughout the race, no matter the weather. Starting ninth, Iwasawa ran as high as fourth by mid-distance and Ito ensured the pair finished there too.
Gradient Racing's Katherine Legge set the fastest lap in GTD as the series visited the Long Beach street circuit for the first Sprint race of the season.
From a career-best 12th on the grid, Sheena Monk climbed to 10th during her stint, but lost over 30s on the half-hour mark when an incident at the hairpin blocked the track and she was forced to stop and wait for a route through to emerge.
Legge, once in the car, was one of the fastest drivers in the field consistently and climbed to ninth by the flag; her cause not helped by a lack of the usual Full-Course Yellow periods to bunch the field up. She and Monk are sixth in the points.
Racers Edge Motorsports with WTR Andretti Autosport added Long Beach to what was previously an endurance race-only IMSA programme.
Mario Farnbacher set the pace in final practice, but a crash at the end of qualifying for co-driver Ashton Harrison damaged the NSX and meant it was unable to start the race.
All four cars were competing as part of the NSX GT3 Customer Racing Programme; a global collaborative project with JAS Motorsport responsible for assembly of all cars.
Honda Performance Development (HPD) and M-TEC handle sales and technical support in North America and Japan respectively, with JAS responsible for these areas across the rest of the world.