Felix Rosenqvist made an immediate impression on his debut in Japan’s Super GT championship, setting the fastest lap of the weekend among the Lexus drivers and finishing just 0.17 seconds off the podium in the Okayama 300 km season-opener.
Rosenqvist and stablemate Kazuya Oshima, sharing the #6 WAKO’S Team LeMans Lexus LC 500 entry, wound up fourth in the near two-hour race on Sunday, taking the chequered flag a mere 5.7 seconds adrift of victory.
The duo laid the foundation for their result in Saturday’s qualifying session, where Rosenqvist produced a quick lap in Q1 to go fifth fastest overall on a dry track, leading the way among the Lexus machines as just two cars from the Toyota-affiliated brand made the Q2 cut.
Among those knocked out in Q1 was former Super GT champion and ex-F1 race winner Heikki Kovalainen in the sister Lexus Team Sard entry, which Rosenqvist headed by seven tenths of a second.
With heavy rain soaking the track for the decisive Q2 segment (where Oshima gave the squad fourth on the grid), Rosenqvist’s Q1 time would stand as the quickest Lexus lap of the weekend.
Once in the race, Rosenqvist took charge of driving duties in the opening stint, staying inside the top five as he handed the car over to Oshima at just under the halfway mark.
The Japanese then brought the car home in a solid fourth place, finishing just fractions behind fellow Lexus runners and reigning Super GT champions Ryo Hirakawa/Nick Cassidy.
As such, Rosenqvist/Oshima came home second among the Lexus contingent, taking the flag just 5.7 seconds behind race winners Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure who led home a 1-2 for Honda (ahead of the Jenson Button/Naoki Yamamoto car).
“It’s a great result for my first race, and I’m very happy with our team effort,” says Felix Rosenqvist. “Qualifying exceeded expectations and I couldn’t be happier with that, setting the fastest Lexus lap of the weekend. The only mistake we did was starting me on too high tyre pressures in the race. We thought it would be hard getting the tyres up to temperature, but the track was warmer than we expected. That caused me to drop some pace in the middle of my stint as the tyres went off too quickly.
“Still, to finish just five seconds shy of victory at this early stage of the season, and a few tenths off the podium, is a great sign. That’s especially true as I feel there’s more in it; we didn’t quite get it perfect today. Big thanks to Team LeMans and Kazuya for helping me get up to speed so quickly. Super GT is great fun and I’m really looking forward to the rest of this season.”
Felix Rosenqvist will be back on Super GT duty in the Fuji 500 km on May 3-4 (a Friday race due to Japanese holidays). Before then, however, he is scheduled to travel to Rome where the second half of the Formula E campaign begins this Saturday, April 14.
RESULTS (top five)
Race 1/8 | Okayama 300 km
1: K.Tsukakoshi (JPN)/T.Kogure (JPN), Honda, 82 laps
2: N.Yamamoto (JPN)/J.Button (GBR), Honda, +1.610s
3: R.Hirakawa (JPN)/N.Cassidy (NZL), Lexus, +5.582s
4: F.Rosenqvist (SWE)/K.Oshima (JPN), Lexus, +5.759s
5: T.Matsuda (JPN)/R.Quintarelli (ITA), Nissan, +36.990s
CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (top five)
After 1/8 races
1: K.Tsukakoshi (JPN)/T.Kogure (JPN), Honda, 21 p.
2: N.Yamamoto (JPN)/J.Button (GBR), Honda, 15 p.
3: R.Hirakawa (JPN)/N.Cassidy (NZL), Lexus, 11 p.
4: F.Rosenqvist (SWE)/K.Oshima (JPN), Lexus, 8 p.
5: T.Matsuda (JPN)/R.Quintarelli (ITA), Nissan, 6 p.