Anna Inotsume crowned TCR Japan Saturday series champion
With a victory in the penultimate round of the season at Fuji - her fifth of the season - Anna Inotsume made history and became the first woman to secure a TCR national sprint championship title.
With two pole positions and a race win at Fuji Speedway, fourth round of the 2023 TCR Japan championship, touring car rising star Anna Inotsume made history, becoming the first woman to secure a TCR national sprint championship title.
Inotsume, who had secured two runner-up spots in the 2022 Saturday and Sunday series, in fact added a fifth victory out of eight races to her 2023 campaign, sealing the deal for the Saturday's series.
With two different series making up for TCR Japan's weekend format, Inotsume had led both classifications from the get go and, with dominant performances in most of the rounds, she built a solid gap especially in the Saturday's races that culminated with her first title in the national TCR championship. Inotsume's title was also Honda's first in the Japanese series.
Her weekend was off to a spectacular start, as Inotsume led all the free practice sessions before entering Saturday's 15 minute qualifying session.
Showing great speed throughout the weekend, Anna was aiming to bounce back from two retirements at Motegi, where she struggled with a 50kg success ballast, following sweeping weekends at Suzuka and Okayama. The ballast-break at Fuji allowed her to fully showcase her speed in qualifying, as she secured pole position under blue skies in Q1.
After a warm up lap, cars returned to the pits and swapped the front and rear tyres as a strategy to get heat into the tyres more efficiently. When times started to drop, Takeshi Suehiro led the early pace, but his time was soon topped by Inotsume's 1:46.906. Hideo Kubota improved by 0.018 seconds - but he was unable to further improve once Inotsume went 77 thousandths faster in her final attempt, which gave her pole position for the first race of the weekend.
There was early drama, as Inotsume's closest rival in the championship, Masanobu Kato, couldn't take the start of the race due to a technical issue after qualifying seventh.
Lining up alongside Kubota and ahead of Suehiro, Inotsume had a great start and led Suehiro after Kubota's slow start dropped him to seventh.
Behind the leaders, Kenji Suzuki and Mototino made contact at turn 1 and went off, bringing out a safety car at the end of the opening lap. Following a hectic first lap, Junichi Umemoto had moved up to third, ahead of Seiji Tamada and Hideo Kubota, who had made his way up to fifth again after the difficult getaway.
The race resumed on lap 3 and Inotsume led comfortably from Suehiro, while Kubita was on a mission to catch back the leading duo; he snatched fourth at the restart and was back in third on lap 6. He would catch up with Suehiro, but couldn't eventually find a way past.
With a dominant race, Anna Inotsume managed the gap in front and always kept her pursuers at bay, crossing the finish line in first. Her fifth win of the season was enough to claim the Saturday's series title - in a historic moment for the championship and for TCR-sanctioned events.
The second 15 minute qualifying got underway on Sunday morning at 8:45am local time, on a dry track despite overnight raing.
Takeshi Suehiro set the first representative lap time, but Anna Inotsume was quick to take the top post by over half a second. The newly-crowned champions improved by two further tenths, as Hideo Kubota's Honda Civic slotted in between Inotsume and Suheiro.
While Kubota found some more speed in his final attempt, he was 0.247 of a second short of pole sitter Anna Inotsume, who once again would start from the top spot in the final race of the weekend.
Light rain just before the start in the early afternoon, though, made for a challenging strategy: everything was down to the tyre choice, as the race was declared wet.
Anna Inotsume opted for wet weather tyres, while Kubota, Suehiro and Umemoto kept slicks tyres on.
Hideo Kubota had the better start at lights out and fired into the lead at turn one, which saw Inotsume going deep and falling down the order, rejoining in eighth place. Amidst a chaotic start, Masanobu Kato made up positions and went from sixth to second over the first lap.
Aiming to make up for the unfortunate first race, Kato quickly caught up with Kubota and grabbed the lead on the second lap.
From there, Kato tried to pull away, but Kubota managed to stay close enough to attack the race leader once again on lap 6: after entering the first corner side by side, the leading duo collided and ultimately retired from the race.
The incident allowed Takeshi Suehiro to inherit the lead, followed by Anna Inotsume - who had charged her way up the order after the tricky first lap.
The driver of the #98 Dome Racing Honda Civic TCR had in fact cleared Umemoto, Suzuki and Tamada already before the end of the first lap, then passed Mototino on lap 2, before launching a successful attack on Choi Jeong-Won's Hyundai Elantra N TCR on lap 5.
While the safety car neutralized the action, drivers accelerated away on lap 10: now right behind Suheiro, Inotsume couldn't get close enough and the #19 Cupra TCR opened a gap in the closing laps. Takeshi Suheiro claimed victory in Sunday's race, ahead of Inotsume and Choi Jeon-Won, who traded positions with Mototino after the restart.
Anna's second place was enough to extend her championship lead over Mototino in the Sunday's series as well, as she now enjoys a 24 point lead with one round to go.
The 2023 TCR Japan championship will round out its season at Sportsland Sugo on November 25-26, where Anna Inotsume will attempt to make more history and secure her second title of the year.