Anna Inotsume keeps TCR Japan championship lead despite Motegi DNFs
TCR Japan's star Anna Inotsume endured a tough weekend at Motegi, where two tyre punctures resulted in retirements from both races. Despite the setback, Inotsume steadily remains championship leader in both Saturday and Sunday Series.
TCR Japan's championship leader Anna Inotsume's perfect record in the 2023 season was halted at Motegi, after a couple of DNFs marred the weekend of the Dome Racing driver.
Inotsume had claimed four wins out of the first four races this year, therefore establishing herself as the driver to beat in both the Saturday and Sunday series.
Unbeaten in Suzuka and Okayama, Inotsume headed to Motegi for the third round of the TCR Japan championship aiming for more victories, but a challenging weekend due to technical issues meant that she endured a tough weekend points-wise, albeit remaining in the lead of both series.
Her weeked at Motegi was off to a challenging start due to the heavy success ballast: her dominant previous rounds meant that she would tackle the third race meeting with a 50kg ballast. In the summer heat, the 15-minute first qualifying saw Takeshi Suehiro securing pole position after trading the top spot with series newcomer Choi Jeong Weon.
Struggling to deal with the extra ballast, Inotsume couldn't do better than third, having set a 2:02.581 that would have put her on the second row of the grid.
Choi Jeong Weon's Hyundai Elantra N TCR, though, was later disqualified from the qualifying results due to a technical infringement, promoting Inotsume to second.
At the start of the race in the afternoon, four drivers went into the first corner battling for the lead: alongside Suehiro and Inotsume, Mototino and Kato also had a great launch off the line and it would be the latter to snatch the first place from fourth on the grid, followed by Inotsume and Suehiro.
However, Suehiro fought back and could overtake both the championship leader and Masanobu Kato, soon opening a gap. Anna and Kato battled for second place over the following eight laps - and the two were also joined by the recovering Choi Jeong Weon, who had started from the back of the pack.
On lap 8, Inotsume found a way past Kato and started her pursuit of race leader Suehiro - but then had to watch her mirrors from Jeong Weon, who had also cleared Kato after a mistake at turn 11. One lap later, though, disaster struck Inotsume, as a tyre failure sent her #98 Honda Civic TCR into the gravel trap at turn 5. While she tried to rejoin, she eventually had to park the car and retire - in her first DNF of the season.
Kato and Mototino then found themselves battling for third - before further drama occurred on lap 13, when Choi Jeong Weon ran out of fuel and stopped on track from second place.
With a 38 second gap, Takeshi Suehiro took a controlled win, ahead of Mototino and Kato.
Another sunny day welcomed the drivers on Sunday morning, when they contested the qualifying session that would shape the grid for Race 2. Times were significantly quicker than the day before and Suehiro led the early stages of the 15-minute session with a 2:01.707, then further improved to a 2:01.595 that would remain unbeaten through the session.
Inotsume was his closest rival, having set a 2:01.850 on her fourth timed lap, but eventually came 2 tenths short of pole position.
The final race of the weekend at Motegi saw the polesitter making a solid start and retaining the lead from Inotsume - while Jeong Weon dropped down the order after a slow getaway.
Anna Inotsume comfortably ran in second place but her success ballast made for a difficult recovery and Suehiro pulled away.
Behind them, Mototino, Kato, Suzuki and Jeong Weon battled for third and the Korean driver could climb back to fifth after the difficult start.
When positions in the top two seemed settled, Anna Inotsume suffered another front tyre puncture on lap 6, which resulted in another retirement for the Dome Racing driver.
Masanobu Kato therefore moved up into second, followed by Jeong Weonwho had meanwhile overtaken Mototino. The two fought throughout the second half of the race for the runner up spot, but Kato held off the attacks of the series rookie to finish second, 30 seconds adrift weekend dominator Takeshi Suehiro.
Despite the challenging weekend, Inotsume retained the championship lead in both the Saturday and Sunday Series, where she precedes Kato by 14 and 7 points respectively.
Anna has in fact now collected 64 points in the Saturday Series and 62 points in the Sunday series - and will be aiming to return to the podium in the next round at Fuji on 7-8 October.