Sora Racing has secured victory in the opening race of the new Asian Le Mans Series after Christophe Tinseau and Shinja Nakano took honours in a dramatic three-hour event at Okayama.
The pair benefitted from problems for some of their rivals to bring the Pescarolo-Judd home first ahead of the Team Oreca entry of Loic Duval and Nicolas Lapierre while Christian Bakkerud and Oliver Jarvis picked up the final place on the podium for the Kolles Audi team.
The first-ever Asian Le Mans Series race got under way at 12h30 in blazing sunshine in front of a large crowd. Pole man Johnny Cocker in the Drayson Racing Lola-Judd coupe shot into the lead at the start and began to open up a gap helped by his soft tyres. After five laps, the young Briton was already four seconds in front of Lapierre in the Oreca-AIM who was followed by Stefan Mücke's Lola-Aston Martin, Tinseau's Pescarolo-Judd and the two Audi R10s in the hands of Christijan Albers and Jarvis.
The first upset came on lap 21 when the Lola-Judd coupe that had led for the first 20 laps ran into a mechanical problem and pitted, as race control demanded that defective lights on the car had to be changed. That stop ruined the chances of the green car, which rejoined well behind the new leaders. Now in front was Lapierre, with Mücke breathing down his neck closely followed by Tinseau.
In GT1, Tsuchiya in his Aston Martin DBR9, who had started from the back of the grid, was now in first place ahead of the Saleen in the hands of Bervillé and Yogo's Lamborghini. In LM GT2, Marc Lieb's Porsche and Dirk Muller in the BMW M3 were at it hammer and tongs for the lead and rubbed flanks on lap 32 while battling for the lead
As the opening salvo of refuelling stops began, Harold Primat rejoined in the lead after taking over the Lola-Aston from Mücke. He was just in front of the first leader, Lapierre, who remained at the wheel of the Oreca-AIM and Shinji Nakano in the Pescarolo who fell back a little.
Lapierre closed the gap to Primat, but at half distance the Lola-Aston in Gulf colours was still in front. Behind the battle for the overall lead, another one was going on that was just as intense. Dirk Muller had taken first place in the GT2 category, which Tom Milner promptly lost to Henzler who was now in the blue Felbermayr Porsche.
The leading Lola-Aston Martin opened the second round of refuelling stops with 63 minutes to go to the finish. Stefan Mücke rejoined a lap down on the Oreca and the Pescarolo. When they stopped in turn, the British car retook the lead. The Pescarolo went back out in second spot ahead of the Oreca, which had lost first then second places during its two stops.
The second major upset on lap 116 – with little more than ten minutes left to run in the race. The Lola-Aston Martin, which had opened up a slight gap, came in for a splash and dash and suddenly pitted again to have the right-hand front louvers replaced, losing third place in the process. The Pescarolo then went into the lead in front of the Oreca, and at the flag the two French cars were separated by just over six seconds.
There were a number of twists in the other categories as well. In GT1, Carlo van Dam stuck the Larbre Competition Saleen in a gravel trap handing victory to the JLOC Lamborghini driven by Yogo Iiri. In GT2, the Rahal-Letterman Racing BMW emerged victorious in its no-holds-barred battle with the Felbermayr-Proton Porsche. In LMP2, the Oak Racing Pescarolo-Mazda scored an unchallenged victory, leading from start to finish.